Family Estrangement – A Path to Healing

Family estrangement can be incredibly difficult to navigate. Whether this has been initiated by yourself or your family, cutting ties with your family of origin is never a decision taken lightly. Feelings of guilt, grief and sorrow can often accompany this experience. These emotions can be exacerbated by cultural or national celebration times, such as Christmas, where families are expected to join together in festive unity.

Outside responses, from friends, other family members or even strangers, to what is viewed in society as a drastic option can add to these feelings of insecurity. But, whilst modern culture and the media can convey close family ties as the ‘norm’ or the number one priority, sometimes the best and safest thing to do is to end communication. Around five million people in the UK have ended contact with a family member, and one in five families will be affected by estrangement.

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Causes and impacts of family estrangement

Family estrangement is the term used when members of the same family of origin (biological family) deliberately discontinue communication. Estrangement can be caused by a number of things including harmful behaviours such as betrayal, neglect or abuse, differing values or beliefs, or objections to things like a family member’s partner or sexuality.

Regardless of the reasons, the decision to break family ties often results in feelings of loss and sadness on both sides. These feelings may be accompanied by a sense of righteousness or legitimacy, which could lead to the refusal to acknowledge the feelings of sadness. This can often make it more difficult to healthily process and come to terms with grief. Alternatively, you may experience feelings of doubt and insecurity about the decision, adding confusion to an already emotionally turbulent experience. Or it may lead to feelings of relief, particularly if the relationship was unhealthy or damaging.

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Whatever emotions you experience, it is important to acknowledge that a variety of feelings will accompany this process and that these may reoccur over time. Grief is deeply personal and doesn’t follow any sort of timeline, and this remains the case whatever the cause.

Honouring and understanding your emotional experiences

The experiences which led to the rupture must be validated. Initially, working to foster empathy towards yourself and validate your experiences can help lessen the emotional pain surrounding the experience. Paradoxically, acknowledgement of negative experiences is the first step towards healing. This may also include sharing your feelings and experiences with empathetic loved ones, who can support you and help ensure that you don’t feel isolated and alone.

Once the initial heightened emotions have become manageable, a potentially more difficult method of healing your emotional pain can be to adopt an empathetic view of the perspective of the family member you are no longer in contact with. Although you do not have to sympathise with them or work to repair the relationship, understanding their perspective and the external factors which may have led to their behaviour may help you not to take the rupture as a personal indictment of your character, role within the family or ability to build and nurture relationships.

The desire, the need to belong, to be part of a family and a community is an innate calling to connect.  Just because the family who should have loved and accepted you for who you are weren’t able to does not mean that you won’t find your family of choice, your community of interest.

Nurturing and communicating with yourself and others

By working to foster a reserve of love and self-acceptance, you can work to build relationships with others. While the estrangement may never be totally pain-free, the positive experiences and relationships which exist elsewhere can bolster you and keep you from feeling isolated.

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Enforce a commitment to yourself and your relationship with yourself – this is your other lifelong relationship, and by building up the strength of your relationship with yourself, you can work to ensure a sense of continuity and strength from within.

You are going to recover.  You have survived living with a family who did not have your best interests at heart.  You will do this.  And you don’t have to do this alone.  Working through your experiences with an empathic, integrative counsellor will support you in your growing awareness and understanding of ‘family’ life and relationships.  Through understanding and awareness, there is a commitment to action not to be drawn to similar relational dynamics simply because they are familiar to you but are not good for you.

Although the experience of being estranged from your family can be painful, meaning can be found in painful experiences. This is sometimes referred to as ‘post-traumatic growth’ and, whilst your pain is never a necessary factor for growth, gaining positives from a negative experience can help to heal from it. By creating positive change within the space created by removing an unhealthy or unhelpful relationship, you could increase your ability to assert your right to healthy, fulfilling relationships. If you are finding it difficult to move beyond the pain and grief of your experience, you may find it easier to process your experiences by sharing them with trusted loved ones or a trained mental health professional.

Finding strength and community moving forward

Although your relationship with your family is no longer accessible, your ability and right to form lasting, healthy relationships is tantamount to your healing. Regardless of who instigated the break in the relationship between you and your family, your intrinsically human need for relationships and connections must be honoured moving forward. Whether you nurture your existing relationships or form new ones, by creating positive experiences when relating with other people, you can build trust in your ability to maintain healthy relationships and create positive experiences, which will help offset the emotional pain of familial estrangement.

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How therapy can help you to navigate family estrangement

Processing the loss of a family member who has not passed away can be difficult, and a trained counsellor or therapist can support you in working through the different stages of your grief. Counselling is specifically intended to support you primarily, and, as family separation can often include attempts to navigate the opinions and influence of others, focusing on yourself can help you understand and learn to regulate your emotions.

A qualified, empathetic integrative therapist can use the most appropriate approach to help you heal. They can help you learn to navigate your emotions and reflect on the relationship in ways that encourage building healthy attachments moving forward. They can also support you in seeing the situation from a perspective that centres on and values your well-being and enables you to build the self-trust and confidence to maintain future relationships.

It can be a big step to reach out and ask for support.  Growing up in a family environment where your needs were diminished or dismissed can lead to a pattern of extreme independence. When no one was ever there to meet your emotional or physical needs it is something completely alien to ask for help, never mind receive it.  The Leone Centre is here to support you in finding out what your needs are and how to best support yourself in meeting them.

Your sense of worth never depended on others who couldn’t see you or hear you.

Family estrangement can be an emotionally tumultuous and painful experience, and acknowledging and honouring this is the first step towards healing. By prioritising your own mental well-being and working to centre healthy, honest and fulfilling relationships elsewhere in your life, you can build reserves of love and acceptance to draw upon when the difficult emotions feel particularly strong. And, by working to internalise this sense of love and acceptance, you can foster strength and emotional resilience in your true lifelong relationship – the relationship with yourself.

Unmasking the Battle: Confronting Bulimia and Cultivating Self-acceptance

Confronting Bulimia

Bulimia nervosa, often referred to as bulimia, represents a significant and complex challenge. It manifests as an internalised conflict, an unceasing cycle involving episodes of binging (uncontrolled overeating) followed by purging (expelling foods using methods such as self-induced vomiting). Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, suggests that more than 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder. Bulimia doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can struggle with bulimia, regardless of age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status.

Treating bulimia requires an approach which departs from criticism, instead embracing a stance of sensitivity and understanding. Bulimia is not a lifestyle choice, it is a severe mental health challenge, often bound by guilt, self-hate, and a pervasive fear of weight gain. Pursuing an unobtainable bodily ideal of “perfection” becomes an unending race where self-worth can be inaccurately measured in pounds and calories.

The Long-Term Effects of Bulimia

Bulimia has significantly detrimental long-term effects on both physical and mental health if left untreated.

From a physiological standpoint, frequent episodes of vomiting can result in disruptions to electrolyte levels, giving rise to irregularities in heart rhythm and, in more severe instances, causing heart failure.

The recurrent pattern of binging and purging additionally contributes to gastrointestinal complications, encompassing gastric reflux, constipation, and, in extreme cases, potential ruptures within the stomach or oesophagus. Dental and gum impairments are commonly observed due to prolonged exposure to stomach acid. Additional health implications of bulimia include the potential to halt menstruation and induce infertility among women.

In the realm of mental health, individuals contending with bulimia commonly experience heightened levels of anxiety and depression. This can manifest as withdrawal from social interactions, self-imposed isolation, and nurturing a distorted self-perception that lingers even during the journey of recovery. Additionally, the demands and pressures of the chronic nature of bulimia often create challenges in forming and maintaining personal relationships, achieving scholastic or vocational milestones, and fostering an optimal quality of life.

It is essential to seek and follow the guidance of trained professionals who can guide you through the potential enduring impacts of bulimia and facilitate the steps towards recovery and healing.

Confronting Bulimia

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A crucial part of recovery from bulimia hinges on a brave act: acknowledging and talking about it. As comforting as denial may seem, silence only fuels the cycle.

Taking stock is your first step. It involves recognising the presence of bulimia in your life and understanding its impact. Acceptance is not about condoning or legitimising the disorder but acknowledging its existence, which is often daunting.

