Category Archives: Blog

Year-End 2020 and Facing Ahead to a Changed New World in 2021

Written by Lara Just – December 2020  / January 2021

This year has been a strange year to say the least. When I wrote the newsletter at the beginning of the year entitled “Meeting 2020 with Horns”, I didn’t realise how much we needed a set of them, considering what we have all gone through this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple lockdowns on a global scale. This blog is a little stocktaking of this year here in my psychotherapy practice and introduced a few different topics; like how to cope with what I call the new trend of ‘desocialisation’ and how to deal with loneliness and isolation, and there are some film, music and book tips for the Christmas break…

Amidst a global pandemic and various ‘lockdowns’ and semi lockdowns across the world, many people have suffered great challenges. May that be from job losses, financial losses, the loss of loved ones or other losses. Also emotionally many of us have found it challenging and felt socially isolated despite a massive increase of social media activity, virtual and online meetings.

The challenges around not visiting friends in their homes. Not to be able to travel as much as usual. Not to hug. To have to wear masks. Gone are the cues we take from faces. Stepping back by two meters. Impersonal. Disconnection.

Mental health challenges have come to an all-time high these past few months particularly towards the darker winter months. The lack of connection, or to be physically close to others has been replaced pretty much by virtual connections only.

These developments seem to have contributed to great distress in some people, with decreasing self-esteem and confidence, and increasing anxieties and sadness. Above all – an increase in intense feelings of loneliness.

However, the experiences can be quite polarised, and this statement isn’t true for everyone. Some people say that they have experienced overall increased happiness levels since the COVID-19 outbreak, which seems to depend on personality and unique circumstances –more to this a little later further down.  

Towards the end of the year we have seen a huge increase in demand for psychotherapy however, at least this is what my colleagues and I have experience here in the Northern Hemisphere. The biggest wave hit in the second lockdown with the onset of the dark winter season – which seems to add pressure to our capacity to copy. Many therapist practices are overrun and waiting lists are long.

The general themes that have come up are a sense of frustration, lack of motivation, sadness, and feelings of social isolation and loneliness. Social media seems to be used more to try and stay connected, but in return has contributed in fact to increased feelings of loneliness. This is tough to balance out as we seek more connection right now, and yet many of us feel more and more disconnected from others and themselves. I am writing a bit more on those topics and how to cope or deal with this over the lockdown period in my two most recent blogs, see here.

However, for those of us that are more introverted or no social butterflies, the lockdown(s) may have come as a welcome relief and break as described by one of my clients. Those clients who have shared this with me hesitantly, have immediately felt a sense of guilt and shame following their disclosure. One person even shared “Covid-19 was the best thing that ever happened to me…”

If you have felt like this, try not to feel guilty or ashamed. There are actually quite a number of people who have felt secretly or outwardly so. The relief may be more about not having to go anywhere, to commute to work, or travel anywhere, to deal with all the daily pressures of organisation, appointments and arrangements. Or even the fact for some to NOT see their family, for those that have very challenging or dysfunctional family dynamics. In this case it serves as a near ‘good excuse’ to not have to deal with these difficulties, at least for now.

Others felt relieved to finally have had an external source give them ‘official permission’ to slow things down a bit. To rest more. To BE more. To re-evaluate. To spend some needed time with our closest loved ones; or just on our own. Away from shops and busy activities, appointments, arrangements.

This of course depends entirely on each person, their background and family relationships, support systems, interests and the environment they have access to.

But what the different even opposing reactions have in common is in the end one thing: how we cope and feel being in our own company.

That and being away from the usual frantic hustle and bustle and moving about which was ‘normal’ before.

Some of us do this well, even crave it and feel safer alone or more at ease and peaceful by themselves. Others feel an incredibly high amount of anxiety, discomfort, abandonment, rejection, fear and sadness at this loss of continuous connection to the outside. As a result losing the connection to the inside (our Self) too.

And when it hits our personal lives in some way, all of this hits very much home and becomes very real of course.

I recently reconnected with a long-lost friend of mine. We worked together twenty years ago, when I embarked on my first corporate career in my early 20ies which was taking off at the time. He was a mentor, even like a father figure to me. I always valued how he took me under his wing, and also became my friend. Many conversations were shared in the company canteen over lunch. Secretly I was envious of his daughter having such a loving, humorous and gentle man as a father, whom everyone seemed to like and sought advice from. Who even later when he retired took on the marketing side of her business and then even helped to sell it for her. And we lost touch as it can often happen when people move on, move away, change countries, careers etc.

When we by chance connected again this year; he found me via one of the professional social media sites, I found out he had just lost his long-.oved partner of fifty years a few months ago. And only two years earlier his own daughter lost her long-standing battle with cancer being only in her late 40ies and leaving behind two teenage children. He now lives on his own having to cope with the losses and grief by himself. He does have some golfing buddies, but Tier 4 lockdown restrictions make it hard to be allowed to do anything in some places of the country.

