Psychosomatic illness

Psychosomatic illness

Although often physical and mental health are considered separately and in their own right, the reality is that often one can greatly affect the other. In the same way that having a physical ailment can make you feel down, even to the point of depression, the opposite can also be true and often your mental health can have a marked impact on the body.

Psychosomatic illness is what is sometimes referred to as a physical illness that is ‘all in your head’ as its roots are not able to be detected in a scan, blood test or any other form of examination. In fact, reportedly up to 1 in 4 people who speak to their GP about a physical problem find that their symptoms cannot be explained by medical means. Though there is societal stigma surrounding what is and is not a ‘real’ illness it is safe to say that illness caused by stress can be just as debilitating as that of injury or a genetic abnormality. Often people who have tried all the usual processes of trying to track down the cause of the condition or illness they are struggling with can feel a certain amount of embarrassment at considering that it may be due to stress. But the power of the mind to stop your body in its tracks should not be dismissed so easily.

psychosomatic Illness

Many of us are already aware of psychosomatic responses in the body on a day-to-day basis- that excess sweating we get when we are stressed, the butterfly feeling in your stomach when we are excited, the feeling of being outside of your own body when we are put under the spotlight. While these responses are usually short lived and part and parcel to stressful or abnormal situations, often high levels of intense anxiety can cause more long-term effects in the body. The truth is that being stressed is exhausting on the body, your body floods with the hormones which activate your fight or flight responses, blood pumps to all the muscles, your senses sharpen to where they are needed the most. Prolonged exposure to these stressful situations can often have a debilitating effect on the immune system and bodily functions, and a lot of the time without us even really being aware of the link between the two.

As well as more shocking responses to anxiety which are often spoken about more candidly, such as having heart attacks due to stress, many chronic unexplained illnesses can be attributed to a slow burning heightened level of worry or the after effects of trauma. Complaints of pain in the body, extreme lethargy and inability to carry out day to day activities can sometimes have their route cause in the psyche rather than the body.

If you feel that you are suffering from an illness or discomfort which cannot be explained or detected by the usual medical processes, then perhaps it is worth turning your attention towards your mental health. Here at The Henry Centre in Southend we have a number of highly trained counsellors and mental health professionals who are well versed in how anxiety and trauma can manifest in a physical way. Often being able to discuss what is going on in your mind can provide an outlet and understanding of what emotions you are struggling with and as a by-product of this ease physical symptoms that may be linked.

 

Losing the stigma of asking for help

Losing the stigma of asking for help

Realising that your mental health is not where you would like it to be, or reaching out and asking for professional help can be a real hurdle for a lot of people. Often we don’t want to admit that something is wrong, or that we have a problem that we can’t fix in-house. Whilst there is a lot more talk and understanding around counselling and various talk therapies there is still a certain amount of stigma attached to seeking professional help. Sometimes we judge ourselves, or sometimes we worry about the judgement others may have of us if we admit that we are struggling.

Today we are going to have a quick look at some of the arguments commonly used against reaching out and allowing ourselves and those around us to get help. Many of them are quite deeply ingrained and hard to shift but are worth looking at in a critical light if holding onto these ideas are preventing you from living your life to the fullest.

Other people have it worse than me. Firstly, do they? And how do you know? Everyone’s life experiences are different and everyone has different responses to hard situations. The truth is that there is no hierarchy of struggling. Some people manage to navigate awful trauma with minimal fall out and others end up feeling totally destroyed or employing damaging coping habits in order to keep functioning. Not being able to cope with difficulty does not make you a lesser person, much in the same way that just because you are managing to cope better than some others doesn’t mean that you are less deserving of help. Prevention is better than cure, so if you feel like you are finding life difficult, getting help sooner rather than later is alway going to be helpful.

