Girls aren’t finding life a bed of roses…

Exam results are over – but now it’s almost time for the new school year to start.

This can be a stressful time for all students. But new research shows that girls are increasingly suffering higher levels of emotional and psychological distress than boys, according to a study by the Department of Health on Year 10 students in schools in England.

A previous survey was undertaken in 2005 and the results of that have been compared with the most recent one. This year’s findings showed that 37% of girls were identified as “psychologically distressed” compared with 15% of boys – and the average levels of distress were more severe for girls, at four points higher. Back in 2005, girls were also displaying higher levels of psychological distress but the differences were less pronounced, and the percentage affected was lower.

teen-954378_640In the latest survey, more of them reported feelings of worthlessness, unhappiness and an inability to enjoy day to day activities, as well as trouble sleeping, and other indicators of distress.

Mental health and wellbeing are now recognised as important issues for all of us, affecting our own lives and the lives of those around us.  Years ago people appeared to assume that children led happy, carefree lives, and that mental health and emotional problems began with the pressures of adult life. Now Department of Health research surveys are measuring the health and wellbeing of young people and the results will hopefully inform government policy.

The discovery that there is a marked increase in psychological suffering experienced by girls is worrying. More needs to be done to find out why so many girls are feeling like this and why, so that help can be offered.

Whilst there is no definitive explanation at present, we do know that there are many factors which may contribute to the discrepancy between boys and girls in this respect.

For example, girls engage in less physical exercise than boys and exercise is beneficial not just for physical wellbeing but for psychological health as well. Neurotransmitters in our brains seem to react to exercise and produce feelings of wellbeing and even euphoria. Serotonin is one of these neurotransmitters and exercise has been linked to the production of higher levels of it in our bodies. Research indicates that low levels of serotonin are linked to depression.

Another reason why girls may be more distressed psychologically is that they tend to internalise issues – and the things we keep inside us are not usually the ones we feel good about. Girls are often more critical – and self-critical – than boys, especially about their physical appearance.  A word of criticism will be remembered long after paeans of praise have been forgotten.  Repeating negative thoughts inside your head is not going to do much for your self-esteem, or your confidence.

So there are many complex issues involved here and the upward trend is not easily explained.

But one area where there is an improvement on is in terms of recognition of the problem – at least now we are willing to acknowledge that children and young people are not simply skipping down a yellow brick road of happiness.

Unhappy thoughts and worries thrive in darkness and isolation.  Bringing matters into the open and shining a light on them can only be a good thing.

Helping young people to become more positive about their perceptions of themselves is one way in which hypnotherapy can support emotional wellbeing. Changing a negative self-image for something more positive and realistic, and improving self-esteem, can make an enormous difference.  This can’t be done in an instant, but a process can be started which will gain in momentum and hopefully create the foundation for a happier and more resilient adult.

The life of a 15 year old girl in the 21st century may not be a bed of roses – but at least we can try to remove some of the more obvious thorns.

By |2016-08-30T11:01:17+00:00August 30th, 2016|General News|0 Comments

Teachers get stressed too!

GCSE results are out tomorrow and there are a lot of anxious students and parent currently holding their collective breath. But exam results time is not just nerve-racking for students – their teachers get anxious too. A recent article appeared in The Guardian written by a headteacher “sick with worry” over what the GCSE results would mean for her and her school.

Changes to examination organisation means that she feels unable to predict the results, despite teachers  doing everything they can to support their students.

She writes: “I’ve been suffering from anxiety since October. I’ve been lying awake in the small hours trying to figure out what else we could do. When I wake up it is often the first thing I think about. My stress-related psoriasis and irritable bowel syndrome have never been worse and I’ve had more migraines in the past 12 months than in the past 10 years.”

The full story can be read here:

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/aug/23/secret-headteacher-gcse-results-students-exams-worry

As someone who used to teach, and who still spends a lot of time visiting schools, colleges and universities wearing a different work hat, I can understand how teachers feel.

Stressed teachers are not in the best position to support their students, especially as the latter are often suffering themselves.

I sympathise with them to the extent that I now plan to offer a special stress-management service to teachers and lecturers  in Leeds, Harrogate and surrounding areas, at discounted rates. So if you feel that you would like to be able to relax more easily, de-stress and gain more control over anxiety and the pressures in your life, contact me for a free initial consultation.

By |2016-08-24T09:32:47+00:00August 24th, 2016|General News|0 Comments

What are you frightened of? Itsy-bitsy spiders…and other phobias.

