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Psychotherapy and the Climate Crisis

By Lara Just, January 2022

A Warm December Afternoon Walk
River Tavi, Tavistock, Devon (photograph by Lara Just)

Well at least it is getting warmer here in the UK! I chuckle, agreeing to a client’s joke in session. In fact, I used to do this probably many times with other colleagues and friends. Let’s face it, it’s easier to not think about it or make light of it, right? To be honest, what else can you do when the truth seems too overwhelming and painful? Or is it?

I am in the same boat. I have to shamefully admit, that I was probably one of the worst at joking about this. I love the sun. ‘Oh at least I don’t have to travel to Spain or South Africa anymore for some hot summer weather!’ ‘Well, at least now we can enjoy wine from vineyards in the UK!’ ‘Did you know there are tea plantations in Cornwall now?’

I didn’t believe that last part at first. Did you know about it?

A new neighbour told me at first. One of the old type that has been in the Royal Navy here in Plymouth, the ones that love to joke and pull your leg; especially if you are German (me).

However, I found out months later that Britain’s first and only tea plantation so far has been thriving since 2005 after first planting in 1999. And also first tea plantations in Wales have experienced good yields since 2018 – of all places! British vineyards have been around since the 80ies but only really seen more staggering yields since 2013 (see here a list of British Vineyards).

That’s great for us and something to be proud of here, right?

Well, yes and no. For the Cornish and Welsh people it is amazing to achieve this for the local economy. But on a global scale it is very worrying. To be honest, I still really cannot get my head around wine and tea being produced in England. (I have promised myself to book a weekend to see it with my own eyes.) In my own my mind I always pictured the vast hillsides of Southern Europe or far away tropical and subtropical plantations. But they are here on our doorstep now.

Because it seems positive, we don’t yet really have to worry. Right?

And yeah, there are more floods and storms and strange weathers, but the worst freak weather, droughts and fires are elsewhere on other continents, so it doesn’t concern us immediately, right? And, we really have to focus on the pandemic and sort out the virus first, right?

However, Covid-19 may just be another presentation of the interconnectedness and results of human activity on our planet, and it may not be the last. The positive aspects that the pandemic has brought is showing that if governments act fast for once and on a global scale things CAN shift. And we saw also it DID make a dent in the environmental burden and activity especially which many people could witness around the world at the time.

The point is that anything beyond our homes or front doors feels often hard to be concerned about. We are all so busy and stressed enough, why feel any more depressed. Let’s stay positive and happy and do our bit. Some more recycling perhaps and using a take-away cup, that should be enough, right?

Sadly, I have to admit that I often fall into this too. I only watch the news sometimes, being accurate – actually very rarely. It makes me feel too depressed, not just about negative news stories, but also the choice of what is reported and what in fact isn’t and should. Also, I tried not to look too close, or read too much about the climate and nature crisis; may have even dismissed it as scaremongering at times since we still got loads of time, right? It feels better to believe that.

It would be too painful and overwhelming to be confronted the reality. There would be too many emotions to deal with at once including anger, shame, guilt, but also numbness, paralysis and unimaginable grief and sadness. At least for me, whenever I dipped my toes more into it.

How is it even possible to believe scientists that it could take only 30 years from now (that is 2050) for the entire collapse of biodiversity and civilisation? And that from now and less than the next 5-8 years (by 2030) we will find out if anything will have worked or if we will have reached a level where no other efforts will even make a dent going forward (something in science called the ‘tipping point’).

But that would mean we would really need to act now. Collectively. All of us. On the entire planet.

As in right NOW.

Let me boil the kettle and make a cup of tea, I am getting overwhelmed again…

Like everyone else, I am only muddling my way through all this. I am only starting to look more at the facts, talk to colleagues and friends who are much more involved in this already. We speak about our worries and concerns, and it feels good actually to start creating a space where we can talk about it.

It also makes us aware, that deep down, none of us are entirely willing yet to change our lifestyles in a way that would really make adequate impact. Obviously, we can’t stay in a lockdown situation forever, that’s just no fun. We may be willing to recycle our plastic and glass, and may even take our eco-cup in the car to the nearest Starbucks drive-through, but this won’t be cutting it.

There will need to be different ways, and some of the solutions are already available that are feasible and not so difficult to achieve for each person. It starts with some more education around awareness of this and also to start talking about things (see my latest eNews from February for some tips and support on the topic).

