How much is too much stress?

While a little bit of stress may be good for us to get working well, too much and we’re tipping into anxiety, panic then burnout. Too much stress and we lose motivation, it’s more difficult to concentrate and to remember things.
Sometimes when we’re stressedout we keep jabbing at the thing we’re trying to do. We get frustrated and angry, and we can’t get anything done properly.

At this point you need to

STOP.

Breathe.

Go do something else for a time. Then come back to it. If it’s your life overall that is stressful, try to find some time in your day where you can do something mindful or fun. This helps reduce your stress levels, and allow your brain to start processing properly. When I tell students this they sometimes say

“I don’t have time!!!”

But you do. Because by taking time out here and there and giving your brain some recovery time. You’ll actually be able to think more clearly, work will become easier and you’ll increase your memory and concentration.

For example, did you know that just 1 hour of gardening each week has been shown to reduce anxiety? Just this small amount of time each week can have amazing benefits.

What mindful activities do you do to relieve stress?

Third Culture Kids

A Third Culture Kid or TCK for short is a young person who has lived for a significant amount of time outside of their parents home country. Sometimes called Transnational Kids or Cross Cultural Kids, their personal identity will be different from both that of their parents and the cultures in which they live. They become a hybrid of the two; hence the term “third culture”.

There are approximately 600 million people worldwide who live outside of their birth country for various reasons; some families only live in countries for a set period of time (e.g. diplomatic staff, military families, those who work for some international corporations), others move out of necessity (displacement due to war etc) and others permanently migrate to another country.

The diagram above can help people understand how they are different and similar to both their parents and the wider culture. They can use the structure to figure out what aspects of their identity come from where, and what they also find difficult. For example some young people lose the ability to speak their parents home language so can find it difficult to converse with grandparents.

How about you? Are you a TCK? What have you found to be the difficulties and the strengths you’ve gained from living away from your parents passport country?

Self Care Planning

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The idea that we need to care for ourselves is not new but many of us still neglect it. Why? I think it’s because when times are good, like our physical health, we don’t take much notice of our mental and emotional health. We just potter on.

On the flipside some of us roll our eyes at the idea of self care while actually practising it. Self Care doesn’t have to mean sitting meditating every day, for example it doesn’t do it for me, but exercise where I can immersed in the moment does. For some spiritual self care will be about prayer, for others walking in the woods with their dogs will rejuvenate their spirit.

It also depends on how you are doing overall. If your emotional weather is generally sunny at the moment, self care is putting routines in place that can help you when your storms come. If you’re in the midst of a mental health crisis your self care routine may be as simple as focusing on ensuring you have eaten & had a shower. Something which isn’t as simple as it sounds when you are not doing okay.

Your support system is also really important to acknowledge – who can you turn to if the going gets tough, or to have fun with this week? Your support system doesn’t have to be IRL it could be friends online, helpline numbers or support services. There is always support out there, no matter how alone you feel.

So choose to take some small steps today to invest in your emotional wellbeing – it would be great to hear how you look after yourself in the comments!

Putting Condoms on in the Dark: How to make a furry box

I used to do sexual health outreach sessions in the city centre, and there is always problems with doing any kind of condom demonstration out on the streets as, well, you don’t want to be brandishing, what to many members of the public anyway, looks like a plastic penis…

Soooo I’ve made a ‘furry box’ – this has the advantage of not only being ‘discreet’ but it also helps young people practice putting condoms on in the dark.

They are also fairly cheap and easy to make. Before you start you will need:

1. A box with a lid – I use a photocopy paper box
2. Some outlandish fake fur
3. Scissors
4. Glue and/or staples

Okay-cokey – Ready? Lets Go…

Step One
Remove the lid and cut 2 holes in either side of the box so when the lid goes back on you can stick your hands through comfortably as shown below:

Step 2: Cover the lid with fur using either the glue or the staples to hold it in place.

Step 3: Cover the base with fur as above

And TA-DA! You should have something which resembles the one below.

Step 4
Stick a condom demonstrator in it and a load of condoms and challenge young people to see if they can put a condom on in the dark.

How does your behaviour affect your relationships?

One of the main issues I work with as a counsellor is relationships and how people can become closer to the ones they love. Often they have gotten into patterns of controlling behaviour and seem to think if only the other person could change their behaviour then they would be happy. But relationships are not one sided and no-one has a magic control wand that makes other people do what they want them to do. So just as no-one can control you, you can’t control anyone else. The only persons behaviour you can control is your own. That is not to say people don’t try to – they will bribe, threaten, nag, criticise and punish to attempt to get people to do what they want. This doesn’t bring people together though, it tends to pull them apart. I may be going out on a limb here but I’m pretty certain you don’t like anyone trying to control you.

William Glasser in Choice Theory talks about 7 Deadly Habits: deadly because they are likely to kill any relationship, whether that be romantic or friendship. He also talks about 7 Caring or Connecting Habits which will bring people closer together. Both are below:

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People are often quick to tell you what the other person has done, or not done. They get frustrated and possibly angered at the other person. Reminding them that the only behaviour they can control is their own, I always ask:

  • What do you want from your relationship? Do you want to stay together?
  • What are the main problems in your relationship?
  • What are you doing that are sustaining these problems?
  • What is going well in your relationship?
  • What is one thing this week you could do in terms of your behaviour that will bring you closer to the relationship you want?