I am still so struck by grief and sadness for him even thinking about this and writing this. We looked forward to catching up and planned a weekend to meet to reconnect. But three times over this year it had to be postponed: first it was the first UK lockdown, then the second time my car broke down and required expensive repair that took a number of weeks, and then the second UK lockdown as we are heading into Christmas – what are the chances!

And this is where it is much tougher and difficult esp. for elderly people or those living alone or by themselves. Those of course who lost anyone due to the virus or also other reasons.

Outside meetings (socially distanced) and online meetings are then the main form of social connection, where possible.

This made me think a lot in general about how our lives have changed with technology, which already happened long before Covid-19, but kind of got fast-tracked even more since the outbreak this year. The rapid increase and changes in how we use technology, and social media. Is it helpful and positive or can it be dangerous to our mental health and wellbeing? Why is it good to take a social media break? How can this be balanced with the need for connection in a time when we are not allowed to connect physically in person as we were used to?

I wrote a bit more about these topics in my most recent blogs: Changed World: Coping with the new trend of “Desocialisation” and Top Tips to Cope with Loneliness and Change this Lockdown Christmas: Year 2020 Round-Up and how to transition smoothly into the New Year 2021.

There are some film tips and also for further book tips, have a look at the end of my December newsletter link here.

I hope you are able to sit tight, stay warm, remain patient, keep faith and enjoy some nurturing self-care this Christmas break and some gentle planning for the New Year.

Have a good Christmas and Happy New Year 2021 – here is to a smooth transition!

Warm wishes,

Lara

Top Tips to Cope with Loneliness and Change this Lockdown Christmas: Year 2020 Round-Up and how to transition smoothly into the New Year 2021

Written by Lara Just – December 2020…

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

After the events of this year, many of us have experienced challenges, losses, and above all change. My practice has been very full this year with the biggest spike in the second half and the predominant themes amongst those struggling the hardest are sadness and frustration, social isolation and loneliness.

Feeling lonely and being alone are two quite different things. Let me clarify this point.

We can feel alone when we feel by ourselves or not having anyone that could help or support us. But being alone or by ourselves doesn’t equal feeling lonely.

Some people can feel quite grounded in their own company.

However, others can feel lonely even if they are in company with others.

E.g. we can feel lonely when we are in an unhappy relationship, or in very challenging family dynamics, or when we feel like an outsider in our peer groups – these are just some of many examples.

This can generally is accompanied by feelings of sadness, amongst many other difficult emotions.

It depends on each person and their felt reality about the situation. There is no right or wrong way of feeling. There will be good reasons with our unique background history for us to experience our own felt reality. And it often would help to listen to our needs and explore these a bit more. E.g. invite sadness to be with us for a while, to feel it and understand it.

From my blog article at the same time last year (see here Endings for new Beginning: Meeting 2020 with Horns), I used the metaphor of the horns but also the metaphor of water. One explores having healthier boundaries, the other flexibility and flow. Both of these were aimed to invite movement and flow, not stuckness. E.g. water in a stream continues to flow and finds new ways despite any boulders and rocks that are in the ways (e.g. representing the challenges).

When we feel stuck or held back or cannot do what we have planned or feel out of control, this can also lead to frustration, sadness, anger or feeling lonely in your aspirations.

The challenges of the year 2020 will certainly now require some kick-ass creativity and adaptation in 2021 as we all now know that there is no ‘going back to normal’ – or to ‘how it was’ before anymore. There will be some ‘new normal’. Something we have no idea about yet of how this may look like.

What about you?  What was your experience of 2020? Did you need ‘horns’ this year? Or did you have to learn to be like water? Or do you still feel stuck or in a state of shock? Or do you feel you have adapted well so far? How have you coped?

Most of us have never expected or experienced anything like what happened this year. And this may require different ways of copying then what we have tried before.

But first let’s also look at some of the things that have happened that could also be seen as positive this year.

For some, the impact has not been as noticeable as for others. For example, those lucky enough to live in the countryside, or those having experience little disruptions on their daily routine, perhaps having worked from home already before. I happened to move out to rural Somerset in March this year, just a few weeks before the first unexpected lockdown.  Runners, cyclists and hikers, are still doing their thing as usual. More people seem to be active outside now too, so perhaps there are increased exercise levels, which would be good for our health and wellbeing and stress management in general. Dog walkers still walk their dogs as usual… And in the countryside, in some places you may still not meet anyone at all on your walks.

