From childhood attachment to finding love in adult life

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people-2566854_1280Falling in love, getting to care for the person we call our partner, deciding to spend the rest of our days with them, living happily forever after are fairly common scenarios. While for some of us dreams come true and couple happiness is a life-long gift, for others things seem to never get better. Choosing the wrong person, obsessing over being abandoned by the one we love or worrying about being cheated on are also fairly common outcomes once the honey-moon period fades away. Why do some of us find it so hard to create and keep strong emotional bonds with partners, and only dream of that happy ever after? The answers might be in their childhood and the attachment type they developed in relation to their primary carer.

From Bowlby’s theory to Today’s research

John Bowlby was one of the first developmental psychologists to research the topic of attachment in young children, showing that their relationship with the main caregiver – usually a parent – impacts both their ability to form strong emotional bonds with other people, as well as their psycho-social development. According to his ideas, children need to feel safe and secure, and have her immediate needs met in order to develop harmoniously. It is a parent’s job to be there for the child, like a safe base the child can depart from and return to after going and exploring the environment. Observational studies led by Mary Ainsworth, as well as the studies of Cindy Hazan and Philip Shaver expanded on Bowlby’s contribution, re-enforcing the idea that the type of attachment a child develops to their main caregiver will impact their personality, behaviour and the nature of their interaction with other significant people in their lives, such as life partners in adulthood.

Types of attachment and types of relationships

Developmental psychologists believe there are two main types of attachment a child can develop in relation to a parent: secure and insecure (anxious avoidant and anxious ambivalent). Over half of the non-clinical population has a secure attachment, which allows people to develop relatively harmonious relationships with others and enjoy long-lasting, soul-nurturing relationships. Psychologists argue this is because their main caregiver was present, sensitive and responsive to the child’s needs, providing the child with a safe base for exploration and helping the child to regulate their emotions when distressed. These type of children will become adults who will be able to rely on themselves as well as on others for having their needs satisfied, meeting the other mid-way and building an equal, fair and healthy couple.

On the other hand, children whose parents were absent, non-responsive and/or distracted may grow with an anxious ambivalent attachment model. As adults, they will often seem cold, uninvolved, distant and uncaring, forming a couple with partners who are demanding and in constant need of attention. There will be serious struggles, but the couple can survive for a very long time due to the maladaptive mechanisms behind it. Being scared of being hurt again, anxious avoidant people will look for a partner who seems the opposite of their parent (present, over-reacting and over-responsive). Sometimes, that means ending up in controlling relationships, with no potential for personal expression and growth.

Finally, the anxious ambivalent model refers to the children whose parents were somehow caring, but not enough and constant in their responsiveness. Leading a busy life, being depressed or just too distracted by their phone, parents teach their children that they are not a priority to them. Only high amounts of displayed distress would entice a response, which will make these children grow up as anxious ambivalent, in need of permanent reassurance. Therefore, they want to be with their partner all the time, are clingy, possessive, unable to feel complete in the absence of their loved one, always worrying that they would be left. Their relationships have many highs and lows, and are often full of drama and intimacy struggles.

The bad news is that there is no such thing as perfect parenting, and the attachment model a child develops is beyond their control. The good news is that an attachment model is not for life and, once understood, can be deconstructed and re-constructed to open a door of opportunities for personal growth and happy relationships. As children, adults and parents, we can make the lives of those we love and well as our own lives better by understanding who we are and why. If you would like to start your journey towards a happier and healthier way of relating and being, we are here for you. Please get in touch and let us help.

The Magic of Christmas

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As the festive season approaches, everyone seems to adopt the Christmas mood. From buying presents for our loved ones and sending out glittery cards to putting up the Christmas tree and wearing funny jumpers, we all love our Christmas traditions. Why do we still need Christmas and how do we keep its magic alive? Here are our thoughts:

1. Christmas – a sweet regression to the good old days

The times we were kids and we had the ability to focus on the positive, to laugh out loud and eat all the candies we wanted are brought back at the end of December. We allow ourselves again to enjoy life as it is and be grateful for what we have. We take a break from worries, we let the Christmas spirit jump in and fill our hearts and homes with love, generosity and joy. It is the season to be jolly indeed!

2. Giving from the heart

Studies show that the more we focus on spending around Christmas, the less happy we are. Being with the family and enjoying Christmas as a spiritual event rather than a consumerist one is the key to having a festive season to remember. Personalized presents, handmade and given with love, make the difference between “just excitement” and “pure happiness”.

3. Well-deserved break

Many people take days off around Christmas and spend them doing what they like most. This has a relaxing effect on their body and mind, reducing stress considerably. We live in a world where we tend to focus on being grounded, realistic and achieving material things, so focusing on the magical aspects of life, such as myths and spiritual aspects helps our psyche rebalance its energy.

