It has become a norm in our current society to be a high performer, a perfectionist, to be expected to excel at everyday tasks and to meet high standards in our work and life.
Whilst this can be a positive influence on us it can also be detrimental to our overall mental health, especially when these high standards are difficult to “switch” off from.
So, when do you know if your personal standards of achievement are becoming a problem for you? In a general sense, perfectionist people can often be very hard on themselves, have unrelenting standards that may cover all domains of functioning (work, home, social) and when they are unable to meet their own personal expectations in these areas, there is a deep sense of failure, shame and sadness. You may experience an inability to make simple decisions, you may find yourself procrastinating or struggling with concentration and memory. Further, you may experience physiological signs of distress and panic and experience a low mood or anxious ruminating thoughts. Overall, if you feel a sense that your “normal” functioning or “sense of self” has changed or shifted negatively in recent times, this might be your first sign that you are putting too much pressure on yourself and its time for change.
Some practical guidelines that might help include:
- Stop and pay attention to your triggers. Are there specific situations (at work, home or socially) that are causing you stress and anxiety? What might be happening for you at these moments that make you to feel this way? Become aware of “triggering” situations and mentally prepare yourself on how you might cope in such moments, for example, if you know a certain meeting at work will be difficult,
prepare in advance for how you might manage and cope with it (E.g. practice what you might say in the meeting, take a walk afterwards)
- Identify some of your thoughts around your personal standards or expectations. Could these be leading to you feeling anxious or overwhelmed? Write them down and understand them, highlighting the positive and negatives of such thoughts, with the focus on how to minimize the negative aspects.
- Plan for alternatives. Could your thinking be too self-critical and is there another way you could be looking at things?
- Make a note of your strengths and achievements and take time to celebrate your wins.
- Make a well-being plan. Reach out for support from others, reconnect with your family and friends, plan an exercise regime, and schedule some “down time”. Essentially, allow some mental switch off time and practice being mindful and present in your current life moments rather than worrying about “what’s next”.
- Focus on “what you can control” in difficult, stressful and high-pressure situations and take the time to re-prioritize your areas of worry based on this.
Having high standards in terms of life performance and achievement can be a positive attribute to have, but if these standards become perfectionistic and self-critical, the impact upon your personal well-being and happiness can have a negative consequence and lead to psychological burnout.
Feeling down, unmotivated, fearful or depressed? Here is a list of evidence-based (backed by substantial research) suggestions & behaviours to reduce depression and help relieve nervous tension and anxiety:-
- Movement & physical exercise. Exercise and physical movement, whether it be intense or gentle can help us complete the stress response cycle, activate the relaxation response and is a natural anti-depressant.
- Some form of daily mindfulness practice, meditation or applied relaxation strategy is a must for good mental health. Coping with stress and reducing anxiety levels means that you can reduce their role as contributing factors in depression. If you want to deal with low mood, you have to address how you manage stress first.
- Dietary modifications can absolutely help with reducing symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. The reduction of things like sugar (basically anything that tastes sweet in your mouth), alcohol and other toxins also helps with reducing brain fog & improving mental clarity also.
- Don’t underestimate the power of adequate and good quality deep sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene and go to bed earlier. Getting more hours of sleep before the hand strikes midnight is beneficial to your health and mood. Getting up earlier and getting sunlight in the morning is a mood enhancer.
- Trying dealing with denied or avoided emotions (eg, through therapy, keeping a journal, being more authentic when relating with friends and family members for example). Chronic suppressed emotions serve to create a prolonged stress response in the body, which in turn can lower immune function and also increase the risk for depression.
- Avoid ‘avoiding’ – deal with the things you are avoiding, whether they be emotional, relational, social, medical/health or physical. Procrastination creates stress, which increases anxiety and anxious apprehension. When all you do is ‘avoid’, you never allow yourself to learn new ways to deal with situations and master difficulties.
- Make time to schedule in joyful moments, in a deliberate way (not just decluttering – although that is pretty good!) – like meeting a friend for coffee, going to the movies, having a massage, going for a swim in the ocean – whatever provides a positive mood shift, no matter how small.
