The Courage Blog

6 Simple Ways to Support Your Mental Health through COVID19 Lockdown

What is trauma?

We know that COVID-19 is a pandemic. We’ve all read about it on the news. What you might not have heard is that it’s also a kind of trauma and as a result we might need some mental health support.

Normally when we hear about trauma we think of road traffic accidents and war but actually it’s more than that. Trauma means:

“an inescapably stressful event that overwhelms people’s existing coping mechanisms.” (van der Kolk & Fisler, 1995)

So even if you’re not directly affected by the virus itself – you’re not sick and no-one you know is unwell or has died from COVID-19 – it can still be a traumatic experience.

We cannot escape what is happening and many people are finding that the changes that have happened as a result of social distancing and lockdown means that their normal coping mechanisms are overwhelmed. Lots of things have changed in a very short space of time. The things we normally do to feel okay aren’t available to us.

woman with COVID 19 face mask

So what can we do about it?

It’s a normal response to feel like we can’t do anything about what’s happening to us. Our brain has three main parts to it and most of us will be noticing the switch between them – the emotional roller-coastering.

The first part is totally overwhelmed and it’s survival strategy is to just collapse. It doesn’t have enough energy to hope for positive change and it just wants to disappear. You might find yourself really tired and at best just going through the motions. This is the part of the brain that knows to play dead.

The next part of the brain is the part that does fight or flight. This is the part that will be scaring you with horror stories of what’s going to happen – you’ll lose your job, your home, you’ll get seriously sick, you’ll never recover. This part of the brain wants to mobilise you into action – to either fight your way out of the situation or to run away from it.

But the third part of the brain is the one we want to get back online. This is the thinking part of your brain – the part that takes the emotions and the facts and is able to reason and take sensible adult action. Here are some ways you can access this part of your brain and provide yourself with some mental health support. .

1. Self Kindness

This is the starting point for the next five points. When we are stressed, we tend to fall back on our old stories about who we are and very often this means self criticism.

There is part of you that says really horrible things to you. I want that part of you to hear what I am saying: we are dealing with a global pandemic. You are not lazy or useless or going mad. It does not help to talk to yourself in this way. What does help is a kind, gentle approach, the way you’d talk to your best friend. You are doing your best. Be kind.

What does help is a kind, gentle approach, the way you'd talk to your best friend. You are doing your best. Be kind.  Click To Tweet

2. Breathe

When your mental health is really suffering, you may roll your eyes or scoff at the idea of breathing being any sort of mental health support at all. It’s actually really important. I know that you know that your struggle is not all in your head. Your brain is in your head but it gets messages from all over the body and breathing is a vital part of healthy mental well being.

When your breathing is short and shallow, your brain takes that as a signal that there is a danger. It takes your thinking brain offline and depending on how it perceives the threat, it will leave you in either a mentally collapsed state or in fight or flight. Developing a good breathing practice (I like 4-4-4 breathing – breathe in for four, breathe out for four, hold for four) gives your brain the message that you are safe.

3. Routine

Two keys parts of trauma are unpredictability and loss of control. Finding a routine that works for you is another way to show your brain that you are okay in this moment. It doesn’t really matter what the routine is so much. It’s more important that it suits you and your needs at this time.

A great place to start is with self care. Depending on where you are that might mean getting up early, going for a run, getting fully dressed with make up ready for a day of meetings on Zoom. Or it might mean brushing your teeth morning and night or putting on clean pyjamas each day. Remember to be kind with yourself about where you are. It’s not a competition and you’re doing your best.

4. Movement

Another key part of trauma is the feeling of being frozen. The best way we can tell the brain that we do not need to be frozen in fear is to literally move around. Again, it doesn’t matter what the movement is but choosing something that feels right for you will be important.

If you’re in a place of feeling like you can barely get out of bed, start with something gentle. Sway to some music, take a barefoot walk around your garden or stretch out. If you have more energy, have a kitchen disco or stick some earphones in and put some uptempo music on for a brisk walk. As soon as you get moving, your brain releases chemicals that help you feel happier.


I wonder if you’ve managed to notice anything positive about the lockdown situation so far? Maybe it’s that you don’t have to rush around getting out of the door in the morning, maybe you’re saving money on fuel or perhaps you quite like having your other half at home? If you can’t think of anything at all – a memory of a joyful moment can help – a favourite person, pet or place that helps you to feel calm and relaxed.

