Psychology and mental health have become trendy, but a lot of people aren’t sure what’s all the fuss with therapy. Here are 4 simple ways that we can all benefit from therapy.
Nowadays, depression and anxiety are increasingly common. One of the reasons I see behind it, is today’s loss of references. Everything has become relative. Political correctness killed right or wrong, better or worse. Ideology like the gender theory attacks the very foundation of our identity as it became incorrect to define ourselves as a man or a woman. From levelling any notion of superiority in an ideal quest for equality, we get to the point to erase any notion of difference.
The repercussions are even more difficult to resist with a lot of people being isolated and deprived of their social support. Individualism per se is not necessarily a bad thing, but it comes with a package, of which we should be aware. For example, the painful feeling of loneliness, which is to be distinguished from the solitary pleasure of being alone, touches more and more people.
Despite the official discourse, we have seen a global decline in education quality. Universities train technicians to sustain our system instead of nurturing bright minds who will re-invent our world and improve it. Critical thinking or thinking out of the box is not encouraged. I’ve seen how PhD students are not encouraged to innovate, but to stay confined to their directors’ research project and just follow the trends.
There is an acceleration because the pace we can allow ourselves to absorb stimuli is getting shorter and shorter as we are constantly bombarded by a flow of information. For example, when we watch an old movie, it becomes quickly annoying as the pace is too slow compared to what we are used today.
All of the above result in a kind of alienation. Even our personality type, another foundation of who we are, is now re-labeled as personality disorders by the American Psychological Association. It is alienation for all. They even have the medications to treat your condition. It reminds me of the good old days of the communist era where all dissidents were sent to mental asylums. Don’t dare to think by yourself, don’t dare to think out of the box, don’t dare to escape the orthodox thinking, or you will be labeled as weird and ostracized.
The process of civilization is a process of domestication, but we get far too disconnected from nature. Not only disconnected from environmental nature as we live in urban environment, but worse we get disconnected from our own nature. We mainly live in our head, in our projections for the future or our ruminations of the past, unaware of our feelings, alienated from our true-self. We want to keep the flower but we cut the roots that give it its life energy.
Our mind is NEVER under our control, NEVER. The iceberg is a good illustration here as the tiny part that we see floating above the surface, the conscious to which we have access, is only a fraction of our mind. Part of the problematic that I encounter with my patients is around that acceptation of “let go”, “letting go” of this impossible control.
We need to seek help when we suffer, when we are unhappy for too long, unable to find pleasure in life anymore. Sometimes people say they feel like they live through a tunnel, or that they feel like zombies detached of their feelings. All kind of habits can be used in excess to lessen feelings: alcohol, drugs – legal or illegal -, sleep-deprivation, losing ourselves in our work or intensive sport program, TV, computer games, etc. Anything that can keep us occupied otherwise and allows us to forget ourselves. However, you don’t need to wait to be in such bad place to seek professional help.
We can advise a loved one or a colleague to consult, but only the person concerned can do the necessary work. So she has to be willing, she has to have the desire to change to feel better. The psychotherapist can work with the patient like a temporary crutch until his patient recovers his balance. Ultimately my goal is to give my patients the means to help themselves, to enjoy life again, and carry on their life projects with renewed energy.
The first thing would be to better understand our functioning. I believe, the Affect model that I presented proves to be a practical tool in that regard as it also offers how we can improve. The second would be to develop our knowledge and maturity through introspection and meditation to regain our balance. On that subject, I want to add that compassion is not an entry door, but a consequence. It is only when we understand and viscerally believe in the common nature of our true-self that we can feel the commonality between all lives.
The Three Breathings technique is an easy practice that one can use at anytime and anywhere. Breathing slowly and deeply with your belly, inhaling and exhaling through your nose. Feel the breath in your body, hold it for a count of two. Similarly, feel your body when you have exhaled and hold for an instant before inhaling again.
Meditating, as regularly as possible, is like a shower for our mind. When we grow up, we acquire new concepts and we develop a space in your mind where you can play with them through our thinking. Meditation helps us to develop an affect space, where you can see your feeling independently of our self. We can see our sadness or our anger, and take some distance from them. That allows us to take a step back, analyze our feelings, without letting them guide us in a hasty way.