4. Bringing rituals back to life

Although many westerners are no longer religious, rituals are still very important in today’s societies. We still have weddings, we still go to funerals and we definitely love Christmas do’s. From gift-wrapping to decorating our homes with hundreds of lights, from drinking mulled wine to leaving a glass of milk for Santa, each country and each family have their own traditions to go by. Why? Because rituals help us bond with others, because they reconnect us with something rooted deeply in our personal and cultural identity and, most of all, because they feel good to do. Who can say ‘no’ to that extra sweet gingerbread cookie?

5. Coming to terms with this year’s life lessons

Each year has its life lessons and now it’s the time to reflect upon them. Accepting what happened to us, forgiving others and ourselves, expressing the pain we have been through and looking for resources to move on are part of the Christmas healing. If your path hasn’t been too rough this year, think of those who haven’t been as lucky. People suffering from depression, or people who lost someone this year through a break up or death will experience Christmas as being a very difficult time, so be gentle and supportive. Giving is not only about buying the right presents, but also about being there for those who need us most.

6. Preparing to start anew

With a new year approaching, Christmas is offering us the opportunity to reflect and decide what we would like to achieve next year. Be it a career change, personal development, going back to studying or growing our family, this is the right time to start up our hope engines and dream really big. Everything starts with the courage to dream it, so allowing ourselves to envision what we want most is the first step towards getting it. Be brave this Christmas!

The CCFEG team wishes everyone a lovely festive season, full of joy, blessings and pleasant surprises. See you all in 2017!


Down the spiral – social media and narcissism

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Billions of people are using social media everyday. Posting pictures of their meals on Instagram, vlogging about the shopping session they had or sharing very personal experiences on Facebook are common social media behaviours. Attracting followers, getting ‘likes’ and being told how interesting your content is reflects on us and often reinforces our egos. It’s no wonder that scholars came up with the term “generation me” to classify people in their 30’s and younger, the main social media users. Studies also show that there is a higher occurrence of narcissistic personality traits in younger people, and social media use correlate with the presence of such traits. The question is: do social media make someone more narcissistic or there was a narcissistic pre-condition that pushed them towards binging on social media? While there is no black and white answer, we can underpin some of the reasons why so many young people look for comfort, praise and meaning online, often ending up developing narcissistic personality traits and disorders.

1. Narcissism – from an age-thing to a social media-thing
Some narcissistic personality features are, at different points in our lives, a sign of mental health. For example, people in their late teens and early twenties go through a narcissistic stage as part of their on-going adaptation to the world. As adults, while dealing with the trauma of being left by a partner, some people might have a short narcissistic phase as well, in order to repair and rebalance their ego. However, routinely displaying signs of narcissism is a worrying signal and social media keep such signals under the radar: since everyone shows off a bit on their social profile, signs of narcissism will more easily pass as the norm.

2. High social rating and low self esteem
Thousands of friends and even more followers often feel like a personal achievement. Narcissists or not, it is natural to enjoy social approval. On social media, it seems enough to share a selfie and get instant gratification through the power of ‘likes’. Do many likes necessarily mean more happiness? Not really. If used as a substitute for real-life approval, ‘likes’ work as any substance that triggers misuse: the more you get, the more you want. From posting once in a while to needing to document your entire life online is a matter of choice or, in a narcissist’s case, a matter of time. Just remember that healthy self-esteem is built through knowing yourself better and promoting that image, not by posting a mask you want others to identify you with.

2. Lost between the persona and the real self
A narcissist does not know what is real in themselves and what is not. Megalomania and feelings of superiority are signs of a disorder, even if they might initially seem like admirable traits. They are only the polish on the mask – the persona a narcissist is identifying with. They don’t know who they are and they need the rest of the people to believe in that mask so they can keep a sense of self. Social media are the right place for them to entertain the mask they created and identified with for so long, often stopping them from starting the search for their real self.

3. From lack of empathy to lack of meaning
To many people, social media are a range of platforms where people connect and learn about others and themselves. To a narcissist, they are a stage where to talk and rarely listen; to ask for applause without ever giving any. Narcissists are avid attention seekers who look for meaning in the number of ‘likes’ they get, not in the type of friends they have and the relationships they could build with them. They lack empathy and that is obvious even on social media. They lack meaning and use social media to create a fragile sense of meaning, which can be entertained only by posting about themselves ten times a day. They’re prisoners of their own illusion and with each ‘like’ they get the further they go from realising it.