However, especially for those in the more densely populated areas and cities – it’s been really tough. It’s kind of in your face as soon as you get out of your front door. But there are also many parks, woods and other places one can get to, to feel like you can move about more freely. Hampstead Heath in North London and the major commons around London, have seen many more outdoor enthusiasts it seems then before.

And so much more has happened and is happening now online too:

  • Working online.
  • Groceries online.
  • Shopping online.
  • Yoga online.
  • Exercise online.
  • Art workshops online.
  • Writing Groups online.
  • Teaching and professional education online.
  • Theatre online.
  • Therapy online.
  • [fill any idea in here] online…

The word “Zoom” is now in everyone’s vocabulary and synonymous with meeting socially and professionally virtually online. Somehow “Skyping” seems to be no longer used as much as before! Creative ideas have sprung up, collaborative work; and amazing artistic work like an online Zoom theatre with more than 100 participants from one small clever theatre company (Damn Cheek Productions).

All from your home.

Thanks to additional satellites and the bump-up of enhanced technology infrastructure it can now be with minimal disruption even in some remote areas.

Interestingly enough some of my online “Zoom” client sessions between Brazil and the UK have been less disrupted and more crisp in image than between Somerset and London!

Many companies and schools have fast tracked their technological capabilities to allow for this. Online supermarkets and online shopping has gone through the roof… all being still delivered right to your door step even in remote countryside places.

Less commuting, perhaps less polluting, more leisure time, more family time, more time for exercise, reading, cooking…there have been all of these things too. Maybe less money, maybe less spending, maybe more savings and more spending. Depending on the personal circumstances.

Bottom line is, if you have experienced the changes as negative or positive or both or neither – nothing is as it was, and it won’t be, which we now have to slowly accept.

There will be a ‘new’ normal or baseline in everything we do. How we work, live, socialise.

As humans we are in general not good with change.

Even if it is for the better.

Change means loss, which I have written much about in previous blog articles and my eNews posts. To be able to embrace change and new things to move forward, “grief” is actually an important ingredient. Grieving and feeling the pain of loss is not something that we naturally want to do. In fact, in this society we are generally told not to do this and instead to ‘get over it’ and on with it. Though the actual process of healthy grieving and adjustment can take months, and many years – without necessarily a finishing date.

Most of the time there is not enough time and space made for this. We keep going, coping, buckle down and “get on with it” as we have always been taught.  This only means that ‘stuff’ lingers and simmers longer, and eventually at some point in the future comes out in unpleasant bursts on in a potentially in a huge bang.

All of this change that has happened this year, none of which was expected by anyone. It will require some more time and space for adjustment. To grieve and to accept the changes that have. Happened but also to allow us to make new changes for ourselves.

This year has forced us to more urgently reflect on many important things:

  • Re-evaluating our lives.
  • Our line of work.
  • Place to live.
  • Getting a dog (or cat…or /fill in here/).
  • Friendships.
  • Relationships.
  • You name it.

But how do we start and embrace this change?

Many clients of mine have complained about a lack of motivation, and a sense of procrastination, despite the fact there may have been more time on our hands. Then also beating themselves up about not doing more. It is fascinating how used we are to pushing ourselves forward, of being productive, having to do things and achieve things.

Though we are naturally also seasonal creatures that are inherently influenced by the circadian rhythms. And thought the first lockdown may have been at the start of summer in the UK, – right now is winter. We are meant to slow down, hibernate and save our reserves for the next season to come.

We could use this time for more nourishment, nurturing and planning.

But how do we do this in the face of chaos and uncertainty? How can we bypass or park our worries and fears about the future to look ahead to what we want to create amidst all of this?

There are a few ways to start and of course there is no one magic answer here, as you may have guessed.

Yes, of course the usual recommendations are: write things down (journaling), meditation, exercise, breathing, going outdoors – walking in nature.

These all really useful strategies. But they can also be hard not only to start but also to maintain, when it is connection and interaction with others that some of us crave and need.

If you are already doing lots of self-care strategies like these, as well as reading, watching various box-sets, movies, documentaries, listening to audio books, cooking/baking, doing something creative or started exercise or hobbies – but missing the interactivity with others, then ‘others’ have to be added to the mix if possible.

  • Join an outdoor or online group of a common interest. There are many Meet-Up groups that still organise safe hiking events and many other groups, like writing groups or other creative online groups.
  • Reaching out to old friends or lost connections. Rekindling connections can be really helpful esp. some people who know us and we have had things in common with.
  • Get outdoors. We can share a walk with someone in nature, if you have access to a park or woods.
  • Talk about it. Sharing your fears and concerns, about how you currently feel with everything is important. You may be surprised as your friend may open up in similar ways, realising that you are not alone in this. You can exchange ways of coping or also come up with doing some more fun things that you haven’t done in a while.
  • Plan ahead with dreams. Planning ahead for the New Year may require to shut out the inner critic, the one that only points out the obstacles and says you can’t do it because of x,y,z. It requires to just let out the dreamer and think ‘wildly’. Maybe write some things down, journaling, or make a drawing or a collage of it collected on a walk with a friend and perhaps sharing this with a friend.