- Spend more time in nature. I know we hear this one a lot, but it really works. Activate as many of your senses as possible and try to be mindful to all those sensations.
- Make the effort to connect with others in small, incidental ways (eg, chat with the person making your coffee, make eye contact and smile at a fellow shopper walking by) – especially if you’re not inclined to. Small but regular social contact is highly correlated with enhanced mood and is good for stress control.
- Asks for more hugs. Increase your level of physical contact with others if possible….even very small gestures count and have a mutually supportive effect . Physical touch is important for a sense of connection and nurturance. Perhaps get a massage or some foot reflexology. Obtaining comfort through pleasant sensory sensations is important when someone is experiencing depression. Think about getting a pet and if you have already got one make sure you give them plenty of physical contact. It’s beneficial and therapeutic.
- Take time to stop and breathe. Rest, slow down and reduce those expectations of yourself that might be just too high!
- Notice what you have; see, feel and practice the gratitude. Turn you mind towards the things and people that you have in your life that you appreciate. Take pleasure in small things and small achievements.
- Address unhealed or unresolved issues from the past. Time does not heal all wounds – no matter what the popular belief says. Sometimes we need help from a mental health professional to work with us to identify and address old unhelpful patterns of behaviour or old hurts from the past. It is never too late and you are never too old to deal with psychological injuries and unhelpful beliefs. Help is available.
If you notice a significant change and drop in your mood which you can’t seem to shift and if you notice that your ability to enjoy the things you normal enjoy is reduced, you should speak to your doctor and seek help from a mental health professional. Getting psychological therapy can be very helpful in guiding you to address the psychological factors which have contributed to you becoming depressed. There may also be a role for anti-depressant medication. Combining medication with counselling and therapy is often the best approach.
About 1 in 6 new mothers experience some degree of postnatal depression. Postnatal anxiety is just as common, and many woman experience both anxiety and depression simultaneously. Postnatal anxiety and depression can be worrying and isolating experiences for a new mum as she tries to deal with her own feelings and symptoms at the same time as trying to best care for her baby and deal with all the new changes and challenges confronting her.
Postnatal depression is very different from the “baby blues” which up to 70% of women experience after birth. This is a transient mood shift that occurs a few days after giving birth where a new mum can feel down, teary and overwhelmed with her new situation.
Postnatal depression can vary in severity like any mood disorder, and for some it can be a very serious condition that requires prompt and targeted treatment. It typically occurs within the first four weeks after childbirth (although it can come on gradually after this time) and sufferers can experience the following symptoms:
- Low mood
- Feeling overwhelmed and extremely anxious
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- Sleep difficulties (not just due to a disrupted sleep cycle due to night feeds etc)
- Appetite disturbance
- Feelings of hopelessness and being unable to cope
- Loss of confidence and low self-esteem (particularly in perceived ability to be a good mother)
- Extreme indecisiveness, this may also manifest as excessive reassurance seeking from other regarding decisions about caring for baby
- Excessive guilt caused by having transient negative feelings towards the new baby. Typical emotions that women describe as distressing are anger, resentment or hostility.
- Problems with mother-baby attachment
- In more serious cases, suicidal thoughts or urges may be present (a very small percentage of woman experience ‘postnatal psychosis’ – which is a very serious condition requiring immediate medical attention and usually an inpatient stay in a mother-baby mental health unit). However recovery is usually excellent, with no ongoing serious complications.
Causal pathways or “risk factors” for Postnatal Depression
Like all mental health conditions, the causes of postnatal depression are multi-faceted. It is useful to differentiate those risk factors that pre-exist before the arrival of your baby and those that arise after your baby is born.
Risk factors that can be present before the birth of your baby might include:
- A genetic vulnerability to mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder
- A previous history of a mood disorder
- Previous history of an anxiety disorder
- Pre-existing psychological vulnerabilities such as perfectionism (having very high standards and expectations of yourself) or dependence (doubting yourself and your ability to handle things on your own).