4. Finding balance and keeping it
Healthy social media use can be empowering. As long as we know that a person is more than 280 tweet characters and so much more than a glamorous selfie, we are on the safe side. A narcissist will find it difficult to keep the balance. If one’s sense of self-worth, self-esteem and happiness are massively impacted by social media response, then it is a sign that the power has shifted from the person to the machine. Balance is key and, if you feel like you’re losing it, ask yourself: ‘Is it because I need more from the people I love? Is it because I lack something in my life and I am just trying to compensate? Is it a need for being seen, approved of, important or loved? If I took a break from social media, would my sense of self be affected?’ Let these questions sink and remember that there’s nothing more empowering than knowing that you are strong enough to be yourself both in real life and on social networks.

In the end, it is about who we are and how we feel, not about what we look like to our online friends. When it’s real, happiness is the most amazing feeling – when it’s not, it’s a cheap and fragile mask. If you want to learn more about yourself and the reasons behind using social media in excess, get in touch. It can be the beginning of finding your real self and learning to enjoy life as never before. Guided by experience and motivated by helping others, the professionals from Counseling Center for Emotional Growth are here for you.

The Burden of Narcissism

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Having a good level of self-esteem is vital in today’s world. Knowing who we are, what we are worth and demanding to be treated fairly are ways to rise up to our true potential, engage in satisfying work and enjoy healthy relationships. However, there are people who seem to put themselves above everyone else – they are usually labeled as “narcissists”. While for some learning to believe in themselves might be a life-long challenge, narcissists seem to excel when it comes to self-confidence. The reality is that they are not doing as well as they seem to… Here’s the main characteristics of narcissism and why it can be a huge a burden:

Signs of narcissism

While all of us might have some of these features or act this way occasionally, narcissist systematically tend to:

  • Show an exaggerated feeling of self-worth – they believe they are better than anyone else and often pass as very arrogant.

  • Do anything to win, at the expense of others’ feelings, as power is their main drive.

  • Be competitive rather than cooperative, and find it extremely difficult to deal with rejection, failure and criticism.

  • Exaggerate their accomplishments and would do anything for extra-points in popularity.

  • Require constant praise, admiration and compliance from others. If these are not given, they can get aggressive, loud and vengeful.

  • Blame others for their mistakes – they feel like they are always right and if things go bad it’s never their fault.

  • Display a sense of entitlement and expect to be treated preferentially.

  • Lie, bully, threaten, manipulate and will have no problem hurting others in order to get their needs satisfied.

  • See things in black and white, always judging people and situations based on what they can gain from them.

  • Lack empathy, kindness and consideration for others – it’s all about them, all the time.

Possible causes for pathological narcissism
There is a difference in symptom intensity between having narcissistic traits and a narcissistic personality disorder. About 6% of the USA suffer with narcissistic personality disorder, more than half of those diagnosed being men. It is difficult to assign a clear cause and most mental health experts argue for a combination of factors that can lead to developing such pathological traits. While there might be a genetical predisposition to develop it, narcissistic personality disorder seems to be often related to style of parenting.

Parents who are too indulgent, allowing their children to act as if they are entitled to everything they want, will raise an adult who will continue such behaviours later in life. It is usually a symptom of the whole family, many times specialists talking about “golden child syndrome”, a child who is seen as perfect, always praised and lavished with compliments for everything.
At the other end of the spectrum and also more often seen, it is the narcissistic personality that developed due to a parenting style that is rather neglectful or authoritarian. Constantly doubted and put down, a child will have to over-compensate in the exterior for the lack of self-belief they host on the inside. They will grow up to be megalomaniac, self-obsessed adults, unable to see themselves without the shiny mask they have had to entertain for so long.

It is worth noting that all narcissists shelter very deep unconscious insecurities and self-doubt that cause them to artificially inflate their egos. No matter how much praise, power and popularity they might get, they will never feel happy with what they have and who they are.

Long-term effects

Although contemporary society seems to encourage narcissistic values and generously rewards those narcissists who end up becoming public figures, the effects on them and those around them are far from glamourous.
Narcissists can be very abusive, mischievous, manipulative and able to hurt people, including the ones who love them. Working with them can be difficult if one dares to differ in their opinion or refuses to metaphorically bow their knee in front of the narcissist. They can be very controlling, dominating and can create a lot of pain in the life of those they love. As parents, they can be extremely damaging to their children, often depriving their offspring from the chance to become who they want – their children must fit a role the narcissist decided for them, they must remain a simple extension of their parents, with no will, personality or life of their own. Finally, they will experience various levels of personal unhappiness and discomfort – having to repress any personal doubts and negative thoughts about oneself, while feeding the monster of grandiosity every minute is a very consuming job. By being a narcissist, they miss the chance to experience one of the most beautiful givens of being a human being: authentic relationships.
Unable to see others and themselves the way they are, narcissists are always alone, locked up in their own fantasy – a world where everything is perfectly polished, but ultimately fake.