Regularly taking 20-30 seconds to stop and really notice small amounts of joy is a really powerful way to soothe your nervous system and begin to shape healthier pathways in your brain. The more you look for joyful moments, the more you’ll spontaneously notice them.

woman holding the word joy


My final tip is to connect. Be mindful about who you choose to connect with. If you’re feeling emotionally delicate, it’s perhaps not the best idea to be in regular contact with people who are especially negative and evoke a feeling of hopelessness in you. Nor is it wise to be spending a lot of time talking to people who criticise you for feeling depressed, stressed or anxious.

Have a think who you know that is able to hold space for you to not be okay. Get in touch with them regularly. One idea I was reminded of today was to send each other a regular emoji to symbolise that you are in each others thoughts – perhaps agree to send a coffee cup emoji when you have your morning coffee.

If you don’t have anyone in your life who can be a positive connection for you, perhaps consider finding a professional to provide you with mental health support. Many therapists like me are now working online to support people like you through the challenges of COVID-19. If you’d like to book in for an initial assessment, you can contact me here.

Statue of a person holding their knees to their chest

Grief: How To Keep Going When All Is Lost

Some time ago, my family received some devastating, life-changing news. It was expected in one sense but as it usually is with grief, knowing what may happen doesn’t really ease the shock when it does actually happen.

Hearing the words of the news can be a jumble: shock, denial, relief even. Time can seem to slow right down and you’re stood watching people go about their every day lives, knowing yours has just fallen apart.

After I received the news, I found myself looking online for things that might help to ease the crushing sadness and despair I felt, but there wasn’t much that helped, so I wrote this. Maybe it will be of some comfort for you too.

Statue of a person holding their knees to their chest
Grief and loss can be all consuming

1. Acknowledge that you feel lost.

Everything is shifting. Your life direction – you thought was solid, or hoped was solid – has suddenly changed. The very foundations of your life, your day to day activities, your closest relationships, maybe even your faith in God or the universe is shaken. Shaking.

It’s going to take a while for the dust to settle. It will likely last longer than when concerned friends and family have stopped asking how you are and what they can do to help. Go at your own pace – there is no timetable for healing.

2. Allow space your grief.

Sadness, confusion, shock, bewilderment, anger, relief, fear, hope, numbness – just as there is no timetable for healing, there is also no certainty about what you may feel as you gradually take in and come to accept what has happened.

There is no right way and no wrong way to feel. Allow the feelings to rise. Each one will pass eventually. Rushing yourself to change can prolong the process. You feel what you feel for a reason.

3. Seek support

Grief can be so isolating. It’s so easy to feel like nobody gets it – and that’s true to some extent. Nobody can know your grief in quite the way you will. However, there are people out there who are able to hear you and hold you through these bleak days. Perhaps you have trusted friends and relatives that can sit quietly with you in your distress without moving to offer advice or cheer you up. Not everybody does have that person in their lives and professional support from a counsellor or bereavement and loss specialist may be beneficial.

4. Find ways to support yourself

Support from others is important, and they can’t heal for you. You will need to support yourself too. What is needed will be different for each person. Take a few moments to think about what has helped in the past when you have been having a difficult time, or getting in tune with yourself to find out what you need in this moment.

Writing down your thoughts and feelings in a journal can provide a sense of release. Walking in nature helps me to remember that the world is bigger than how I’m feeling – that there is space for my emotions and beautiful things still in the world.

It will be particularly important to take especially good care of your needs. Start with the basics – eating, sleeping and fresh air – baby steps.

5. Remember to look for the little good things.

This idea may annoy you. At first they may be tiny. Notice them anyway.

6. Keep allowing space for your feelings as you begin to move forward.

Know that moving forwards is different to “getting over it”. Now this change has happened, it will be part of your life story. You will carry it with you as part of who you are. At first, the great big ball of grief will consume you. Over time, your new life will grow around the great big ball of grief. There will be space for happiness again when you’re ready. Keep making space for your feelings as this growth happens. Grief doesn’t go away and your emotions will continue to rise and continue to subside.

7. Positive changes.

When you’re ready, you can think about whether you want or need to make some adjustments in your life. While this change has been unwanted, it may provide an opportunity to reassess what’s important in life – to remember how short and precious life really is.

I’ll be honest, I wrote this blog post in part to anchor myself. The reality is that you can’t follow a 7 point blog post to peace but perhaps a little structure can make it slightly more bearable.

Your first therapy session may be in a room that looks like this.

Your First Therapy Session: What To Expect

Going to your first therapy session can feel anything from exciting to terrifying. Sometimes both of those at the same time!

You’re already up to your eyes with distressing thoughts and emotions, feeling like you’re not coping. Going to that first therapy session is wayyy out of your comfort zone.