Why? Admitting that you are battling an eating disorder requires the capacity to make yourself vulnerable – the courage to face your fears and imperfections. It means relinquishing the false sense of control that bulimia deceitfully gives. It can feel like taking a leap into the unknown. But there can be a safety net below – a supportive network of therapists, doctors, and perhaps family, friends, and communities ready to help.

Confronting bulimia also means tackling and comprehending the triggers behind it. Bulimia isn’t an isolated issue. It often stems from underlying issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma, or low self-esteem. Untangling these threads can be challenging but integral to your healing process. This is where professional help becomes invaluable – counsellors provide you with the necessary guidance and support.

The Value of Counselling for Bulimia

Embarking on the journey of therapy for bulimia is a brave step forward, a testament to the incredible strength within you. Therapy provides a safe and compassionate environment for you to explore and confront the thoughts and feelings that fuel your eating disorder. Talking therapies that use integrative approaches off a pathway to relearn, rebuild, and heal at your own pace.

Within a multidisciplinary approach, therapy can guide you towards self-acceptance, helping you reclaim the narrative of your own life and empowering you to view yourself as more than your physical appearance.

Therapy is never an instant fix but a journey that unfolds one step at a time. Remember, seeking help is okay; in doing so, you’re never alone. Every step you take in therapeutic counselling brings you closer to a future where you can live in harmony with yourself, which is a profoundly beautiful thing.

A Final Reflection

Remember, confronting bulimia and cultivating self-acceptance is not an overnight journey. It’s a long path filled with victories, setbacks, courage, fear, tears, and laughter. It’s about taking one step at a time, knowing that every step is progress, no matter how small.

The battle with bulimia is fierce, but you can overcome it. Confronting the disorder and cultivating self-acceptance are your first vital steps towards a healthier, happier future. The road may be challenging, but it’s worth it, and so are you.

Healing the Heart: Navigating Grief and Finding Meaningful Connections

Grief is an unavoidable part of any life which includes love, connection, hopes and future plans. Simply put, we do not grieve things we do not care about. The experience of grief could in many ways be defined as a byproduct of love. Psychologist Dr Colin Murray Parkes describes the relationship between love and grief in his book Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life:

“The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love: it is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment.”

Grief is an experience which is universal not only to humans but also to many animals. Chimps, whales and elephants are just some of the animals which experience sadness and grief in mourning. These tend to be animals with developed social structures which are comparable to human families and relationship networks. So, in many ways, grief can be interpreted as an element which provides depth to relationships.

Grief can be a profound and destabilising experience, and working to process and navigate it healthily is key to ensuring it does not have long-term detrimental effects. Although this will look different for everyone, by centring love and working to explore and even accept your grief, you can see its value as a lasting connection between you and the person, thing or situation you are grieving.

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Following an experience of grief, it could feel scary to form new connections due to anxiety about the potential of experiencing this pain again. This is precisely why finding the best way to navigate your grief is so important. By creating something meaningful from your grief, you can reshape your relationship with it, and help to prevent it from becoming something you fear and therefore avoid. Although grief can be painful, a full and rich life cannot be free from pain.

Defining grief 

There are many different types and causes of grief. You can grieve loved ones who have passed away, moved away or exited your life for any reason. You might grieve a job, a time in your life, or a thing you no longer have access to. And, through all of these, you grieve a potential future you expected or hoped for. This is perhaps the most painful aspect of grief – it takes away the possibilities we were hoping for.

Grief can be experienced in many different ways. It may present:

  • Emotionally – shock, sadness, numbness, denial and anger.
  • Physically – nausea, weakness and lack of energy, restlessness, tightness in the chest or heart palpitations, physical pain, issues digesting or appetite changes.
  • Behaviourally – forgetfulness, confusion, absent-mindedness, being consumed by thoughts of what or who you are grieving
  • Socially – withdrawing from people, being dependent on people, neglecting yourself, relationship issues, increased risky behaviour.

Healthily processing grief

There is no one way to healthily navigate grief. Just as your perspective and experience of what or who you are grieving is deeply personal to you, so is your grieving journey. The tips below may help, but be sure to check in with yourself and ask, “Is this helping me to move towards a place where my grief is bearable?”

On your healing journey, try not to engage a “should” mentality. There is no one approach which should or shouldn’t help you, other than ensuring you are not engaging in activities or behaviour which is damaging to you or others. There is no such thing as perfect grieving, and attempting to achieve this can actually make the process longer and more difficult.

Some tips which may help include:

  • Accepting your emotions: cry, shout, get angry with fate, life, the source of your grief – but also accept when you feel happy, or don’t feel so full of grief.
  • Reaching out to others and accepting support when it is offered. Grief can feel incredibly lonely, but support from loved ones can go a long way to help.
  • Engaging in alone time. Learn to sit with your thoughts, and watch them with acceptance and even curiosity. See where your thoughts take you, and what meaning you can take from them; introspection and reflection can help you to understand and become familiar with your emotions, which may help you to work with them instead of feeling internally conflicted.
  • Moving your body. Although physical exercise may feel like too much at this time, even lightly stretching or giving your temples, hands or feet a massage may help.
  • Talking about it. Talking can be incredibly cathartic, and can help you to clarify how you are feeling. It can also help you not to feel alone with your grief, and to normalise your experience, as we are often presented with one or few presentations of grief, despite the huge variety of experiences.
  • Grief counselling can help you adapt to your loss, manage your emotions, feel safe and supported and normalise your experiences by discussing them in a supportive space.
  • Finding ways to maintain your connection with who or what you are grieving. This could mean talking to others who knew the person or knew you in the situation you are grieving, or using the aspects you miss most to guide your future actions.
  • Engaging in self-care – by looking after yourself, you may find yourself feeling supported from an internal place, building trust in your own resilience. This could include an expression of your feelings such as journaling or a creative outlet, or doing something which makes you feel physically good, like having a bath, going for a massage, or finding another way to treat yourself.

Supporting a loved one through grief

If someone you know is grieving, it can be hard to know what to do or say, particularly if you haven’t had a similar experience. It’s common for people who are grieving to feel isolated and alone, so one of the most important things is just to show up for them in meaningful ways. This might mean:

  • Offering to do specific tasks or taking over responsibilities, such as childcare, cleaning and looking after the home, helping with logistical tasks such as paperwork or organising, or bringing food.
  • Regularly checking in, calling, or visiting them.
  • Allowing them to speak about what they are grieving, and listening intently, as talking about what happened will allow them to process the events. However, they may not want to speak about it, or may not want to speak at all. Simply being present with them and letting them know they are not alone with their feelings is a real and meaningful way of helping.
  • Being consistent with your support in the long term; grief doesn’t follow any kind of timeline or limit, and often the offers of support subside long before the person stops hurting.
  • Reassuring them that their feelings are valid and don’t need to ‘make sense’ or be moderated – heightened emotions are a natural response to grief.
  • Avoid statements which dismiss or delegitimise their grief (such as “You still have so much to be grateful for” or “This is for the best”) and statements which push your faith or beliefs onto them (like “This is part of God’s plan”).

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Grief is the natural result of a connection you had being severed or disrupted, and the complex and often distressing emotions which accompany grief are completely natural. However, by ensuring that you can retain the positive aspects of these connections, you can transform your grief into something which, although still potentially painful, has meaning and will support you in continuing to form connections.

Into the Light: Overcoming Depression and Embracing Life

Depression can be described as a profound disconnect between one’s inner self and the external world, a soulful dissonance where the inner world yearns for meaning, connection, and authenticity, but the external reality often falls short. 

What is Depression?

Depression, often characterised by overwhelming feelings of sadness, numbness and hopelessness, is a state of consciousness that can significantly impact our lives. It is frequently associated with the suppression of negative emotions and attachments to specific outcomes, leading to a sense of suffering and feeling emotionally disoriented.

Depression can be debilitating and should be taken seriously. Seeking professional help, counselling, and support is essential for those who are struggling with depression, as it can lead to better outcomes and a more sustainable path to well-being.

Positively, depression can also be seen as the psyche’s way of signalling that something is amiss, urging us to embark on a journey of self-discovery and transformation. It’s an invitation to delve deep within ourselves and address the emotional and psychological wounds, which may have been previously suppressed or ignored, in pursuit of a more profound reconnection with our authentic selves and the world around us.