Talk therapy can help people dealing with narcissistic disorder, as well as their friends and family. Feel free to get in touch if you or someone you know is affected by narcissism disorder and would like to receive confidential support from our experienced psychotherapists.

Millennials and the anxiety wheel

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With millions of people suffering of anxiety, with billions spent yearly on anxiety treatments and, despite the efforts, with only 39% of patients getting any form of treatment, America is facing one of the most serious mental health crisis in the western world. The problem does not seem to stop here, given that millennials, the generation of those born in the 80’s, seem to be affected even more by anxiety symptoms when compared to baby boomers:12% of them have a diagnosed anxiety disorder and 30% of working millennials suffer from general anxiety. Why do millennials seem to be so prone to anxiety? What can we do today to avoid a future where everyone may be, to a certain degree, effected by one of the most pernicious mental health issues? Here are our thoughts:

Why are millennials so anxious?
American Psychological Association (APA) argues that millennials face more stress and their coping mechanisms are not particularly helpful. While Baby-boomers worry about health and family issues, millennials have other reasons to stay up at night: low-income, student debt, job competition, social insecurity and the housing crisis. While some of these factors cannot be immediately erased from their lives, learning to manage anxiety around them is very important. It is also helpful if other reasons of stress were acknowledged and dealt with, amongst which:

Bad sleeping habits: we live in a world where pushing productivity to the highest limits is encouraged and even expected. This often means that millennials prefer to cut down on sleep to finish their work, binging on coffee and energy drinks. Freelancing or spending more than 8 hours a day working is not uncommon either. Because for this generation work is about results and not the amount of time spent in the office, many will continue working late in the night to get things done, seeing their loved ones less or sleeping less.

Sedentary life is on the rise, although healthy lifestyle choices seem more popular with this generation. A sedentary lifestyle usually comes with a poor diet, which translates in higher anxiety rates, on top of other health concerns.

Technology is millennials’ best friend and their silent enemy. Students spend about 9 hours a day on their phones, while working millennials in office jobs at least 8 hours staring at a screen. To many of them, relaxation time is about binging on Netflix, despite the fact that studies show that after only two hours of watching television people tend to feel more anxious.

Millennials are also the first digital generation and their presence on social media is the norm these days. While their preference for social media seems to have a positive economical impact, effects on a personal level can often be negative. First of all, there is usually a difference between what is expected of you on social media and the reality you live in. There is a pressure to display your happiest and most relaxed self online although you might feel quite the opposite in real life. Many online social connections do not mean many friends. The numbers of people with less than 3 close friends has continuously increased since 1985, with millennials being the ones to report most often “zero close friends”. On the other hand, anxious people tend to gather with other anxious people, which will inflate anxiety symptoms for everyone.

Finally, the balance between work, relationships and personal time is very sensitive and rarely achieved. Working long hours, not having enough time or emotional availability for others or themselves, millennials are riding a wheel that makes them more anxious the faster it spins.

Is there a way to stop it?
There is a silver lining indeed: millennials are valuing experiences more than things. While this can be an anxiety-provoking choice for older generations, for millennials it can open the door to a better relationship with themselves and to a more fulfilling life. This generation tends to prefer investing in themselves rather than in expensive objects and understands that a happy life is not necessarily about how much you have, but how well you can enjoy it. This is why many would go for personal development courses, enrol on creative classes or periodically try new things. They are more sensitive, but also more emotionally open than other generations, more willing to self-examine while assisted by trained professionals, and flexible enough to try to implement changes when proven that things don’t work for them.

Leading the best life you can have is possible and it is also your right. If you are one of the millennials who need to explore anxiety-related symptoms, to make sense of what is happening to you and to turn vulnerability into strength, Counseling Centre for Emotional Growth is the place for you. Our counselors and psychotherapists will provide the safe, confidential and nurturing space you need in order to find inner peace, balance and meaning. We are here to help.


America’s anxiety: can it be cured?

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America lives with anxiety. Over 40 million adults are affected by anxiety disorders and even more face anxiety symptoms without ever getting the right diagnosis. People of all sexes and ages struggle to enjoy life, consistently enduring feelings of never-ceasing worry, fear and uneasiness. Both their mental and physical health are at risk, and silence over the matter will not help any of them. It’s time to accept that anxiety is a real problem in today’s America and to start looking for reliable, long-term solutions. Millions of people deserve a better life and treating anxiety can have a major contribution to achieving that higher standard of living.

