Category Archives: Self-care

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!