How would you like our 2021 to look like? What would you like to do?

Wishing you a peaceful Christmas 2020 and a good and a smooth and healthy transition into the New Year 2021.

If you have any questions or comments on this article, please feel free contact me. I would look forward to hearing from you.

Changed World: Coping with the new trend of “Desocialisation”

Written by Lara Just – December 2020…

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

This year has been a challenge for many – to say the least and this is probably even an understatement at large. I don’t write blog articles very often, and when I do I like to use either themes that come up in my clinical practice with clients or something that I find interesting at the time. At the moment the themes in general seem to be around loneliness, social isolation and with this also procrastination and lack of motivation. There has been a notable shift to those themes with many of my clients over the past nine months. I too have felt it, and so have some of my colleagues and friends as they shared their own struggles and those of their clients. What also may be happening on the collective level is what I like to call ‘desocialisation’, something that affects us all, and particularly after the events of this year in 2020…

Pondering about the themes in my clinical practice and what to write about, I found that there are now many recent articles with many useful links dealing with the topics and especially around ‘how to cope with loneliness during lockdown’. This may include the usual top 10 or top 50 tips. Among them taking baths, reading books, watching movies, getting outside, reaching out to old friends, doing more online and digital socialisation etc. etc. etc.

All the things that most of us are already aware of and perhaps even practice.

But that doesn’t mean it’s what we need or that it will alleviate that which is more and more felt – perhaps on an entire ‘collective level’.

Somehow, despite all this wonderful advice and all the self-care activities, many still can’t shake the sense of lack of motivation, low energy, frustration, and sadness.

What is happening then on the collective level? Other than everyone obviously going through the different COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions in their own various ways? Is there perhaps also something else?

I think there is something else, and it started happening before COVID-19. And I would like to describe it as the process of ‘desocialisation’.

This trend has happened with an exponential increase already after the millennia with advancements in technology and the onset of social media popularity. But due to the global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic this recently even more so.

Considering the measures this year: staying in our homes, keeping physical distance, increased physical human social isolation for many, wearing masks in public, increase in technology use for working and shopping from home, staying connected and so on.

For me the term ‘desocialisation’ makes sense, perhaps because I took it from a translation in my mind from my native language German.

But this may be a made-up word, so I looked it up.

And I was in fact surprised that very little can be found under this term, and the main things that are out there have so far been used in a slightly different context.  

  • The official Merriam-Webster definition is “the deprivation of the capacity for social intercourse”.  Interesting choice of words; and just in case you were wondering, “social intercourse” means predominantly communication or ‘intercommunication’ between individuals, whereby this describes a relationship of significance, not an impersonal one.
  • Wikipedia only comes up with two music albums, one of them of a heavy metal genre…
  • And the Oxford Dictionary describes desocialisation as “the process by which an individual experiences role loss and an accompanying loss of associated power or prestige (for example, following retirement from a sport). The individual may experience a loss of social identity resulting in an identity crisis, loss of peer status, loss of self-image and self-esteem, and have difficulty finding a substitute activity or another peer group.”
  • Elsewhere the term ‘desocialisation’ is also described as “the process by which earlier socialisation is undone”.

So, this seemed to get a little closer to the meaning of what I was looking for. The fast-tracked and increased digital socialisation esp. over the past nine months could also be seen as our new fast-tracked process of personal desocialisation.

I looked up if there were any academic articles or books on the topic. I could not find much on Google Scholar. On Amazon, not much came up either except one single book by a British historian, social commentator and Christian author in 2009 on the critique of post-modernity. It surprised me that it had even been translated into four different major languages.

This and anal cream for haemorrhoids treatment and other random products on Amazon (…this is true – do your own search on Amazon!).

Similarly, and oddly, if you try the American spelling ‘desocialization’, equally nothing comes up, other than a MP3 download, loads of disinfectants, cream for vaginal dryness, Caraway essential oil and a plastic face visor amongst the most random things….

Though this seems perhaps amusing, I think you will see perhaps the same if you try searching this term on Amazon. I wondered at first if it was an odd programming or some random search optimised algorithm… but I am 100% sure I had not searched for any of the named random products nor did someone have access to my laptop or Amazon ID to do so. I thought it funny at first; yet it proves actually the point I am trying to make with what has been and is happening to us.

Coming back to why this topic is relevant for this year is probably best explained by way of the one book that I did find on Amazon (see here). It seemed in fact to come closest to what my search for meaning was around the term ‘desocialisation’.