A large range of symptoms

We are all different and symptoms can vary from one person to another. However, health practitioners agree that most of the people struggling with anxiety will experience a range of similar physical and emotional symptoms. Depending on one’s individual traits, as well as their level of anxiety and personal context, feelings of worry, angst, danger or even panic are frequent symptoms. Other times, people can feel lethargic, unable to focus on the usual tasks and seem to suffer from a general mental tension. Ruminating or obsessing over a particular idea (such as the cause of one’s anxiety), as well as repeatedly performing the same actions are usually anxiety-related symptoms.

Physically, those with anxiety disorders or anxiety tendencies present a significantly higher heart rate, heavy sweating, trembling, voice shaking, hyperventilation and a series of digestive problems. They will also develop unusual sleep patterns, such as waking up often, not entering deep sleep phases, having difficulties falling asleep, nightmares and sleepwalking. Feeling tired, tense, irritable, unproductive, unsocial and generally unhappy are some other relatively easy-to-spot signs of anxiety. Depression is often associated with anxiety disorders and many people suffer from both, often without being aware of any of any.

Anxious with/without a cause?

Sometimes anxiety can have an obvious source, other times there is no easy-to-identify cause. Many people experience anxiety in relation to triggers from their past, while others worry because of present or future life situations. Millions of Americans fight anxiety daily and their uneasiness is not always caused by personal life history or genetic heritage. Social context has a huge contribution and it is no secret that we live in a highly anxiogenic culture:

The media and current politics have a major impact on the way people feel about today and/or tomorrow. National security, terrorism, economic instability and poor access to medical services make riveting news… as well as highly panicogenic material. In this context, it is no wonder that 76% of Americans say they fear political violence.

Meaningful, nurturing relationships are extremely helpful in feeling safe, strong and happy. In a society where we cultivate the appearance of happiness, both on social media and in face to face interactions, many will smile while screaming on the inside. There is no culture of safety nets anymore – friendships are becoming superficial (and the excessive social media use contributes to that), marriages often end in divorce and alienation is very common. The result? Feeling grounded and connected becomes a difficult task to deal with.

Poverty represent a paradoxical reality today in America who is still one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Many people work underpaid jobs and are always at risk of losing them. Feeling easily replaceable, as well as having no choice but to accept underpayment and minimum work compensation, will make many Americans fear for their family’s financial security. More than that, with poverty comes lower chances for good education, low or no personal budget for health-related matters, inability to pay mortgages, rent or even buy food. Losing hope, as well as human dignity is natural in this context, and the majority of those facing such challenges will, eventually, develop anxiety disorders and other mental health problems.

Finally, there is a rise in opioid use in America and self-medicating for anxiety is not unusual. With a health system accessible only to a few and with a medical culture that encourages taking pills for everything, many people are condemned to living with anxiety and addiction, never getting a real chance to cure themselves.

There is some good news though: anxiety disorders are one of the most treatable mental health disorders, as long as the problem is correctly diagnosed, understood and approached. One of the safest approaches with long-term results is talk-therapy.

The talk-therapy cure

While anxiety disorders are highly curable, not even half of those who battle their symptoms get the right treatment or any sort of treatment.

Due to income limitation, reduced access to information and lack of medical access, many people are condemned to a life of struggle and emotional pain. This seems unfair, especially since it can take as little as 8-16 talk-therapy sessions to improve or even completely treat some anxiety issues.

When to see a therapist

Usually, people decide to see a therapist when their life balance is affected and they don’t feel as functional as usual. Anxiety can be highly disruptive for relationships, work, school and it can also negatively impact one’s general health. Talking to a specialist and understanding the mechanisms behind anxiety symptoms, as well as its underlying causes will almost immediately help to reduce the impact such a disorder has on one’s day to day life.

For those interested in exploring their situation in depth, personalised treatment plans can be set up. By following them, clients can better manage their symptoms and even start using anxiety as a self-development tool, as this is often the beginning of a longer journey towards knowing themselves better. Sometimes medication will be combined with therapy while other times learning different relaxation techniques will be enough. In most therapies, people will also discover how lifestyle impacts their mental health and what to change to feel better: eating, drinking, sleeping, gym and social habits can massively interfere with one’s emotional and mental state. Finally, some of the clients decide to go further in their self-development journey and embark on different personal growth courses, such as meditation, mindfulness, group therapy or art therapy.

Starting to see a counselor or psychotherapist is a brave first step towards a better mental health and, eventually, to a more enjoyable life. Just remember that anxiety disorders can be treated and there is plenty of help for you. Feel free to get in touch if you or someone you love is affected by anxiety disorders. We are here to support you in facing whatever today or tomorrow will bring.