I should be able to handle all situations on my own. We can be our toughest critics, and at the same time we can also take on board unhelpful criticism from those around us very easily. Often the idea of the good old fashioned ‘stiff upper lip’ is a sentiment carried over from our parents or even grandparents. It’s worth toying with the idea in these instances where we know instinctively that we need help but don’t allow ourselves to reach out, of what we would say to a friend if they were struggling. Often we find we are much kinder and more compassionate to those around us than ourselves, when the reality is that sometimes we really need to put ourselves first. Often harbouring these feelings of having to weather everything on our own can be a response to not having the option to rely on others when we were in our formative years. As an adult you do have that option to reach out and ask for help on your own terms.

Mental health is so important 

Only crazy people have therapy. Firstly- who is crazy? What indeed is normal, if crazy is a divergence of this? It is important to remember that life is often very difficult to navigate and the fall out from family dynamics, trauma, socioeconomic struggles and so many other problems which are beyond our control can have a huge impact on our lives. People go to therapy for all sorts of reasons and for many it can be completely transformative, whether they are in dire straits or not when they enter the therapy room.

Why would I need therapy when I have friends to talk to? This is a great one as it seems to make perfect sense. However engaging with therapy in a formal setting works entirely differently to sitting with a mate over a cup of tea. A trained professional is able to guide you through the therapeutic process with a deeper understanding of what might be going on for you and will be able to offer thoughts and insights that a friend might not be able to.

The notion of confidentiality and impartiality is also something not to be overlooked. In a therapeutic setting nothing you say, aside from a safeguarding concern, will go beyond those four walls. Being able to speak entirely honestly and without any worry of having any information relayed on, whilst knowing that there is no judgement from the person listening can be a very powerful factor in therapy.

If you feel as though you are currently struggling with your mental health and are unsure as to where to turn it may be worth having a look into what counselling could offer you.

At The Henry Centre in Southend we have a number of highly qualified and insured mental health professionals who specialise in a variety of areas such as couples therapy, psychodynamic theory and substance misuse. Get in touch today to start your journey to better mental health.

Toxic positivity- when looking on the bright side doesn’t quite cut it.

Toxic positivity- when looking on the bright side doesn’t quite cut it.

In a world which feels increasingly alarming, the quickest way to feel more grounded and positive is to take stock of what is right and good around you. Books such as the classic manifestation bible The Secret by Rhona Byrne reinforce the notion that with gratitude and awareness of what we already have we can naturally create more of what we want or need. Want more money? Count your blessings for what you already have and ask the universe humbly to grace you with more. Want to change your course in life? Notice the different avenues that are already available to you and keep an open mind. Simple right?

Practices such as listing ten things that you are grateful for every morning and evening is a great way to flood your brain with positivity and puts us in a frame of mind where we are tuned in to all the wonderful things we already have in our lives, even if it something minuscule such as ‘I woke up healthy, I have people around me I love, I have money to afford my morning cup of coffee’. In a society that increasingly cashes in on tragedy and fear, seeing the bright side of things can make a huge positive impact on the way we see the world.

The flip side of this however is the notion that, much like good thoughts can manifest good things, bad thoughts can also manifest bad things, which can in turn sometimes put us off even considering the not so pleasant aspects of life. Our brains are very good at creating shortcuts and generalising. We like to place things into categories or use stereotypes, so as to access information quickly, and because of this we are predisposed to sort good and bad things into different categories. But as we all know, life is never black and white, and instead is a whole technicolour of grey.

While a great way to introduce more positivity into our day to day living, one set back of focusing entirely on the good that is happening in our lives, and shutting out the bad, means that we are susceptible to ignoring the very real things that are not so perfect. Denial and avoidance of the darker side of reality is a very effective defence mechanism and can in some instances keep us safe, but at other times can make life actually more difficult.

Long term avoidance of nuance can leave us vulnerable as we are not gaining the resilience we would normally get when dealing with hard to cope with situations. While in a crisis it may be more important to focus on what is going right, or what we do have control over, when the crisis is averted it is still important to take stock of the events of reality and see what can be learnt from what has happened. Being able to tolerate the darker sides of life is a valuable skill which is necessary to equip us for times when we are in a corner and have no option but to work our way through things.