- In schema terms, having a very high ‘unrelenting standards’ and/or a ‘incompetence/dependence’ schemas can increase your risk
- Stressful family relationships or relationship breakdown
- Social isolation or financial difficulties
- Physiological stressors such as hormonal changes, fatigue and any physical complications
- A previous history of pregnancy or birth-related difficulties such as miscarriages, terminations, stillbirths, premature birth or the death of a child
- Poor social supports
- Protracted fertility difficulties and IVF treatments
Risk factors that can arise once the baby is born can include:
- A traumatic birth experience (e.g., high intervention births, post-birth surgery)
- The new baby having a serious illness or medical condition
- Prolonged feeding difficulties and disappointments
- Ongoing and serious sleep deprivation
If you recognise any of the antenatal risk factors shown above, you can reduce your risk by intervening early. In particular you can address the psychological risk factors and also plan adaptive coping strategies to put in place after your baby has arrived.
Seeking help before your baby is due can reduce the risk of developing postnatal depression as studies have shown that mood and anxiety symptoms during pregnancy increase the risk of developing post-natal depression.
It is also important to remember that a pregnancy and childbirth can trigger a lot of worries and anxieties as well as old wounds from childhood. If you experienced a childhood which was difficult, neglectful or abusive, having a baby is a major life event which may trigger painful memories and feelings from your own childhood. You may experience difficulties with attaching to your own baby or become at greater risk of developing depression. If you are worried about this, getting help before the arrival of your baby is important.
Also, sleep deprivation alone is enough to cause significant mood disturbance in many mothers. People tend to under-rate the degree to which sleep deprivation and interrupted sleep can affect mood.
At this time you are more vulnerable emotionally due to hormonal fluctuations and therefore pre-existing worries and anxieties are likely to flare up. For example, you may find yourself worrying about all the uncertainty around the birth and your transition into motherhood. You may also be concerned about how your parenting is going to be influence by how you yourself were parented.
A frequent concern is “I don’t want to make the same mistakes my parents did”. This can also fuel a lot of anxiety and worry. There is also increasing pressure for women to find motherhood and pregnancy an amazing and overwhelmingly positive experience. There are certainly many positive and joyful aspects, but there are also difficult ones as well. You may find that you judge yourself harshly e.g., “I don’t know what is wrong with me, everyone thinks I should be so excited”. By addressing any anxieties and worries before or during your pregnancy you can greatly increase your psychological resilience in preparation for the challenges of motherhood.
Things to remember to help you cope during the early months
- Get support – don’t be afraid to ask for help. Once you know who the good people are that you can rely on, make a plan for how they can best help you get through the first 12 weeks and beyond.
- Reconsider your own expectations. Lower them! and then lower them again! Woman who expect themselves to be perfect and have high standards for themselves (their partner and their baby!) are more likely to get depressed and experience high anxiety. If you are holding, nurturing, caring for and bonding with your baby – you are winning! You don’t have to be anyone’s super-mum and you don’t have to be running around pleasing other people and making afternoon tea for Aunt Martha and her friends. Stop, listen to your baby, listen to your body and follow those instructions, rather than anyone else’s. Don’t beat yourself up for staying in your PJs for most of the day and hanging out with your baby enjoying each other and watching the odd movie. When your baby sleeps, you need to sleep or at least rest. Do the absolute minimum of ‘house-work’. Your baby doesn’t care that the house is messy, they only care that their mummy is taking good care of herself!
- Have faith and believe in yourself. Sure, listen to and use advise if it comes from supportive and reliable people or sources. But it’s also good to tune into and sense what your own intuition is telling you. Also, try to put yourself in your baby’s place when thinking about what they need. For example, don’t get unnecessarily hung up on things like ‘routines’. The first 12 weeks of your baby’s life is also referred to as the ‘fourth trimester’ – and for good reason! It takes your baby that long to even figure out that they are no longer a part of you, so to speak. It is therefore normal and natural (not to mention beneficial) that you are as close physically to your baby as possible and that you get as much skin to skin contact as you can.
- Receive psychological and medical help if needed. If you are struggling to have any positive feelings or if you feel disconnected from your baby, then you probably need professional help as soon as possible. There are safe and effective anti-depressant medications that can be used during this period, so don’t delay in speaking with your doctor or a perinatal psychiatrist for expert guidance. Speaking to a psychologist with experience in postnatal depression as well as recruiting practical support from family and friends will be very helpful.