In my psychotherapy practice,  I am recently confronted more and more with clients’ increased anxiety and sadness about their future and the environment. This ranges from hopelessness to anger, to powerlessness, despair, guilt and shame. But more so from younger people than those of my age and older.

Eco-anxiety was defined by the American Psychological Association in 2017 as “a chronic fear of environmental doom” and the Climate Psychology Alliance describes it as heightened emotional, mental or somatic distress in response to dangerous changes in the climate system.  It is often synonymous with climate anxiety and climate distress.  

But it can affect us with a wide range of emotions (see image below) and can escalate to self-destructive and self-harm behaviours, even suicidal thoughts:

Just last month, a global study on eco-anxiety was published in December 2021 showing that this is now happening in young people across all over the world – and it is worse than anticipated.

They interviewed 10,000 children and young people around the world about how they are feeling about their future, and the results were staggering:

  • 8 out of 10 children and young people worry that climate change is threatening people and the planet
  • Nearly half (45%) reported negative impact on daily functioning (eating, concentrating, work, school, sleeping, spending time in nature, playing, having fun, relationships)
  • 4 out of 10 (39%) are hesitant to have their own children because of climate change
  • 3/4 (75%) think the future is frightening
  • Less than 1/3 felt optimistic or indifferent
  • And 6 out of 10 believe that governments are failing young people
  • Over half (56%) of the sample think that humanity is doomed
  • Nearly half (48%) have been dismissed or ignored by other people when they try to talk about climate change

You can find these and more findings in the full study here. Here is also a video presentation of the findings and interviews of the lead authors, it is really worth watching.

This seems like a very sad state of affairs. And a big finding of this study is not only that children and young peoples’ feelings about their future is worse than the authors had anticipated, but also that their trust in governments and adults – those who hold the duty of care – to listen to their concerns and distress and to act appropriately has been seriously damaged.

This study is important evidence in a major current case at the European Court for Human Rights, where 33 states have been charged violation of human rights due to their inaction in regards to the this crisis [see the link to the video above, where Human Rights lawyer explains more why].

And these concerns are only going to increase going forward. Mental health and psychological support has never been more important, and will be in the years to come.

But how do we even start providing safe spaces where these concerns can be voiced?

How can I as a psychotherapist, support my clients and future clients, when I am feeling anxious, angry and grief-stricken myself? How can we as therapists help best when we are affected too? How can we brush up on our facts and scientific knowledge and not inadvertently dismiss its seriousness? How can we help to support distress, grieving and anxiety, and encourage action and behaviour change for adequate hope?

Eco-anxiety needs to be normalised as a correct and healthy human response, not a pathology; it would be pathological NOT to respond in this way.

We cannot provide false hope on the topic but only encourage hopeful ways of managing and channeling some these strong emotions into more positive and sustainable behaviours and action for the sake of our mental health (and the planet’s). forward.

We are all in this together and are vulnerable to these feelings. Covid-19 has prepared us and shown this already at a major scale so far.

The most important thing we can do to come to terms with this magnitude of a topic affecting globally –

is to start talking about it.

Tregothnan Tea Plantation, Cornwall

For any comments or questions, please contact me.

For more tips, help and resources (films, books, courses), see my February 2022 newsletter on the topic.

References

Hickman, C., Marks, E., et al. (2021) Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey. The Lancet Planetary Health, Vol 5 (12), December 01, pp. E863-E873.

Yumiko Coffeya, Y., Bhullara, N., et al. (2021) Understanding Eco-anxiety: A Systematic Scoping Review of Current Literature and Identified Knowledge Gaps. The Journal of Climate Change and Health, Vol 3, pp. 2667-2782.

Resources

AimHi Earthwww.aimhi.earth/ is n organisation to help educate to action, to activate, inspire and empower changemakers around the world. They have created the world’s leading live-learning experience for understanding more on the topic. It is a succinct four-lesson part low cost (or free) crash course on building more awareness around and how to deal with our crisis. With huge support by the Eden Project, ReWild, Rainforest Trust, BBC Wildlife Magazine. UN Environmental Programme, and many others. The short course starts on 8th and 13th February 2022.

Book: Grose, A. (2020) A Guide to Eco-Anxiety: How to Protect the Planet and Your Mental Health. London: Watkins Publishing.