The book explores themes around our cultural and common values from which our past societal bonds and relational ties stem from. However, things these days have changed.

  • Though the author focusses on British culture and society this trend can be seen across the world. With the change of our society and lack of these former common values and relational ties, the author argues that a society would be nothing more than the sum of its parts (or members).
  • “People no longer know their neighbours, lose contact with their families and pursue their own ends without regard for the common good. All manner of social ills, moral and behavioural disorders then ensue.” The author M. Fforde describes this current trend and as a result of what is called post-modernism.
  • “People then become isolated, insecure and self-ish” (perhaps here also meaning self-serving, self-dependent).

In psychology we know that this phenomenon can lead to loneliness.

Loneliness seems to be a modern epidemic in itself on a large scale and a sign of our current times.

There are many studies on this now one study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology evidenced social media use with increased feelings depression and loneliness. The study recommends reducing social media exposure to a maximum of 30 minutes per day to help reduce this effect.

In Psychology Today was an interesting article on why a “social media break” may be necessary and good for our mental health and social life (have a look here if you are interested in finding out how to start). But there are now many articles out there on the topic, calling it a social media ‘break’, ‘cleanse’, ‘detox’, or ‘diet’, you name it.

However, it needs to be balanced of course, as the need for connection with others, is one of the main reasons for social media use! That during this process we are becoming more ‘disconnected’ and lonely was perhaps unexpected…

I recently watched the movie “A Social Dilemma, a documentary-drama hybrid made in 2020 (!). Somehow, it has passed may of us by unnoticed. But it’s available for free on Netflix. I recommend watching it. In its 1h 34m it explores the “dangerous human impact of social media and networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations” with many former employees of the very big top named companies). If you are interested, find the trailer here. It’s worth a watch.

So this trend of personal desocialisation on the on end versus digital socialisation on the other seemed at first a blessing, and advancement, and beneficial to our development. But it now seems to be the major contributor to chronic feelings of loneliness.

This is not to sound all doom and gloom with something that will continue its tidal wave with the younger generations at its front lead. It is just to understand what is going on for us and what is perhaps felt on a collective level. Enhanced and accelerated by the events of this year, but having started already long before.

Having lived in the large multi-culture metropolitan city of London for a decade and a half, I already experienced the paradoxical sense of loneliness despite living amongst millions of people. Or because of it they way things have changed. I also thought that by moving to the countryside all this will change. The old village values will still be there and upheld.

But it has not been quite like that either. Yes, for sure there is more talking and knowing thy neighbours, but also here in a remote place of Somerset, people talk about the change. How there were village parties and festivities at multiple intervals throughout the year. People got to know each other and formed and maintained strong bonds. This isn’t happening anymore I was told by people having lived here for many decades. Though, apart from a sweet attempt to get people together this Christmas for a charity sponsored two hour carol singing afternoon – with some safely wrapped minced pie and socially distanced outside.

Part of the reasons named were ‘strangers’ moving in from the outside, e.g. mainly London, well that would be me then, I nodded slowly to that comment feeling a light red blush of shame creep up my neck. That and the general changes, we are all so busy in our own worlds, have less time, and use technology to achieve more and fast, including working and shopping and ordering things online and chat online…

Can we do anything about this ever bigger getting tidal wave at all?

Perhaps it seems impossible – yet we still can. We can choose to shut of the screen more. We can choose to go outside more. Even getting a dog if we have the option in our living arrangements and surroundings. That can get people talking again – and exercising. Is it ok to reach out to neighbours? Can we ignore a grumpy glare and do it anyway, finding perhaps that people can and do warm up to each other? Could we bake or make something and just generously share it with a neighbour sparing a few minutes to ask how they are? Do we find that time to do that over these holidays and even beyond?

If we struggle ourselves, can we reach out to someone? A friend? A family member? Can you find a place to just get outside and walk a bit? See different sceneries, see some greens, some trees if you find access to it? And when you pass someone to say hi and have a small exchange?

This is by no means easy in the current climate where in various regions the different Tiers will currently dictate the rules of engagement and publicly accessible places including bars, restaurants, café and public parks. But we need to try and do the best to find ways to get outside and interact in person if we can. Consider a social media break this Christmas, to some extent – establishing better virtual and digital boundaries as esp. around social media sites if possible. But setting up live meetings or connections as needed.

Falling too far into the screen virtual world and social media inside our cosy warmed homes could in the end make it much harder a habit to get back to engaging more live and in the moment with human-to-human relations. As many challenges that may bring that we can avoid perhaps with the digital screen and shut off button, it is still how we are wired by evolution, and what our psyche needs included in every day to stay healthy.

Feeling happier and healthier, by moving outdoors and engaging more ‘in live ways’ will also impact our immune system positively.

Something that we all need the most of right now.