- Go for walks with your baby. It’s important to keep active and get fresh air and exercise. Plenty of sunlight is good for your mood and exercise is also excellent for managing stress and anxiety.
- Listen to uplifting or fun music and dance at home with your baby. Music helps with mood and fatigue and dancing is a great way to get incidental exercise.
- Refrain from comparing yourself to other new mums. Unfortunately, some new mums are preoccupied with wanting to appear flawless and completely sorted! Perhaps they are overly concerned with and worried about appearing like a ‘failure’. They may appear like everything is running smoothing and that they are having a hassle-free time of things. Do yourself a big favour and just accept that this is all BS! Smile politely and concentrate on your own experiences and your own baby’s development one day at a time. It might be helpful to listen to “Buddhism for Mother’s” as an audio book and remind yourself that this time of your life is both short and precious.
- Remember that any difficult time you are going through now will pass. If you are going through a rough time, know that it will get better. All you can do is get whatever help you can and speak to helpful friends or family and to health professionals when you need extra support. Let yourself receive the help that is offered, rather than expecting yourself to do everything. Everything comes and goes in phases, better times will follow. Remember that any problems you experience now will seem more intense and upsetting due to hormonal stresses, sleep deprivation and the steep learning curve you are facing. While its good to welcome helpful support, its also good to encourage yourself for everything you are dealing with and to spend time with encouraging people.
- Find and connect with like-minded new mums and dads. Make sure you go to your local mother and baby group so that you can at least make initial contact with other new mums. As your baby gets a little older it will be important for you to do more things with other mothers and babys so you can experience a sense of shared community and support. Avoid other mums and dads who you find critical, condescending and who only like to talk about themselves. Spend time with other parents who make you feel good, who want a mutually supportive relationship and who are kind and non-judgemental.
- Try not to delay getting extra help and professional or medical help if you need it. Keeping yourself well is paramount!
- Enjoy your baby!
For more information and support go to: https://www.panda.org.au/
Most people have heard of ‘self-esteem’ and believe it is good to
have high self-esteem.
However, most people may not be aware that there are different types of self-esteem and some are more helpful than others.
Researchers have identified that individuals may have high self-esteem,
but if it is strongly tied to their circumstances then their sense of self-
worth is vulnerable to collapsing if those circumstances change. An
example would be a star football player who breaks their leg or when we
experience rejection. This can lead to depression and low mood. Another
effect of having this type of self-esteem – one that is based overly on your
success and achievements- is that it can drive anxiety, perfectionism,
overworking and burnout as we struggle to achieve a sense of worthiness.
So what can we do about it? Thankfully researchers have identified
healthier ways to develop high self-esteem and self-worth that is stable in
the face of life’s challenges. Through my own research I strongly feel that
the concept of ‘Self-Compassion’ provides a lovely road map for developing
this healthy version of self-esteem.
Self-compassion is the ability to meet ourselves with kindness,
caring and acceptance no matter what life throws at us. Through building
our self-compassion, we develop a sense of value and worthiness
irrespective of our achievements. Having high self-compassion liberates us
and provides us with a strong sense of self, and is the foundation for living
an empowered life.
If you would like to learn more about self-compassion and its role in
developing high healthy self-esteem book an appointment with me today.
Affairs may be experienced as traumatic, particularly for the hurt partner, trust becomes seriously damaged and both partners can feel a sense of hopelessness about the future of the relationship and the possibility of recovery. So, how can we begin to understand what an affair means, its impact, how each partner can cope following the discovery of an affair
and whether there is a possibility of healing and repairing the relationship? Here are a few points to consider:
- Affairs may take several forms, when most people think of affairs, they imagine the typical scenario where one partner cheats and has a sexual encounter or relationship with someone else, outside of the relationship. However, affairs may also be solely emotional (involving no sexual or physical contact but where there is a sense of romantic intimacy), or they might involve being on dating apps or talking to other people online. In whatever form, affairs represent a betrayal for many people and damage the secure base of a relationship.
- Depending on the type of affair, how long it has gone on for, what the relationship was like beforehand, the personal histories and previous experiences of each partner and whether either or both partners are willing to try and repair the relationship, the prognosis for recovery will differ.