What does depression look like?

Depression is a complex emotional state that affects how a person feels and thinks. It also impacts how daily activities like sleeping, eating, working and interacting with others are managed. It can last a long time or can be short-term. For some, it may be caused by an event or experience, but it can also occur seemingly without cause. Experiencing depression can be distressing and even alarming – but understanding the nature of depression is the critical first step to overcoming it. 

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Depression can affect anyone, regardless of their race, age, gender,or ethnicity. Although certain groups are diagnosed with depression more than others, there are many factors which may impact this, and this may not be an accurate representation. For example, women are diagnosed with depression more than men, but this may be because men are less likely to seek support due to social stigma.

If you are depressed, you might experience the following:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood (i.e. not feeling anything)
  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, guilt, pessimism, or worthlessness.
  • No longer feeling interest or gaining pleasure from hobbies and activities you once enjoyed
  • Decreased energy
  • Becoming withdrawn, negative, isolated or detached
  • Increased engagement in high-risk activities or use of alcohol and drugs
  • Inability to meet responsibilities in work and family life, or ignoring other important roles.
  • Problems with sexual desire and performance
  • Finding it difficult to remember things, make decisions or concentrate.
  • Changes to sleep pattern, difficulty falling asleep or waking up, or waking up in the night or very early.
  • Changes in appetite or unplanned weight changes
  • Unexplained physical aches, problems with digestion, or pains.
  • Thinking about death or suicide, or suicide attempts.

Not everyone who experiences depression will experience all of these symptoms, or even most of them. Depression is defined medically as experiencing one or more of these symptoms for two weeks or more. If you are concerned about your symptoms, particularly if they are impacting your ability to function day-to-day, or you are having thoughts of suicide, contact a health professional, such as a GP or a mental health professional, such as a counsellor, urgently. Leone Centre offers fast-track therapy services; please feel free to get in touch if you feel you require help.

There are also anonymous, 24-hour helplines available:
  • NHS Urgent Mental Health Helplines: Find your local NHS urgent mental health helpline.
  • Call 111: If you are not able to speak to your local NHS urgent mental health helpline, you need help urgently for your mental health, but it’s not an emergency, or if you’re not sure what to do.
  • Call 999: if someone’s life is at risk – for example, they have seriously injured themselves or taken an overdose, or you do not feel you can keep yourself or someone else safe. A mental health emergency should be taken as seriously as a physical one. You will not be wasting anyone’s time.
  • Samaritans. Call 116 123 to talk to Samaritans, or email: for a reply within 24 hours.
  • Childline. If you are under 19 year old, you can call 0800 1111 to talk to Childline. The number will not appear on your phone bill.
  • SANEline. If you’re experiencing a mental health problem or supporting someone else, you can call SANEline on 0300 304 7000(4.30pm-10.30pm every day).
  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK. Offers a supportive listening service to anyone with thoughts of suicide. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK on 0800 689 5652 (6pm to midnight every day).
  • Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). You can call CALM on 0800 58 58 58 (5pm-midnight every day) if you are struggling and need to talk. Or if you prefer not to speak on the phone, you could try the CALM webchat service.
  • SHOUT. If you would prefer not to talk but want some mental health support, you could text SHOUT to 85258. Shout offers a confidential 24/7 text service providing support if you are in crisis and need immediate help.
  • The Mix. If you’re under 25, you can call The Mix on 0808 808 4994(3pm-midnight every day), request support by email using this form on The Mix website or use their crisis text messenger service.
  • Papyrus HOPELINEUK. If you’re under 35 and struggling with suicidal feelings, or concerned about a young person who might be struggling, you can call Papyrus HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141 (24 hours, 7 days a week), email or text 07786 209 697.
  • Nightline. If you’re a student, you can look on the Nightline website to see if your university or college offers a night-time listening service. Nightline phone operators are all students too.
  • Switchboard. If you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you can call Switchboard on 0300 330 0630 (10am-10pm every day), email or use their webchat service. Phone operators all identify as LGBT+.
  • Community Advice and Listening Line (C.A.L.L.)  If you live in Wales, you can call C.A.L.L. on 0800 132 737 (open 24/7) or you can text ‘help’ followed by a question to 81066.
  • Helplines Partnership. For more options, visit the Helplines Partnership website for a directory of UK helplines.
  • Mind’s Infoline can also help you find services that can support you: 0300 123 3393.
  • Befrienders Worldwide. If you’re outside the UK, the Befrienders Worldwide website has a tool to search by country for emotional support helplines around the world.

The holistic approach to overcoming depression 

The term “holistic” is derived from the Greek word “holos,” which means “whole” or “entire”.

You can work towards healing by taking a holistic (well-rounded) approach to tackling it, looking at your physical health, quality of life, hobbies, and social life. If this feels overwhelming, start small. Choose one area where you can realistically make sustainable positive changes and work from there.

Changes in perspective 

  • Treat yourself well and kindly. One way to do this could be to think about your love language and treat yourself accordingly. For example, if your love language is quality time, schedule some time to intentionally do something you enjoy for the sole sake of your own happiness. Cultivating self-love is crucial to overcoming depression.
  • Identify unhelpful thoughts and patterns. You may wish to write these down and think about where they might come from and how realistic they seem on closer examination. CBT exercises and therapists can also support reframing these.
  • Keep a gratitude journal – write down all the things you are grateful for and re-read it often. Even if they seem like small or insignificant things, this can help your brain to readjust to focus on the positive aspects of your life. Depression partly works through the brain’s ability to rewire itself based on what you are focusing on, called neuroplasticity.
  • Talking therapies can be incredibly useful for tackling depression. A qualified, empathetic counsellor can support you to process your depression healthily, as well as to understand the root cause, which can help you to move forward.

Lifestyle changes

  • Reduce electronic use and social media. The overuse of devices like smartphones, laptops and electronic tablets, as well as frequent social media use, have been linked to higher rates of mental health illness and poor sleep.
  • Art and hobbies have been proven to increase dopamine levels, a hormone which makes us feel good, satisfied and happy.
  • Spending time outside in nature has been proven to improve mental health. You could also bring plants and greenery into your space. Even watching nature documentaries and looking at photos and videos of nature has been proven to support good mental health.
  • Peer support can be very helpful for people struggling with depression. You could try joining an online or in-person community or reaching out to supportive friends and family. You may be surprised by how many people in your life have experienced depression. By learning that others share your experiences, you may feel less overwhelmed and isolated. You also may find tips to help you.

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  • Physical health is crucial to mental health. You may be familiar with the term “the gut is the second brain” – and it’s true! Our gut bacteria produce and respond to the same mood-regulating hormones our brains use. Furthermore, the endorphins produced by exercise are incredible mood boosters.
  • Although exercise may feel very difficult, start with something manageable like a short (5-10 minute) daily walk or activity. Exercise helps us manage stress, connect with the environment and each other, and improve our sleep, confidence and mood. Be careful not to over-exercise or force yourself to do activities you don’t enjoy or want to do. Moreover, remember your right to rest – if you are genuinely too tired or sick, give yourself grace and don’t punish yourself for it.
  • Consciously eating a balanced diet and drinking water may also help your symptoms because the brain needs energy and hydration to function. Hydration also helps with concentration and thinking – be aware of how much you drink but also what you drink – try to avoid lots of fruit juices and caffeinated or flavoured drinks containing high sugar levels.
  • Sleep is also crucial to mental health. Poor sleep can significantly affect mental health and energy levels. It can impact your ability to relate to and get along with others, your ability to regulate your emotions and concentrate, and your physical health. To improve your sleep, try practising good sleep hygiene: Make your sleep space as relaxing and comfortable as possible. Think about light levels, temperature and bedding. Establish a bedtime routine which is enjoyable and relaxing – and screen-free. The human brain likes routine, so after a few weeks, you may find yourself sticking to it automatically. For some, this may not work, and you may want to establish a similar waking routine instead.
  • Avoiding substances like alcohol and drugs can make a tremendous difference to your mental health. Although the instinct to distract or suppress difficult emotions can be tempting, this often makes depression symptoms much worse. Alcohol is a depressant which disrupts your brain’s ability to regulate the hormone levels which are responsible for mood and can also lower inhibitions, leading to riskier decisions which can make you feel much worse. And, although alcohol and drugs can help you to feel temporarily more relaxed and confident, the long-term effects on your brain’s hormone regulation via neurotransmitters can make you feel much more anxious (leading to comedowns and “hangxiety”)

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Be Kind to Yourself

Although overcoming depression can feel like an impossible mountain to climb, addressing your needs and learning to process your emotions healthily can make a huge difference. And remember, you don’t need to climb the whole mountain at once. Take it one step at a time.