Warmest wishes (digitally but meant personally…) for the season.

If you have any comments to this article, feel free to get in touch and contact me.

What is Walk and Talk Therapy?

By Lara Just, September 2020…

See this article published for Welldoing.org here!

  • The image often evoked of therapy involves a room and two chairs, maybe a couch – but therapy doesn’t have to be this way.
  • Therapist Lara Just explains how walk and talk, or outdoor, therapy works.
  • Outdoor therapy is more Covid-secure and more clients than ever are offering this service.

The events over the past six months across the world have changed many things. Online working has become more popular and many people are desperate to get out and about and into nature, particularly those feeling stuck in small living spaces and in cities. This has also changed psychotherapy and how it is offered. Though I have been working outdoors and online for many years now with many clients all over the world, the demand has never been higher and many of my colleagues have now started to look into offering these formats of therapy. Read more here.

Creative Self-Therapy: How to get ready for the next chapter

By Lara Just, September 2020…

In the previous blog I shared my experience with the dead branch falling off a huge ancient oak tree right before my eyes while I entered the field with my dog on a walk. The symbolism of letting go or shedding something old is important in renewal and change work and very much linked to the process of self-care and therapy. We will explore the concept of ‘Self-Therapy’ more in this article.

Sometimes we do need to let go of the things that no longer serve us. These may be old or unhelpful habits, being stuck in familiar patterns that have the same obsessive thoughts and feelings come up over and over again. This could be patterns or issues in relationships also. Or perhaps we have set some plans that we want to achieve and somehow just never get around to it.

This could be anything from learning to play the piano, sign up to a course, learn a new hobby, or something bigger – change careers, industry, way of lifestyle, relationships etc.

What holds us back is often not the whole of us. There are often driven by conscious or unconscious fears that belong to ‘parts’ of us. These internal ‘parts’, that tend to originate from different ages, will be useful to work with. I will explain more about parts work in another blog. It is part of the ‘self-therapy’ concept as well as our ability to maintain ‘self-care’ for ourselves.

It is good to have a professional helping at times. They can guide us and are unbiased, explore different issues with us so we can find our own answers.  (So different to friends and family members, therapists don’t try to tell you what to do or give advice about what you ‘should’ do. That would defeat the object of you finding your own answers that are right for you.)

It is also important to learn some tools so that you can continue with the work, to maintain what you have learnt and to continue to thrive and follow your ‘path’.

‘Self-Therapy’ as a concept isn’t much different to ‘self-care’. Self-therapy sounds perhaps more ‘self-reliant’ in its connotations, in a way that we could do away with any help or support of others, which is actually not quite what it means. Asking for help when we need it is in fact part of self-care.

Learning about different concepts can be helpful, but in a way we need to try to keep an open mind. See what fits and what doesn’t. Then adjust it to what works for you. It is a process of travelling along a self-discovery path, a journey that can brings more self-knowledge, acceptance, healing and change.

Increasing Resilience

Creating increased resilience is part of self-therapy programme. Most of the time, we start by getting back to basics. Part of resilience in its simplest building block is learning breathe properly again through a variety of breathing exercises.

HeartMath® Institute has done many decades of research on the effects of breathing on our levels of resilience, stress hormones and our immune system. They have developed a useful app for your iPhone or iPad (“InnerBalance”, requires an external sensor – please get in touch with me for a discount!). This is a breathing-based training programme with direct biofeedback to help build resilience via changing your heart rate variability. (Read more on HeartMath® on my website here.) This can then be enhanced by using visualisation exercises. It is recommended to practice just once a day for 7 minutes.

Increasing Balance

Other breathing-based exercises like yoga, or swimming, or walking, singing are all good practices that could be alternatives.

Mindfulness-based exercises, like walking slowly in nature, taking everything in through our five senses, noticing, breathing, can be equally effective. But our mind wanders. So perhaps if we put a 10 minute timer on – see if you can focus just on your senses.

Enhancing Self-Expression

Any creative practice can be part of this programme, depending on your skills, talents, desires or dreams. Gardening, wood-work, leather-work, music, writing, drawing/sketching, painting, reading, listening to audio books or music, playing sports or team sports, outdoor hiking, or other exercise – can all create room for more space of mind. As can taking a bath and nourishing yourself with your favourite smell of essential oils.

Creative and Therapeutic Writing: This can be a more targeted, mindful and timed exercise practice. Keeping it up even just for 10 minutes per day in the morning, will soon create different thoughts and noticeable shifts. It can also help us to slow right down, when we hand write, something we don’t often do any more. Most people can touch-type as fast as their thoughts! If you want to learn a little more about this and why writing or journaling could be helpful to unclutter the mind, stabilise our emotions and even take action to follow our dreams, have a look at some of the books mentioned in the latest eNews here (e.g. “The True Secret of Writing” by Natalie Goldberg and “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron). The upcoming weekend workshop retreat is inspired and adapted from these books have a look here in case you might like to come along!