Find out about your therapist

One thing that can help to ease your anxieties about your first therapy session is to have a look online and find out more about your therapist. People looking for me online will find several of my listings on various counselling directories such as Counselling Directory and Psychology Today.

You can also find me on my business Facebook page, Twitter and (a little bit) on Instagram. The things I post give you a bit of an idea about what I’m like as a person. You will find photos so you know what my room looks like. You will also find photos and videos so you know what I look like and sound like.

Your first therapy session may be in a room that looks like this.

Your therapist wants you to feel comfortable

As a therapist, I know that realising you need help, making that first contact and going to your first therapy session can be really scary. It’s part of my job to make that as easy I can.

You don’t need to worry about getting it “right”. If you’re the kind of person who starts talking and it all comes tumbling out in one confusing mess: that’s fine. And if you’re the kind of person who struggles to talk and doesn’t really know why they’re here or what they need, that’s also fine.

I’m often told (and I’m inclined to agree) that I have a warmth and gentleness about me that makes me easy to talk to. When you talk to me, you know I care because you can see it on my face and hear it in my responses to you. I want you to know that you’re welcome. I want to make your first therapy session as easy as possible.

The first session is a bit different

Your first session is called an assessment. That doesn’t mean it’s a test of any kind. It’s more about

  • me understanding more about you
  • you getting a feel for how I work
  • both of us deciding if we feel we can work well together.

Therapy is about working together and one of the best ways to tell whether therapy will work for you is whether you and your therapist “click”.

But what should I talk about?

Because the first session is an assessment, there are certain things that help me to know about you, so during a first session, I tend to direct the session more than I usually would and I also ask more questions.

The sorts of things it helps me to know about are:

  • Why you have decided to come to therapy now and what else (if anything) you’ve tried before seeing me
  • A brief life history – the key things that have happened in your life, what family like is like now and what it was like as a child
  • What sources of support you have available to you
  • Whether you might be at any sort of risk perhaps with drug or alcohol use, domestic violence or suicidal feelings or intentions
  • What you do for fun (so many people struggle with this one..!)

You don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to and you can tell me things I haven’t asked about if you’d like me to know them. Your therapist may make written notes or they might not.

What if I’m not sure

Honestly, I think it’s normal to be unsure. Most people aren’t raised to speak openly about how they feel. Even if they are, it’s still going to be strange talking to someone they’ve never met before. Your first therapy session is as much about you sussing me out and deciding whether you want to work with me as anything else. If you don’t want to work with me, I’m okay with that. I can’t be everyone’s cup of tea (I don’t even really like tea, unless it’s fruity or flowery!)

So now you know – your first therapy session is mostly about understanding where you are right now and getting to know each other. You’ll know you’ve found the right therapist if you feel comfortable enough (if a little awkward) talking to them. Therapists want you to feel okay – we understand you feel unsure and we try to make it as easy as possible.

Got questions? Email me!

Alice Tew

Alice offers counselling and psychotherapy sessions from her private practices in Bingham and West Bridgford in Nottingham. To book in, click here.

dark picture of a sink for self care

Feeling Hopeless? How To Tackle Boring Self Care

dark picture of a sink for self care
Even basic self care can feel impossible sometimes.

What comes to mind when I say the words “self care”? Is it fluffy blankets, bubble baths and scented candles? Or do you just roll your eyes and try and push away that sickening feeling of shame because you know you should be able to take better care of yourself – you just can’t seem to do it..? Or maybe it’s both. Today I want to introduce you to the concept of boring self care.

You know you should be able to take better care of yourself - you just can't seem to do it? #boringselfcare Click To Tweet

Luxury isn’t boring

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve told  you a bit of my story of burning out. I talked about how I used to go constantly at 100mph and I touched on the fact that the things I was trying to keep myself on track didn’t work.

Some of those things are what you might ordinarily think of as self care. They were what I thought of as self care. Things like those I listed above – blankets, baths, beautiful luxurious things that are marketed as things we deserve, things that will give us a deep sense of calm, that might even transform who we are as people. Yeah, I fell for it too.

The reality is, as wonderful as those things can be, those things are not the full picture of self care.