Q&A with Therapist Julia Pugh – Surgery, Couples and Psychosexual Therapy

Trainer, speaker to universities and charity organisations, therapist and author, Julia Pugh is a couples and psychosexual therapist, with over 15 years of experience working in various medical settings. Julia is dual-trained as a Member of the Institute of Psychosexual Medicine (IPM), a qualified COSRT member and a BACP member. Julia works in the NHS and private health care, specialising in supporting people with long-term health conditions and their impact on sexual function and wellbeing (for example, people affected by cancer, physical disabilities, and menopause). We know that Julia’s experience, extensive knowledge, and therapeutic background will offer us key insights into surgery, couples, and psychosexual therapy – so with that let’s get right to our Q&A.

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Learn about Julia

What are common challenges people may face after surgery in their relationship?

Some common challenges of post-surgery recovery include feeling vulnerable and dependent, when previously the person may have been independent. Being able to communicate their needs effectively, when it comes to pain, for example, may not be easy and therefore this comes out in frustration or being withdrawn.

Within relationships, it can then be difficult to negotiate how that person would like to be cared for, and one very common challenge after surgery is relationship role changes. When one person becomes a ‘patient’ and more dependent, and the other person is perhaps taking on the carer role, it can be hard on both partners. One partner may be feeling like they are under pressure; they may want to help but also feel overwhelmed by the new responsibilities. Often communication can deteriorate, conflicts can arise, or partners may feel disconnected.

Body image is another area that can impact on relationships. Depending on the surgery, this could mean that a person who has had surgery has some body image changes which require a period of adjustment. The initial worries or concerns about what that might look and feel like can be very different to what it actually looks and feels like later on in their recovery, but this can be a real source of anxiety. The partner might be saying things like “it looks fine to me”, or “It’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be”, and the person affected may feel their experiences and worries are being minimised.

How can surgery affect intimacy and desire?

I think this depends on the journey to surgery and the expectations afterwards. If the surgery is an emergency or due to something life-threatening, then it can take time to adjust or deal with the emotions associated with the events and the need for surgery. Alternatively, if it has been a long journey to surgery with side effects such as physical deterioration, this may interfere with the relationship and desire for intimacy in a different way.

In terms of the sexual response cycle, this includes desire, arousal, and satisfaction. There can be biological and physiological interplay, or mind and body interplay, as I would describe it to people, which can be disrupted when someone has surgery. The recovery period may take several months or even longer to rehabilitate, and often the priorities are getting back to independence and work or hobbies. This can mean there is a period where people are unable or uninterested in being sexually intimate or worried about engaging in sexual activity.

Pain can be a key factor here, but also how that person now sees themselves and how connected they feel with their body. It’s not just about positive body image, but about how the body is affected. This is particularly the case with erogenous zones such as breasts and genitalia that have changed as a result of surgery, including nerve damage. Fatigue is also a huge interference in terms of intimacy. Surgery can massively affect the motivation for sex – you might feel really tired, in pain, and feel a disrupted sense of self and identity.

When you are recovering, it is a period in your life where you’re not in your usual work role or family role, and you may feel less like yourself. The foundation of our sexual scripts is predicated on us feeling like ourselves and being able to express that. Often this is a transient period, and as you recover and get back to all your regular activities you are able to re-engage with intimacy, but sometimes you can get stuck, and it is useful to get support to navigate this either individually or with a partner.

How important is communication and mutual understanding?

Very important – and communication is more than using words. It can be actions or what is not explicitly expressed that lead to miscommunication and incorrect interpretation. Acknowledgement and recognition that partners often feel as unsure as the person who has had surgery is crucial. It can be just as hard watching your loved one or somebody that you really care about in pain, and the behaviours which stem from that can often be misinterpreted if not explicitly discussed.

Couples may not have been intimate or even kissed for days or weeks. This could be because one person looks fragile and in pain. It may be interpreted by the person recovering that they are not attractive to their partner, but it could be that their partner doesn’t want to put pressure on them or be inconsiderate by asking for affection at that time.

So yes, communication is key and if your behaviours are not clear then they can be misinterpreted. Knowing what you want and asking for it is key, and sharing how you feel can really help.

How can therapy help?

Therapy is witnessing and observation that can help raise awareness about unhelpful patterns of behaviours between partners and support new ways to move forward to communicate in a constructive and loving way.

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I would say that therapy can be really helpful to provide a safe space to explore these kinds of difficulties because often in life, when events such as surgery happen, they can bring up a lot of other things that have happened previously that resonate with feeling dependent or inadequate – and either partner can feel like that. Therapy can be very useful in terms of supporting couples to identify what is present and what is past, and if there is tension, how that could be dissipated.

It also helps both partners to see what is good about how they are loving and supporting each other in this space.

How does psychosexual therapy differ, and how can it support couples through these life-changing events?

Psychosexual therapy is useful for discussing topics that you may struggle to talk about, such as sex, because many people feel embarrassed or unable to find the right language, or they may feel overwhelmed if there is sexual difficulty. People may also be unsure if it is a physical or psychological issue, and a qualified and experienced psychosexual therapist can help normalise the conversation to enable exploration of the mind-body connection.

Psychosexual therapy helps people address sexual problems individually or in their relationships. It’s not necessarily just about being sexually intimate or a sexual activity, it’s about how you see yourself as a sexual person, and that can be disrupted for any reason. It could be surgery, or a job loss, or having a baby, or many different things. You may not explicitly make that connection, but actually what can be really helpful through psychosexual therapy is understanding how your difficulty relates to your desire or interest in sex and which stage of the sexual response cycle has been impacted: your arousal, satisfaction or pleasure.

Psychosexual therapy supports people to recognise that surgery is a significant life event which causes changes in the physical body. It is perfectly legitimate that this could impact our intimate relationships and how we relate to ourselves and each other.

Reclaiming Your Relationship with Your Body: Healing from Eating Disorders

Rediscovering who you are outside of an eating disorder can be empowering and demanding. Whilst this journey looks different for everyone, the importance of relearning self-compassion, self-care and joy throughout this process cannot be understated. By prioritising your own fulfilment, you can rebuild your trust in yourself.

It is essential to state that eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, and other specified or unspecified eating disorders, are incredibly complex and can be very dangerous. Healing from eating disorders requires professional care and support to ensure behaviours, thought patterns and actions are monitored and managed appropriately and safely. If you are currently struggling with an eating disorder, you should seek help from a health professional who is trained to support you through your recovery.

If you are currently in recovery from an eating disorder, there are actions you can take to support your healing journey. By taking deliberate steps to improve your self-esteem and love for yourself, you can ultimately support yourself in moving forward and not looking back. And, in nurturing yourself and creating positive experiences around your day-to-day experiences, you can foster a more nurturing relationship with food and your body.

The holistic approach to healing from eating disorders

Eating disorders stem from the brain, impacting the entire body and your relationship with it. By regularly practising supporting and nourishing yourself and treating yourself with kindness and empathy, you teach your brain that this is how you should approach yourself.

This works through the brain’s capacity for neuroplasticity. Essentially, the brain forms connections between pieces of information, which are strengthened with repetition and can become beliefs and recurring thoughts. This is how many damaging thought patterns begin – but you can also engineer neuroplasticity to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. By repeatedly emphasising to your brain that you are worthy of compassion and love, you start to believe it.

While healing from your eating disorder, you may feel that you need to reclaim your sense of self. Eating disorders often feel like they have become a part of your personality, and this can make them very difficult to overcome. By replacing that perceived part of yourself with one that is proactively self-compassionate and kind, you can ensure that you still feel like your whole self – a new self – outside of your eating disorder. 

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There are different ways to rebuild your relationship with your body and food in a kind and constructive way. Some are directly related to how you engage with your eating disorder, but many are more general and can help you build a more beneficial outlook towards yourself.

