Could ‘unplugging’ be helpful for you?

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‘Unplugging’ has, in recent years, become one of those buzzwords that pop up on blogs and in conversation.  What does it mean and can it be helpful?

A recent blog post about an artist’s experience of ‘unplugging’ got me thinking about how much time we spend looking at screens instead of doing other things and why.  The artist found that she was spending so much time online doing what she felt she had to do that she missed out on doing the things she wanted to do, and ended up feeling lost and unhappy.  By choosing a different way, she challenged her beliefs about what she ‘should’ be doing, and became much more fulfilled.

Many of us spend several hours every day looking at our screens – both at work and in our personal lives.  I am not saying that this is an objectively bad thing.  For people who might otherwise be alone, electronic communication is important for wellbeing.  Friendships between people who otherwise rarely (or never) meet in the ‘real world’ can flourish via social media.

However, use of phones and other devices can interfere with our lives just like in the case of the artist.  ‘Unplugging’ is a deliberate choice to prevent this by switching off phones, tablets and computers to engage with ‘real’ life.  This can be part of mindfulness practice – how many of us have eaten a meal without really tasting it (an unmindful experience), because we are looking at our phones?!  Have you ever missed out on something because you have been looking at your phone?  You might even be ‘addicted’ to your phone, as described in this article!

Unplugging can also help you to enjoy spending time with loved ones without missing what is happening.  You might find you have more time to think, and to do so without being interrupted.  Facebook can be a lot of fun and a great way to stay in touch, but it can also be a time-suck and lead to FoMO.  We only usually see the ‘highlight reel’ of people’s lives on Facebook – the parts they want us to see.  It is easy to believe that ‘everyone else’ has better lives than we do, as we look at our ‘behind the scenes’ and see our own ‘bloopers’.

It is also possible that screen use before bed could impact sleep cycles.  Restful sleep is extremely important for both emotional and physical wellbeing, so unplugging a couple of hours before bed might be helpful.

You might find it useful to add up how much time you spend with electronic devices.  How much of that time is spent doing things which are, in one way or another, actually helpful for you?  If there is a difference between the timings then would you like to change that, and how?

These articles describe ways you could try unplugging, such as timing limits and working out your own rules for specific events you want to be unplugged for.


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I am returning to my series on the positive emotions identified by Dr Barbara Fredrickson in her work on Positive Psychology.  I have previously looked at awe, serenity and pride.  Today I would like to consider amusement.

What do we mean by “amusement”?  Fredrickson says it is the emotion we experience during play, humorous situations and ‘fun’.  Amusement is probably one of the most powerful for building connections between people.  For instance, have you made eye contact with a friend or stranger when something funny happens, feeling that flash of understanding that passes between you?  Or burst into sudden laughter at the same time as someone else, with a knowing look?

Laughter can even have some surprising health benefits.

Amusement doesn’t just have to mean laugh-out-loud funny moments, though.  It can mean something low-key – seeing a puppy play, dancing around your living room or a board game with friends.

Watching a funny TV show, playing with arts & crafts or listening to upbeat music are all amusing activities that lend themselves well to solitary or group occasions.  What amuses you?  When was the last time you had ‘fun’?

When people talk about “finding their inner child”, it can mean many things – such as rediscovering innocence, curiosity or being carefree.  I think an important aspect is rediscovering a sense of fun, that might have been squashed by adult worries and responsibilities.  A balance between seriousness and fun can lead to a richer experience, a sense of enjoying and engaging with life more.

Sometimes amusement lands in our laps, such as a funny video on social media.  Other times we have to put the effort in to create a situation in which amusement can occur.  How do you try to bring amusement into your life?



Love languages

love languages
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You can probably think of many ways to show how much you love someone, and many more ways to feel loved.  However, sometimes our preferred ways of giving and receiving love don’t match up with those of the people closest to us.  If we take for granted what “acting in a loving way” means without really thinking about it, we can end up confused and unhappy without really knowing why.

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, an American relationships therapist, was published in 1995.  It was followed by other books which expanded on the idea.  Chapman says that there are five specific ways people give and experience love.