Book: Kennedy-Woodard P. and Kennedy-Williams M. (2022) Turn the Tide on Climate Anxiety: Sustainable Action for Your Mental Health and the Planet. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Book: Weintrobe, S. (2021) Psychological Roots of the Climate Crisis: Neoliberal Exceptionalism and the Culture of Uncare. London: Bloomsberg Academic.

Caroline Hickman (lead author of the study mentioned above) has some useful resources on her website

Climate Crisis Advisory Groupwww.ccag.earth is a new advisory group to help inform the public, governments and financial institutions providing them with the most comprehensive science, and more crucially, guiding them towards action for climate repair. They have some useful website resources and regular public meetings, with their next online live youtube meeting on Thursday 27th January 2022 at 12:00

Royal College of Psychiatrists guidance: Eco-Distress for young people

Royal College of Psychiatrists guidance: Eco-Distress for parents and carers this is useful and informative guide including what you could do to feel better (e.g. including making a ‘self-soothe box’ described by Young Minds Charity)

Royal College of Psychiatrists (2021) “RCPsych declares a climate and ecological emergency” “…More than four-fifths (84%) of the UK public think the climate and ecological emergencies will affect mental health in a decade at least as much as unemployment (83%) and Covid 19 (84%), new research from the Royal College of Psychiatrists has found.”

UK Health Alliance on Climate Change – The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC) brings together doctors, nurses and other health professionals to advocate for responses to climate change that protect and promote public health. They have some useful resources.

UN Carbon off-set calculator is interested to calculate our personal carbon footprint (in tonnes per year) based on your three main areas: electricity/heating, transport, and lifestyle. It is a bit debatable but interesting to do. The Western ‘developed’ world will have higher emissions than the developing world per household.

Sally Weintrobe – psychoanalyst who has written a latest book on the topic from a psychoanalytical view point, “we live in a culture of uncare“, see her website here.

Young Minds Charity: How to make “Self-Soothe Boxes

Becoming: Losing Yourself to Find Your Self

Written by Lara Just, December 2021…

This blog looks at how we lose ourselves in an attempt to find ourselves, over and over again, and what could help in the process. We can lose ourselves in relation to others, for example in a romantic relationship, or friendship; though often we attempt to find ourselves in them. Finding ourselves in this context means coming back to our (core) Self, our own values. It is also closely linked to grief and loss; and our resulting growth and change.

The idea of taking more time when we have usually less time may be at odds with our time-poor fast-paced lifestyles. To make more time may cost sacrifices that we are unwilling to make, it can even cost relationships. It’s also linked to the ideas around self-care and ‘grounding’ and efforts of staying close to ourselves. To stay in relation with our Self. It is the reminder of navigating the constant delicate struggle, that we all experience every day. It can be like balancing on top of a thin sharp edge that could tip us easily into either losing or finding ourselves, over and over again.

Perhaps we see parts of ourselves in the other or hold the unconscious desire to be those parts. We probably have all experienced the sweet daze of new romantic feelings which can cloud and lessen our judgements. It helps our needed and desired fantasies of what the relationship could be. Compromise naturally comes with relating to one another. We cannot avoid affecting each other, through our choice of words, our given attention, our moods. The fantasies may be linked tightly to our deeper wishes, hopes and needs. Even with good reflective self-work and self-awareness, blind spots always occur. Even with new found courage to voice our needs and boundaries, and satisfaction that we have been listened to; we may find it frustrating when it turns out we have not been truly heard or seen after all. Even if we had a hunch and kept repeating it. That realisation mostly comes later over time. This may be a blind spot itself. There will be blind spots in the other person too, and in relation to seeing/hearing the other can be wrapped up in their own hopes, wishes and needs that are unconsciously clashing with our wishes, needs and boundaries.

The challenge is to notice the blind spots and realisations sooner, to get them in the open. Remembering to get back to ourselves (our Self) and grounding will be important to keep noticing. And we may even be good at attempting continued communication. Until we aren’t. Or we start to leave it.  

We are very adaptable. We learn to adjust; sometimes to please, sometimes to be liked, or to placate, or to have peace, sometimes to get our way, and often to adhere to the unconscious fantasy. We may wildly deny this in the moment, and our unconscious may bring it to the surface only much later. Our disappointments and frustrations are often linked to our expectations, conscious or unconscious. The loss of a relationship will generally always bring grief with it on various levels, even if we know it may be the right thing. This can be a romantic relationship or friendship. The feared pain of loss can also be what keeps us from making the needed changes and moving forward. Attachment will always form in relation, in one way or another. When we lose this attachment, we will need to make time for grieving that loss, which will hurt. Our ego may also be in pain on various levels, since we can never quite get our ego out of the equation. And it is also the pain for the loss of the fantasy.

