Amanda Graham MSc.

Counselling Psychologist

What makes us Happy?

Should we be happy all of the time?.

Jan 17, 2020

What makes us happy? Do we truly know?

Let me start by saying that we can’t be happy all the time. Nope, it’s just not possible. However, if we consciously invite happiness into our lives then it makes dealing with the challenges much easier. Dr Rick Hanson refers to it as the ‘law of little things’. In the same way that when we think negatively it seems that the challenges pile up and we feel swamped just adding to the negative feelings. But, if we introduce happiness to our daily lives, for example, in the form of sitting or walking meditations, simply thinking of someone who really cares for us or resisting posting those negative comments (no matter how angry or frustrated we may be with a situation), then by the same method those little positive bursts of happiness will add up. This results in the creation of a bank of goodness in our subconscious mind and hey presto life actually becomes brighter and happier!

I have moved house in the past week. Not far, actually maybe 200 metres but it may as well be 50km for the difference it has made to my internal happiness. I am still at the same address, Praana Wellness @ Chez Vallee but, having slept in every room in the big house as we renovated it over an almost 6 year period, I decided that what I was craving now, more than anything, was a smaller cosier home. A home where I could have all of my personal belongings around me. A home where I could shut the door and find my very own privacy when necessary. A home that is simple, small and has as few electrical items as possible!

At different times of life we crave different things. As I reflect I realise they do coincide with the decades of age and so, while for almost 20 years I was really happy with being fairly nomadic, travelling the world, experiencing different cultures, now, as I traverse my fifties, I realise this is the simple happiness I have been craving.

So, I have asked myself why, over the week I have been living in Lavender Cottage, has it had such an impact and I think I can answer that question now. It is so important to have time for reflection. When I was living in Chez Vallée my business and my personal space and life merged into one. When I wasn’t seeing clients, teaching yoga or marketing the business I was still available for work at any hour. I would respond to emails whatever the hour. Since moving to the cottage I have made a pact not to work here, to have defined hours around my client calls and I now ‘go to the office’ and more importantly leave the office! My commute isn’t long in terms of distance, but it is huge in terms of effect. How can I be so close to my work space and yet feel so far away? Well it’s all down to personal choice, to making small changes and to discipline. Perhaps it is these three points that ultimately put us in control of our own personal happiness. Nothing else. When we make decisions that ultimately put us in control of our destiny then we create a happiness within that cannot be matched from a longevity perspective. Renovating Lavender cottage took four months and a tremendous amount of energy that I thought was impossible to find. But the happiness and peace created helps you soon forget the difficulties you have overcome to reach this point. The mind is great at enabling us to achieve this IF we allow it.

There is a Buddhist saying: “Do not think lightly of good [meaning that happiness/good/positivity will not just come to you]. Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise the wise one gathering little by little fills oneself with good”.

Perhaps ask yourself are you choosing to fill your pot of happiness little by little?

Why Is there so much Anxiety in our children?

Authentically creating a refuge in an age of anxiety.

Nov 12, 2019

What is causing our 7 year olds to suffer from anxiety?  As parents are WE able to identify between the regular anxious feelings that our young people begin to identify with as they transition through the adolescent years and the warning signs that there is something more debilitating afoot. If we can't differentiate then how can we possibly expect our young people to?  A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in October 2010 identified anxiety as the most common adolescent mental disorder, with more that 30% of the 10,000 adolescents surveyed meeting the diagnostic criteria. 19% had experienced behavioural disorders and 14% had experienced mood disorders.  

 

Our young people’s environments have become pressurised, secretive and sometime very lonely with the all-encompassing phenomena that is social media.  An increase in a lack of connection to their supportive network of people (for differing reasons) often means a child becomes independent before their brains are ready for this. Coupled with the fact that their bodies are developing earlier and they transition into puberty at a younger age, confusion and anxiety manifest and this adolescent period that should be a time of exciting transformation becomes one of depression and loneliness. If unidentified psychological disorders such as eating disorders, self-harm and even suicide ideation develop.  

 

What helps parents to understand what is normal and what isn’t when we talk about anxiety means understanding an adolescents neurodevelopment and being aware of the signals from our children that part of their brain has become a little ‘over protective’.  When we are vigilant to these signs then we can help them to understand these feelings and give them a tool box internally to help them deal with whatever feelings arise. Helping them to navigate the challenges and encouraging young people to find solutions with our support is the way to build a child’s confidence that they CAN handle their emotions.  If, however, as parents we somehow unknowingly over-protect and control the challenges our young people face and find solutions on their behalf, we are not encouraging the healthiest emotional development and coping mechanisms. 

 

Yoga for children and adolescents is one of these valuable tools. There is now a vast amount of recent research that supports the fact that children who attend a regular yoga class cope much better with all the day-to-day challenges both practically and emotionally.  Teaching younger children through yoga play how to use different breathing techniques (like the animals in Nature) to help quieten their busy minds, teaching them to help friends to do things that they perhaps find difficult.  We talk about the importance of communication constantly… how we listen to others. Moving through to adolescents we introduce hormonal health, the lesser-recognised aspects of yoga class, respecting our bodies, treating them well through movement and breath work to help them navigate the challenges of adolescence.

 

 If you would like details of a child or teen yoga class near you or you would like a private session with Amanda then you contact her at Amanda@praanawellness.com

 

On Achieving what may seem like the Impossible!

and the realisation that you CAN do it.

Nov 11, 2019

“It always seems impossible until it is done”

Nelson Mandela

Well we certainly can’t be accused of bombarding you with emails here at Praana Wellness although I do hope that now that I have freed up a fair bit of my desk time you will receive a monthly informative addition to your mail box.