Taking time, slowing down for introspection, for loving our self, accepting our strengths and limitations, accepting that we are human, so that we may enjoy life’s small everyday pleasures.
Psychology is a set of theories on the functioning of the mind. It is a tool for a practitioner, like me as a psychotherapist. Mindfulness is another tool that is now introduced in schools across the globe, also in Singapore. It has proved to help children to feel calmer and more focused during their classes, with better grades as a result. More and more businesses also understand the positive impact it can have on their employees’ performance and hence their company’s bottom-line. I have developed my own programs to tackle employees’ mental health through Awareness, Mindfulness and Visualization trainings, and a Gratitude practice.
I hope that I helped you to better understand your functioning and how you can use meditation to help yourself, or when you could benefit from psychotherapy. Enjoy life and carry on!
“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” Marcus Aurelius
A few weeks ago, I was invited to participate to “Pause Salon, Power of the Mind” where I had the pleasure to share my thoughts with like-minded individuals. Knowing that the participants would be well-read about wellness and keen to expand their knowledge about personal growth, I prepared a crash course to move their attention from their outer world to their inner world. It is not just a change of perspective, it is a change of world as we know it. Here it is:
All of you are unique and you all have something unique to contribute to make the world a better place. The problem is how to realize your potential. The title of this talk is “The power of the mind”, but the real question is it not “how to be happy?” The first thing would be to have a guideline to how your mind works, like a user’s manual to our mind and what you can do to improve.
My path to personal growth took me to the University of Geneva in Switzerland, where I did all my education and worked for 17 years. There, I taught clinical psychology and trained master’s students to give psychological exams to public school children, as introduced by Jean Piaget a long time before. I worked at the developmental unit set up within the university to monitor children reported by their teachers or their parents for functioning disorders. I also worked at the psychiatric children hospital where they can get long-term follow-up.
I first specialized in child clinical psychology, which is the best school to understand any individual problematic as personality structuration happens then. In addition, it is very rewarding working with kids, as children still have a supple psyche that can easily be put back on track with a few sessions. At that time, affect became my main research theme and I began to use meditation with my patients. After that, for family reasons, I lived in Canada and in Korea for some years.
In Korea, they have very few psychologists, so I began to work with a lot of young adults and professionals, as well as with couples and families within the expat community, developing my expertise with all kinds of populations and problematics. I feel grateful because it gave me the opportunity to develop my approach based on affect and the use of meditation, as I did a lot of formative seminars with renowned Buddhist masters like master Soebol or Jawoo Sunim of the Joggye order.
At that point, you may wonder “what is affect?” Affect is a transitory feeling induced at any instant by the whole ongoing situation, including internal and external stimuli. Put end to end, affects are the fabric of your very life. Affect is an elementary process, accessible to consciousness in terms of activation, tension and valence.
Activation is the level of energy of your body, of readiness like to fight or to flight, of arousal. Tension is the continuum of your body tension between tense and relax. Valence corresponds to the fact that it is globally pleasant or unpleasant, you are at that instant feeling good or bad. Valence is already a proto-representation as good or bad.
At the birth of psychology in 1879, Wundt already postulated an affect structure with these three dimensions base on introspection. Today’s more refined research methodology shows the same affect model with a bipolar three-dimensional structure.
There are 3 points of interest here:
There are bipolar dimensions: so if you keep a positive mind, you will stay away from being depressed. There are different methods, laughter yoga is a good one.
Meditation demands that you keep these three dimensions as low as possible: to enter meditation, you have to relax, you have to stay still, and to let the flow of your thought dry up. Then, with practice you can meet you true self in a serene void, that patches your ego, consolidates your self-esteem, and gives you confidence.
Your only freedom, your freedom of choice, is your influence to choose positive or negative, as you have a fleeting instant before the affect settles as good or bad. Or you can deliberately choose to remain before this choice settles and keep an open mind.
A person is in and in-between affects at all times, a fleeting state that can be illustrated as a region within the three-dimensional space as on the following illustration:
Here I have drawn the three vectors of the affect: Alert, Serene, and Good with the projections of their references on the three dimensions of Activation, Tension and Valence. It marks the position we occupy when we are experiencing these affects. Indeed we live in three dimensions, but not the ones we generally considered.
