Dry July: Going Alcohol Free for Cancer

Dry July: Going Alcohol Free for Cancer


Did you know that Dry July is a fundraiser encouraging people to alcohol-free to raise funds for people affected by cancer?

The funds raised provide invaluable services for cancer patients, their families and carers – whether it’s a lift to a life-saving appointment, guidance from a specialist nurse, connection to an informative voice, access to therapy programs or a bed close to treatment.

Not only that, but a month off no alcohol has great health and financial benefits.

If you’re thinking of signing up, but find the thought of a month without alcohol is a little daunting, you aren’t alone. Many people find the prospect of one month of no alcohol a little intimidating.

Here are a few ways to get through an alcohol-free month.

  1. Remember why you are doing this

Sticking to any commitment is always easier when your goal is attached to an important personal value or cause. Perhaps you are doing this because you know someone who is living with cancer or maybe you know someone who struggles with alcohol.

Either way, it’s unique to you. Values are personal and there is no right or wrong. The important thing is to know why this pledge is important to you.

  1. Be prepared for difficulties

Let’s face it, alcohol is a major part of our culture.

Going for drinks is a normal and even encouraged activity that is perpetuated by popular culture. It’s often easier to go with the flow rather than be the odd one out who doesn’t drink.

If you find your friends encouraging you to drink, it helps to have planned in advance how you will politely decline or enjoy a non-alcoholic beverage with them instead.

Remember that you don’t owe anyone an explanation, but you owe it to yourself and your supporters to keep your commitment. It can be extremely tempting to give in, but remember why you’re doing this!

  1. Have a secondary goal

Sometimes people find having another goal (on top of being dry all of July) helps to increase their motivation.

While you’re at it, you might as well eat healthier, go for daily walks at sunset, or try yoga everyday. It can add to your momentum and make you feel incredible at the end.

  1. Manage cravings with mindfulness

Having a glass of wine, or a beer can be our go-to for relaxation.

Perhaps Dry July is your chance to re-evaluate why. Often we fear cravings and cave into the. But all a craving really is, is a combination of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. All of which are all harmless and transient. Instead of acting on the urge, breathe into it and give it space. Don’t judge yourself or try to get yourself to stop feeling it, but just let it be and observe. Before you know it, the craving will subside.

  1. Reward yourself

Going alcohol-free can save you a significant amount of money so why not reward yourself at the end of the month?

Knowing that you’ll be saving money for something at the end will make it all the more easier for you.

 

3 Breathing Exercises to Relieve Stress & Anxiety

3 Breathing Exercises to Relieve Stress & Anxiety


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.

  • 4-7-8 breathing

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.

  • Breath focus

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.

Exhale slowly.

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.

9 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health This Winter

9 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health This Winter


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.

The Importance of Finding the Right Psychologist

The Importance of Finding the Right Psychologist


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.

Demographics

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.

Cultural background

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.

Therapeutic approach

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.

Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Relationship during Lockdown

Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Relationship during Lockdown


For some, being cooped up all day long with your hubby can be a dream come true. While for others it can be well, an incredibly challenging experience.

Here are some tips to ease the strain this may be causing on your relationship.

Take care of yourself

If you’ve ever been on an airplane you will have been told that in the case of an emergency you have to put your own oxygen mask first before helping others with theirs. This is a great metaphor for life too. We need to take care of ourselves first before we can take care of others. For some, this might seem selfish but the truth is, putting your own oxygen mask first does not show a lack of love or care for the others – it shows care and love for oneself. Essentially, looking after yourself isn’t just for you.

In the case of a pandemic, we are all feeling some degree of anxiety and concern. This is normal. But stress and anxiety drain us of our patience and energy. How are you filling yourself back up each day?

Nurturing your relationship with your partner, or your children, has to start with nurturing yourself. Find ways to help calm and soothe your mind and the world will be better for it.

Develop a routine

In normal pre-COVID days, families managed to juggle busy schedules and always had a ‘break’ from each other. Now there is no ‘normal’ schedule. Everyone is in the same space, under the same roof, all the time.

As easy as it might be to allow one day to roll into the next without leaving the house, develop an exercise schedule you can stick to. Take a break and go outside for a breath of fresh air. Alone time is so important for anyone, especially in times like these.

Maintain open communication

Just because you’re physically together doesn’t mean you’re spending that time communication. It can be easy to ‘veg out’ and watch endless shows on Netflix without addressing the elephant in the room. We all respond differently to stress and in unprecedented times like these, it’s important to talk openly with your partner about how this is affecting you and how you can help each other through this.

You can do this by intentionally sitting down with your partner without any distractions or phones around. Choose the right time and be ready to talk openly and honestly. Be accepting of their points as well as your own.

Think about the big picture

Coronavirus is an incredible time in history, and one that we will probably forever change the way we are as human beings in the world. There will be stories and tales of these times together, what will yours be?

