Did you know that one of the best ways to relieve stress is completely free and everyone can do it?
That’s right – conscious breathing is one of the most effective ways in activating the body’s natural relaxation response. Deep, mindful breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Breathing techniques can help you feel connected to your body and quiet your mind.
The good news is that breathing exercises are easy to learn and can be done whenever you want, and you don’t need any special tools or equipment to do them. Also, it’s worth pointing out that if you have been a shallow breather, this might initially feel strange and even somewhat difficult. But just like anything, controlled breathing does take a bit of practice so be patient with yourself.
Here are a few exercises to try out, you can them out and see which work best for you.
This exercise also uses belly breathing to help you relax and can be done either sitting or lying down. Taking a deep breath is actually linked to the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the fight-or-flight response. While exhaling is linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is in control of the rest and digest response. If you have ever experienced a panic attack you might be aware that taking too many deep breaths too quickly can cause you to hyperventilate. Hyperventilation decreases the amount of oxygen-rich blood that flows to your brain. Longer exhales help to signal to the brain that it’s time to relax.
How to do it: Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest as in the belly. Take a deep, slow breath from your belly, and silently count to 4 as you breathe in.
Hold your breath to a count of 7.
Breathe out completely as you silently count to 8. Try to get all the air out of your lungs by the time you count to 8.
The idea of this exercise is to lengthen the exhale. Repeat this four times or until you feel calm.
Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
Abdominal breathing technique
The abdominal breathing technique can be particularly helpful before experiencing a stressful event like preparing for a job interview or giving a big presentation.
How to do it: Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a deep breath in through your nose, allowing diaphragm (not your chest) to inflate with enough air to create a slight stretching sensation in your lungs. Slowly exhale.
Taking 6–10 deep, slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes each day using this breathing technique can help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure. In effect, this will also reduce anxiety and stress.
Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
This technique can be done sitting or lying down. If you are feeling particularly stressed at work, or at school, you can even do this quietly in a room full of people.
How to do it: Start to inhale and exhale normally. Take a few moments to mentally scan your body for any tension. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose.
Notice your belly and upper body expanding.
Do this for a few minutes, paying attention to the rise and fall of your belly.
To maintain focus on your breath, it can be helpful to choose a word to focus on and repeat in your mind during your exhale. Words like “calm” can be effective.
When you get distracted, gently bring your attention back to your breath and your words.
Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
As the world emerges post-lock-down, the lingering effects of COVID still remain.
There has been an enormous pressure on families and couples, many now of which are seeking support. Not only that, but winter in general can be a difficult time. The nights are cold and the days are short, most of us are likely to retreat indoors and spend our time in front of the TV. In fact, the lack of sunlight and overall time spent outdoors can contribute to Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.). While this is more common in Northern Hemisphere countries where the temperature changes are much more extreme, people still do experience S.A.D. in Australia.
If you feel like your mental health is slipping, there are many things you can do to make sure you are staying mentally healthy.
First things first: What Is Mental Health?
There is so much talk out there about mental health, it’d become kind of a buzzword. But what exactly is it?
“Mental health refers to the state of our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we feel, think and behave.”
Many people are reluctant to talk about their mental health because it’s associated with a disorder. But having good mental health doesn’t always mean you live without a diagnosable condition. It means that you’re able to cope effectively with the curve balls of everyday life.
Our mental health impacts every single element of life, how you perform at work, how happy you are in relationships, how connected you are socially, and how you feel about your own self-worth. Let’s face it, being a human being is difficult. Life is a series of ups and downs, and so much is out of our control. Having good mental health is like having the tools to bounce back from whatever life inevitably throws at us.
Also, because mental health is still so stigmatised, people often don’t even know what signs to look out for.
Here are some warning signs that your mental health could be declining:
- Feeling anxious or worried
- Feeling depressed or unhappy
- Emotional outbursts
- Sleep problems
- Weight or appetite changes
- Quiet or withdrawn
- Substance abuse
- Feeling guilty or worthless
- Changes in behaviour or feelings
If you feel like any of those signs are relevant to you, then here are some ways to improve your mental health.
