Wednesday, September 9, 2020

How anxiety hijacks everyday events in order to push your inner fears

Do you find yourself obsessing over small matters and convinced they 'prove' you are useless/evil?  If so, be aware that this is likely to be anxiety at work.




Saturday, August 29, 2020

One-click for free weekly curated news and resources. I've started a newsletter!


Here's the first edition, with a signup box underneath. It's weekly, I won't share your email address, and you can unsubscribe any time you like. Enjoy!

Hello from Malaysia!

The sun is shining, there's a delicious breeze and Target is snoozing on my desk. As tomorrow is our national day, Merdeka Day, we're spending the afternoon barbecuing and watching The Kennel Murder Case, a 1933 classic with William Powell - as it's a public domain film, you can download it for free here.

Meanwhile, welcome to the newsletter!  I'm super excited because I have been a news addict for years and now I can share the best goodies I find with you.

Interested in how nasty comments on social media affect readers? Check this out:
The Psychology of Shaming During COVID-19
Leaving a nasty post on someone's mask-less Instagram won't make you feel better - or make them change.
By Ashley Mateo
Take me there:

Do you ever look back and think, "Why did I think they were so attractive?" Check out the trickiness that is your brain!
New psychology research shows how your mindset can alter the way you perceive prospective romantic partners
By Gurit Birnbaum
Take me there:

Want to talk to kids about race? This is awesome!
Bill Nye Uses Science to Explain Why Racism Doesn’t Make Sense
Take me there:

An interesting glimpse into how the brain works that may help us all to make effective change:
Yale study shows why 'one day at a time' works for recovering alcoholics
By Yale University
Take me there:

Want a catch-up on what's new in sleep and depression? Check out this terrific journal article summarising current research:
Sleep, insomnia, and depression
By D Riemann, LB Krone, K Wulff, C Nissen
Take me there:

And to finish, one of my own pieces:
Pandemic Rage: Is It Hitting You?
Dealing with the stress of the pandemic and social media overload. A personal perspective
By Ellen Whyte
Take me there:

That's it for today. I'll send an email every week. If you get fed up or overwhelmed, just hit unsubscribe, okay?

Warm wishes,

Ellen's Blog Ellen's Blog
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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Stressed or depressed but a bit shy to talk to a mental health practitioner? Here's what happens in the first session

Curious what happens in the first session? Read this!
If you live in a place where there aren't many mental health practitioners, or simply haven't been able to afford it, you might wonder what happens when you go for talk therapy. There is no standard approach, but if you work with me, here's what we do.

Before We Start
You contact me  (  to say you want to schedule an appointment. Maybe you tell me all about yourself, perhaps you don't say anything. I write back and we schedule a free 15 minute session.

The free 15 minute session
I work online via WhatsApp, Skype, Facetime, Messenger and Meet. Each has pros and cons, and some work better in some countries than others. So the first thing is to make sure the technology works for us.

Then we have a brief chat about what you want from sessions.

I work with stress, depression and anxiety which covers a lot of situations. However, should you have an issue that is outside of my scope, we talk about where you might find another person to help you. If I can recommend someone, I will. If you want, I will also ask in my groups for you.

If we can work together, I explain how confidentiality works, about the notes I send you, what we do if there is a lightening strike or other interruption, how billing works and more.

After our 15 minutes, if you want to have sessions, we make an appointment.  I then email you the confidentiality agreement.

First Session
The focus on the first session is to get deep background so that we know more about how stress and depression are affecting you, and what exactly you want to manage. Basically, you do a lot of talking!

Structured Conversation #1: Your Overall Health
I am not a doctor. But as some physical issues can have a big effect on your mental health, I will ask you to tell me a little bit about your health status. Like, have you had any accidents recently, have you suffered from a lot of pain, been very ill, are you on medication of any kind, and when you last saw your family doctor.

Depending on your answers, I might suggest you talk to your doctor. In fact, if you are depressed and you can't think of a reason why you might be so, I strongly recommend that you have a checkup, just to make sure there's nothing physically wrong, like a wonky thyroid. The checkup doesn't have to be fancy. Just go and see your family doctor. You can read more on that here.