Our patience is certainly going to be tested, and there may be days that we struggle but sometimes it helps to zoom out of the details and into the big picture. Right now is a perfect opportunity to enjoy uninterrupted time together and take advantage of it as much as you can.

However, there is a definitely a limit and sometimes even when we try our best, a relationship keeps clashing. That’s okay too. There is nothing to be ashamed about and we can help you find a professional that suits you.

If you are looking for a mental health professional to help your relationship get back on track then check out our ‘Fostering Better Relationships‘ page.

 

5 Tips for Working from Home During the Coronavirus

5 Tips for Working from Home During the Coronavirus

This article originally appeared on Relationships Australia website.

As a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, schools and work places are closing indefinitely around Australia. Which means a lot of us will be working from home for the next few weeks. Many would not choose to work at home because of the interruptions, the value of seeing their team each day and the difficulty staying in “work mode”. Others will relish the opportunity to try a different approach.

There is no need to panic; there are ways you can avoid going stir-crazy, from setting up a good work space or encouraging constant conversation with your team. Here are our 5 tips on what you can do to stay productive while working from home, and maintain your own well-being:

1. Create a schedule

Trying to create a somewhat normal routine is not only important for you but also for your children (if you have kids). Setting a schedule that replicates a school day or a normal work day will be really beneficial. You should still wake up and get dressed as if it is a normal day, this will help with focus and productivity. It is important to still take a lunch break or coffee break and for kids it is still great for them to have a lunch hour, and in that time send them outside into the backyard to play. With your children/child set aside some time to write out all your schedules, you can have a reward system in place for whoever sticks to their schedules the best each day.

2. Keep up communication

Having regular chats with your colleagues is just as important as talking with your loved ones in this time. Being home over the next few weeks may get lonely for some, so having regular communication will not only keep morale high but is a good way to ensure you can stay focused, energised and productive. Most people will be trying to manage the same challenges e.g. work and life balance, so the best thing you can do is be open and honest with your team. If you’re jumping into a video conference it is okay to give them a “heads up” that a child may come into the room or be making some noise in the background.

You may have family members or a friend who lives alone, so make sure you check in on them and let them know you’re only one call away. It is also beneficial to you to have conversations with those outside your house and if necessary have a vent or chat about what is going on at home.

You may live in an apartment block or have elderly neighbours or someone with a compromised immune system. If you’re heading to the shops it could be nice to slip a note under their door or give them a call and ask if they need anything. You will be surprised how many people would appreciate these small gestures and return the favour. Maintaining our community is good for us all.

3. Set up a work space and work boundaries

As tempting as it is to stay in your pyjamas and send emails from bed, it won’t be beneficial in the long run. It is important to treat working at home like a real job. If you already have a desk or office that is great, but if you don’t, setting up a space that is specifically for you is important. Up until now you might work on the dining room table for an hour at night. If you are now based at home, you might need to create something more established and more private. Setting up something similar for your children and creating a space that is just for them where they can do their school work will help keep them on track.

It is also a good idea to set boundaries for the people you live with, if you have children let them know if parts of the day are “do not disturb” time. You can have a sign on your door or a little note on the table with “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” If you know that parental responsibilities could affect your work time, speak up openly with your team about your plans to work flexibly. You might need to have more breaks and to then log in again after dinner if you have home distractions.

4. Stay active

Staying active while being at home can be tricky. We don’t know when or if the country will go into complete lockdown but it is good for your overall wellbeing to get out of the house. This may be a walk around the block before you start your work day or going for a walk/run in your lunch break. It is important to take breaks throughout the day, this could be as simple as sitting outside in your backyard for 10 minutes to get some sun or taking your dog for a walk after a long meeting. It is tempting to do some jobs like the washing or put on the dishwasher. That should be perfectly fine and is no different than at work; we need short breaks to stay fresh and alert.

If we do go into lockdown there are so many great videos on YouTube or Instagram that can help keep you active while in the house. From yoga and Pilates classes to high intensity interval training there is something for people of all fitness levels. You could also do some on-line professional development that would normally be on your long wish list; now is the time you could invest in yourself.

5. Plan out your weekend activities

With restaurants and cinemas closing down it is important to plan out your weekend activities to avoid the whole household from going crazy. Creating a bowl where each family writes on a piece of paper a different activity you can do is a fun way of keeping yourselves entertained. A few ideas that are good ways to pass the time whether you’re a family or a couple are:

  • Board games
  • Drawing or painting competitions
  • Backyard sport – soccer, cricket, handball
  • Movie marathons/start a new TV series
  • Baking snacks for the week
  • My Kitchen Rules home edition (split the family into groups and have one group cook entrée, the other main course)

If are feeling completely overwhelmed, there are people who can help you:

RANSW Counselling Services
Online Counselling Services