Arachnophobia is common – even here in the UK where spiders are harmless.  The terror that sufferers feel is nothing to do with actual danger.  It is an irrational fear, like almost all phobias.spider-web-with-water-beads-921039_640

Next month Bristol Zoo have teamed up again with a local hypnotherapist to offer a four-hour course in ‘Living with Spiders’. They did this last year and found that the course was very effective, with a considerable reduction in anxiety levels for participants, 75% of whom graded the course 8 out of 10.

Read more about their course here: http://www.bristolzoo.org.uk/whats-on/living-with-spiders

Of course, part of the experience they offer is actually handling “friendly” spiders in the Zoo’s collection. In a standard hypnotherapy session, we don’t usually lay on a selection of tarantulas or even house spiders as a spider-petting opportunity.

But then, many people suffering from this phobia don’t even need to see a spider – it’s enough to just imagine that it might be there.

I have a friend who goes with her children and husband to stay with another family they have known for years. But this family live in an old house, surrounded by countryside – and before the visit, the house has to be spider-cleansed. This takes a couple of days and my friend is reassured by a report on how many spiders have been collected during the exercise.

I haven’t the heart to point out that there must be hundreds more in residence.  Even a picture of a spider is enough to send shivers down her spine.

Hypnotherapy has been shown to be effective in helping people deal with phobias – all kinds of phobias, and not just a fear of spiders.  Some people find that their fear or aversion disappears,  others find it has reduced to manageable proportions and the anxiety and stress associated with their phobias often diminishes or can be easily controlled by stress-reduction techniques.

So if you’re one of those people who’ve been suffering for years, why not do something about it now?

 

By |2016-08-22T16:27:20+00:00August 22nd, 2016|General News|0 Comments

The sugar tax – taken with a pinch of salt?

Angry criticism today from the medical profession at the Government’s perceived watering-down of the “sugar tax” promised by George Osborne, and intended to combat childhood obesity.

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Well over a third of British children now leave primary school overweight or obese.

The latest figures, for 2014/15, show that 19.1% of children in Year 6 (aged 10-11) were obese and a further 14.2% were overweight. Of children in Reception (aged 4-5), 9.1% were obese and another 12.8% were overweight. This means a third of 10-11 year olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year olds were overweight or obese. (Source: Public Health England.)

Parents who are obese themselves are twelve times more likely to have children who are overweight.  And Britain has the highest rates of obesity in Western Europe, according to NHS choices http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/loseweight/Pages/statistics-and-causes-of-the-obesity-epidemic-in-the-UK.aspx

The finger is being pointed at the diet of British children, who are also now less physically active than they have ever been. Sugar is seen as the main culprit.

This is  borne out to some extent by other evidence. The 2013 survey of children’s dental health (published in 2015) found that 31% of five-year-olds had signs of tooth decay – and a fifth of those eligible for free school meals had severe or extensive tooth decay.

Considering these children have only had their teeth for a relatively short time, this is pretty staggering. They have to make the next lot last for a lifetime, so establishing some good habits is crucial, not just in terms of dental care but in reducing consumption of sugary food and drink.

Many medical experts and dieticians are clear that sugar is addictive.  Research has shown that we are born with a sweet tooth – newborn babies had a preference for sweet flavours over others in a study carried out at Washington University.

A recent Australian study found that excessive sugar consumption increased dopamine levels in the same way as cocaine.  And the more sugar people consumed, the more they needed to maintain the dopamine ‘hit’.  So Professor Selena Bartlett, a neuroscientist from the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation at Queensland University of Technology has no doubt that sugar is addictive.  And like other addictive substances, it can have serious long-term effects.

She says: “We have also found that as well as an increased risk of weight gain, animals that maintain high sugar consumption and binge eating into adulthood may also face neurological and psychiatric consequences affecting mood and motivation.”

The combination of sugar and fat is more potent still, as scientist Dr Paul Kenny found when he offered his lab rats cheesecake.

In nature, sugar and fat hardly ever occur in combination. But human beings have combined them with delicious – and for some, disastrous – results. The laboratory rats found the cheesecake they were offered irresistible. They gorged on it and couldn’t stop.  Even when they were full, they continued to nibble…and nibble.  And when a healthy alternative was put in front of them they refused to eat it. “They completely reject that food. The animals would rather starve themselves”, says Kenny.

This shows how difficult it is for people – including children – to break the habit of eating ‘addictive’ foods that actually give us very little in terms of nutritional value. Willpower alone often just isn’t enough to cut it. And who would expect children to exert willpower anyway, when faced with an ice-cream or a bar of milk chocolate (both high in fat and sugar).