Structured Conversation #2: The Stress In Your Life Over The Last Year

Life stress can have a big effect on mental health, but sometimes we lose track of how much stress we're under. This conversation is about figuring out what's going on your life.

In this conversation, I ask you questions about your personal life, your relationships, and your work life. You may recognize parts of it because it is inspired by Holmes & Rahe's social readjustment rating scale that was published in 1967. I will also explain what their intention was, and why my conversation with you has no scientific value.

Why do it if it's not 'scientific'? Well, if I ask you what's been going on, you might forget things or draw a complete blank. With this structured conversation, we cover a lot of ground easily and quickly.

Structured Conversation #3: Your Support Network and Primary Relationships
We talk about how you get along with your immediate family, your work colleagues, and your best friends.

I want to know partly because early learning and the way your parents raised you have an impact on the attitudes, beliefs and behaviour on the adult you. The other reason is that positive relationships are important for good mental health. If you feel you need to strengthen ties, we add that to our list of goals.

Structured Conversation #4 Your Sleep
How well you sleep has a direct impact on your mental health. It's very important, so we talk in detail over when you sleep, how well you sleep, whether you're getting enough or too much sleep, and more. If sleep is an issue, we talk about ways to improve your sleep.

Structured Conversation #5 How Exactly Does Your Stress and Depression Affect You?
As everyone is different, we discuss common signs of depression and see whether they apply to you. We talk about your appetite, energy level, concentration and your mood and emotions, including guilt, fear, sadness and anger.

You will recognize some of the questions because ask about the nine criteria described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by doctors. Although my Master's training included methods and techniques for helping manage depression, I am not a doctor and I do not diagnose. The purpose of this part of the conversation is purely to see how your stress and depression affect you.

Part #6 Putting It Together
At the end of the session, we put everything together so that we have a good picture of what's going on. Then we discuss how we can get into a happier space. During this part, I will make suggestions about various approaches and techniques that may be useful. It's all about fitting the right methods to your needs.

At this point, we'll both be tired, so we make an appointment for the next session where we kick off with getting in the effective change.

The Day After Our First Session
I send you the notes, highlighting the most important parts with an outline of how we're going to work. Also, an invoice! If you pay locally, that's RM100 and if you're outside of Malaysia, it's US$35 over PayPal.

I hope you found this interesting. If you've questions, do ask. I'm super busy today but will save this post and get back to it when I can.

Want to make an appointment? Just email me. My hours are 8AM to 4PM Malaysian time (GMT+8) on weekdays and I have some early hours on the weekends.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Pandemic Rage: Is It Hitting You?

Nobody expects the covid pandemic, to paraphrase Monty Python. In the last few months, life has changed in many terrifying ways, overt and subtle, and it's packed one hell of a punch in terms of mental health.

We may see some conference papers out soon but it's likely we'll need a few years perspective before we really understand how it's affected us.

When we do, my bet is that one issue will stand out most: pandemic rage.

Since the start of 2020 we've been frightened by a invisible killer disease, inundated daily by horror stories from all over the planet, and reminded that we're helpless. With a rider threat that if covid doesn't get us, a crashing economy will.

Anger is a notification that something is wrong. Adding hopelessness and fear supercharges it, creating either revolutionary rage or spiraling horror.

I suspect that what we feel, depends on how we're triggered.

I know that when I saw the first film of George Floyd circulating on Twitter, I understood why some people support the death penalty. It's a stance that goes against my code of ethics, but for minutes, I was possessed by rage. It was quite frightening.

On another day, I read some hateful comments on FB and they really bothered me. That's unusual; I've a strong streak of arrogance mixed with optimism that functions to protect me. But at that instant, I felt chilled. For a moment, the hate out there hit me.

Why am I wittering on? Because I think too many of us act as if we're okay. Like kids who hope to fool the monster under the bed by feigning ignorance, we tell ourselves that it could be worse, that we mustn't complain, and that we'll see it through.