- Initially, both partners need to decide whether to re-commit to each other and begin the work of healing and repair, or to end the relationship. If they decide to try and work on the relationship, there are several steps that must be taken if this task has a chance at success:
- The affair must end, trying to repair a relationship where there is an affair ongoing will only lead to further hurt and damage to the relationship;
- The partner who had the affair must offer the hurt partner an apology and the hurt partner needs to feel that this is genuine;
- The couple needs to begin to understand why the affair happened and its’ impact on the relationship and each individual;
- Trust needs to be gradually re-built and a new vision for the relationship may ultimately be created.
It is not easy for a couple to recover from an affair, but it is possible. It is recommended that couples seek out therapy in attempting to work through the process which can be painful, frustrating and very triggering for most people. A therapist can help support and guide you through this process and assist you to maintain a sense of hope and facilitate healing and the creation of a new relationship. Esther Perel, a couples’ therapist, writer and presenter says that when an affair occurs within a couple, that relationship is over, however, a new relationship may be re-built following an affair, with the same person.
After an affair, your relationship will not be the same, but that can be a good thing. Some people who do the “work” and recover from the affair say that their new relationship is even better, stronger and more connected than it was previously. The process of recovery requires a lot of patience, understanding and commitment. If, on the other hand you decide not to continue the relationship after an affair, working with a therapist can also help you to cope with, understand and heal from the experience.
Friendship is about mutual affection, shared values and an interpersonal connection. Such qualities are the perfect characteristics for a romantic relationship.
This is why remaining in a close friendship with your partner is important for the longevity of relationships. Knowing your partner, their dreams and values, makes for a good foundation when difficulties arise or conflict occurs in your relationship. Without a friendship dynamic we can become emotionally distant from each other, disengaged and disinterested.
Here are three simple tips to sustaining friendship in your romantic relationship:
- Keep up to date with your partner’s current likes/dislikes and worries. Being engaged in this way will show a mutual respect for each other’s opinions and thoughts. Start from the simple questions (Eg. Do you still like reading fiction? What’s your favourite running route in Sydney?), to the more complex questions (Eg. Is our mortgage still a worry for you?)
- Sharing an interest together and will create a shared experience (Eg. join the gym together, swap reading books and compare thoughts, learn a language together)
- Keep it light – laughter makes you feel good and releases endorphins in your body. By making humour a part of your daily conversations this will naturally generate a fondness towards each other.
Sustaining a healthy friendship with your partner will support not only your relationship but also your own individual mental health and well-being.
Schema therapy is based on core emotional needs, and getting these met. This is very important in our relationships, and central to us feeling satisfied, fulfilled and connected.
If you are feeling lost, frustrated or unfulfilled in your relationship, understanding your needs and getting them met is vital to improving your connection with your partner. This is also very important when entering into a new relationship.
So what are your core emotional needs? These are needs that every one of us is born with. Our parents must meet these needs when we are young, but we don’t grow out of them, we have these needs for the rest of our lives. Feeling happy and fulfilled in a romantic relationship depends on these needs being met.
- Secure attachment (safety, protection, predictability, love, nurturance, attention, empathy, acceptance)
- Freedom to express valid feelings and needs
- Appropriate autonomy, competence and sense of identity
- Spontaneity and play
Having a secure attachment means feeling safe, accepted and loved unconditionally. This must be reliable and predictable to provide you with a secure base. Without a secure base, your other needs cannot be met.
Your partner must allow you to express what you feel and need, AND give you validation for these feelings. This allows you to be your true authentic self, which helps you feel happy, fulfilled and connected. Holding back your feelings because you know your partner won’t accept them, will shut down, or will dismiss you, is suppressing your authenticity – a very common cause of anxiety and depression.
Part of being authentic is having independence and autonomy, which allows you to develop a unique identity. It is also very important for humans to have spontaneity and play in their lives, and being able to do this with your partner will enrich your relationship.
In a nutshell, you need to feel safe to be authentic in your relationship.
A relationship without a secure attachment or the ability to be authentic is not a healthy relationship, because your core emotional needs are not being met.