Affect is central in our experience of the world. It is a subtle knowledge that rises from the feeling rather than the reasoning. It is an immediate mode of apprehension different from the mediate mode of understanding that allows the organism to cope in real time with various situation, positive or negative, or even lethal.
Reflect with me on the fact that every day, I change lives, even sometimes save lives, with the power of words. I would like you to understand that we create the world around us with projections of our mind and that the representations we use to structure it have an incredible impact. For this, I invite you to consider the following well-known images:
What do you see? How do you describe these images?
At the top left, do you see the top line as shorter that the bottom line? But they both are the same length. Top center, does the vertical line look longer than the horizontal line, even though they are both the same length? On the third drawing, the top line appears longer that the bottom line, even though they are both again the same length.
Then below, we see a white circle in the middle where in fact there is none. And for the last two, the middle circles are both times the same size, but the ones on the right look bigger.
Then what do you see on the next illustrations?
On the left, some of you see two faces in profile, some of you see a white vase. And on the right, some of you see a young lady, and some of you see an old lady.
It is of particular interest here that even if we saw both versions in these drawings, that we can only see one at a time. It is how the projection of our mind structures the real around us (to become our reality). For example, it is interesting to note that the vertical doesn’t exist outside of the construct that we created in our mind and projected on the world.
Concerning our mind’s health, I believe the first step would be to understand our functioning. And in this direction, the concept of affect is the missing link between mind and body. Affect is also the bridge between the unconscious and conscious levels. Meditation where we can let go of the flow of our thought and of the flow of our fleeting affects, being still in the now. It is as a shower for our mind. If we have the time for a body shower every day, we should be able to similarly find 20 minutes for our mind shower.
TO BE CONTINUE…NEXT WEEK WITH
Wellbeing is the state of being healthy and happy with our self, our relationships and throughout all aspects of our life, including work. Research* shows us that there is a direct impact of our employees’ wellness on their job performance.
Employees wellbeing seminars have been proven to positively impact employee wellness and to significantly increase a team’s engagement, cohesiveness and overall productivity, with reduced leave days and turnover.
According to research*, a healthy and happy workforce can considerably reduce costs per employee with the help of programs that tackle employees’ emotional and mental health, social connectivity and a sense of fulfillment on the job.
Taking an active role in your employees’ wellbeing can make you an employer of choice and impact your business at all levels. Psychology Experts offers on-site seminars by Dr. Elefant-Yanni to provide practical tools for employees’ well-being:
Being aware of our emotional wellness and affective situation in everyday life and particularly in the workplace, enables us to avoid unnecessary tension and potential conflict. A practical approach to emotional intelligence allowing employees to preserve their energy and creativity, heighten their performance and increases their productivity, all while reducing stress levels.
Mindfulness training is a great tool to help your employees relieve stress and feel balanced, as well as increase their productivity and focus in their day-to-day work. Mindfulness training is based on meditation and breathing techniques, helping employees be more present in addition to enhancing their efficiency.
With the workload and the multiplication of tasks, it can be difficult to stay focused and organized, to keep a perspective of personal contribution to the team’s work. Visualization is a practical tool that allows employees to refocus on the goal, organize and prioritize the necessary steps. A clear vision alleviates stress and releases energy to achieve objectives through a sense of purpose and contribution.
The practice of gratitude can be beneficial in all aspects of an employee’s life. At work, looking back at achievement, expressing thanks to colleagues and acknowledging the positives yields to a high level of awareness and appreciation. Gratitude can make your employees more effective and engaged, creating a positive organizational culture with a direct impact on your business.
About Dr. Elefant-Yanni
Dr. Veronique Elefant-Yanni is a Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist working privately with children and adults, as well as with organizations and teams. Dr. Elefant-Yanni holds over 15 years of clinical practice with patients of all ages and cultures and has developed an approach around wellbeing, avoiding labeling and medicalization. Her philosophy brought her to study meditation in South Korea where she served the expat community and perfected her approach focused on creating balance for the mind and body.
Originally from Switzerland, Dr. Elefant-Yanni holds an advanced Master in Clinical Psychology and a Doctorate in Affective Sciences from the University of Geneva. She taught Clinical Developmental Psychology at the University of Geneva and trained students to give psychological assessments to public school children. She also worked at the children and adolescent psychiatric hospital of Geneva. There, she mostly helped children and teenagers who presented various types of functioning disorders or psychological issues, as well as their parents as it is often the case when addressing complex family difficulties.