However, by pushing away our feelings, we're falling into classic error. As Freud pointed out, repressed feelings don't die. They are buried alive and will emerge later in uglier ways.

Today, repressed fear is fuelling "righteous zeal", the kind of anger that we tell ourselves is cool because we're only enforcing rules for everyone's good.

That kind of thinking is dangerous as it destroys respect for diversity of opinions and values, and seeks to normalise and justify violence.

Righteous zeal powered the witch trials in medieval Europe, the French and Russian Revolutions, and McCarthyism in the USA. It also created atmospheres of paralyzing fear and scapegoat populations that allowed holocausts to take place in Europe, Cambodia, and Yugoslavia.

I don't know what triggers you, but I'm monitoring my anger and taking active steps to recognise it, accept it for what it is (reaction) and deal with it carefully.

In the process, I found it useful to take a long break from social media and to unfollow and snooze all those who posted triggering content. It's not personal, it's me caring for myself.

My news stream is now limited to novels (escapist stories, not anything deep or meaningful) and cats.

In addition, me and the cats are practising our selfie taking and writing our next book.

It's not perfect, but as a short term band aid, I'm finding it excellent.

What are you doing?

And in case you haven't seen the Monty Python, here's the video

Monty Python's "Spanish Inquisition" - The Musical from StormAngel on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Anger isn't a problem: it's a notification

Hi there, I hope you're all safe and well during these scary times. I'm talking today about anger, a topic that some of us find a little difficult. 

I hope you enjoy it - and excuse the super long hair. My fringe is beyond my chin and I'm feeling like a Borzoi.  

This is Blesk, the Borzoi, from WikiCommons.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The perils and dangers of forgiveness

You hear it all the time, "Oh, just forgive them." Forgiveness is presented as virtuous, and as an attitude we should aspire to.

With respect, that's bunk.

Here's my reasoning.

First, there are clearly limits to forgiveness. Ask yourself, should we forgive mass murderers? Serial killers?

I would argue that it's nonsensical to hate them, they're probably sick, but forgiveness just isn't possible for outrageous crimes.

Few of us will engage directly with such an extreme case. However, in daily life, easy forgiveness leads to issues.

#1 Example: Fiona hurts Bob with her comments, and Bob forgives instantly. What happens next?

Takeaway: If you just forgive, people will hurt you again and again. You need to use hurt to push for positive change

#2 Example: Bob is furious because John sabotaged his promotion. Supposing John says he's sorry, and Bob feels compelled to say he forgives him, even though he's still mad. What happens when Bob swallows his rage?

Takeaway: Forgiveness is a process. You can't shortcut it because ignoring emotions will come back to haunt you as depression, suppressed anger etc

But the most toxic of all the "Oh, you must forgive" mantras out there is this:

#3 Example: Mary is deeply hurt when Sue laughs at her wish to become an engineer. Britt tells Mary to just forgive Sue. What does Britt think about Mary's hurt feelings?

Takeaway: When we dismiss other people's hurt, we disrespect them.

This is as plain as the nose on your face, and yet, we have the mantra. Why?  Why are victims being told to forgive? Who's saying this and why?

Why don't we tell the perps to change, do better?

Why do powerful people counsel "just forgive"? What's in it for them?

Victims are told to shut up because it is useful for the powerful that injustice continues. It's what keeps them on top.

And the flying monkeys, the people who will helpfully rage at victims, trying to scare or guilt them into shutting up, do so because they feel it's too scary to challenge powerful people.

It's easier to side with a powerful abuser than to stand up for what is right.

Also, abusers control others by gaslighting. As discussed here: how abusers act when caught out

I'm not saying you should take account of every little thing that happens. People mess up, and that's okay. Small things don't need to be called out. But for deliberate or consistent hurts, we need to speak up, for ourselves and for others. It should be done without anger, without nasty scolding, but with the intent to make it better for everyone.

True apology: accountability + steps to positive change – adding an apology is icing on the cake