Boring Self Care

Boring self care is a term coined by Hannah Daisy. Hannah creates brilliant illustrations that show all those sometimes boring, sometimes not, every day tasks that are about caring for your self. There are all kinds of reasons why these seemingly simple tasks might become overwhelming:

  • afraid to talk to people on the phone
  • anxious about leaving your house (or even your bed)
  • physically or mentally exhausted
  • haven’t got the time
  • or maybe you just don’t want to…

One of the most frustrating things about mental illnesses is that it can leave you feeling incapable of doing even basic things for yourself. That well meaning advice to “just get out of the house” can fall flat if you haven’t been able to do any laundry or wash your hair for a while.

Doing the impossible

If you’ve read my other blogs, you’ll know I think that kindness and self-compassion are really important. It’s important for anyone and everyone, and especially important if you are struggling to cope with the basics. Criticising yourself, blaming yourself, shaming yourself – all that is going to do is leaving you feeling even lower than you already do. Thank your critical inner voice and say “no thank you, I am not listening to you today. I’m trying something new.”

Think of one task that needs doing that you’ve been putting off. This could be anything from getting out of bed for an hour, to daring to say no when someone asks for a favour. Here are some from Hannah’s instagram:

  • took my medication as prescribed
  • survived a day at work
  • opened a window
  • went to bed early
  • cooked and ate a nourishing meal

So think of just one – no running before you can walk – and do it, just once. Pick something small and manageable. Don’t turn this into a way to prove to yourself that you can’t do it. Just pick one small, manageable task that you can do today. Take a deep breath. And then go and do it.

And congratulate yourself. That critical inner voice might come back and cackle at you for celebrating you washing your hair. Thank her and say no thanks. Not today, critical inner voice. Today I’m trying something new. To other people it might be too small to celebrate but for today, for you, it’s worth at least a fist pump.

Different ways to do boring self care

So you see, self care doesn’t necessarily mean the fancy, often expensive things we think. Those things are nice to have but you can manage without them. Boring self care – the important sort of self care – looks more like:

  • eating a diet that suits what your body needs
  • getting enough sleep
  • having clean clothes
  • having some kind of social contact (preferably face to face)
  • looking after your medical and dental care
  • asking for the emotional support you need

But as I said before – don’t try and run before you can walk. If brushing your teeth twice a day is all you can manage – great! That’s better than once or not at all. You can tick one thing off your list, instead of the list being screwed up and in the bin. It’s one way to show yourself that you matter, that you are worth taking care of.

I still can’t do it…

If you still feel like you can’t do it – don’t panic.

First of all, there are lots of people out there who can support you  – including me.

Secondly – it might just be that it feels new – often new changes can leave you feeling like something is wrong. Give it another go tomorrow. Or have a read of my blog post about feeling like you’ve failed.

And finally – I’m going to be looking at the blocks we put in our way in next week’s blog, so look out for that.

Alice Tew




woman surrounded by other peoples open hands

How To Look After You When You Have No Time

I know I need a break

Last week I touched on how busy everyone seems to be – and in my vlog I touched on the idea that one reason for this is that we feel obliged to do so much for so many sets of people. We need to be good parents, good employees, good friends, good sons and daughters and so on. We just either can’t or won’t make time for ourselves.

All of us are bombarded daily with posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by our friends and acquaintances living seemingly perfect lives. And even though you know they’re cherry picking the best bits to showcase on social media, it doesn’t stop you feeling like a failure when your life isn’t Pinterest-perfect.

So you do more, you try harder, you push, push, push but somehow it’s never enough and you’re exhausted.

I can’t just “make time”

I can hear you from here. I was exactly the same – I wrote about this last week. How could I possibly stop? People were counting on me.

I thought that if I stopped, my life would collapse around me and then I’d have to spend even more time picking up the pieces of the smashed plate I’d stopped spinning and deal with the shame of everyone seeing that I’d messed up. No thanks.

So I kept spinning until one day I couldn’t. I’d been so busy looking after everyone else and trying to be perfect that I’d depleted all my coping reserves and as my feelings of embarrassment at not living a picture perfect life grew, I’d withdrawn from my friends and family so they couldn’t see the mess I was getting in. I had no one to lean on, not even myself.

The point to this cautionary tale of course is that if you don’t/can’t/won’t look after yourself, you’re going to get sick. It can show up in any number of ways – depression, anxiety, stress, burn out or even physical symptoms like shaking and stomach aches. You know everyone else needs looking after – the same applies to you.

Show yourself the love you so freely give to others

I want to be really clear – this is not another reason to beat yourself. This isn’t about “Oh great, now I’ve got another thing to add to my list that I don’t have time for” and feeling like even more of a failure. This is about kindness and I’m certain you’re good at that. It takes a decent amount of kindness to put others above yourself. Here’s what I want you to know:

You deserve that kindness too. You are entitled to it.