1. Get the right amount of sleep.
Sleep is absolutely critical for mental health. It’s as important to our bodies as eating, drinking and breathing. Sleeping helps us to recover from mental as well as physical exertion. Not getting enough sleep per night not only makes you more tired and irritable, but it exacerbates any emotional and psychological problems. Unfortunately, it’s usually those emotional and psychological problems that tend to keep us awake.
If you’re struggling to sleep, try a meditation app. There are so many to choose from: Headspace, Sleep Cycle, Calm, Insight Timer, Noisli, Pzizz, Slumber – to name a few. Also, try to keep your bedroom dark and quiet, and refrain from using your phone just before bed. The blue light from your phone mimics daylight, tricking your brain to stay awake. Also, any emotionally charged content makes your brain work even harder to wind down.
If you continue to have sleep problems, it’s possible there may be an underlying issue and you may need to see a GP.
2. Connect with your friends and community.
As social animals, strong social networks are extremely important for our mental health. Sometimes when we feel our mental health declining, a common reaction is to withdraw from social events. But it’s when we stop interacting and isolate ourselves that our mental health plummets. It’s important then to build strong interpersonal connections with positive, supportive people.
Feeling like we’re part of a community gives our life meaning, a sense of belonging, and helps us feel accepted. If you don’t have supportive, positive people in your life then join activities, clubs or classes where you can meet new people.
3. Stay active
It can be difficult to motivate yourself when you’re feeling low but it’s so important that you do. Exercise increases your body’s production of endorphins (feel-good hormones) which helps to improve your mood, gives you better sleep, and makes you feel relaxed. All you need is 30 minutes of walking each day to improve your mood and reduce stress.
Yoga is great for reducing stress, increasing muscle tone and balance. If you aren’t into yoga then try out other forms of exercise. It might take a bit of time to figure out what you like best, but it’s important to find something. Exercising for mental health is about sustainability, not about short-term results.
4. Eat nutritious meals.
We’ve always known that eating well is good for our physical health, but now we are seeing that a healthy diet can actually improve mental health. Eating high-quality foods with lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes and protects the brain. Sugar and processed foods have been proven to lead to inflammation throughout the body and brain, which may contribute to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Probiotics, on the other hand, help to maintain a normal microbiome, and therefore can potentially play a role in the treatment and prevention of anxiety and depression.
To boost your mental health, focus on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables along with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Try to avoid processed foods or sugar-filled snacks. Consume plenty of healthy fats, such as olive oil and coconut to support brain function.
5. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is simply being aware and present to the current moment you are in.
It can be done anywhere, anytime; during a meeting at work, on the bus, washing dishes. All it requires is being fully engaged in the here and now. Most people go about their daily lives with their minds jumping around to the future or past, worrying about what ifs, rarely ever engaged in the present moment. While meditation is usually practiced for a specific amount of time in a specific place, mindfulness can be applied to any situation throughout the day.
6. Try some Meditation
Unlike Mindfulness, Meditation is an intentional practice where you sit or lie down, close your eyes and focus inward. Meditation is not the absence of thought, and there is no such thing as being bad at meditation. It’s essentially training your brain.
During a meditation, you might practice noticing stray thoughts, and then bringing it back to your breath. Or you noticing your emotions, and learning how to be non-reactive to them. All of this helps in real life, when an anxious thought grips us, meditation brings us back to the moment and helps us respond rather than react.
7. Keep alcohol to a minimum and avoid drugs.
This one goes without saying. In times of increased stress, it’s best to keep alcohol use to a minimum and avoid drugs. Often people use alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate but in this only aggravates the problem. Try your best to replace the urge to self-medicate by going for healthier options mentioned above.
8. Don’t be afraid to seek help.
If you have done all of the above and still don’t feel better, then it’s time to get professional help. This is nothing to feel embarrassed about. It can be as simple as having a chat with someone outside of your group of friends to gain some perspective on a situation. Have you ever noticed how it’s so much harder to see the bigger picture when you’re entangled in something?
A counsellor will not only help you make sense of what you’re going through, but will help build your emotional toolkit to bounce back easier. People see a counsellor for so many different reasons, there is nothing too trivial or silly.