Sometimes this idea of ignoring things and hoping for the best can be a throwback to our childhood, where we felt out of control and so focussed on only the things which didn’t feel too scary to cope with. Growing up in a situation where there was no space to acknowledge the bad things going on, else it might be to the detriment of us either mentally or physically, can end up leaving you in a place where you are not entirely honest with yourself about how life is panning out. As adults we are in a more privileged position to be able to look back from relative comfort and see that maybe some things growing up were not ideal, but we can find the tools now to work through difficult situations.

Feeling able to cope with stress, being able to adapt when circumstances change and understanding that it is ok when things are less than perfect are valuable life skills which can be built on over time. If you are feeling increasingly as though you can’t cope with life’s ups and downs why not get in touch with The Henry Centre, Southend where there is a team of therapists who will be able to guide you through past thought processes and build resilience for the future.

Different types of Therapy at a glance

Different types of Therapy at a glance

Beginning the process of finding therapy can be a bit of a minefield. As well as considering cost, time and if you click with your therapist, there is also the fact that there are many different types of counselling which needs to be added into the mix. While the term therapist or counsellor can be used for a whole myriad of therapeutic disciplines, some types of therapy work better for different problems. Today we are going to have a very brief roundup of a couple of the more common therapy types which may be helpful when considering what type of counselling would suit you best.

First up is CBT. This is the therapy type which is most commonly offered by the NHS and is usually available in short courses of around 6-12 weeks. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a technique used to rejig how we think and respond to situations and will often involve homework to practice between therapy sessions.

Rather than talking about where the problems you are having have come from, CBT is more concerned with changing how you respond to stressful situations and help you to essentially condition yourself to cope with problems in a more manageable way. CBT is a great way to overcome day to day anxiety and unhelpful habits, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and help lesson symptoms from unwanted thought patterns. It is also something that can be used on a day-to-day basis, either integrated into another therapy type or as a standalone process.

The Psychodynamic approach is the type of therapy people often think of when they imagine traditional therapy and it is rooted in the idea of there being a subconscious layer to our brain. It is mainly concerned with looking for patterns in behaviour and looking back at when these patterns formed and what purpose they serve both then and now. Working closely with the idea of the subconscious- most commonly associated with dreams and ‘Freudian slips’, it explores the idea that we may have feelings or emotions driving our behaviour which may not be rational or indeed conscious to us. Exploring where these unconscious responses originated from can help us figure out why we respond to things in different ways and if these responses or coping mechanisms are still useful to us in our adult lives.

While CBT is great for coping with the symptoms of mental health problems, Psychodynamic counselling is interested in finding out where these symptoms have come from and what coping strategies we are using to try to cope with day-to-day issues. In a psychodynamic setting it is likely that a therapist will ask you lots of questions about your childhood memories, what your family dynamic is like and what your understanding of your past and present situations are. This type of therapy also works to create an environment where you can be curious about looking at these situations in different ways and challenge unhelpful thought patterns.

Humanistic therapy is also another common type of counselling, though differs from the previous two somewhat. This type of therapy does not focus on the client’s past particularly and instead looks at what is going on for them in the present. For the most part, Humanistic therapy uses empathy and unconditional positive regard to foster a safe space for the client which allows for complete openness and honesty to flourish. It places the client at the centre of the interaction and listens carefully to the experiences of the client without any criticism, only interest. While Psychodynamic theory suggests that we are all a product of our environment and experiences, the Humanistic approach takes into account the personal differences we have and helps the client to find their own authentic self. This type of counselling can often feel empowering and help to remind us that we are in charge of our own destiny.

Often the reason you come to therapy has an influence on what type of therapy would serve you best and it is worth remembering that one type of counselling does not fit all problems or indeed people. Therapy is a big commitment, both in a time and monetary sense and so it is important to choose the right therapist and the right therapy type for you.

If you feel that you would like to start your journey into counselling but are not sure where to start, why not get in touch with The Henry Centre in Southend and take a look at the different therapy options available that might work best for you.