Some ways to rebuild your relationship with your body

Reframing thoughts so they are kind and empathetic. Make a habit of deliberately speaking to yourself how you would speak to others or your younger self. Take the time to sit and think of some compliments and kind words you would give yourself if you were a friend or stranger. You can write these down in a notebook or on your phone and practice them regularly. By practising them when you aren’t experiencing negative emotions, you build up your brain’s ability to access those thoughts more easily. Over time, you may find that you are able to reframe your negative thoughts when or shortly after they occur.

Grounding techniques. These can help you refocus and feel calmer, particularly when experiencing strong emotions like panic. Essentially, grounding techniques bring you out of your mind and back into your body by focusing on your physical senses. Some people find it very effective to ground through the feet or the surface below you. To do this, concentrate on the sensation of your body’s contact with the surface, focusing on how it feels. Another simple and effective technique is to pay close attention to what you can hear, see, taste, smell and touch. You can prolong the sense of grounding by switching between which sense you are focusing your awareness on, combining them into a grounding routine which you can use when you feel overwhelmed, stressed or triggered.

Grounding techniques help you feel present in moments where you may feel disconnected. By acknowledging and accepting your feelings, you become more in touch with your emotional state, which may also help you identify triggers to avoid and things that make you feel good (also known as glimmers), which you can incorporate into your life.

Seeking counselling. Even when in recovery from eating disorders, working with an empathetic and experienced counsellor can help you monitor your moods and progress, build positive habits and reinforce your self-worth. Although these things can be done alone or with friends and family, having a neutral and confidential person who is trained in the appropriate responses will support you in maintaining your progress.

Journaling. Stay in touch with yourself and your emotions. By keeping a journal, you gain an outlet for how you are feeling, and you can track your mindset and mental state and how they change over time. This can help you gain a sense of pride in how far you’ve come and build your self-awareness, helping you to identify when you are experiencing negative emotions and the circumstances which may have caused them.

Self-care! Do things for the sole purpose of making yourself feel good. Do hobbies you enjoy, establish routines which include calming and productive activities, and sometimes do nothing! Stand firm in your right to rest and treat yourself kindly.

Although you should aim to practice your self-care and compassion-building activities as often as possible, don’t allow this to become a source of harshness on yourself. Allow yourself to have “down days” and to be tired some days. On these days, remind yourself that you are doing your best and you can’t do any better than your best.

Challenging negative body image

Eating disorders can distort your relationship with your body, creating intense negative associations. By actively working to change how you think about your body, you can reduce your levels of stress around your body image.

Find ways to appreciate all your body can do – think about how it keeps you safe. You could try making a list of things you like about your body – and rather than focusing on how it looks, think of its strength, how it protects you from illness, or even just the fact that it gets you from one place to another. Add to this list whenever you think of something else, and look at it frequently to help change your mindset towards your body.

Take up a new hobby or activity – by using your body and brain together to do something positive; you can create a sense of self-pride and achievement within yourself outside of your eating disorder. This could be something you already enjoy doing, or you could benefit from learning something new. Whether this is an activity, a sport or a type of art, hobbies can help you re-establish your sense of self.

Learn to appreciate and accept your body – you don’t always have to love it or think it looks amazing, but you deserve to sustain a neutral relationship with it. Build a relationship with your body outside of the way you look or how much you weigh.

Building a supportive community

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Eating disorders can be lonely and isolating, and it is easy to feel unsupported or misunderstood. In many cases, it may be that your friends and family are worried about saying or doing the wrong thing and potentially triggering you. If you have supportive and loving relationships with the people in your life, it may help to have an open and frank conversation with them about the ways they can support you and how you can help them do this.

Talk to them about what will and won’t trigger you, how they can support you, ways you may reach out which don’t look like typical help-seeking, and what you can do together to build up happier memories and associations which do and don’t include food. Speak to them about any medical advice and how they can help you follow it. Your loved ones will want to help you in any way they can, and they might be able to help model healthy eating behaviours. If you are struggling to discuss your needs with your friends and family, an experienced counsellor can support you in planning and having these conversations and discovering the root of any communication difficulties. Family or systemic counselling can also support your family with ongoing communication, managing mealtimes and food-related events, as well as supporting you to strengthen or rebuild your relationships with each other.

Love yourself because you deserve to

Recovery from an eating disorder is not a linear path, and while the tips in this blog post can help, it’s vital to bear in mind that you will have off days. On these days, try to hold onto your commitment to yourself and be proud of yourself for the challenges you have already overcome.

Remember that your healing journey is a testament to your strength and resilience, and working towards self-love is itself an act of self-care. You deserve a comfortable relationship with your body, where you can appreciate all that it does for you. Moreover, you deserve to live a life in which your sense of self is your priority and not your awareness of your body and food.

Quiet the Storm Within Anxiety to Find Inner Calm

Often, it can feel like our lives aren’t in our control. No matter how hard we try to keep on top of our to-do lists, the pressure to succeed at work, thrive at home, stay up to date on current events, socialise, eat well and get enough sleep usually leaves us spinning too many plates and exhausted. If we’re not careful, we can find ourselves in a state of persistent panic, with our thoughts whirling and our bodies preparing a fight or flight response – but at the same time, feeling paralysed, unable to make decisions or carry out tasks.

This is anxiety – a common response to overwhelming or demanding circumstances. But anxiety in the modern age can often be a natural response to unnatural circumstances. We all deserve to feel calm, tranquil and happy. This might seem obvious, or it might seem impossible. But you deserve to live a life which restores more than it takes from you.

Our minds and bodies are inextricably linked. When we are under pressure or stress, we experience mental and physical anxiety symptoms, which then make it more difficult to restore our sense of calm. During stressful periods, it’s very common to experience changes in appetite, sleep or routine. These physical manifestations of anxiety are our bodies’ ways of showing us that something in our external environment is draining us and we need to make changes.

Think about a plant: when a plant is in the correct environment, with the right amount of space, sunshine, nutrients and without pests, the plant will flourish. If the environment is wrong, the plant will struggle. Humans are no different.

Why should we address anxiety?

The longer anxiety goes ignored or untreated, the worse and more enduring it becomes. Moreover, the mental and physical discomfort anxiety provokes often leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms, self-medication or addiction, and avoidance.

Managing anxiety, or even thinking about it, can be a challenge. Often, wanting to change or fix our anxiety can then become drawn into the mix of things currently making us anxious; it becomes another source of pressure. But, with the right tools and techniques, we can learn to manage and be in control of our anxiety, and get on the path towards inner peace. These can be techniques you learn independently, or you may wish to seek support from loved ones or a professional therapist. The key here is to release the pressure, like a valve, rather than adding to the weight we are currently carrying. By learning to truly accept where we are, we position ourselves best to make lasting change.

Anxiety has a great many symptoms, mental and physical. But what actually is anxiety?

Anxiety is a sign that your nervous system is dysregulated. When you feel fear or stress, your brain sends signals to your body which prompt a biochemical response – adrenaline floods your body, preparing it to fight, flee or freeze. Often, with anxiety, as there is no immediate problem which can be solved in an obvious way (like fighting it or running away), we freeze, unable to resolve how we are feeling and therefore unable to tackle the problem.

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Anxiety can be seen as a sign that the brain and body are not aligned. In our modern world, there are a great many factors which promote anxiety. From conflicting messages in the news, to social media, to the pressure to continually achieve and improve, there are plenty of things to make us feel like we’re not good enough. Moreover, our lifestyles are often structured in a way that makes it very difficult to take the time to prioritise our mental peace and well-being. At the same time, we have never been safer – our access to social support, healthcare and information means that we have fewer physical dangers to respond to than ever.

As a result, our bodies are using responses developed over thousands of years, designed to tackle immediate dangers to our physical person, to try and navigate the stressors of our modern-day world. Although reconciling our environment with our desired responses can feel like an impossible dilemma, it is absolutely possible to create many moments of peace, calm and tranquillity within a busy contemporary life.

Spending time outdoors or in nature, connecting with other people, enjoying healthy, nutritious food, meeting our goals and overcoming challenges are all integral to our health. They are how humans have survived, and our brains have developed to reward us for doing them as they benefit our species. But many people struggle to do them every day. Our long and uncomfortable commutes, overpriced coffees, lunches eaten at our desks, and hectic work and home schedules can make it feel impossible to take a moment to enjoy and experience the world. In short, our lives often don’t promote mental well-being.