The 4 months leading up to the 16th May seemed increasingly more impossible. My body had become so much more sedentary, anything outside of research for my dissertation seemed insignificant including diet, exercise and even my beloved yoga practise. And then, on May 17th, it was done. Just like that. Having juggled many other things (my business being one) while managing this increasingly demanding study programme I had convinced myself that I had something physically wrong with me. I listed my symptoms (all very familiar but increasingly challenging), visited doctors, talked to qualified medical friends (and of course consulted the internet - this should have been my final warning!) and then, finally, being convinced that it was a hormone issue that needed addressing I waited for 3 months to see the local Endocrinologist who, after 3 minutes, very brusquely told me it was stress (with a very French shrug of the shoulders!). Of course I had this notion in the back of my mind but… how could I allow myself to suffer the physical symptoms of stress to this level? I spend my days helping others manage stress! The fact is, as frustrated as I was that this consultant I had waited so long to see, had dismissed everything I was saying to her re thyroid and hormones, she was correct. I left the room feeling embarrassed and slightly stupid BUT with a huge sense of relief and a kind of knowing that what she had said to me made sense. What I now needed to do was stop looking to others for help and explanations and to take control and fix my ‘broken body’ as I was now referring to it! The most important fact I would like to share with you here is that within a week my body began to feel less broken, my sleep improved and I began to take back that all familiar control. I have read over and over through the years that our bodies want to be healthy; it actually takes a lot of effort to develop on-going, non-specific chronic symptoms YET the mind will happily jump on the bandwagon given the chance and keep you in this place of stress and anxiety! One cannot be fixed without the other BUT they (mind and body) can both recover relatively quickly if we choose to take control and allow ourselves to make the necessary change/s.

The results of my study in the early part of 2019 revealed many interesting facts about psychology AND yoga, the part yoga can play in psychological treatment for increasing mental well-being and reducing stress (one of the top reasons for visiting doctors). It also highlighted the areas for clarification and future possible studies relating to this topic so that we, as healthcare professionals can hopefully prescribe yoga alongside empirical psychological treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Psychoanalysis thus reducing the strain on current health provision.

The take-outs from the study were the following. To date, in cultures less familiar with yoga (Europe, America, Australia) one of the factors that makes it difficult to prescribe by General Practitioners (family medicine doctors) is that despite so much research to date into the effects of yoga on reducing stress/increasing well-being it’s definition is, at the least, unclear! What is yoga? What are the components of yoga? How do we prescribe something that varies so much? Another interesting take-out was the number of people who began the 4-week trial and the number who completed. The idea behind the study was to make it as accessible and convenient as it could be to all. The only commitment was to engage in an online session 3 times a week for 30 mins each time! Out of 600 people only 100 people completed the 4-week study. Over that time frame there were several understandable reasons why people couldn’t complete and there were many more reasons given that seemed to be of greater importance than trying to improve mental well-being or reducing their levels of stress. One repetitive example would be that they didn’t have time. Another was that they had nowhere to practise. Another was that it was Christmas! Or some were going away for the weekend. This brought to mind the research I had uncovered suggesting that many only address health issues when they are chronic and not before. Many people volunteered for my study who already had a history of psychological disorders and this unfortunately excluded them. Those with no diagnosed psychological disorders were less likely to volunteer, in my experience.

So this brings me on to our own investment in our own mental and physical well-being and the interesting statistics I found between the different countries where stress levels are higher than ever and mental well-being is at it’s lowest. In the UK we spend 1.2% of our household income on health and 2.2% on alcohol and tobacco (Office of National Statistics, 2018) as opposed to the US who according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016 spend 8 times more on health than they do on alcohol and tobacco. Without blinding you with figures in the UK we spend twice as much on alcohol as we do on participating in some kind of sport or active leisure. Let me say at this stage that another take-out from my study is I have become even more sceptical of figures, I have seen how easy they can be manipulated but also how important good figures can be in supporting theories. This highlighted to me the amount of poor research there is available to us especially in important areas such as stress and mental well-being on the internet. What I would like to highlight here is my own support of these statistical differences in terms of the importance my American clients put on therapy as opposed to the British approach. Now, to the crux of the matter which brings me back to my own situation and my first paragraph – there are two important questions that reoccur with clients over and over: how much responsibility do we take for our own health and well-being? How much are we prepared to invest in our own health and well-being before we look to attribute our ‘symptoms’ to other factors and people? Let me be clear, this may be a financial investment in therapy with a well-qualified therapist in the area you need assistance, it may be an investment of your time only (often the most challenging) or as proven above it may require a readjustment of financial expenditure away from things that do nothing for your health and well-being, either physically or mentally or both.

My study supports what has always been my thinking over the past 20 years – yoga has a very definite place in physical and psychological wellness. To integrate various components of the yoga practise into more traditional but non-medical psychological interventions has been welcomed by all of my clients to date and proved to be life changing (for eating disorders and addiction). As a standalone treatment it still remains to be seen although in my opinion for all mild cases of stress, anxiety and depression I have seen excellent results in patients who develop a weekly practise. If, like many of our visitors, you are an investor in your health and well-being perhaps we can encourage you to join us in 2020 for what is shaping up to be a full and interesting season.

I use our non-clinical retreat centre near Bordeaux to deliver group and private programmes tailor-made for the needs of the demographic or individual. For details of what is happening at our retreat centre in 2020 please go to https://praanawellness.com/events or if you would like to discuss an individual customised programme please email amanda@praanawellness.com