The ways he has identified are:

  • Words of affirmation (praise, compliments, appreciation)
  • Acts of service (doing a specific thing for someone)
  • Receiving gifts (symbolic of affection)
  • Quality time (attention free from distraction)
  • Physical touch (holding hands, cuddling, sex)

Chapman believes that everyone has one preferred (primary) love language, and a a secondary one.  He bases his ideas on his experience of counselling couples, rather than specific research.  However, the idea is popular even without any scientific backing because it is straightforward and makes sense.  These love languages don’t just apply to romantic relationships, non-romantic love can be expressed and given in similar ways.

So how do you know what your love language is?  Or that of your partner, friend, sibling?

You can take a quiz on Chapman’s website – you can either sign up and have it calculate the scores for you, or download a pdf of the quiz which does not require sign up.  You can choose from different quizzes depending on your current circumstances.

However, while quizzes might be interesting and useful, they are generalised.  You can also gain this insight into yourself just by considering the acts of love that caused you to be happiest, giving or receiving.  What comes to mind when you think of “love”?  How do those around you show love, and do those actions help you feel good?  What do you wish you had more of?

Obvious as it sounds, communication really is key in relationships.  Do you talk about love and your relationships with those around you?  How do they feel loved by you?  What would you like to do more of?  Is there anything you would like to receive more of?  What would they like more of from you?  What do they like to do most?  Have you made any assumptions about what each of you likes to give and receive?

There is also communication with yourself.  How do you care for yourself?  Have you assumed what you “should” be doing, or taken on what others have told you, and is it right for you?

How do you love?

Using senses – grounding part 2

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Image courtesy of panuruangjan at

My last blog post focussed on grounding and what it is.  This time I will  look at senses and how you might use them for grounding.

We are usually taught that there are five senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste.

Grounding involves feeling more connected to the here-and-now, rather than on worries or concerns.  So anything that stimulates your senses enough to focus on and cut through anxiety might help.  This is why I suggested a variety of things for different senses in your cuddle baskets and comfort boxes.

However, anything harsh or unpleasant could cause discomfort rather than bodily connection.  You know yourself best and what is likely to cause you to reach out for more and what might make you withdraw.  Choose carefully based on your own experiences.


Here are some ideas if you struggle to think of anything:

Sight: an image in your favourite colours (or even one you can colour in yourself), a pretty piece of scenery, a toy kaleidoscope, a glittery object.

Hearing: your favourite music, birdsong, the sound of waves, running water, wind through the trees, a purring cat.

Smell: aroma oils, baking bread, your favourite perfume or scent.

Touch: soft jersey fabrics, a pet’s fur or skin, a cuddly toy, objects to ‘fiddle’ with (e.g. a physical puzzle such as a Rubik’s Cube).

Taste: mild spices (e.g. cinnamon), chocolate, fresh fruit, warm milk.  You could experiment with different types of taste – e.g. salty, sweet, umami, bitter, sour.


This isn’t the end, though!  You might have sensory difficulties or disabilities that make using some of these difficult or impossible.  You might also find that these examples don’t stimulate you very well.

Interestingly, it seems humans have more than just the five “traditional” senses!  You might like to explore ways to stimulate these as well:

Temperature sense: the ability to distinguish warmth or cold.

Kinesthetic sense/proprioception: the ability to know where parts of your body are relative to the others (particularly limbs) without looking (martial artists sometimes practice blindfolded to develop this sense).

Balance/acceleration: the ability to tell what way up you are and when your speed changes (close your eyes on a roller coaster!).

Organic sense: the sense of what is happening internally, such as hunger or thirst.  Do you listen to these signals?

Vibration: the ability to detect small changes in pressure.


What might work for you?


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You may have heard people talking about “grounding”, “grounding exercises” or “being grounded”.  What does that mean?

The idea of grounding is from meditation.  It involves being connected with the Earth (usually physically through bare feet) and feeling this connection mentally.  Some people also refer to a feeling of being “centred”.  Your focus is brought to the here-and-now.  You can use this to develop feelings of stability and calm.

When you are stressed or upset, especially with many sources of stress, it can be difficult to feel really “here”.  You might feel overwhelmed, unable to concentrate, or even frozen into inaction.  Grounding exercises are meant to help you cut through the concerns swirling round your head.  You might, when anxious, waste energy worrying about things that may or may not happen.  You may feel exhausted and struggle with powerful emotions.  While grounding exercises cannot fix your problems, they can help you to feel more in control and powerful so you can work through them.