Yep. Entitled. You are entitled to use your time for yourself, to look after yourself, so you can be well. The World Health Organisation said health is a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

I can feel you cringing at the word entitled. You are socialised to be selfless, to put others first. Prioritising your own needs leaves you feeling guilty. So how can you break out of that? Here’s what I think:

  • Acknowledge Where You Are

The first step is to admit to yourself where you are – that you’re doing too much and you need to stop. You can’t change something you won’t accept is happening so you need to look at the reality of what is happening and the impact it is having on you.

This might sound simple but it isn’t always easy. You may well feel like you’re a failure, you might worry what people will think of you and your critical inner voice will crank up the volume to try and keep you doing the same old thing. Now is the time for kindness.

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” ― Jack Kornfield, Buddha's Little Instruction Book Click To Tweet
  • Assess the situation

Once you’ve reached the point of being honest with yourself, you can begin to assess the situation that you’ve found yourself in.

What exactly are all the things taking up your time and are they really your responsibility? Really, really your responsibility?

If you’re struggling with this one, I can recommend reading this blog by Carolyn Spring. You know the current situation isn’t sustainable so decide to put a stop taking on too much before it puts a stop to you.

  • Prioritise your time

Imagine you’ve got a cup full of your time and energy. At the moment you share that cup with everyone who asks and there’s rarely a drop left for you.

To live a balanced life, the idea is that you fill your cup with nourishment for yourself until it overflows. It is only then do you share this nourishment with others – not from your cup but from your saucer.

Another way to think of it is that when a plane starts to crash, you’re told to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others.

  • Commit to one thing

Making the change to putting yourself above others can be tough so make it easy to start with. Start small.

Pick just one way you can put yourself first. It doesn’t need to be fancy, expensive or time consuming.

Don’t risk jumping in at the deep end – you’ll scare yourself and turn back to what you know. Start tiny if you need – I started with brushing my teeth twice a day, no matter what. As you’re doing it, remind yourself you’re doing this because you matter.

  • Consistency is key

Finally, you need to keep it going every day, no matter what.

Missing brushing your teeth one night out of seven because you’ve done so much you’ve fallen asleep on the sofa isn’t going to matter in the long run. What matters is the message you’re giving yourself.

Every time you do the action you’ve chosen, you reinforce that you matter. You say that you’re entitled to your health and your time, that you are looking after yourself as well as you look after others.

It might be a good idea to find a way to be accountable. Perhaps make tick chart and tick off each day or let a friend know what you’re doing and encourage each other.

Every time you choose to look after yourself, you reinforce the message that you matter. Click To Tweet

With each and every step along the way, remember to be kind to yourself.

Next week I’ll be writing about what do if you’re really feeling hopeless about even being able to do the basics of looking after yourself.

Until then you can find me on Facebook and Twitter or you can book an appointment with me.

Alice Tew

To do list with burnout

Heading For a Burnout? Why You Need To Know About Self Care

What’s on your to-do list this week?

  • Plan a week of enriching activities for your children
  • or go to work and exceed all your targets (or both!)
  • race to pick up the children from nursery or school
  • feed them, try and remember to do their homework, bath them, get them to bed
  • wash the pots, push the hoover around, iron clothes for tomorrow
  • pick up an email from your manager
  • argue with your partner about whose turn it is to put out the bins
  • ring your mother before she panics that you’ve dropped off the planet
  • burnout
Burnout probably isn't something you've written on your to-do list but if you're neglecting your self-care, you might as well have. Click To Tweet

Why is self care important anyway?

I used to be one of those people that just kept going and going. People seemed to look at me and marvel. I would regularly get comments like “I don’t know know how you do it” and “When do you sleep?!”. To me “it just needs to be good enough” and “you can only do your best” meant giving 100%, 24/7. As soon as I’d achieved one thing, I was on to the next thing – barely even leaving space to celebrate and enjoy my successes.

I was spinning all kinds of plates like a spectacular circus performer. Every day there were more and more plates to spin and they were wobbling faster and faster. Every day, I pushed myself harder and harder to spin, spin, spin. I tried dropping out some plates but new ones just appeared in their places.

Then, one day I had an unexpected shock – someone tried to hurt me in a way that left me feeling painfully vulnerable. I felt shaken at my core. With hindsight I could see there was no truth in this malicious attack and therefore no real risk to me. At the time, I was so exhausted and overwhelmed with everything else that I really believed there was.

My heart was racing, I couldn’t focus on anything, I kept snapping and crying. I didn’t recognise myself.