This will affect a range of things including communication skills, relationship skill, confidence and self-esteem. It is about creating a regular practice. And to also follow a bit of a structured process with support.

The self-therapy programme will bring in ‘prompts’ that can help us write to go a little deeper on working with our ‘parts’ (see the next upcoming blog). If you like to read up more about it, have a look at “Self-Therapy” and “internal family systems” by Jay Early). For example, we may explore some of our ‘inner child’, younger parts, conflicted parts, or think back to both positive or difficult memories, or call up dreams from the past and the future.

Hitting the Wall

The next step is usually that we will hit resistance.

We will never feel we have enough time. It may seem too much to set our alarm in the morning a little earlier. Then do some yoga, or read, or write, or sit or do any of the above mentioned exercises. These are ‘parts’ piping up that resist for various reasons. It is helpful to then explore these to help us through this impasse.

We can choose to take some time out, even just a short time. This can just be 10 minutes to start with in the morning.

That’s all.

It will come naturally later, once we start sticking to it that it may feel important and pleasurable to extend this time a little more. Little steps at a time.

The Challenge

For now, the only challenge I like to leave you with for this week, is:

Find ONE single realistic exercise from this list (something that you ‘love’ – or add another!). Something you could practice once a day for the next week – for just 10 Minutes:

  • Breathing or Sitting Meditation
  • Guided Visualisations (many are free available, e.g. sound cloud)
  • Writing / Journaling (free-flow)
  • Yoga, Walking, Running, Stretching – being outside for this
  • Standing still, observing the colours, breathing, smelling, being
  • Listening to a special piece of music
  • Choosing to read in a book of your choice
  • Paint or draw, sketch or make something
  • Gardening, making something, collecting something from the woods
  • Cooking something different for fun and pleasure and colour, not for need or must
  • Taking yourself on a date – go somewhere different or nice, even if it’s still only 10 mins (or more if you choose)
  • Take a bath, light candles, go for a swim

Choose one from this list for each day of the week.

Start with only 10 minutes of that exercise. It really doesn’t have to be more.

Then write down in a journal what you noticed during that, 5 minutes is enough. Just write about your experience (was it easy, hard, what came up…).

Chose a little paper journal, even just one of those cheap ones, just to keep the notes together to view easily. It is important to use your physical body – writing with a pen and hand – rather than digital notes in your phone. The days you miss, still record that day in your journal by marking it with ‘skipped’ or similar.

Review after a week. What did you notice in your writing? What did it feel like to give yourself some time for a practice that you enjoy? The following week try again. Keep the same timing. If you are starting to enjoy it or it went really well, you can extend it to 10 mins more. Try to stick though to short chunks and not prolong it yet.

See you how it goes. Do feel free to write to me with any comments.

As mentioned above, part of this will be included in the upcoming “Creative Writing and Self-Therapy” weekend retreat on the 2nd – 4th October. Do check it out on my events page or find the PDF flyer here.

If you like to come along to get a more intensive and deeper experience of what I have talked about here, do get in touch!

Looking forward to seeing some of you there!

Letting Go of ‘Control’ – or a Dead Branch

By Lara Just, August 2020

The events over the past six months across the world left many of us wondering how we can go on from here. What will happen next? What work will I do? Where will I get my clients from? How can I afford my life? Do I want to keep living (working, being in relation with xyz…etc) as before? Do I still want to be in a city? Do I want a different work-life-balance? Do I finally want to get a dog/cat, live in more natural surroundings?

So many questions. All are real questions that I have heard from clients during sessions, friends, colleagues, including myself particularly during and after the COVID-19 lockdown experience. So much uncertainty. So much out of control feelings that we desperately aim to control. Some of us still do this by means of working many hours, draft many plans on crumpled lists and post-it notes, or by binge-watch Netflix and excessive worry. And yet we still don’t know what will happen next. How do we cope?

Being really in touch with our fears of this uncertainty can be really difficult. The depths of it can make us feel exposed, raw even, and this vulnerability does not feel safe to most of us. Particularly in our western culture, we brush it off, laugh it off, make surface jokes, we divert, distract or talk about other less-charged material. Coming to terms with our own vulnerability and accepting our ‘powerlessness’ over uncertainty is one the most challenging aspects of being human, while living on this planet.

There comes a point when we realise that we are just not in control, even if we thought we were. And the truth is that we don’t actually have control over many things in our external worlds. For example, we cannot control the weather. You know that feeling? When it looked like sunshine earlier and then it rains on our walk and we wish we would have taken an umbrella. Oh, there are many “apps” for that now – true! But they appear to give us that pre-sight knowledge, and only give us the illusion of control. And did you notice? They don’t always work!