Anxiety also impacts us socially. As animals which have developed to survive in groups, our bodies pick up on signals from others – so if we are spending a lot of time around people whose nervous systems are dysregulated, this will signal to our brains that there is danger nearby, and we will feel anxious too. However, by engaging techniques which promote nervous system regulation, we can become a calmer presence not only in our own lives but in our relationships and the lives of those around us.

Finding inner calm through everyday changes

You may be surprised to learn that many of the most effective treatments for anxiety don’t involve any kind of medical intervention. If you are feeling chronically anxious to the point where you are unable to carry out daily tasks, you should speak to your GP to find out more about your options. However, for those who don’t experience chronic anxiety, or for those who do but are solely treating it with medication, there are a great many techniques which are incredibly effective for reducing the impact of stressful situations on our mental state.

If we think of anxiety as a response to something being or feeling wrong, out of place or overwhelming, then it makes sense that treating anxiety would primarily focus on learning to dissuade our brains from the notion that they’re in danger. Anxiety is a holistic condition; its symptoms impact our brains and bodies. It therefore makes sense to treat anxiety holistically, using techniques which will regulate both our conscious thoughts and our bodies’ responses to those thoughts.

Young woman meditating at dawn on a mountain with panoramic views to improve her anxiety and stress levels and improve her concentration

Breathing for calm

One of the most common physical symptoms of anxiety is shallow or uneven breathing. This can be extreme, as in cases of panic attacks, but it can also simply mean that we go about our day without taking a full breath in and out. By spending a few minutes doing breathing exercises, or simply breathing deeply, we can counteract our body’s stress response, sending signals and oxygen to the brain to prove that we’re not in any danger.

One breathing exercise which is very effective for reducing anxiety is simply to make your exhales longer than the inhales – try breathing in for two seconds and out for four, or in for four and out for six, and repeat. Another useful technique is to hold the breath between inhales and exhales, so breathe in deeply and hold for two seconds, then breathe out deeply, then hold for two seconds and repeat.

Mindfulness and meditation  

Mindfulness and meditation have seen a boom in popularity in recent years. Although these can be difficult to begin learning and practising, taking five minutes to be still and shift between our senses – noticing how we feel, what we are thinking and what we can see, hear and smell in our environment – can distract our brains from our spiralling thoughts and bring the thoughts primarily to the body. This distraction prevents the brain from focusing on sending stress hormones to the body, enabling us to feel calm enough to detect and address the issue which is making us anxious. If you’re struggling to maintain focus, you could try the 12345 method:

  1. List five things you can see
  2. List four things you can touch
  3. List three things you can hear
  4. List two things you can smell
  5. What is one thing you can taste?

Connecting to nature and ourselves

Another way we can counteract anxiety is by addressing our basic needs – we have evolved to spend time outside and with others. By going for a walk outside and practising being present, we naturally soothe our brains. Science has shown that spending time in nature is key to our health, reducing stress and anxiety levels and boosting our mood.

It is often also essential to build consistency and routine into our busy lives. Although it’s important not to become dependent on carrying out certain tasks every day or at certain times in order to have a good day, routine is very comforting for the human brain. It helps us to know what we can expect and brings some surety to an increasingly uncertain world.

It’s important to note that in order to bring routine into your life, you don’t have to follow the exact same course of action every day. Routine can simply look like ensuring you make your bed, drink a glass of water every morning when you wake up, or lay out your clothes for the next day every evening.

If you struggle with creating consistency in your life, starting small will be key. If you try to change everything all at once, you are less likely to keep this up every day, and your brain may link routine with failure, which is a negative experience your brain will naturally try to avoid, especially where there are no immediate, tangible benefits. If you can do one small thing every day, your brain will begin to associate routine with success, along with the positive effects on your self-trust and sense that you can rely on yourself to stick to something you’ve committed to.

Relationship is everything

When we connect with others, we feel good. Social connectedness is absolutely vital to our mental wellbeing. Socialising promotes positive mental and physical health and boosts our ability to tackle challenges. From a biological standpoint, this makes sense – our strengths don’t lie in our physical prowess but in our mental abilities. We need each other’s skills and strengths to survive together, and we have developed in a way which encourages this. But when we are too busy to see our loved ones, or too distracted to truly connect with them when we are together, this signals to our brains that something is wrong.

If you’re struggling to engage with people, or if attempting to is making you feel more anxious, therapy can be very supportive in gaining the confidence to connect with others. A trained integrative counsellor can support you in finding the best techniques to manage and reduce your anxiety symptoms, as well as discovering where your issues with communication and connection are rooted. By understanding where your struggles stem from, you can view them with empathy and compassion, enabling you to release them as tools you built in times of crisis or distress, but which no longer serve you.

Often, it can feel as though we’re connecting to others in the hours we spend on social media, and connecting with people online can be very comforting. But social media doesn’t present the whole of a person, just the facets they want to make public. Combined with algorithms which promote inflammatory interactions, and the sheer number of people social media grants us access to, this makes it very difficult to access true connections online.

For a truly fulfilling connection, we need to share a conversation or experience where we feel like we’re bringing our true selves to the interaction, and are engaging, listening and being listened to. This might be with a friend, family member, a therapist or a complete stranger.

However, one of the most important connections we have is with ourselves. If we are not connecting with ourselves on a level which feels positive, empowering and genuine, we will invariably struggle to reduce anxiety and move towards a sense of inner calm. By learning techniques to identify and challenge negative thoughts, particularly ones directed towards yourself, you can begin to reduce their impact on your daily life.

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Enjoy your journey to inner calm

Anxiety is a learned response and, left unchallenged, it becomes engrained in our brains over time as an instinctive stress response. In order to undo this practised behaviour, we need to train our minds to concentrate on compassionate thoughts and gratitude, and shift our perspective to focus on the positives. If you are struggling to change your mindset to a more constructive one, you may wish to seek the help of a professional therapist, even if you don’t feel your anxiety is chronic or requires treatment. An experienced therapist will be able to help you identify why you are struggling to incorporate these changes, and ensure you are setting realistic goals for yourself.

 A positive attitude is learned behaviour and can be implemented through daily repetition and determination. Even the act of practising this every day counts as proactively teaching the brain to focus on positives for long-term beneficial change.

Unlearning anxiety takes time and patience. The process of adopting anxious responses and behaviours took you a long time, whether you were conscious of it or not. Fortunately, adopting new behaviours, strategies and thought patterns will not take as long – but it is important to keep in mind that you may not feel greatly or consistently better immediately.

Instead, focus on what you are doing for yourself. By learning techniques which enable you to summon calm, you are actively improving your life, and this is something you should congratulate yourself on. By implementing these strategies, and seeking support when you need it, you are progressing towards a calmer future, where your happiness and inner peace are central to how you engage with the world and yourself.

Breaking the Chains: Overcoming Fatigue and Rediscovering Vitality

For many of us, energy levels are an ongoing struggle. We all want to feel rested and revitalised – but our work, home lives, responsibilities, stress levels and restricted self-care capacity aren’t working in our favour.

The process of trying to figure out how to rejuvenate ourselves can be tiring and confusing in itself. So, what can we really do to battle fatigue?

First of all, let’s define fatigue

Fatigue is a constant feeling of tiredness, burnout or a lack of energy and motivation. Tiredness is sadly all too common in today’s busy world. But if you find yourself consistently tired for a prolonged period of time, it’s likely that you’re suffering from fatigue. It can be caused by a range of factors, including stress, low mood and physical health or lifestyle.

It’s important to note that if you are suffering from fatigue and you don’t know why, or you have other symptoms which are concerning you, you should speak to a health professional to rule out any underlying causes. But if you’re constantly feeling overworked, in a rush and like most of your calories come from iced coffee, it’s likely your fatigue is the result of an unsustainable lifestyle.

Your right to rest

It can feel like life should be lived in hard mode – as if we’re not cramming our schedules full and overloading our plates at work and home, we’re not working hard enough. But life should be enjoyed. Feeling well-rested is absolutely crucial to our well-being. Rest boosts our immune systems and enables our brains to process information, regulate stress responses and be creative and productive. It makes us happy, successful and healthy. These are all things we have a right to.