I had reached burnout.

Everything I had worked for was falling apart.

The plates all crashed to the ground. I didn’t feel spectacular; I felt sick. Everything I valued, everything I had worked hard for was at risk (or so it felt at the time). I tried a few different things – mindfulness, medication, positive thinking, but nothing worked. In my constant busyness, I had neglected all of my friendships and I felt completely alone.

I have to be honest – at this point, my critical inner voice was shouting “Therapist, heal thyself!” so loudly I thought other people might hear it. “Come on, sort yourself out, just get a grip.” I was trying to fix my problem in the exact same way I’d broken it. I didn’t want to ask for help, I didn’t want to tell anyone I was struggling and I was push, push, pushing myself to just fix it.

How do you heal from a burnout?

Thankfully, the therapist in me knew I couldn’t heal alone this time. She knew I needed help and so I found what I needed by returning to therapy.

This was a nerve-wracking experience but one that I am grateful for as it reminded me of what my own clients might feel when they contact me for an appointment or come for their first session. Click To Tweet

My therapist was exactly what I needed – calm, solid and most importantly she encouraged us to work at a steady pace. I knew this work as therapist but I had forgotten the sheer relief of what it was like to be on the receiving end of it. I didn’t need to struggle alone anymore, my therapist had my back.

Piecing my life back together

Together we began to survey the rubble of smashed plates and start to think about how to put the pieces of my life back together. They needed to go back together in such a way that I didn’t keep repeating the same mistakes.

It started with the basics – with self care. I don’t mean hand cream and spa days (though if that’s what works for you, keep doing it!). For me the basics was choosing a single, basic hygiene task and doing that consistently. It felt ridiculous at first – I was a qualified therapist, why on earth was I talking about brushing my teeth – but it soon became a way to show myself that I mattered, every single day, no matter what else needed doing, looking after myself came first. I had spent so long putting everyone else first, thinking burnouts wouldn’t happen to me. But it did. And this is why you need to know about self care.

No-one is immune to the risk of burning out.

Not even therapists.

Not even you.

So how can you prevent it happening?

  1. Self care.

No long and complicated lists. It doesn’t even have to take a long time. And it definitely doesn’t need to involve painting your nails or taking bubble baths.

How do you stop yourself from reaching the point of burnout? Stop firing on all cylinders. It’s a scary prospect and one you might need some support with but it is both possible and necessary.

Self care is both possible and necessary, no matter how little time you have. Click To Tweet

There’s no judgement here. If you’ve read this far, you know I’m in no position to judge.  Even if I was, one of my core beliefs is that judgement and shaming doesn’t lead to lasting positive change.

This is about kindness – showing yourself kindness. Letting yourself rest and recuperate.

But what if you haven’t got time to even think about it?

Let alone do it…

My unhelpful answer to that is “Leaving yourself to burnout will leave you with even less time to do the things you need to do.”

My helpful answer is in next week’s blog…


Always Room To Grow

The Upside to Failing your New Year’s Resolutions

Failing at things sucks. It can be bad enough failing at something that we didn’t even want to do (like secondary school sports days *shudder*) but failing at something we’ve chosen for ourselves can send us into a downward spiral of self-criticism.

The destructive cycle of shame

“I’ve failed, I always fail, I’m a failure.”
“I’m no good at anything.”
“Why can’t I just stick to it… what’s wrong with me?”

You haven’t stuck to your plan. Again. What’s the point, you never stick to anything, you might as well give up.

I’m going to guess that these sort of thoughts don’t help to fill you with inspiration or motivation. In fact if you were watching someone else speak to themselves like that on a regular basis, I’m going to bet you wouldn’t be at all surprised if they fell into a depressive funk.

The way we speak to ourselves when we fail really matters. It can be the difference between staying stuck in your belief that you’re a failure or being able to make real, lasting change.

How can there be an upside?

So how can failing at our resolutions possibly have an upside?

You learned what didn’t work for you.

It sounds simple but in our society that is constantly selling us solutions to problems, feeding on the idea that if we just had a bit more willpower, we’d succeed, it’s easy to forget this simple but important step to making successful, lasting changes.

You learned what doesn’t work for you. Sure, other people might be well into their marathon training or might have lost a stone already eating nothing but egg whites and oatcakes (bleurgh) but that doesn’t work for you. Now you have this awareness, you can either keep forcing yourself into the mould you think you’re supposed to fit in, or you can take a moment to think about what would work.

Growing a life you love

I used to set and fail New Year’s Resolutions every year. I’m not sure why I kept doing it as I used to think of myself as a quitter, as someone who never stuck to anything and was basically just useless (ouch).