Or what about our neighbour next door, drilling and sawing relentlessly at random times, that could make our head pound in rhythm… Someone emailing or calling, interrupting us in mid-flow. A toothache. The postman delivering a letter we’d rather not receive that requires a response. Building works starting next door… Your big client choses to cancel your contract. Your mortgage falls through as your credit rating is no longer sufficient due to an error of an outstanding mobile phone invoice that should have been refunded. A family member calling you with another drama that you either pretend to listen to patiently or avoid by ignoring it in the first place – for as long as possible, in the hope it goes away. So many things – all out of our control.

We ingeniously create illusions to be in control though. Like the act of making lists, planning, risk management, spreadsheets, budgeting, insurance policies – now there are policies that cover nearly anything under the sun! With a fee attached. But the fact is – we are not in control. The weather can unpredictable, so can the world be – look at what happened this year with COVID-19 and the aftermath of it.

We cannot make anyone do anything, though we may try.

If we can make someone else try to do something different or be different, it absolves us from having to change something. Why? Because it is much more painful to acknowledge our part in it or that we may be wrong. We would risk our fantasy of control and safety.

As an example, if on the other hand we considered speaking out and saying “No” to someone’s wishes (“boundaries”), issue may rise up for us. We might deep down worry about hurting that person or we may be afraid that they think of us badly or get angry, in our busy minds leading only to unresolvable conflict. Therefore, we may chose not to say anything. This way, we can get into an old pattern and spiral into feeling bad, guilty, and ashamed even before we have actually expressed this. This leaves us feeling out of control and at the mercy of external circumstances. So we try and get control back again through other behaviours like brushing it off etc., and the cycle start again.

But guess what, we actually are in control of one thing – or person – ourselves.

How we react to the external world, is part of our decision making process, even if some of it is at times unconscious. We may not always feel that we are able to ‘control’ of our feelings or triggers. But we can take responsibility for our feelings. And the resulting reactions and actions that follow.

The hardest part for many of us is probably to acknowledge all of these feelings and emotions as valid. Learn to understand them and find compassion for them. When we work with that we have a better chance of reacting in a way that is truly authentic for us, and is congruent. This means that we are allowed to express anger, dissatisfaction, sadness or any other emotion, as long as it comes from a deeper true place, rather than from a place of fear.

Sometimes this requires a bit of help and exploration to get the hang of it (see more in my upcoming blog article on ‘Creative Self-Therapy’).

Many of us don’t even know what it would feel like when we are OK, happy and at peace (to ‘deserve’ and feeding into our self-worth). Notice how guilt could sweep in easily through the small unseen gaps and raises questions like ‘is it selfish?’ ‘would this affect someone else negatively?’ ‘how will they think of me?’, ‘who am I to … xyz?’ and so on.)

In the end, we can continue to do what others expect of us or we can start choosing to do what makes us happier, healthier, better, maybe even more refreshed and invigorated.

What has all of this to do with a ‘dead’ branch??

Last week something coincidental happened that made me reflect on ‘letting go’ and the painful process it can be, which was part of the reason for writing this article.

I was walking my dog that lunchtime between client sessions. On my way back, I entered one of the big fields with a large ancient oak tree in the centre. It has this beautiful natural wooden bench at its feet and I call it the ‘writing tree’ as I have spent many sessions writing there. Right in that moment of me entering the field, I heard a huge rustling noise which seemed surreal in that moment and what felt like a long time. One of the top branches fell off right before my eyes taking another branch down on the way. Everything was like slow-motion, and both my dog and I stood rooted to the spot while watching this. A huge branch hit the floor. For some reason, I felt I had to blink to see if I could trust my eyes. But right before my eyes, there now was a big hole left in the canopy (see the picture in this blog)! However, upon closer inspection, the branch was actually very porous inside – it was old, no longer healthy. It had to come off at some point. The tree ‘let it go’.

A little embarrassed to admit, I googled the various symbolic meanings of witnessing an oak branch falling, I guess I have just never seen a huge single Oak tree in the middle of a field shed a branch! Various esoteric meanings pointed to ‘death’ of a relationship or family member a quick search confirmed. Well, I wasn’t sure that I could confirm this, however, I was clearly curious enough to even google it. But the main point for me was the process of ‘letting go’ of something that is no longer useful. There may be a wound left even in that process. But the branch itself was no longer good to keep hold off, and now the leaves of the other healthier branches can grow and expand to fill the canopy again…

‘Letting go’ of something that no longer serves us sounds simple. It can be. But only if we have recognised the branch (part or parts) as trouble or no longer helpful.

If you like to know more, have any comments or would like some help, please get in touch!