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Although common, fatigue is often a sign that your lifestyle is unsustainable for you. Although stress is what motivates us and what has propelled forward us as a species, many of the stressors of contemporary life stem from us not enacting healthy boundaries with ourselves or others.

For example, if you struggle saying no – whether it’s to your boss, your friends, or 20 more minutes on social media – this is preventing you from honouring your own capacity. In the long run, overextending ourselves is bad for our health.

What are the causes of fatigue?

Fatigue can have a range of causes, including:

  • Depression
  • Illness
  • Brain chemistry
  • Stress
  • Poor health
  • Medication
  • Lifestyle (like lack of exercise or an unhealthy diet)
  • Insufficient or poor sleep

Moreover, some of these causes, like poor sleep and stress, can also show up as symptoms of fatigue. It’s important to note that fatigue is often the result of a combination of factors which impact and are impacted by each other. Fortunately, so are the changes you can make to move towards a lifestyle which sustains and uplifts your well-being. Alleviating fatigue requires a holistic and well-rounded approach.

What are the symptoms of fatigue?

Fatigue can be the cause of many symptoms; you may not experience all or even most of them.

Symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Tiredness or lack of energy (regardless of sleep)
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling newly or overly overwhelmed, anxious, apathetic or hopeless
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Brain fog
  • Lack of libido
  • Headaches
  • Low mood or mood changes

All of these symptoms can affect and relate to one another. For example, a lack of sleep may cause headaches and lower libido. These symptoms tend to present themselves gradually, but if you’re in a period of high stress they may appear more suddenly.

Addressing your fatigue

When finding methods to address fatigue, it’s important to look at where your lifestyle is potentially draining you. A need for rest won’t be cured simply by getting more sleep – there are a range of ‘types’ of tiredness:

Physical fatigue:

If you’re constantly on the go without taking breaks and aren’t eating or sleeping properly, you may find yourself feeling physically fatigued.

Mental fatigue:

If you are constantly busy, stressed and always thinking about the next thing on your to-do list, you may be mentally fatigued. Psychologist Gemima Fitzgerald has stated that “overwhelming cognitive demand causes mental exhaustion”, which essentially means that if you’re putting too much pressure on your brain and not giving it time to process and rest, it will eventually affect your brain’s ability to function to the best of its abilities.

Emotional fatigue:

Similar to mental tiredness, if you have been stressed or strained for a prolonged period of time, you may be struggling with emotional fatigue. Notably, this type of tiredness can also (unsurprisingly) stem from periods of heightened emotion, such as grief or anger.

Social fatigue:

Social fatigue can come from spending too much time interacting with others, whether that’s online or in person. Although social interaction is good for us, everyone needs time alone with their thoughts. And, although socialising is a great distraction from things that are worrying or bothering us, avoiding thinking about them will only make things worse in the long run. Social fatigue is particularly common in neurodivergent and introverted people, but can happen to anyone.

There is a pattern linking all of these types of fatigue – they all stem from overexertion and not maintaining strict boundaries. Although it can feel good to be busy, productive and sociable, it’s important to take stock of what is feeding your soul and what is draining it, and to address this, so you feel empowered to focus your energy on the things you care about.

Prioritising self-care

It sounds obvious, but to fight tiredness, you need to rest. But rest can mean different things. Just as there are different types of fatigue, there are also different types of rest: passive and active.

Passive rest involves engaging in rest for rest’s sake, without any effort. Essentially, this might mean sleeping, sitting quietly or maybe listening to some gentle music. The key to passive rest is that it shouldn’t be physically or mentally taxing – so, unfortunately, watching TV, scrolling through your phone or going out with friends won’t count as passive rest. You should feel able to let your mind run completely free, which will allow your brain to process your thoughts, memories and emotional state.

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Active rest means doing activities or hobbies which require some creative, physical or social effort, but which you find enjoyable, and which make you feel more relaxed afterwards. This might mean stretching, doing a hobby you like, playing an instrument or going for a walk. The important thing is that you do things that you enjoy, but that don’t drain your proverbial batteries.

There are also a number of areas where your lifestyle may be impacting your health and therefore causing fatigue. If you aren’t eating a healthy, balanced diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep, or if you frequently consume substances with stimulating or depressive effects (such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or drugs), your body and brain are trying to maintain your physical health whilst also dealing with all of life’s everyday pressures.

For many people, intentionally creating space for rest (or even contemplating doing so) can lead to feelings of discomfort, or even guilt. It’s important to remember that your life is your own, even if you have people who depend on you. You have the unimpeachable right to feel good within yourself and your life. If you are struggling to enact the necessary boundaries to create space for yourself, you may want to speak to a supportive friend, family member or therapist about why this might be.

The role of therapy in overcoming fatigue

There is evidence that talking therapy can help to fight fatigue – particularly if it’s caused by high stress levels or low mood. To overcome fatigue, it’s not enough to understand that you are anxious or overworked – you need to understand where your drive to perform and deliver beyond your ability stems from. By addressing these in a supportive, confidential space with an empathetic trained professional, you can learn to identify your triggers and reframe your responses to stressors and pressure. And remember, you don’t have to be diagnosed with a mental health issue to seek counselling – therapy is a comforting and supportive way for anybody to navigate life’s challenges.

In today’s world, where everyone is supposed to be over-achieving, hyper-productive and successful, choosing a different path can sometimes feel like admitting defeat. But remember, all the most successful people take the time to decompress and return to a place of relaxation. And you won’t be able to achieve the things you deserve if you’re running on empty. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Moving past fatigue to vitality

 It’s not enough to not feel tired. You have the right to feel good, rested and healthy. Although it won’t be immediate or easy, you can take steps to rediscover your vitality, and even the process of making these changes is empowering and encouraging.

Witch-Hunting in the Digital Age: When Women Speak Uncomfortable Truths

The impact of digital persecution on mental health.

In recent decades, women have seen great progress in their ability to speak up, be heard, and empower themselves and each other. Movements like feminism and #MeToo have seen many courageous women support each other to make their voices heard. But throughout history, women across the world have been silenced by social norms and often by the law. And the effects of remaining silent on issues which directly impact, upset or anger you can be detrimental.

How does being silenced affect mental health?

As with many animals, humans communicate to survive. Communication is how we tell each other about our needs, desires and dislikes so we can relate to and become closer to one another. Real improvements have been made in women’s legal and socially accepted right to speak up and be heard and really listened to. But despite this, women still hold fewer leadership positions in the workplace, don’t feel listened to by their medical professionals and make up less than a third of the UK’s parliament members. 

Simultaneously, women are three times more likely than men to experience common mental health issues. Although this statistic has many complex causes, the damaging effect of having to fight to be heard and the potential repercussions are undeniable factors. 

Witch-Hunting: Blonde woman crying with hand over mouth, the word 'silence' is written down the side of her hand.

Female censorship in the digital age

Social media, amongst other things, has enabled women and other marginalised groups to form communities and share messages in huge numbers. But social media has also been used as a disturbingly effective tool to punish women for speaking up.

For example, the recently deceased Sinead O’Connor’s social media posts have been intensely scrutinised. O’Connor was often candid about her own mental health difficulties, openly describing her experiences with her diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar disorder. O’Connor also often used her platform to protest according to her political beliefs.

This included protesting child sex abuse in the Catholic Church and refusing to allow the Star Spangled Banner to be played at her concerts. Her chosen forms of protest led to outrage, violent remarks by famous people, including Frank Sinatra and Joe Pesci, and receiving a lifetime ban from Saturday Night Live. O’Connor faced boycotts, ostracisation and even threats for doing what she believed morally right, stating,

“An artist’s job is sometimes to create difficult conversations that need to be had”.

The harmful impact of this reaction on her mental health seems obvious. But when she displayed signs of struggling, the response was an unsympathetic PR whirlwind.

Following her death, many of her peers have highlighted that O’Connor was open about mental health before it became socially acceptable and even trendy. O’Connor’s candour around her mental illnesses should have been applauded and supported by her industry and her fans, but her posthumous defenders highlight the great steps that have been made over the past few years in enabling women to speak about their mental health.