No wonder that people who are overweight often turn to hypnotherapy for help.  Some of them simply want to bolster their own motivation, others may even want to go so far as to create an antipathy to certain foods, like chocolate, so that they feel disgust at the thought of eating them.

Cheesecake – the new ‘legal high’?  Roland and his mates think so, anyway.

By |2016-08-18T12:28:09+00:00August 18th, 2016|General News|0 Comments

Gaining on the opposition?

The Olympics have provided a fascinating insight into the strategies and preparation of the competing athletes and their teams.  The term “marginal gains” in particular is now common currency amongst games-watchers and features frequently in media coverage.

The idea isn’t new, and followers of professional cycling will know that Team Sky’s Dave Brailsford is a fan. When he was Performance Director of British Cycling, he set about trying to achieve a 1% improvement in a number of areas on the basis that these would all add up to a significant improvement overall.

Athletes themselves are always incredibly keen to improve their performance by however tiny a margin.  Some of the strategies used are described in this BBC article:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34247629

The US Olympic swimming team members have caused a stir by their use of ‘cupping’, and the marks left by the modern version of this ancient practice have been clearly visible as proof.

Does cupping work?

Does it matter, if athletes feel they benefit?

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Regardless of the procedure itself, having to relax totally during a complementary therapy session means that a busy, hard-working athlete is finally thinking about something completely different from the pressure of the sport. Believing that something beneficial has occurred that is special for your team (and that gives you the edge on others) can only be another marginal gain – and it may not be so marginal.

We already know that the placebo effect can be as powerful for some people in drug trials as the medicine being tested. The mind has an extremely powerful role in healing the body. It can also have a significant effect on confidence, resilience, and hence sports performance.

Physical fitness, the best equipment and a strict nutritionally-balanced diet is only part of what makes an athlete a winner. The deciding factor is the will to win. Research tells us that confidence and self-belief are crucial for sportsmen and women. To this end, many of them have used hypnotherapy either to strengthen resilience or to deal with a crisis in confidence.

Some of the Olympians we are watching on our TVs have done so, and that is a certainty. But most of them will keep that knowledge to themselves. And definitely from the opposition…

 

By |2016-08-11T12:30:05+00:00August 11th, 2016|General News|0 Comments

Calories? What calories?

According to the news, we all think that we’re eating fewer calories than we actually are. Hence some of us are mystified as to why we’re overweight.

Researchers from the Behavioural Insights Team (which started life as a government-funded unit to help people make healthier eating choices) have arrived at the conclusion that people are generally under-reporting their calorie intake.

But I suspect that we all knew that anyway.

It’s pretty obvious that eating more calories than you burn up in exercise results in a person gaining weight. And a lot of us are overweight – some people seriously so.

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A blueberry muffin (which unfortunately doesn’t count as one of your five-a-day) clocks up 245 calories, which take a staggering 48 minutes of walking or 25 minutes of running to get rid of.

I see plenty of people eating blueberry muffins (and chocolate ones as well).  But I don’t see the streets and the countryside full of those same people walking, jogging or sprinting in order to burn off the calories.

Shops and cafes are bursting with pastries, croissants, paninis and other goodies that are on offer from the time we set off for work, until we trail back home at night, sometimes still snacking. We close the door behind us and might feel like phoning up for a takeaway.

Accessing food is not just easy; we are plied with it, constantly, from morning till night. We don’t have to make it for ourselves any more.  It’s on hand and ready to eat at a moment’s notice.

The result is that British people are eating 3000 calories and telling the authorities that they’re eating 2000. Wishful thinking perhaps. Or maybe the act of eating is now so routine that we don’t even notice that we’re doing it anymore.

The advice from the experts is that policymakers trying to curb obesity should focus more on reducing calorie intake than promoting exercise.

Not easy when picking up a cinnamon whirl on your way to work every day has become the norm – and a habit.

Breaking those bad food habits and creating good ones takes willpower and determination. Hypnotherapy can help with this, and many people trying to lose weight also find that a combination of therapy and coaching or mentoring helps to maintain their motivation.

I offer a course in weight control with an agreed amount of coaching support over a period of time to suit the individual concerned. This helps in supporting people who want to make real long-term changes to their lives (and figures). Losing the weight is hard enough, but most of us end up putting it back on again. So it’s essential to create good habits that we can make part of our everyday lives – permanently.

Read the full reports here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-36988065

http://38r8om2xjhhl25mw24492dir.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/16-07-12-Counting-Calories-Final.pdf

 

By |2016-08-10T09:21:40+00:00August 10th, 2016|General News|0 Comments

Going for gold – with help from hypnosis?