 

I Am Enough

I Am Enough

OUR BLOG ON

I Am Enough

I have been involved in competitive sport my whole life, 12 years in gymnastics, 4 years
in crossfit and always a runner! I have always loved the challenge, the mental and
physical strength to push myself, the exhilaration of success, the camaraderie and all the
wonderful health benefits sport brings!

Being a perfectionist in nature; I have naturally, always set the bar very high,
expectations and personal standards of myself (in every area of my life) that were, at
times, highly unachievable, but I would strive further and never quite be satisfied with my
efforts. This mind-set is very unsustainable and becomes a vicious circle of self-doubt,
anxiety and struggle!

As an athlete, teacher, wife, mum, friend – I have always had huge expectations of
myself and accepting that ‘my effort that day is good enough’ is something I am learning.
With these high expectations, the juggling act of being a full-time working teacher
mummy has seemed impossible at times and on reflection something that needed
tweaking!

Lockdown has definitely not helped, but what it has taught me is that when you feel knee
deep, reach out, talk, lower those expectations and be kinder to yourself because we are
all in this together right?!

I used to chase times, count numbers and always strive for that none existence
perfection, now I put my trainers on, my headphones in my ears, one foot in front of the
other, start and finish without a timer and instead I hear the voice telling me to simply
finish the race! ❤

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Connection in Times of Isolation

Connection in Times of Isolation

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Finding connections in a time of social distance

Finding connections in a time of social distance

 

Whatever any of us imagined we would be doing at the start of spring, when schools had broken up for Easter and when the sun was just emerging, I think we can all agree this wasn’t it. A life most ordinary has been interrupted, and for how long we are not yet sure. In an effort to keep each other safe and ease the effect of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) on our beloved NHS we are being urged to stay indoors, avoid physical contact with those outside of our households and be vigilant about washing our hands.

The effects have resulted in empty streets across the country and whilst the birdsong seems to have been turned up a notch, any hint of human activity seems to have been muted. In a unique way much of the world is experiencing a shared occurrence, one entirely out of the ordinary and one which is forcing us to behave in ways unlike what we are used to.

Humans are, after all social creatures, pack animals. We cuddle close to those we love; we shake hands with those we don’t know yet, we share meals in each-others houses or in crowded restaurants, we flock naturally to places where other people are. And yet that has been suspended. In a strange reckoning, unlike anything we have seen before, we are being asked to stay apart.

But being physically apart doesn’t mean we have to feel alone. Now, in a time of uncertainty that plays into so many of our base fears, is exactly when we need to reach out to each other that little bit more.

Stay at home and stay safe, but also keep connected. Send letters, send texts, pick up the phone or use video chats to keep in touch with those that mean the most to you. And reach out to those around you where you can. Even a cheery wave and a hello from a distance when you are out buying essentials can mean the world to somebody. It is also a time to not feel afraid of asking for the same support yourself.

It is now that we need to take extra care of our mental wellbeing. In a period of unease, where the world feels different to what we know, other people can be a great way of anchoring yourself. Services such as counselling are still up and running, though often taking different forms such as video chats or over the phone, and when everything else feels a little confusing and upside down, therapy can be a wonderful tool for keeping grounded.

A pandemic like this has the potential to stir up all sorts of feelings, including some that we didn’t realise were there. Feelings of being unsafe, being alone, being under threat, amongst many others. Keeping an eye on fluctuating mood and emotions can be a useful way of supporting your mental wellbeing and there are a number of small practicesthat can be helpful in lifting your mood, such as those outlined of the NHS website.

Seeking out a therapist in times where life feels tricky to navigate can be a great exercise in self-care and now, more than ever, it is important to protect your mental health. For those who feel that they would like to speak with an accredited therapist during these unprecedented times, get in touch with The Henry Centre today. With a variety of hand-picked, specialised counsellors, they are able to find the perfect therapist to meet your needs.

You can find the original article on our Facebook page here.

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Let's Talk

[email protected]

Westcliff Centre: The Old Station House, Station Road, Westcliff-on-Sea, Southend, Essex, SS0 7SB
01702 814044

Chelmsford Centre: Rochester House, 145 New London Road, Chelmsford, CM2 0QT