9. Be kind to yourself.
Last but not least, treat yourself with kindness and respect. This can be difficult to do, it’s often so much easier to love and forgive other people. But we tend to be most critical and judgemental of ourselves. Pay attention to the voice in your head, is it the sort of stuff you would say to a friend?
Also, make time for the things that make you feel happy, even more so if you are struggling. This is the time to pamper yourself however that looks to you.
Reaching out to find a counsellor, psychotherapist or psychologist can be one of the most important, and maybe even the hardest decision you’ve ever had to make.
We recognise how challenging it can be to find the right mental health professional. It can, in some ways, be even more intimidating than going on a date with someone you met online.
Just like in dating, some people you “click” with, and some you just don’t. This is normal. But a relationship with a therapist is not like a relationship with a partner or a friend. It’s a very unique relationship that depends upon the reason you came to therapy in the first place, and what you want out of it. You will be sharing parts of yourself you might not even share with your partner or friend. During an interaction so meaningful and vulnerable, you’d only expect to have some kind of connection to build upon.
Did you know: Research shows that a strong relationship between a client and psychologist is one of the most important factors in determining the success of therapy.
This is actually why Radiant was created. We wanted to solve this very problem because we know how challenging and intimidating it can be to find the right person. Our platform offers a filtering criteria to help you find your match.
How do I find the right therapist?
You can start by clicking ‘Find the right help now’. From there, enter in your location or select ‘online only’ if prefer to only see those with availability online. You can then being to select certain criteria that is important to you. For example whether this is for individual counselling, family or couples therapy, the preferred age and/or gender of the professional, the type (counsellor, psychologists, psychotherapist, social worker), available facilities, rebate options, the preferred religion and language options. After you choose what’s relevant to you, you will find a list of people to contact directly on the phone or through email.
What should I look for?
Just like any strong relationships, it’s important to feel comfortable around them. In order to build a foundation of trust and vulnerability, you need to first feel comfortable enough to be honest with them.
The age or gender of your therapist may not be a huge deal for some, but others may consider this to be an important factor in choosing a therapist.
As mentioned before, the best kind of therapy is built upon strong relationships. That, to some, might mean they can only feel comfortable around people of a certain age or gender. Perhaps some people welcome the fresh perspective of a younger therapist, while others prefer older therapists who have more life experience. Some might prefer to see someone who is the same gender as them, or has an understanding of any LGBTQI related issues.
While most therapists are trained in culturally diverse approaches, it might be important for you to be with someone who truly understands your cultural background in a more personal non-textbook way.
This can increase your feelings of trust towards your therapist and ultimately increase the chance of finding value and making genuine life-enhancing changes throughout therapy.
Religious and/or spiritual orientation
This is quite a big factor to many people. Particularly because religious and spiritual issues can be the very issues that prompted you to find treatment.
Perhaps this could be a conflict over religious values, crises of faith, feelings of alienation from one’s religion, or distortion of religious beliefs and practices. Each one of us have an opinion and/or belief around religious and spiritual matters. Finding a therapist who matches with you on this topic can be an immense source of strength or support to the session.
There are so many different types of schools of thought in therapy. If you are new to therapy you might not know what to look for. You also do not have to have an understanding of all the different approaches before commencing therapy.
It can however, be helpful to understand the different types.
Generally speaking, your therapist will draw from five broad categories:
- Psychodynamic therapies
This approach focuses on changing problematic behaviors, feelings, and thoughts by discovering unconscious meanings and motivations.
- Behavioral therapies
This approach focuses on learning’s role in developing both normal and abnormal behaviors. It can be particularly useful in dealing with phobias and irrational fears.
- Cognitive therapies
Cognitive therapists believe that dysfunctional thinking leads to dysfunctional emotions or behaviors. By changing their thoughts, people can change how they feel and what they do.
- Humanistic therapies
This approach emphasises people’s capacity to make rational choices and develop to their maximum potential. Concern and respect for others are also important themes.
- Integrative/Holistic therapies
These therapists don’t tie themselves to any one approach. Instead, they blend elements from different approaches and tailor their treatment according to each client’s needs.