My approach to goal setting changed after the birth of my second child. I had gained a lot of weight and was so upset about it that I joined Weight Watchers when he was just nine days old which (unsurprisingly) ended up affecting my milk supply, which I also couldn’t bear.

I knew I had to find a different approach to weight loss. I had to find a way that worked for me.

Listen to yourself

Finding a way that works means pressing the pause button on those critical voices that keep us from achieving our goals. Silence that voice that says “You’re lazy, you’ll never succeed” and pay attention to the reasons you didn’t stick to the goal that you set for yourself.

If you’re not a morning person, of course you don’t want to drag yourself into the freezing January air for a run. If the only thing you look forward to all week is a takeaway at the weekend, you’re going to need something else to look forward to before committing to cutting out junk food.

It doesn’t mean you’re a failure.

It means you’re human.

You’re a human with needs and while it’s nice to believe we can bypass what we need in order to achieve The Perfect Body or The Perfect Life, it’s not real and it certainly isn’t going to last.

So what do you need to succeed?

It’s about kindness

Even though I’ve been practicing this approach to failure for over a decade, I can still find myself forgetting the importance of kindness. It felt outrageous to be kind to myself when I had “failed. AGAIN!” And it also made sense. My struggles with weight loss were intrinsically linked to kindness or rather the lack of kindness I showed myself.

I felt sad but couldn’t handle my sadness so I ate to push the feelings away, then I’d realise I’d broken my diet and call myself stupid, fat, disgusting, hopeless, which made me feel even more sad, but I still couldn’t handle my sadness, so I’d eat… It was an endless cycle.

It was only when I realised what was happening that I could change it. It was only when I stopped getting caught up the brutal name-calling and shaming myself that I could see what was happening.

I wasn’t a failure, I was struggling with emotional pain. If I could find a way to support myself emotionally, if I could find a way to be kind to myself when I was hurting, I could step out of this cycle. So I did, and I did.

It’s been a long time since I thought of myself as a quitter and the key to changing the way I saw myself was to find people to supported me – for me this was a group of women exploring intuitive eating – and to start something that I enjoyed so I didn’t need willpower anymore – and I trained to run intuitive eating workshops. I was learning about a subject I loved, with people I enjoyed spending time with in an environment that was nurturing.

The day I finished that course, the course I’d chosen because it was so “me”, my “quitter script” fell away and I’ve since gone on to complete several other courses, including my degree in psychotherapy (which was also very “me”!)

Do something different

“Fall down seven times, stand up eight”

So yes, failing at things sucks but you can make the process of failing easier by seeing it as an opportunity to learn more about

  • who you are
  • what you like
  • what you don’t like and
  • what might actually help you work towards your goals.

You can make the process of failing less painful by choosing to see the times you don’t succeed as an opportunity to learn more about what you need to achieve your goals.

Maybe it’s not running alone at 6am when you’d rather be in bed, maybe it’s joining a bellydancing class in a nicely heated village hall on an evening after the children are in bed.

Maybe it’s not giving up your weekend takeaway until you’ve promised yourself a luxurious and nurturing treat to look forward to instead.

Let me know in the comments below – what didn’t work and why, and what else can you try instead?

Alice offers counselling and psychotherapy sessions from her private practice in Bingham & West Bridgford, Nottingham. She believes that learning to feel differently about failure is often something that needs to be done with the help of someone  supportive. To book in, click here.

One Day You Finally Knew… And Began.

Sounds so easy, doesn’t it – “and began”.

Just like that, you stopped feeling confused or stressed or fed up and began.

I don’t know about you but for me it conjures up an image of a beautifully graceful woman in floating fabrics just gliding effortlessly through life. It’s an enticing image but it doesn’t match my experience of beginning, that’s for sure.

This quote is from a poem. One of my favourite poems called The Journey. I love it because I think so many people can relate to it’s story.

The Journey is about branching out on our own – finding our own path in the world – finding our own selves in the world. Beginning doesn’t always look like having all of the answers or having a detailed map and navigation equipment to take us to the place we want to be.

Sometimes beginning looks like just knowing that you’ve outgrown this way of being in the world.
Sometimes beginning is just saying “I want to be somewhere else. I want to be someone else.”

Mary isn’t unaware of the great struggles that we face in trying to do this – she tells us about the people around us who don’t want us to change and the reality that our paths ahead are littered with obstacles. Since this isn’t meant to be an essay, nor am I an English teacher, I’ll spare you the poetry analysis but I think the idea that while it isn’t all plain sailing, it’s still possible – essential even – is important to bear in mind.