Pain, through loss and grief, IS the change agent. This needs its own time. May this be the pain of a relationship break-up, the loss of a home or divorce or losing a loved one, or a job, a parent, a friend. Sometimes all of these things can come together in a short space of time. C.G. Jung called it the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, on the ‘hero’s journey’ when he encounters his shadows. Katherine May calls it ‘wintering’ in her latest book (“Wintering: the power of rest and retreat in difficult times”, see also the latest eNews December 2021 in the book tip section). Like an animal that is injured we want to retreat for shelter to lick our wounds. In her book, May describes her own wintering journey and thoughts around this in a beautiful meditative way, so fitting for the cold and darker season and time of the year in our Northern Hemisphere, as a symbolic metaphor in itself.

It is through loss and grief, and feeling the pain, we find ourselves again, though we may feel lost in it.

It will take time to tend to our wounds, to heal or to be on our own is a crucial part of the healing process.

The time it takes is different for each of us and can take even years, while we go on with our many daily tasks and are able to be very functional, even with moments of joy in-between.

The process is painful and hopeless at times. Powerless and depressing and seemingly senseless. Shameful and embarrassing even. All the internal voices of the mean bullies can be descending, taunting us: “See, see, I told you so! You are nothing. You never amount to anything. You are bad. It is all your fault. See where everything got you now! You have done all this to yourself, so don’t whine about it now!” It is very tricky in those dark days to get out the big guns: self-compassion, self-empathy and love to change the internal dialogue to a much more friendly and nurturing tone.

Yet with time and reflection things do shift. Feeling it not fighting it, is not our instinctive response. But this way perspectives will eventually shift. Anger can dissipate. Maybe we feel we can start to breathe again. Flare-ups will come and go. The frequency and intensity of them will shift though, as will their meaning. These waves of emotions could actually become like awaited friends, coming for tea, with a hot water bottle and blanket at the ready; they won’t stay too long.

It is a deeply personal experience, stretched out in and over time, where time is relative. In our time pressured lifestyle, it can always feel too long, as we wait impatiently to ‘get back to normal’. But we ARE already changing. We cannot go back to what was before.

Time is like a river. You cannot touch the same water twice.

Grief helps us grow, but we don’t see it at the time, as it feels more like shrivelling up to nothingness. The pandemic has shown us loss and grief and many painful challenges. We now know we cannot go back to ‘normal’, or back to how it was. It has passed. We are now in today. Which means we have already changed, and are continuing to change every day, every moment.

Perhaps the trick is to let the change happen – at its own pace. To let it do its work rather than fighting it or hanging on to our past selves. This is really challenging for all of us at times when we ‘miss’ something or someone. But this pain may just be an indication of the love involved. Hope is involved in considering how we want our future Self to be. I wonder if hope is tightly connected to ‘love’. So if we lose love, do we lose hope? And when we find love, do we find hope? What is the process of hope?

I notice that when hope appears again in our lives, in sessions during the therapy work, something has shifted. Is it through love? Or when we can find the love within ourselves for our Self? Can we forgive our Self, and find to accept it and love it, just how it is?

This can only ever be a moment to moment conscious act. So the grounding, feeling into ourselves is crucial. Being in our bodies and in nature may get us physically more connected and to something larger than ourselves. For me, it is definitely walking as a practice. I am not sure what I would do without it, without being able to feel the wind in my face and the freedom to see far distances, the ocean, over hills or the magic shelter in woodlands with running fresh streams.

Finding hopes for the future is useful. But who do we want to be today, and right now?

How can we remember to ask ourselves this same question, even when we forget over and over again? We can create this awareness with intent, and for example in a conscious mindful walking meditation, where with every step we walk and every breath we take, could ask this question like a mantra.

We have a beautiful opportunity in this winter season and end of the year to reflect on this, to take some time, to recharge and be.

To take some time to hibernate, have warm spicy teas and nourishing foods, some time to be with others, and slowing things down. And even just to start with holding our intent to make room for this.

Go gently with yourself in this tender wintering process.