Remember: you don’t owe anyone anything
If you aren’t comfortable with the mental health professional you’ve chosen, don’t feel bad about changing. It does take time to find ‘the one’.
The important thing is to keep looking until you feel you find someone that matches with you. This might take a few sessions, but it is so worth it.
It takes a lot of courage to go to therapy so make sure you devote enough time and energy in finding the right one for you. You’ll be so much happier you did.
We’re here to help you on this journey.
The decision to go on a mental health care plan is not always an easy one.
Many of us avoid it because it would mean admitting something is wrong that we cannot fix ourselves. Perhaps finances are also a problem and the high cost of therapy sessions makes you soldier on and try to just ‘deal with it’.
The good news? Anyone with a Medicare card is eligible for a mental health care plan.
This is a plan made between you and your doctor to address your mental health issues, and Medicare subsidises up to 10 sessions a year with a psychologist, social worker or occupational therapist.
Who needs a mental health care plan?
Anyone who is suffering with mental illness can ask their doctor for a plan. This could be anything from mild anxiety to severe depression and debilitating mental states.
If you feel like you are struggling with daily life and you have felt that way for two weeks or more, then you could benefit from a mental health care plan. Remember that you are not alone in this. In fact, according to Beyond Blue, ‘One in six Australians is currently experiencing depression or anxiety or both. This is equivalent to 3.2 million people today’.
Here’s how you can get on a mental health care plan:
Book an appointment with your GP
Your first port of call is your GP. Be sure to mention that you would like an appointment to discuss a mental health care plan, as sometimes clinics will book you for a slightly longer session.
Keep in mind that during COVID-19, you can make an appointment with your GP via telehealth. Contact your local doctor’s office and ask more.
Your GP will then ask you your reasons for wanting a plan and how you are currently feeling. They might ask you to fill in a questionnaire which gives them a sense of your state of mind. It can be daunting to open up to a stranger or near-stranger, but it is important that you are honest with your doctor so they can help you in the best way possible. If they agree that you should go on a mental health care plan, the session will usually end with them writing you a referral to the appropriate Allied Health Professional.
Choose the right mental health professional for you
You can request a certain mental health professional or go on your GP’s advice. It is important to find someone that you can click with and that suits your needs. Do your research because if you decide to change after a couple of sessions, you don’t restart your ten sessions with the new mental health professional. You can have a look now at different mental health professionals who have expertise in many different fields here.
It is possible, depending on where you live, that your chosen professional has a waiting list. You will need to call as soon as possible to make your appointment and when you do, they will ask if you have a mental health plan and referral. Bring this referral to your first appointment.
How much does Medicare subsidise?
For a 50-minute session, Medicare will cover $124.50, or $84.80 for 30-50 minutes. All up, you can get 10 sessions on Medicare rebates per year, but you can’t get all 10 sessions in one go. After the first 6 appointments, you need to see your doctor again to review your mental health plan and get another referral. If your sessions costs more than the rebate amount, you will need to pay the ‘gap’, which is the difference between the two.
Now you are ready to start your journey towards better mental health. Inevitably, difficulties on the outside are easier to deal with if you have peace and stability on the inside. It’s an easy process to get help, but it just takes the courage to take the first step.
This article was contributed by Tal Schlosser, Director of myLife Psychologists.
Sydney’s 41st Mardi Gras is only a few days away, and the city is awash with rainbows and glitter. This is a special time of year when we get to participate in this joyous and spectacular celebration of LGBT+ pride. So it is in anticipation of this much loved event that we’re thinking more specifically of our gay and lesbian clients and couples, and the issues they face.
Same sex couples, like all couples, deserve to receive effective, tailored, and research-based therapy to strengthen their relationship and emotional bond. Going to couples therapy can feel daunting, and like all couples, gay and lesbian partners need to feel that their therapist is respectful, empathic and non-judgmental.
While all significant relationships share many similar features, there are some unique aspects to same sex relationships. Same sex couples face unique barriers that are likely to require strength and resilience, including social and cultural stresses and prejudice.