Schema therapy can help you develop a deeper understanding of your needs and how to get these met, which in turn will create a happier, healthier you.
We all want a thriving, high functioning and happy relationship. We want a relationship that makes us feel nourished, supported and loved. Easier said than done right? In real life when there are so many individual demands to manage, such as family dynamics, career development, financial growth and mental health, making time for our relationship and our partner can often get left behind or put on the bottom of the list.
What we know about relationships is that when they are positive and fulfilling our individual mental health is better and personal resilience is high. So how do we ensure our relationships are thriving? The simple answer is by making them a priority and nurturing them through regular positive habits. Habits are about practice and repeat, making something so frequent in our lives that it becomes a part of the everyday. So with that in mind, its time to set some new healthy and regular habits for your relationships, ensuring that you continue to thrive as a couple and individually.
Below are five habits that you should practice to keep your relationship healthy:
- Get to know your partner again and build a friendship: Life experiences change us as individuals and therefore it is likely that our needs and wants have changed over the years. Its time to start ‘re-learning’ about each other, from the simple interests to the more intimate thoughts/ideas. This activity can strengthen your friendship as a couple and allow you to explore shared interests.
- Celebrate your mutual wins: In the busy nature of life we often forget to celebrate our wins as a couple or to remind each other what we mutually set out to achieve together. For example, did you eventually buy that dream house that you were both working for? Did your eldest child achieve academic success? Did you survive that first family road trip? Recognizing the achievements you have had as a team can create a sense of satisfaction and reassurance for your relationship.
- Understand each other’s values and create mutual respect: Core values drive our decisions and direction in life. In a partnership it is important to understand if our values are shared or different, as a misunderstanding of your partner’s values can often cause relationship conflict. Take time to explore each other’s ‘set of values’, gaining an understanding of what you each expect in family life, career goals, marriage, spirituality etc., so that this knowledge can shape your future decisions in life.
- Book a date night: It’s a cliché but dedicated date nights (or days) actually work! Date nights give significance to making time for each other so that you can engage in deeper conversations, share interests and can encourage an element of fun in your relationship.
- Have the “tough” conversations and don’t leave ‘elephants’ in the room: Communication is vital to relationship well-being so when we stop talking, we stop investing in our relationship development. Leaving important issues ‘unsaid’ can lead to resentment, anxiety and mistrust. If you find it hard to start a conversation about a tough issue, use other ways of communicating such as emails, letters or creative approaches to open up to each other. Make sure you approach these conversations calmly and with honesty, knowing that you may not solve the issue immediately but that small steps towards resolution is a positive win for your relationship.
People who are socially anxious tend to avoid social gatherings, places where they may feel judged by other people.
When they do have to attend a gathering they may try to avoid speaking to other people. Maybe you are introverted but have no trouble speaking to people on a one to one basis. Why? One of the reasons suggested by researchers is that it is easy to look them in the eye.
In a group situation paying attention to people is necessary so that you can know what is going right. When we are anxious we feel quite vulnerable and self-conscious however facing this fear being perfectly aware of how you might be hurt is an important step to overcoming your fear.
As you face this fear again and again you don’t necessarily get less afraid; you get braver. This approach of the uncertain is a tonic for self-esteem. You are able to view yourself as courageous and this is a comfort for you at times when you are feeling challenged.
Strategies to assist in overcoming social anxiety
Describe what it is you are afraid of.
- Relaxation and slow breathing to reduce the symptoms of anxiety such as rapid breathing, sweating and sometimes feeling sick.
What is your belief about the situation?
Anxiety is usually preceded by a number of unhelpful self statements which become a habit such as the following.
Jumping to conclusions.
- We assume we know what someone else is thinking and a. we make predictions about what is going to happen in the future.
- When we blow things out of proportion and we regard the situation b. as terrible, awful even though in reality the situation is relatively minor.
- This way of thinking means that we ﬁlter in the negative parts of the c. picture and ﬁlter out the positive parts
- We label ourselves and others when we make global statements based on d. our behaviour in speciﬁc situations.
Challenging and changing unhelpful thoughts.
Approaching the situation that you fear rather than avoiding.
Being kind to yourself. Understand that this will take time.