See you again in the New Year!

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.

Top 7 Tips to Stay Grounded & keep calm during the pandemic

Written by Lara Just – March 2020…

After the recent events and the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic many of us have become concerned. It has plunged our world into uncertainty as we know it and we don’t know how each day or week ahead will be.It can be challenging to stay centred and calm in this turbulent time with relentless news reporting and social media posts. This newsletter will provide some general tips and useful links to help you manage and cope during these testing times. 

Everyone seems already inundated with so much information on the topic, that it will feel hard what to sift out the right information for yourself.

There are a lot of emotions flying around at the moment, no wonder, and many of us are still experiencing shock and disbelief at what we are witnessing around the world right now.

So what are the key things that we could do to help us stay more grounded and to keep calm, avoid panic and fear? How could we focus on ourselves (and our loved ones) for some more healing time, perhaps re-evaluating what’s important to us. A chance to consider what we want from our relationships, work, life?

Top 7 Tips to Stay Grounded & Keep Calm during COVID-19 Lockdown

1.    Aim to seek information from legitimate sources*

2.    Limit social media and news reporting (as much as possible)

3.    Look after yourself and your loved ones (take this time)

4.    Reach out and support each other (neighbours, friends, colleagues)

5.    Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking (include positive resources)

6.    Acknowledge your feelings (journaling, talk to a good friend)

7.    Ask for professional support (find a therapist)

*see also my newsletter on the topic here.

However, there is also hope and beauty that has come up through this crisis. And in a way us being forced to stop for a moment right now. As many countries around the world are experiencing complete “lock-down” (e.g. enforced quarantine, staying at home, social distancing outside or complete self-isolation), there is incredible solidarity appearing.

Neighbourhoods are coming together, people helping each other, more families are outside together, and people starting to grow foods together. 

In a matter of one week changes in the environment have been witnessed in Europe.
Amongst the beautiful blue skies and sunshine of the UK spring, birds seem louder and wild animals can be seen more frequently around the country. 

Clients of mine have reported that their rivers in Italy – normally busy with Gondolas, and some of those in Germany have cleared up in a matter of less than two weeks – and fish appeared again. The skies in busy cities like London appear clearer, cleaner and quieter, which are usually full of air traffic, plane condensation lines criss-crossing, and full of noise and air pollution.

It is quiet and more peaceful – for a moment. People reported that ‘it feels like at Christmas in London’ (when most fly out home somewhere).

Except that it isn’t. 

We just had to stop. Nearly completely. 

I can’t help but wonder if we can see another message in this – from Mother Nature to us. 

That despite much talk about “let’s get over this, and then get back to ‘normal'” – we have to wonder what this ‘back to normal’ would look like?

Can we ever go back to ‘normal’ or ‘business as usual’?

And if we do, will we now see what impact this might really have on our environment and the survival of our species on this planet long-term? 

Is there a message in this stopping for a moment?

Will we only be able to recognise and really stop to notice our impact on our resources through this crisis, when we are personally afflicted? E.g. when we cannot find resources as usual in our local shops (as it is happening at the moment)?

“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.”

Roy T. Bennett

When we act so passionately to follow the government advice to contain the spread to save and keep our loved ones healthy – could we act equally passionately to contain our own ways of living to save our loved ones in the future? Those that will depend on the health of our beautiful planet overall? 

The current situation has undoubtedly made a huge impact on all of our lives. With more time (potentially!) to reflect on these things, we may suddenly become more aware of how we use our resources, what we eat, drink, use every day, and what if they run out. Where they come from. Who grows them. Who picks up our rubbish we create every day, where it goes… Perhaps we notice and appreciate those people more that do all these jobs for us, that we normally take for granted and those jobs we wouldn’t want to do ourselves. 

It is an interesting time full of uncertainties.

It may also be a time full of opportunities. 

But we will not be able to see these opportunities easily if we are in a state of panic, stress and anxiety. 

Instead it is now more important than ever to stay grounded and to keep a calm head. 

To find more creative and better solutions, to connect with people and pull together – to support each other.

If you are interested in some free resources for this time like meditation, yoga classes online, how to start gardening, books, and therapy sessions etc – have a look at my newsletter on this topic here. Hopefully it can provide some useful things for you during these current testing times.

And since all of this is concerning us on a global scale we now notice – perhaps more than ever – that we are all in the same boat! As passengers and fellow travellers on this planet that we call Earth.