Strengths of same sex couples
The work of Drs John and Julie Gottman, renowned couples therapists and researchers, has contributed greatly to our knowledge base of the strengths of same sex relationships, and what makes them succeed or fail. Their research has demonstrated that:
- All couples, gay or straight, experience the same problems and the same paths to staying happy together.
- Overall relationship quality and satisfaction tends to be the same across all couple types.
- Strengths like humour and the ability to calm down during an argument are especially important in the success of same sex couples.
- Compared to straight couples, gay and lesbian couples use more affection and humour when they bring up a disagreement, and partners tend to be more positive in response to this.
- Same sex couples, in comparison to straight couples, are more likely to remain positive after a disagreement, which is important for repair.
- Same sex couples use less controlling and hostile emotional tactics, which may reflect a greater degree of fairness and equality in these relationships.
- In arguments, lesbian couples tend to be more emotionally expressive, both positively and negatively, than gay men.
- When it comes to repairing after a disagreement, gay men find this more difficult than lesbian or straight couples if the initiator of the disagreement becomes too negative.
Potential challenges in same sex relationships
Same sex couples may face additional challenges to straight couples in navigating life’s challenges as a strongly bonded couple. These include but are not limited to:
- Managing differences in approaching coming out and acceptance of sexual identity.
- Coping with prejudice and others’ negative attitudes towards the relationship, which is especially challenging when it leads to conflict with family members or other important people.
- Negotiating monogamy and a degree of openness in the relationship (both physical and emotional) that both partners are comfortable with.
- Clarifying and establishing boundaries with each other, around issues such as the differences between a friendship and a couple relationship, negotiating living arrangements, and maintaining a friendship after separation.
- Negotiating roles around areas like housework or parenting without the traditional gender role expectations.
- Coping with parenting when there is a non-biological parent.
- Managing sexual problems (e.g. mis-matched libido/desire).
Finding the right counsellor, therapist, or support for you is one of the most powerful steps you can take towards mental wellbeing. Start your search for the right mental health professional for you by clicking here.
A big part of our mission is to support the LGBTQI community, as well as their partners, families and friends affected by the issues they may face. This community comprises of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Intersex people, with 11 Australians out of 100 identifying themselves belonging to the LGBTIQ community.1
ISSUES FACED BY LGBTIQ PEOPLE
For LGBTIQ people, especially those who are still working through their identity, can experience a whirlwind of different emotions and thoughts as they try to get to grips with their feelings. From trying to cope with their own emotions, LGBTIQ people can often find themselves contending with the reactions and opinions of families and friends, not to mention issues in the workplace and society at large.
Such issues can take the form of bullying, discrimination, a feeling of isolation, fear of reactions, or the pressure that materialises when “coming out”. Relationship and family issues can often arise in the LGBTIQ community and Relationships Australia NSW is here to help people through them.
LGBTIQ people are at much greater risk of becoming depressed or feeling anxious compared with heterosexual people. Additionally, drug abuse, self-harm and thoughts of suicide can affect LGBTIQ people. Homosexual and bisexual people are up to three times more likely to become depressed than heterosexuals, and twice as likely to fall victim to anxiety.2
BULLYING AND DISCRIMINATION
Bullying is a big problem for LGBTIQ people. Approximately six in 10 have suffered from verbal taunts and abuse, with two in 10 admitting to being physically assaulted. Discrimination in the workplace still affects LGBTIQ people, despite this having been made completely illegal across Australia in 2013.
Indeed, one in 10 LGBTIQ employees actually quit their job after they were made to feel unwelcome, and half of this demographic try to keep their sexual orientation a secret in the workplace through fear of discrimination.
A new short film Red Flags and website aim to help LGBTIQ people learn the early warning signs of domestic violence. Produced by ACON, the film features Logie award winning actor Brenna Harding (Puberty Blues) and explores early indicators of domestic violence.
WHERE TO NEXT?
Finding the right counsellor, therapist, or support for you is one of the most powerful steps you can take if you’re experiencing any of these issues. At Radiant, we have a broad range of professionals who specialise in LGBTQI issues and/or are LGBTQI friendly. Start your search for the right mental health professional for you by clicking here.