Anxiety: the modern faces of an ancient challenge

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According to recent studies, anxiety is on the rise and comes second after depression in a top of mental health problems worldwide. America has the largest number of people diagnosed with anxiety, 8 in 100 suffering because of it. In fact, millions of people on all continents face a recurrent feeling of fear, worry or even panic that interferes with their life, interrupting their daily tasks and negatively impacting their level of wellbeing. The western world lives in an era of comfort and affluence, but this doesn’t seem to stop us from feeling unable to enjoy what we have.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is one of the oldest emotions known to man. In low doses, it is helpful and can act as a motivator. It is also the emotion responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response that many living beings have. Thanks to their anxiousness, our ancestors could recognize dangerous situations and respond accordingly, by facing the threat or running away from it. Today, most of us have no major physical, life-threatening challenges to face, but anxiety is still with us. People with anxiety tend to worry excessively, sometimes without an obvious reason. There are many degrees of anxiety, that range from mild forms to generalized anxiety disorders and phobias.

Anxiety in the era of ‘you can have it all’. Why?

One of the big questions that seem to preoccupy mental health researchers is ‘why is anxiety spreading so fast today in the western world?’. Although major physical threats aren’t part of our daily routine, there are new forms of perceived threats that can keep us awake at night, such as…

  1. Unpredictable political and economic climate. With an economy that seems to jump from one crisis to another, our long-term finances and job security often feels impossible to achieve. This means worrying about tomorrow – would we have a job paid well enough to buy a house, have a family or afford health insurance? On the other hand, political change can fuel the economic unease and birth new worries, like war, immigration, terrorism etc.

  2. More technology, less contact. Being digitally connected it doesn’t always mean authentically engaging with others. We might have hundreds or even thousands of people in our friends lists, but nobody to talk to. On the other hand, technology is pushing us to be more efficient and try multi-task. However, studies show that, on one hand, multitasking doesn’t mean being more efficient and, on the other hand, it correlates with higher levels of anxiety in people who do it.

  3. Lifestyle choices and trends. In a world where we live the way food, fashion, music, jobs, and lifestyle trends dictate, keeping up with the perceived “norm” can be difficult. In order to be like our cool social media “friends”, we push ourselves to the limit, forgetting that trying to run the extra-mile all the time can be burnout and anxiety inducing. On the other hand, we sometimes become the victims of our lifestyle choices. Leading a sedentary life, eating junk food or smoking affects our health in the long run and we are aware of it. However, worrying too much about what will happen to us tomorrow because of the lifestyle decisions we make today isn’t always a good motivator to change our behavior and they can even act as new anxiety-provoking factors.

  4. Lack of meaning. According to existential analysis, an efficient way to deal with anxiety is by living a meaningful life, but how to focus on creating something meaningful in a world that tells us to ‘consume, consume, consume’? Instead of taking the challenge to face the fear within us and to engage in meaningful activities, we might prefer to compulsively shop, eat, drink, travel etc. In the end, it seems easier and faster to bury that fear under layers of beautiful possessions than to create something that gives meaning to the life of us and others.

How to deal with anxiety?

People can live with anxiety for all their lives and not even be aware that they can get better. If you feel that fear impacts your life, you don’t need to wait until it gets the best of you – better take some simple measures that can considerable change your quality of life. For example, start with giving yourself more time to relax; try mindfulness techniques to connect yourself to here and now; let yourself be imperfect and take a break from looking at the life your social media friends appear to live; exercise daily and eat more vegetables and fruit; talk to genuine people about the things you care for; discover or rediscover what you really enjoy doing. Finally, join a group of people who face similar feelings or see a therapist. They can help you understand where your anxiety originates, what type of anxiety you are facing and even support you in discovering the best ways to deal with it.

It’s worth knowing that anxiety can also be a gift – it can be a sign that it’s time you reconsidered your priorities and found your real path, a sign that you need a change and you’re ready for it. Should you need support in your dealing with anxious feelings, contact us. We’re here to help you start the journey to a better life and a more authentic self.

‘Tis the season of… holiday depression?

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The Holiday season is, to some, the most wonderful time of the year. It’s all about families coming together, wrapping and unwrapping presents, having mulled wine and singing holiday tunes. However, there are people who dread approaching the end of December… Many of them are secretly fighting what mental health specialists call “holiday depression”. Here’s what happens to some of us during this time of the years and how to deal with it.

Holiday depression and possible causes

Feeling sad, lacking energy, having sleeping problems and experiencing a general discomfort when thinking about holidays might be signs of depression. If you suffer from a diagnosed form of depression, you might notice that around this time of the year the symptoms can get worse. Why are some people negatively affected by holidays?