Stay safe and healthy!

Warm wishes,
Lara

Endings for new Beginning: Meeting 2020 with Horns

Written by Lara Just – December 2019…

In this blog we will look a bit at a roundup of 2019, what to expect ahead, a bit about transitions and change, the paradox of opposites, a trailer clip for a film I was recently interviewed for, and a few book recommendations for the Christmas break. [Disclaimer: this is not about NY resolutions, as they don’t really tend to work, right; more ‘anti-resolutions’ and ‘intentions’ to create more successful change. Get your horns ready.]

I haven’t written a blog or a newsletter for a while. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind year full of challenges. I am sure it has been for you too.

I have been repeatedly told that 2018 and 2019 have been somewhat ‘tester’ years. HA! Let’s see then how 2020 – the new ’20ies’ will develop. (It’s odd to use this word ’20ies’, isn’t it? 20ies and 30ies have always been used for the 1900s – well now we arrived in the future!)

How do we ready ourselves for the New Year 2020? How can we ease ourselves into any imposed changes and challenges ahead AND fulfil our desires to change something for ourselves perhaps in our personal lives? Perhaps you want to change something (or anything) in the New Year? 

It could really be anything, a job, studies, hobbies, changing house or even just the overall desire to be happier, healthier, wealthier – whatever it maybe. It may also be driven by our deeper needs to heal and grow to enable change as we may feel a bit stuck. 

It is pertinent reflecting on this, as the year comes to an end.

We may evaluate all the things we haven’t done or haven’t achieved and along with that may also be forgetting (again) all the things we actually have!

In the previous newsletter we talked about stress and burnout. And how with this going on, it can be even more tricky to achieve or change (something). When we don’t take enough time to rest, recover and have time left-over on top of this to reflect and ponder about new ideas – more creatively. If we are constantly firefighting or ‘surviving’, things will not change. We are just continuing to do the same thing in different ways. 

That’s were the paradox of opposites comes in. When we feel desperate or are fighting hard to change, to stop or to get something, and it feels like wading through treacle. Then, it is just not going to happen any time soon. And the paradox is, once we let go of being desperate about that thing or stop wading through the thick sirup, there may be new and different ways opening up, easily by themselves. It seems impossible. Aren’t we meant to fight things and aren’t things meant to have to be hard to be worthwhile?

No. Actually they don’t. Things are allowed to be easy, smooth, enjoyable, more relaxing, invigorating, inspiring. Sounds impossible? A little bit. I’m still working on it too. The concept is, that when we let ourselves go with it, ‘get into the flow’ or flowing with it, surrendering to the stream, while still keeping our core values at heart and dreams in mind, other often unexpected paths open up which we haven’t been able to see.  

Not being able to ‘see’ something that was actually right in front of me, has happened to me a number of times in the last three months. It was so in my face that I couldn’t miss noticing my own stubbornness and blindness. I had been so locked into a way of fighting through certain difficulties in a certain way that I couldn’t see another way. This was anything from bigger bureaucratic, legal things to tiny little things like ‘where the heck did I place my cup of coffee/keys (etc.) – again’. I was so adamant and sure that something was wrong, or had been taken that I caught myself on multiple occasions wanting to pass blame. When in the end it was not what I thought or it was literally right in front of me. In plain sight. I just couldn’t see it. Maybe when we are stressed or in a state of fixation we cannot be flexible and cannot see something in a different light or from a different angle, and it is literally hidden from our view and senses. Often we are also completely unaware of this happening! 

So one could see how ‘going with the flow’ could ease these situations, as we could take things more lightly. Like water that just keeps flowing through the stream. It doesn’t stop at obstacles, it keeps moving around them and through them in all sorts of wonderful fluid ways. So the stream or feeling like water in a stream will be my personal metaphor for 2020. Not that this is always easy but its more about setting an intention – and for me personally I would like to remember to be a little more like water. There may be rocks and boulders in the mountain stream, it maybe slower at times, faster and tumultuous at other times. Yet still being able to enjoy more of the view and more the ride at the same time – that would be a nice intention. 

What does any of this have to do with ‘horns’?

Well there is a number of reasons why I also thought that ‘horns’ would be good for an intention and metaphor for 2020. And it is not that unrelated. There is an expression in various languages: “taking the bull by the horns”. It often means tackling an issue head on, not be afraid about going for something, challenges, obstacles, and also goals.