We live in an age where we are bombarded by fast change – lose 7lbs in 7 days, make £5000 with this scheme, think positive thoughts and you’ll change your entire outlook immediately. Yeah. Right.

Change can take a while and while we’re doing it, it can feel scary and we can feel so alone. But it’s worth it.

The poem ends:

and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognised as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.”

Are you ready to begin? What does it look like?

Alice offers counselling and psychotherapy sessions from her private practices in Bingham and West Bridgford in Nottingham. She believes that journeys are often easier when travelling with a guide and she has a well thumbed guide book that she’s willing to share. To book in, click here.

5 Resources To Get Your Mental Health Back On Track

The constant strain of daily modern life can take a huge toll on our mental health.

We’re under pressure to have not just a job but a good job and to perform well at it.

Parenting seems to be increasingly like a competition – keeping up with activities, parenting philosophies and looking beautifully turned out while we do it.

And that’s before we even think about the day to day juggling of housework, admin, organising and so on and so on…

It can be hard to know where to begin to either make life a bit easier or to develop more resilience to cope with everything we feel we need to get done.

Here are five resources to get you started…

1. Headspace

Headspace is a guided meditation app. Mindfulness and meditation has pretty much become mainstream over the last few years. It’s a simple but effective way to clear your mind of the constant whirring of your mind. Mindfulness is a useful technique to stop you dwelling on the past or worrying about the future as it brings our attention back to the current moment.

The benefits of meditation are wide-ranging, from anxiety and depression to insomnia and chronic pain.

That said, simple doesn’t always mean easy. If you haven’t tried meditation before, or even if you have, it takes some practice to “clear the mind”. It can be like being told not to think about elephants – it’s impossible not to! So just how do you empty your head of your endless to-do list – that letter you need to post, the things you need to remember to pick up from the shops or which child has which activity on which day…? Headspace walks you through it all with ease. The app includes their free 10 day beginner’s course.


2. Moodscope

We track all aspects of our health and wellness with pedometers, scales, food diaries and so on but rarely do we keep track of our mood. Sometimes we don’t realise how low our mood has become until it’s a big problem and often we try and manage alone.

Moodscope believes that knowing that you have people around you looking out for you can help to elevate your mood. It only takes a couple of minutes once you’ve got the hang of it.

Moodscope works in two ways. Firstly, it works by actually tracking your mood using 20 cards that you flip and rotate on the screen to select how you feel on each day. Secondly it works by connecting you with trusted friends and family who act as “buddies”. They receive an email each day with your score and can offer you support and encouragement along the way.

3. SAM (Self-help for Anxiety Management)

SAM helps you to be more aware of how your anxiety is affecting you over a period of time. With this awareness, you can learn how your thinking and lifestyle contributes to feeling anxious, identify situations where you want to feel less anxious and you can practice self-help options to manage feelings of anxiety.

SAM is a handy app for times when you are struggling with anxiety.

The app is split into 8 different sections including an anxiety tracker, a place to list the things that increase your feelings of anxiety and a section for when you need help straight away. There is also a “social cloud” which lets you share your experiences anonymously.

4. Reasons2

Reasons2 is an app developed in collaboration with young people but can be used by anyone aged 13+. The focus of this app is to help you manage your mental health by creating a profile of reasons to feel better. The app allows you to upload images and photos of things that boost your mood.

When life feels bleak, Reasons2 helps you remember reasons to smile.

Reasons2 has a crisis section if you need support or help in an emergency. There is also a community element of Reasons2 so you can share your reasons and see what others have shared too.

5. YouTube

Okay, so YouTube isn’t exactly a mental health resource but you can find some really helpful videos on there that can help with all kinds of aspects of mental health. TED has a playlist full of talks on mental health including shame, hearing voices and building mental strength.

But the reason I included YouTube on this list was because of my accidental discovery of ASMR videos a few years ago. I was struggling to sleep and trying to find a guided meditation video and stumbled across a video similar to this one by a lady known as Gentle Whispering.

ASMR is best described as that tingling feeling you get sometimes often on the back of your neck or across your scalp.

There is a huge community of ASMR creators and followers who find these videos really helpful to relax and switch off at the end of a long day. Some are role plays like the one I linked above, others are just a collection of sounds or “trigger words”.

So there you have it – five resources to help you get your mental health back on track.

Alice offers counselling and psychotherapy to both individuals and couples in Nottinghamshire, UK. 




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