1. Loneliness – not all of us have a family to turn to or friends to spend time with. Many people face loneliness and the feelings are made even more acute around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, especially when seeing others come together and have a good time.
2. Financial stress – we are encouraged to see this month as the month of giving and receiving presents. The joy of wrapping and unwrapping presents under the Christmas tree is, to some of people, a luxury that won’t happen. Having kids and not enough money is also a reason for parents to worry and feel bad about themselves, which can trigger depression.
3. Grief – losing someone is a wound that can open around this time of the year even if the event might have happened months or years before. It is the season when we want to connect with the ones we love and their absence might hurt more than usual.
4. Social pressure – we are told, on all media, that we must enjoy ourselves during the holidays. Commercials and stores encourage us to start buying presents as early as October. It looks like there is a “duty” to be merry around this time of the year, a pressure to fit in and to join the crowd hunting for presents, eating to excess and wearing funny clothes.
5. Medical reasons – some people have been fighting depression all year long and now the symptoms just get worse. Others might not have experienced any sad feelings, but suddenly they feel down in December. In both cases, a lack of vitamin D for those living in the Northern Hemisphere, a busy schedule, too many sleepless nights and an unhealthy diet can enhance depressive symptoms.

Look for help

It is important to keep in mind that in some cases depression gets so difficult to manage that can push people to suicide. Although it is a myth that more people commit suicide at this time of the year, there are cases when it becomes impossible to cope and some people see no way out of their depression trap. If you feel suicidal or know someone who is, you should look for support immediately. A phone call to 911, a visit to any hospital’s emergency room or a chat with someone from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK and press 1) can save a life.

For milder symptoms of depression, consider improvements to your lifestyle. Give the gym a chance or jog for half an hour a day, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, keep yourself hydrated, avoid drinking too much alcohol, get plenty of sleep, consider buying a SAD light box (very useful in winter time) and speak to others. Friends, family and neighbours can provide comfort. Even a few words can help ease symptoms for a while. If you think it’s more than a mild sadness caused by winter and the holidays, look for professional help. Your GP will provide the information needed and the best treatment options. Seeing a psychotherapist or joining a support group can have a positive effect as well. Talking to people who understand what you are going through will make the burden easier to carry. We are here if you need us – get in touch and let’s make us help.


Childhood Onset of Some Mental Health Conditions

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doll-1551633_1280Childhood is usually a time of our lives that we enjoy looking back on. However, there are people whose childhood is also a time when some mental health issues start manifesting themselves. As a parent, you’d want to pay close attention to the first possible signs. Why? Firstly, because your child deserves a childhood to look back at with joy and, secondly, because some of them might be chronic and become life-long conditions. This article will give you a short glimpse into what kind of conditions are found in early years, what easy-to-spot symptoms to keep an eye out for and what actions to consider if you notice them.

  1. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – although it is normal for kids to have a short attention spam, be energetic or get impulsive about certain things, a child that displays any, some or all of these behaviours in a consistent manner might have a form of ADHD. Undiagnosed and untreated, it can affect a person’s present and future life, from school performance to relationships and general wellbeing.

  2. Autism – those on the autistic spectrum are usually diagnosed by age 3. However, mild forms of autism can go undiagnosed for a very long time, placing the child or the teenager in a position where their interaction with others is affected, as well as their interests and their behaviour in social situations.

  3. Anxiety disorders – anxiety is healthy as long as it helps a human being adapt to the environment and be aware of possible dangers. However, there are forms of maladaptive anxiety, making young people develop certain disorders with long-term effects on their life. Some of the most common manifestations are obsessive compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. People with anxiety symptoms will not be able to attend to their daily activities or will require greater effort. Children going through difficult life events, like bullying, parents’ divorce, accidents, etc. can develop post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that can affect them long enough after the event occurred, sometimes even for life.

  4. Eating disorders are usually more common in teenagers, but currently the age of onset is rapidly decreasing to younger and younger ages. Bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa are two of the most well-known eating disorders. They can have a serious impact on one’s mental and physical health, often seen as potentially life-scaring and life-threatening conditions.

  5. Mood disorders. Mood swings are normal in children and adolescents, but recurrent and intense feelings of sadness or over-excitement can be a sign of a mood disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder.

Changes that should concern you

Behaviour – with every day, your child learns something new and behaves a bit differently to yesterday. However, there are situations when such changes don’t help them adapt to the environment and even make their life harder. Start ask yourself if everything is ok if you spot signs of aggressiveness and challenging behaviour, an expressed desire to hurt themselves or others, withdrawal, social isolation or crying for no apparent reason and more than once a day (in adolescents).

