Do you need counselling?

There is a saying I like, which goes; “To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”.  It’s a phrase I often think of in my work. I try not to be that man with a hammer. 

Sometimes I meet people who probably don’t need counselling, so if you’re considering counselling but feel unsure, you might want to read on. 

First and foremost I’d say: self-care.  The body and the mind are connected, so how we look after our bodies does impact our mood.  There is a ton of research out there to show that lack of sleep, poor nutrition and other lifestyle factors can have a negative impact on your mental wellbeing. 

Do you remember, as a child, having a tantrum of some kind, and your parent or other significant adult telling you “You’re just tired”?  You woke up the next morning, grudgingly accepting they were right; what seemed monumental the night before was indeed a mere molehill.  One of the problems of being an adult is you no longer have someone to tell you when you’re tired, and we’re not necessarily that great at telling ourselves. 

Point being, if you’re having symptoms like irritability, headaches, poor concentration or brain fog, consider improving the quality and/or quantity of your sleep.  Even though we’re not children anymore, problems have a tendency to feel bigger when we’re tired.

On the subject of nutrition, there is research going on all over the world looking at possible links between mood and certain food elements, for example omega-3, caffeine, and vitamins.  At a more common-sense level, it stands to reason that if you eat rubbish you’re likely to feel rubbish.  If you’re interesting in finding out more, the British Dietetic Association is a good starting point – https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/food_mood

The third factor in this holy trinity of things-we-know-we-should-be-doing is, of course, exercise.  The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends exercise for what it calls “persistent subthreshold depressive symptoms or mild to moderate depression” (https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg90/chapter/1-Guidance).  When we think about exercise, I dare say many of us immediately think of “the gym”, but there are many different ways to get more active.  Just as an example, I used to go rock-climbing: I found I was so focussed on the activity itself, I didn’t even think of it as exercise. Try searching online for ideas. If it helps, the dominant thought at present is that it only needs to be ‘moderate’ exercise several times a week. I’d suggest the key thing is finding something you enjoy and that fits within your schedule and budget. 

Another aspect of self-care that doesn’t get as much coverage is what I will call “kindness”.  Being kind to yourself, both in thought and in deed.  If you have a tendency to chastise yourself a lot, just imagine that was another person speaking to you that way; you probably wouldn’t tolerate it.  Give yourself a break, literally – reading, resuming a long-lost hobby, spending time with friends and so on.  Re-engaging with the things you enjoy.

At this point I’d like to interject a personal belief of mine, which I regard as a hidden benefit of self-care.  Improving your self-care in any way is an act of commitment; it’s treating yourself as important, and worthy of better.  I believe that commitment, in itself, can be a powerful thing.

And it may take some commitment as well; like most diet and exercise endeavours, you’re unlikely to experience much change initially, it make take several months to feel significantly better. 

Again, I try not to be that man with a hammer; I readily admit that for many people, the source of their distress is not going to be eliminated by eating more oily fish or by doing yoga.  I’m old enough to appreciate that living costs – especially accomodation – have skyrocketed in the last couple of decades, whilst wages have barely kept pace with the Bank of England base rate.  There are many challenges to modern living. Nevertheless, I’d say that robust self-care does give you a better chance of keeping your head above water.  

Speaking of modern living, there are now numerous online services and smartphone apps which offer help with mental wellbeing.  NHS Moodzone might be a good starting point to look at digital resources and a range of other self-help options – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/

For better or for worse, one of the two 64-million-dollar questions in the world of mental health is to do with knowing what treatments or strategies are going to work for an individual person at a given time.  Counselling is one option amongst many, and the number of options seems to increase year-on-year. If you try something and it doesn’t work for you, it’s easy to feel demoralised, but please be assured there are always more options to try. 

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