‘Horns’ to me also mean ‘boundaries’ as part of our healthy defence mechanism. Not in terms of locking horns, getting stuck on something but skilfully utilising these if needed. To have healthy boundaries in saying ‘no’ and not being pressured into ‘yes’ when we don’t feel something is right for us.

Another paradox: how can we be fiercely strong and soft both at the same time?

On our path we may encounter obstacles. It’s more fun to think of it like an adventure fantasy story. In adventure stories these often take on the form of dragons, demons, evil beings or the shadow creatures. (These can be our thoughts too!) Sometimes we have to fight them to continue, sometimes just protect ourselves, or have good strategies for a secret move, at other times it is just holding our head high showing off the shiny horns, without using them unless absolutely necessary. 

2020 is bound to be full of challenges as it looks – politically, environmentally, perhaps also personally and professionally for each one of us differently. Maybe more, maybe less than other years. Horns may be a good thing to have.

My main point here is that each one of us is able to set an intention. 

Maybe we have some goals. Sometimes there will be delays, or even detours. That’s the nature of an adventure story.

But perhaps we could just set the intention to do our best in getting on that path and trying to stay on it – towards these goals. And to be more present while we are on that ride. One step at a time.

Or like water in a stream that keeps flowing. 

To view this trailer use the passcode: ‘CelebrationDayCoH52’

This autumn I was interviewed for a film in the pledge to establish a ‘National Bereavement Day’ in the UK.  A London film production crew came, who are currently commissioned to work on this. It should help raise awareness to talk about our grief and loss but also how to help us celebrate and remember those we lost. Unfortunately there is still a lot of taboo in our society about this topic.

We did a whole day of filming on Hampstead Heath, North London. It was quite an experience and I was somewhat nervous beforehand. Luckily this settled soon. I was talking about things I am passionate about whilst sat amongst a groups of peaceful pine trees on the Heath! And I really don’t envy people working in film production. Having to capture hours of footage when you are only ever going to use a fraction for the final cuts. In this short trailer here you will see me only for a few moments, but there will be more of the interview in the full movie where I was also filmed with a client who is one of the key characters in the film. Despite the seriousness of the topic, we did have fun filming in ‘my office’ at the time – on the beautiful Hampstead Heath!

[The full film has not yet been released. You will hopefully see a copy of it in my next newsletter soon – so stay tuned!]

Winter Endings…

…for new beginnings. A month ago, I decided to stop my outdoor practice over the winter months, and into next year. It was a really difficult decision. It was also sad to end with a number of clients, and those who have worked with me for a number of years. But there can also be healing in ‘good’ endings. It also means we can give a chance for new beginnings to emerge.

For me this was an important step. I also needed to ensure that I could continue to remain effective as a therapist for those clients that I still work with. There were many reasons for this, including my need to reduce some of my workload, to sort out various pressing administrative things in my personal life, and my desire to travel for a few months to find inspiration to write more, and perhaps to find some more collaborative projects.

This means I will be mainly working online for now. I am planning to do some workshops and events outdoors. Going forward this change also means re-locating my home practice to somewhere with more natural surroundings again. Yes, I do intend to plan future face-to-face sessions in urban and city areas again, for example around Hampstead Heath, North London and other locations. But I do not yet know the dates.

Healing through Nature

Connection to nature and animals has been incredibly important to me and my own state management, as well as in my work. I believe it is important for all of us and our mental health and wellbeing. This is probably one of the main reasons I decided to move into the eco-psychotherapy field and incorporate nature and the outdoors into my practice.

I am also currently exploring alternative ways of working with some existing ‘online’ clients where we employ ‘walking therapy’ at a distance. So we ‘talk’ over the phone (via cellular or data) while we ‘walk’ outside, in different locations, in a safe park or natural surroundings away from roads. This has proved an effective alternative for people living further away or who still wish to have sessions outdoors while we are working over a distance. And it always surprises me how nature still enters our sessions in different and healing ways.

Well stay tuned as I may be sharing anecdotes in future blogs of how a is going…

Therapy Online

Working online or doing ‘online therapy’ can have different forms as described above. It can be via live video consultation, audio (phone), email or live chat – or even ‘walk and talk’ via phone/audio. Working online means no additional time and cost required to travel, park, or sitting in traffic or delayed public transport. It cansupport you at a time and place that suits you – anywhere (in the world). If you have any questions about it or would like to know if it could work for you read more or contact me!