Online Harassment, Support and Empowerment

Many other women in the public eye who have large followings on social media, such as footballer Megan Rapinoe and actress Milly Bobby Brown, have often been subject to intense online critique.

Megan Rapinoe, who played for the United States team in this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, spoke out in 2019 about then-president Donald Trump’s divisive policies, stating that she would not attend if invited to the White House and telling CNN,

“Maybe America is great for a few people right now, but it’s not great for enough Americans in this world”.

In response, many public figures and celebrities, including Trump himself, took to social media and the press to criticise Rapinoe for her comments, labelling her and the entire team unpatriotic and un-American. 

Despite not publicly speaking about her experiences’ impact on her mental health, Rapinoe is a vocal advocate for mental health support. She has described herself as

“inspired by the mission to make mental wellness an essential part of daily life”.

Actress Milly Bobby Brown, having reached a high level of fame at 11 years old by starring in the hit Netflix show Stranger Things, has often been a trending topic of conversation. Notably, in 2018, memes began circulating that implicated her in a number of homophobic comments, seemingly for no reason. The memes went viral and led to widespread harassment online.

As a result, Brown deactivated her Twitter account and was essentially forced out of a conversation of which she was the centre. The instinct to defend oneself against rumours and untruths is innate, and the effects of being unable to do so can cause serious emotional distress.

Brown has been open about going to therapy as a result of online harassment and has described her journey of self-discovery as ‘empowering’. Rather than completely disengaging from social media, Brown’s team censors what she sees online.

This decision was made to protect her mental health as a 19-year-old woman who openly stated that she was still figuring out her identity. Nevertheless, she has been unable to engage in discussions which are about her. Being selective about your conversations is vital to protecting your mental health. However, the necessity of doing so in the first place is a sad reality, especially affecting women and marginalised groups.

These women and countless others have been essential to sustaining a growing community of empowered, vocal women.

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Therapy and Truth-Telling

Speaking up, for many, can feel daunting. But remaining silent and ‘bottling things up’, regardless of gender, is unhealthy. The effects of repressing emotions can be physically and mentally damaging; unprocessed emotions can show up as a range of symptoms, including mental health issues, high blood pressure and heart disease. Emotional repression has also been linked to alcohol and substance misuse. 

Although the instinct to dismiss one’s opinions, interests, and dislikes can also stem from childhood, it is possible for all of us to become more confident in sharing how we feel. And, as we’ve seen, people who speak out empower others to do the same.

For many, taking actions like going to therapy can help to make that first step. Therapy allows people to connect with their minds in ways they may have neglected. It encourages people to address, explore and reclaim their right to be angry or frustrated in ways which enable healthy processing.

By entering a safe, confidential space, such as a therapeutic relationship, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of their own thought processes and how to frame these in a way which is beneficial and productive for themselves and their communication style, leading to more profound and honest relationships with themselves and those around them.

Rewriting the Story: Healing from Trauma and Cultivating Resilience

Healing from Trauma

When the concept of trauma comes to mind, what do we think? For most, the immediate associations revolve around visual flashbacks or the nightmares often experienced as facets of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But trauma manifests itself in various other ways as well. Its manifestations extend to encompass physiological responses and complex emotional echoes within the body, occasionally surfacing seemingly out of the blue.

Healing from trauma is a journey that comes with challenges and emotions that often feel overwhelming. However, this journey is also an opportunity for profound growth, self-discovery, and building resilience. Each person’s path to healing is unique to their personal experiences, emotions, and ways of processing. 

“The Wound is the place where the Light enters you.” – Rumi.

The Impact of Trauma

The influence of trauma is deep-seated, casting its effects on both the physical and mental dimensions of well-being.

Traumatic experiences often leave deep emotional scars that persist long after the event has passed. These might lead to many issues, from anxiety and depression to physical health problems and difficulties in interpersonal relationships.

It’s important to remember that trauma doesn’t define you. It’s a chapter of your story, only part of the book.

How Unresolved Trauma Manifests

Trauma emerges from experiencing or enduring a deeply distressing experience while failing to address or process it subsequently. Unresolved trauma can manifest as persistent thoughts, vivid flashbacks, or disconcerting dreams. A sustained state of alertness (hypervigilance) amplifies stress levels, taking a toll on physical well-being.

Insomnia and persistent headaches might also manifest as the consequences of trauma, while the impact could even extend to straining your cardiovascular health and compromising your immune system’s functionality.

Psychologically, trauma paves the way for the establishment of enduring feelings of anxiety or melancholy. It is not unusual for people to resort to self-medication or addiction as a means of emotional numbing. In some instances, contemplations of self-harm might surface. On an emotional plane, trauma elicits profound sensations and responses, such as overwhelming fear or profound guilt.

It’s helpful to remember that these are completely natural reactions.

Interacting with others can become challenging and exhausting after a traumatic event. It might feel safer to withdraw and harder to trust people, and building or maintaining relationships can seem like an uphill battle. An interesting thing to remember is that trauma can also subtly affect our cognitive abilities. A “traumatised brain” can find it harder to focus or recall things, and indecision is typical.

If you have gone through a traumatic experience, you do not have to be alone in this journey. 

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Can You Heal From Trauma?

Absolutely, the journey towards healing from trauma is both a profound and empowering one. While undoubtedly challenging, it presents an opportunity for transformative growth. Through the invaluable guidance of an experienced professional, the path to recovery becomes not only plausible but achievable.

Central to the healing process is addressing the events that gave rise to the trauma gently, gradually and when you are ready. While the instinct to shield oneself from the accompanying distress is understandable, such avoidance inadvertently can nurture a reservoir of emotional anguish, subsequently hindering the overall healing trajectory.

The first step towards healing and recovery is acknowledging the trauma, its impact on your life, and your feelings about it.

Nurturing an attentive and supportive relationship with yourself during this process is so important. It’s OK if you experience a range of strong emotions. You may feel anger, sadness, guilt, or even relief. All emotions, even the most uncomfortable ones, are important and are part of your healing journey. When these feelings arise, remind yourself that it’s okay to feel them. Be caring, loving and supportive of yourself; healing is very different from fixing.

Resilience, As Part Of The Healing Journey

Perhaps you have learnt to expect or are expected to “bounce back” when you go through something difficult.

“I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.” — Maya Angelou.

Developing resilience is one of the most transformative aspects of healing. Resilience isn’t about ignoring or avoiding pain; it involves developing the ability to recover and grow from adversity. 

Here are a few ways you can nurture resilience while healing from trauma:

  • Seek Support: You don’t have to navigate your healing journey alone. Seeking support from trusted friends, family, or a counsellor provides a safe space to share your feelings and experiences. This reduces feelings of isolation and provides valuable perspectives.
  • Express Yourself: Find ways to express your emotions. This might be through journaling, art, music, or movement. Expression helps externalise feelings and provides a sense of relief and clarity.
  • Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness activities like meditation or focused breathing help manage anxiety and promote relaxation. Mindfulness provides a break from ruminating on past events or worrying about the future by focusing on the present moment.
  • Prioritise Self-Care: Ensuring that your basic needs are met—such as sufficient sleep, regular meals, and physical activity—can significantly impact your emotional well-being.
  • Cultivate A Healthy Mind Set: This doesn’t mean ignoring your pain but finding and acknowledging moments of joy and beauty in your life. This can shift your focus from suffering to healing.

Keep in mind that healing isn’t linear. It’s normal to have good days and challenging ones. It’s okay to take two steps forward and one step back. Healing requires time, patience, and compassion. It’s okay to move at your own pace.

How Therapeutic Counselling Helps

The journey of healing from trauma is not solitary; it’s a collaborative effort where therapy becomes the compass guiding us back to ourselves.

Experienced therapists at Leone Centre use integrative therapeutic approaches to help you process your experiences and reframe unhelpful thinking patterns. By doing so, you can gradually reduce the power of the traumatic event.

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With time, you develop a renewed sense of control and self-empowerment, promoting overall well-being. Finally, it is always helpful to remember that your trauma is something that happened to you—it’s not who you are. You are continually learning, growing, and evolving, with the inherent capability to heal and grow.

As you embark on healing, remember there’s a wealth of strength within you. Take each day one step at a time, seek support, and always be kind to yourself. The path to healing and resilience may be challenging, but also a journey of courage, strength, and transformation.