Mood and feelings – intense feelings that disrupt a child’s activity, sleep and/or schedule can be a sign that they are developing a mood disorder, especially if they last for more than a couple of weeks.

Concentration problems – not being able to pay attention to activities considered specific for their age group (e.g., school subjects, play or other enjoyable activities) or even having a problem sitting still can be major warning signs that the child might develop ADHD.

Physical changes – young people’s bodies change a lot through the years, but there are situations when some individuals might lose or gain a lot of weight in a short time span, while changing their eating habits as well. Their discourse might be very much focussed on body issues, which should make a parent consider an undiagnosed eating disorder.

Substance abuse and physical harm – Because for children and teenagers in general can find it difficult to cope with their emotions, developing a mental condition might push them into using other means of expressing themselves. Alcohol, drugs, self-harm or even delinquent behaviours can be more than signs of young rebelliousness – they can be signs of a serious mental health condition that might enter their life and never leave, if undiagnosed.

If you think your child acts unusually, doesn’t feel themselves anymore and you find them difficult to cope with, try looking for help. There is always a way to resolve things or make them better. Medication and/or therapy, as well as love for and understanding of your child can protect them from the long-life pain and isolation that may come with undiagnosed/misdiagnosed mental health conditions. Should you require psychotherapeutic support or counselling for your child or yourself as a parent, please feel free to contact us. Making a move early can help you and your child embrace who they are, look for the best solutions and start enjoying life again.


Making the most of life transitions

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bench-560435_1280Autumn is coming and that’s one noticeable change we will all face. Changes happen all the time and, as long as we’re alive, we can’t escape it. Some people don’t even try to because a little challenge can be stimulating and refreshing. Others hate it deeply and, even it’s all about a happy transition, they would be better off without it… Why is change a bit or a lot of a struggle to most of us and what can be done? Here’s a few ideas that can help you understand and cope better…

Change and the comfort zone

We all have a comfort zone where we feel content and safe. However, most of us won’t be in their comfort zones all their lives. Having a family and/or other types of relationships, a workplace, an aim in life are, usually, a great predictor of the fact that sooner or later we will be facing change. For example, children might leave for college and the comfort zone we had as a family will undergo reconfiguration; two people decide to break up despite being together for more than 15 comfortable years, so the idea of their relationship and the idea of self will need readjustments; getting a new job or losing an old one comes with plenty of changes and, amongst others, with learning/reactivating some skills that haven’t been used in a long time; realising that one has been diagnosed with a chronic health condition can trigger a huge turmoil of emotions as well as a rearranging of their life priorities and aims. The idea is that whatever change we are going through – pleasant or not, expected or not, positive or not – it will never be 100% easy. Sometimes it will be amazingly difficult and we will freak out, cry or yell or (want to) run away. It is perfectly normal – change means adapting to new conditions, hence all the stress…

How can we make it easier?

First of all, it might be helpful to try accepting that things don’t always have to be easy. Life is a struggle, even way before we are born and the fact that challenges are thrown at you means that you are alive and still able to swim your way around them. Of course, there are situations when you feel like you can’t do it anymore and there are situations when you really can’t. In these cases, talking to other people can prove helpful. A good friend, family members, therapy groups or individual counseling can help you cope. You will get a more objective perspective on what is going on, you will be listened to, you will be heard and understood and you will be cared for and helped. A counselor is not there to make the change for you, but it will be there to make it easier for you. They will help you to understand why it is difficult for you, how to cope with it outside the meetings and even how to make the most of it.

By the way, did you know that change is, sometimes, a golden ticket? By facing the transition in your life, you learn more about who you are, what you can do, how far you can go. Change doesn’t just change your life – it also changes you.

Navigating transitional times in the right way can trigger one’s life and personality changes as well… For example, have you considered why so many parents get depressed when their children leave the family house and go to college? It is more than the fear of knowing their children are alone away from home, not eating their lunch and hanging out with the wrong crowds. It can also be the fear of looking for other aims in life (other than providing for their children now that they went their own way), as well as the fear of getting old and facing their own mortality. So, a relatively happy change like having smart kids who started ‘making it’ might be a mask for other symptoms and/or might trigger other worries. Most of these worries can be successfully addressed in therapy, promising an ease of the transition and, sometimes, a huge personal growth.

Finally, remember there is no such thing as taking a pill and making things better, but there are many ways to make things easier and you can find them. If you are facing a transitional period and need support, we have an open door. Looking for help will make change easier and won’t make you weaker – on the contrary! It is a proof of responsibility and maturity to give yourself the support you need in order to make the most of this transition phase, so don’t hesitate to contact us.