For the latest Newsletter and some book recommendations for the coming Christmas break, view here.

“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.”

Roy T. Bennett

Here’s to a successful, happy and healthy 2020 – with the right intentions, a pinch of good luck and a pair of strong ‘horns’!

Nature as Therapist – Preventing Burnout

Written by Lara Just – June 2019…

It’s been a busy summer month so far and it seemed fitting to write about how to manage some of the symptoms of stress, including low mood and energy. A good friend of mine is running some burnout retreats at the end of this month and clients are eligible to receive a fantastic discount. Also, we will look at how “Nature” can become a healing element.

We probably all know that prolonged stress isn’t good for us. It can lead to burnout, anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue and many other symptoms. “Stress” doesn’t just mean having a lot to do or being too busy to see friends or go on holidays. Although yes, a long-term imbalance between work and play can create burnout symptoms.

However, stress is also created by continuously doing things we deep down don’t like or don’t really want to do – but feel we have to, or feel we have no choice or power to change them. It could be doing jobs we hate, being stuck in a negative relationship, dealing with toxic family members, being unhappy with the boss or co-workers, or our home or the environment we live in.

Many people also report feeling more stressed (mentally, physically, emotionally and in overall health) in the fast paced crowded urban environments in our cities. 

The disappointing truth is that none of these things will likely change until we are ready to change them. And most of the time the impetus to change has to come from ourselves. But to find the power within to recognise this and to then take charge to make changes is often frightening or seems even impossible at first.

And for most people to be able to do this successfully and sustainably, we need to do something else first…

“Only a relaxed mind can come up with new ways of thinking, perspectives, different ideas and creative solutions.”

To be able to actually do any of these things, to look after ourselves (self-care), and to make changes, we have to first recognise it as a problem.

The second step then is to figure out what to do about it. The third step is to figure out how to do it! Of course this seems like a logical approach and it is easier said than done. So what stops us?  

The second step is actually the hardest for most people. To start making any changes successfully and sustainably, we need to understand a little more about ourselves. Those stubborn parts of ourselves, that make us stay in our old ways of thinking and doing things. We may have an idea of what to do about our situation or perhaps rather what we ‘should’ be doing about it (i.e. what other people might think we should do about it). But that’s the point that becomes a real issue here. It may not really be what we want to do, even if our logical rational mind tells us so. Despite the fact that we may know what it is we don’t want, we may not be fully clear yet on what it is we do want!

The second step requires some personal re-evaluation.

Who am I…really?
What is it that I really want in life?
What drives me?
What makes me feel good…anything?  

But understanding our true underlying needs and wants, doesn’t tend to happen with just a snap of our fingers. It tends to need some space and timeto allow us to even start reflecting and exploring this a bit more fully. It requires some ‘grounding’ and state management first. 

Physical movement can help us with this and to be in our bodies more mindfully – more in a state of ‘being’ rather than focussing on ‘doing’ something all the time.

For example, moving in nature can create a renewed sense of mindful ‘presence’. By noticing and observing our bodies and physical surroundings more (= being ‘mindful’ not ‘mind full’), space can be created for our thoughts to flow more freely. Only a relaxed mind can come up with new ways of thinking, perspectives, different ideas and creative solutions.

Some questions you may ask yourself around the theme of prolonged stress:

  • What are currently three things in your work that stress you out?
  • What stresses you about your current relationship or life in general?
  • Do you frequently fell exhausted, drained, low in mood, get angry quickly, have difficulties sleeping or experience lack of energy?

I like to use nature-based approaches in the therapy work I offer to clients to encourage this type of ‘creative nurturing’. There are other ways of re-connecting with nature, ourselves and others and I hope this newsletter can give you some useful ideas on how to approach it. 

Apart from the walking therapy that I offer, there will be some workshops planned for later this year on ‘mindful gardening’ and ‘gardening therapy’ in North London.

If you have any questions about walking therapy or any future workshops, please contact me

Recent Media Publication

In this latest article by Xenia Taliotis published in the Calm Moment Magazine, the The Walking Therapist was mentioned amongst other outdoor approaches. Read the full article here to find out why walking therapy can lift our mood and spark our imagination!

For other published media articles, see also in the resources section of this website.

If you have any questions, please contact me