The Olympics are now in full swing, amid the inevitable controversy over the use of performance-enhancing drugs. But what about the use of performance-enhancing hypnosis?

The fact is that many sportsmen and women, including professional top-level athletes, have used hypnotherapy to improve their performance in their own sport. Some have done so openly, like the young Tiger Woods, and pole-vaulter Steve Hooker, whose fear of making the jump caused him to almost give up before winning gold at Beijing.

But how many more of those standing on the winners’ podium have secretly availed themselves of the services of a hypnotherapist?

Only they and their therapists know.

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There is plenty of scientific evidence to show that for many sportspeople, hypnotherapy works. The British Psychological Society has offered courses led by Staffordshire University psychologists Jamie Barker and Marc Jones, both specialists in the field of sports psychology. Dr Barker is a consultant to Nottingham Forest football club and to Staffordshire County Cricket Club Academies, and his PhD thesis was entitled ‘Using hypnosis to enhance self-efficacy in sport performers’.

Before the 2015 Ashes series, Dr Barker and his colleague Matt Slater co-authored an article for the online journal ‘The Psychologist’ in which they discussed using ego-strengthening suggestions in hypnosis for sports performance. The piece can be read in full here: https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-28/july-2015/its-not-just-cricket

Using hypnosis to boost the confidence and self-belief that underpin sporting performance isn’t cheating – because the individual themselves is accessing these benefits from within their own subconscious. The therapist is just helping them to unleash that power.

By |2016-08-08T15:33:39+00:00August 8th, 2016|General News|0 Comments

‘Vertical ambition’: aiming for the top – or falling into the abyss?

The sudden departure of Saatchi and Saatchi’s chairman last week made the headlines. He went (or was pushed?) after complaining that women lacked ‘vertical ambition’, didn’t want the top spots in companies and were happy with their lot.

There was a predictable backlash from a lot of women who said that they would have liked the top job very much, thank you, but they hadn’t been taken seriously.

In fact many organisations now, both in the public and private sectors, are finding that some very capable people with the right qualities don’t actually want those jobs.

What sort of people do employers want for senior positions? Those who can lead and be inspirational, are great organisers, quick-witted, resourceful and at the same time can make difficult decisions and see them through.

But people with those qualities aren’t robots. Most of them have very full lives, with personal responsibilities and meaningful relationships outside of work. They are in demand as individuals and involved in community or voluntary activities. Combine this – in the public sector at least – with intense media scrutiny and a culture of blame, and it’s no wonder that a growing number of very able employees don’t want promotion to the top spots.

To be driven by the desire to get to the top and stay there usually means being either single or single-minded.  Sacrifices need to be made and not only by the ‘vertically ambitious’. Whilst the top boss is on the red-eye, hammering out a deal late at night or simply putting in the extra unsocial hours, someone else is usually keeping the household together, sorting out the boiler service and reading the bedtime stories.

And it’s not just the top jobs that bring the pressure. Even middle-management positions can be hard to combine with caring for children, older relatives and parents, or simply incompatible with having a happy life. I have friends who have given up their posts as senior social workers to teach in academia or refused to take on additional responsibilities (for more pay) as teachers. Why? Because they felt that the stress of their existing workload and responsibilities was already more than they could bear.

 

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The government collects data on work-related stress as part of the Labour Force Survey. For the year 2014-15, the survey found that 9.9 million working days were lost due to stress, anxiety and depression. Stress accounted for 35% of all work related ill health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health. This is a pretty staggering statistic. The main causes of stress were said to be workload pressures, including tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support. Stress levels were particularly high in professions such as health, teaching, social care and defence and the public sector generally.

 

Many people find that hypnotherapy is effective in helping them to cope with stress and anxiety because it enables them to relax. The most common technique that hypnotherapists use is called an ‘induction’ and the most commonly-used induction is a progressive muscular relaxation (‘PMR’). During a course of hypnotherapy, clients are taught how to relax and to use the approaches learned to manage their reactions to stress.

I also explain to my clients what the stress hormones released in their bodies are doing to them. They are unaware of the fact that the physical effects of these hormones can be damaging in the long term and can lead to a range of other illnesses and conditions.

We all have to deal with stress in modern life – some of us choose to minimise it by not going for the top job or deliberately reducing our levels of responsibility, even though this may have financial consequences. Others may be forced to take on more responsibility, whether they wish to or not.

Either way, we need to take care of ourselves first and foremost and make sure that we manage the stress in our lives as best we can. And if the top jobs are just too stressful, maybe it’s the workplace that has to change for the better.

By |2016-08-08T09:07:57+00:00August 8th, 2016|General News|0 Comments