Grounding exercises are very simple, but can take some practice.  If you find it difficult, start small!  You could begin with a short breathing exercise, such as this one, every day for a week.

Another simple grounding exercise is to take off your shoes and socks and wriggle your toes in some lush grass (you might want to leave this bit until the weather warms up in the spring!).  Feel the connection to the Earth and other living things.  Breathe deeply.  Don’t push at negative thoughts – just let them flit by and watch them as they fly past like birds.  You can perform a similar exercise indoors if you like, concentrating on the feeling of your feet firmly on the floor.  Then gradually move up your body, feeling the weight of it in the chair and the sensation of your clothes.

You can also try the method described here.  This might help you let go of those concerns you cannot influence right now, perhaps from your circle of concern if you did that exercise.

There are many different grounding exercises available.  Some will work for you better than others.  In my next blog, I will look at your senses and how you might use them to feel more in the here-and-now.

Circles of Influence and Concern

Circles of influence and concern
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Circles of Influence and Concern comes from Steven Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989).

It can be very useful if you are worrying about several different things, or one big thing which has lots of different factors.

A Circle of Concern contains all the things which have an impact on us and which we worry about.  These can be anything on your mind, from big to small.  These might include the weather, the economy, work, family worries…  Some we can do something about, some we cannot.

A Circle of Influence sits inside the Circle of Concern and contains the things we are worried about, but which we can do something to change.  Hence sometimes it is called the “Circle of Control”.

You can start by just drawing your Circle of Concern and dumping everything inside.  Then add your Circle of Influence and start moving things  into it – those you have some influence over.  You can do the whole exercise with pens on a big sheet of paper or you might like to use sticky notes to make it easier to move things around.

By focussing on your Circle of Influence, you can begin to be more active in making things better.  Identifying areas where you can do something is the first step in planning what your actions will be.  This exercise might also help you to accept that there are some things you cannot change right now.

You might feel more empowered and even discover your Circle of Influence grows bigger as you feel able to take on more challenges.  If you only look at your Circle of Concern, you could end up feeling powerless and demotivated instead.

Here and here are examples of how the exercise works.  You can use the provided template or draw your own.  You need not restrict yourself to drawing on paper, either – feel free to experiment with small objects, craft materials, sand…  It’s yours!

Emotional boundaries

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Image courtesy of anankkml at

There are many types of personal boundaries, some of which I will look at in later posts, but today I will talk about emotional boundaries.

A boundary is any kind of line or limit that marks the difference between two places.  As in the phrase “good fences make good neighbours”, healthy boundaries can aid healthy relationships.

Do you take the blame for other people’s feelings and emotions?  Do you feel responsible for ‘making’ them feel a particular way?  Or vice versa?  Do you find yourself easily influenced and unable to work out what you really feel, finding instead that you go along with what other people believe?  Do you need to rescue others from their problems, or need them to rescue you?  Are you often finding yourself caught up in other people’s drama?

Feelings of guilt, anger or resentment can be signs that something isn’t working.  Perhaps you feel that you haven’t got the right to say no or to have any privacy.  Possibly you didn’t learn how to have strong boundaries when growing up and are afraid of what will happen if you start asserting yourself.

You can set boundaries by learning to say no and valuing your right to do that, by spending time getting to know your own beliefs and feelings without the influence of others, by taking note of how you feel in the company of certain people (nourished or drained?).  Ask yourself, are you giving other people more than you can afford to?

Meditation and grounding exercises might also help you to feel more secure in yourself.

Setting boundaries is part of self care and getting to know yourself better.  It can be hard going, and you and the people around you might need time and space to work out and get used to where your boundaries lie.  You may find it easier to start small.  Boundaries also need regular maintenance – like regular repairs to that fence!  Practicing asserting boundaries with a supportive friend or a counsellor can help you to work through this.  Sometimes there will be steps backwards as well – that is okay!  Building new emotional boundaries can be like breaking the habit of a lifetime, so be kind and encouraging towards yourself.


If you would like to make an appointment for counselling around this issue or others raised in this blog, please contact me.