Most people can think of at least one thing they can do. It could be as simple as eating together without playing on their phone, or asking how their day was. If you are in a rut with your relationship, give these a go. Reflect and make a small change today.

Show up… but also look after you.

I finally finished watching the third season of 13 Reasons Why and I wanted to pick up something the (new) school counsellor says to Clay Jenkins.

He asks “how do you do your job everyday when nothing ever changes?”

She replies by telling him that he personally helped Tyler change by encouraging him to seek help. She says all she does is show up. Good days. Bad days. She shows up, implying that’s all most people need. Someone reliable they can talk to when things are tough. That and I believe someone who hangs onto the hope that things can and do change for people. That things can get better.

In the show Clay is that person. He is the keeper of secrets, the friend most people turn to when there is a crisis. He shows up. And you can see the weight of what he carries around.

You can also see that without all that weight he would be lighter, happier.

I’m not arguing that you should stop listening to your friends. I am arguing however that if you are a “Clay Jenkins” please speak to someone to offload, maybe someone like me, a school counsellor. You don’t need to tell us your friends secrets, just how you are doing so you don’t take on too much. Counsellors have Supervision to help them deal with everything they hear – use us to help you deal with what you do.

Sentence Starters are…

…great for getting people talking.

I bought these coloured lolly pop sticks a little while ago & finally got around to writing on them today. Each stick has the start of a sentence on it which the young people can finish.

Ideally they shouldn’t think too hard about what they answer. A way to do this could be to give them a sheet of paper & ask them to write down the first thing that comes into their head.

You could do a similar thing if you are into journaling and want random topics to write about. You could write things like – love, politics, family, religion, hope, tragedy, fulfilment etc on them and pull them out at random. You could colour coordinate them as well, so the yellow ones could be internal emotions say, the orange could be about relationships, blue about the world, green about self etc. The questions or topics you devise will depend on who is going to use them and for what purpose.

Mine will be used in counselling with young people so explore a range of emotions, wishes and coping strategies. What will you use yours for?

Navigating Tech and Relationships

I worry sometimes about young people and technology. No not for the reasons you might think of straight away. Not the sexting. Not the access to explicit content. Not the bullying. Not the myriad of horrendous people online. I’ve seen young people take down and deal with all of that spectacularly – its a world they’ve grown up in – most of the time that’s the easy stuff. No what I am worried about is the inability to turn off the tech from  friends and within romantic relationships.

When I was young – the very sentence makes me sound old – I went to school and saw my friends. I ‘played out’ – I saw my friends. I went home and over-analysed every minute detail of the day over the phone with my friends, until my mam or her mam screamed at us to get off the phone… the phonebill!! blah blah blah. Same with my boyfriend. I saw him for a couple of hours a day max. There was always a period of the day where we were alone or with my brothers, probably arguing about something someone had stolen off someone else.  I left my friends and my boyfriends behind physically, and often mentally. I just watched the TV, listened to music or, perhaps wrote out song lyrics which completely expressed my unrequited love (true story).

Whatever drama was going on, I got a break from it.

Now this is important. When we are worried about someone or something our stress chemicals flood our brain. We need time where we are distracted, doing something, anything, that helps reset this. If you walked into your house and your bathroom was flooded, what would be the first thing you’d do? Hopefully it would be to turn off the tap. Same with stress and anxiety. You need to be able to turn off the tap. In my job as a school counsellor I ‘prescribe’ fun activities as an antidote to stress. You need to be able to switch off.

Now I think this is where the problem lies. The tech has given young people access to each other 24 hours a day. When a friend leaves them ‘on read’ they get angry, or anxious that they’ve done something wrong. Moreover there is no getting away from each others drama. Or if someone is having a really tough time – of course as friends you want to support them. But where does it stop? I have heard stories of young people acting as mini-therapists to their friends until 3am, sacrificing their own health to help their friends. I know of young people – absolute heroes – that have talked other young people out of suicide in the early hours of the morning. The weight of this lies heavy on the shoulders of the helpers as anyone who works in the helping profession knows. But young people don’t have supervision. They don’t understand the meaning of self care and shutting off. And one by one they become more stressed and anxious, but unable to pin point why.

Then there’s romantic relationships. Leave me on facetime while you sleep. Connected all night. Expectations to be supported and to be there for each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Expected instant replies. Expected password sharing. Expectations that were not there 20 years ago.

To young people I say this. You are absolute superstars and the support and help you give each other is tremendous. However you cannot drink from an empty cup as they say. Please, please, please consider setting some boundaries. Think about turning your internet off at 10pm. Get yourself some rest. Spend some time on you having fun. Get out into nature. Laugh. The world will  be there tomorrow. Self Care is not selfish, and anyone who tells you it is, is.Continue reading “Navigating Tech and Relationships”

Talking about consent & pleasure is essential to safeguard young people

In light of the renewed interest in the allegations against Michael Jackson, I thought I’d post this discussion from back in 2013 when I was interviewed for a Brook project on talking about sexual pleasure within Relationships and Sex Education. As Steve also says, children and young people who are sexually abused or exploited do not have the words to say, nor sometimes even understand what is happening for them. Comprehensive sex and relationships education for all is essential in this regard to safeguard young people from abuse.