The Stand for Self-Love

“The Stand for Self-Love” an excellent TEDx talk by Amy Pence-Brown.

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 14.45.08Amy discusses her performance-art piece intended to look at self-love, vulnerability, self-acceptance, body positivity and self esteem.

One thing she said which really struck me was “that’s the thing about vulnerability – right when you open up and you start to live with your full hearts… there’s no going back“.  I think that is very true – once we find a way to live fully and reach self-actualisation, we don’t want it any other way.

She describes how we are encouraged to doubt and bully ourselves and offers another way with words of encouragement.  She asks, “what do you stand for?“, which can be a difficult question to answer.  However, you may find that facing the question head-on can lead to rewarding (and maybe surprising) answers from places within yourself that maybe you hadn’t listened to much before.

Do you tell yourself bad things about yourself or knock yourself down?  Do you insult yourself?  If so – would you talk to your best friend that way?  Would you accept it from your best friend?

It’s easy to think, “but everybody does it”.  While it may be true that it is a common thing, it does not have to be that way.

Give it a try.  Listen to your inner voice, the one that needs encouragement and nourishment. Try to stop insulting yourself for a day, a week, a month.

How do you feel?


Support networks

support networks
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Support networks can be very valuable in helping us get through problems – but what do we mean by “support networks”?

Humans are a social species, we all need some degree of human interaction in order to be well physically, mentally and emotionally.  A support network is made up of the people around you who offer you time, energy, care and practical or emotional help when you need it.  These people might be family, friends, coworkers, members of hobby groups or even therapy group members.

It can be difficult to know where to begin to build a support network if you feel you don’t have one.  These links give some tips on how to build and maintain support networks.

If you are a member of someone’s support network, it can be hard to know how to offer and accept support with in it.  The network is likely to end up as more of a “web”, with relationships criss-crossing all over.

I like the “Ring Theory“, which is a model of the directions in which to offer an accept support.  The idea is that the person going through the problem is in the middle with concentric rings around them.  The closer someone is to the person, emotionally, the further in they would be in the rings.  For example, family members and friends are likely to be on an inner ring but coworkers are more likely to be on an outer ring.

The mantra is “comfort in, dump out”.  Offer comfort and support to people on a ring which is further in than yours.  Seek comfort and support in doing that from people who are on a ring which is further out.  It will be easier for people further removed from the problem or situation to help care for you.

You might be part of several different groups in different ring positions, as well as being the centre of a ring yourself.  This is where it is important to remember self care.



Finding meaning in struggles

finding meaning in struggles

I’ve just watched an excellent TED talk by Andrew Solomon about finding the meaning in life’s struggles as a way of moving forward, entitled “How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are”.

In it, Solomon describes how he and other people he has met have used adversity and terrible experiences to grow their inner strength through finding meaning in what happened to them.  He draws on interviews he has done with victims of crimes and political prisoners.  He describes the discrimination he has suffered due to homophobia, and how he believes the courage and strength he uncovered in facing it have made him the man he is today.  He suggests that our identity is forged in adversity, not when things are easy.  That reminds me of the John Churn Colins quotation, “In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.”  I would also add to that, “and ourselves.”

A section which really struck me with its power was when Solomon said When we’re ashamed, we can’t tell our stories, and stories are the foundation of identity. Forge meaning, build identity, forge meaning and build identity. That became my mantra. Forging meaning is about changing yourself. Building identity is about changing the world. All of us with stigmatized identities face this question daily: how much to accommodate society by constraining ourselves, and how much to break the limits of what constitutes a valid life? Forging meaning and building identity does not make what was wrong right. It only makes what was wrong precious.”


This talk reminded me strongly of Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning“, which made a strong impression on me when I read it some years ago.  Frankl writes about his experiences in the concentration camps, and how he transcended those experiences in order to survive them and be able to move on with his life after he was liberated.  His discoveries led him to develop a whole new model of therapy, and use his experiences to help many many other people.


Re-integrating your experiences into your life story can be hard work.  You may find yourself denying that you have any of the strength you showed – it might be hidden from you.  It’s there.  How will you find the meaning in your experiences?  How will you use what you have learned about yourself and others to forge a new and stronger identity?  What does your story look like?  What do you want it to look like?


If you would like to make an appointment with me, please contact me.