Sickness Absence in the Labour Market: 2016, Office for National Statistics.
Does Worker Wellbeing Affect Workplace Performance? (2014), Dept for Business, Innovation & Skills.
Mental Health and Work. (2014), OECD.
CHRISTMAS BLUES AND FAMILY STRESS
Christmas tree, decorations, gifts, the holiday atmosphere is synonymous with family reunions, fun and good mood. Nevertheless, nostalgia, the anxious need to display a feigned and normal joy, the race for gifts and the end-of-year questioning mean that holidays can be stressful. Beyond its religious symbolism, Christmas confronts us with the relation to our own family whether it is near, geographically distant or simply absent. This period reminds people of their isolation and of their family dysfunctions. While everything sparkles around you, you have an exacerbated feeling of loneliness, of being out of step and wondering how to fight against this blow of blues.
When family bonds are lacking, the holidays exacerbate the feeling of loneliness.
The individual feels alone when he is with others, and when he is alone, he wants human contact. We resolve this dilemma using our loneliness to help us sort out the different bonds we weave in our life and nurture the affective bonds with those we love who make life worth living, despite our unconditional loneliness in the face of death. Our salvation goes through that hence the disappointment, depression even despair when it does not work. We do not exist alone, we need others to become individuals and it is only as an individual that we can love others.
In traditional societies, no one was ever alone, but the community had a scrutiny right over everything. We live in a society of individuals where the community and institutional framework tend to fade. Individual liberty aspires to self-sufficiency and absolute independence on the one hand, and to selective affinities, love and passion on the other, as never before in human history. That’s why the relationship to loneliness in our individualistic society is deeply ambiguous, both paradise and hell. We defend our private sphere in which no one has the right to intervene to protect our intimacy, but the price to pay is loneliness. Becoming aware of having made this choice can help to accept the counterpart.
The holiday’s family reunion revives family tensions.
The mutation of the family model means that the family has moved from a community group to a sum of individualities. Spousal relationships have become more fragile, but the relationships between parents / children and grandparents / grandchildren are highly invested. Intergenerational solidarity, help of all kinds, regular contacts are extremely dynamic and important in our daily lives. The family remains the best defense against loneliness.
That’s why for those who see their families once a year, there is the stress of seeing tensions emerge between political discussions and comparisons of respective successes. It’s the brother or sister with whom we have been in conflict for years, the parent who is always there to remind that one of his children still doesn’t have children or even a partner, the mother-in-law with whom we have always been in conflict, the mourning that punctuated everyone’s journey, etc. Christmas, in its dimension of gathering comes to crystallize all these sufferings and unspoken, and for some grown-up children to keep them in the certainty of being either the ugly duckling of the family, the one who is less successful than his eldest. Then for some, there is also the need to maintain appearances whatever the cost, sometimes at the price of a real somatization that makes it not just the feast that is indigestible. No one is unaware that the grievances that one tries to hide always end up coming out and often at the time of the dessert when the alcohol came to disinhibit most of the guests.
In which family we will choose to spend the holidays can become an insoluble puzzle sometimes that can bring strong tensions in couples. The necessity to communicate, to identify the needs and fears of each, can often help defuse tensions. Some couples have chosen to go elsewhere for holidays, a way to put the necessary distance and not having to choose at the risk of conflict with their parents. Or, we do not celebrate Christmas with family but Christmas with families: once with parents, once with grandparents, declinable as many times as there are parents in broken and reconstituted families. There is a kind of pluralization, of complexification of rites within families.
Mourning the ideal family is far from easy, but it is an essential psychic work or we risk seeing the same pains reappear at each holidays season. We must avoid having an idyllic vision that summarizes this period to the strengthening of family ties. There is an ambivalence between the joy of seeing the family and the difficulty of living together.
Nostalgia of an enchanted childhood memory
Affliction for some, happiness for others, Christmas is also the reactivation of emotional memories related to childhood. The Christmas spirit is also this ability to find your inner child’s soul, to marvel at the enchanted windows, or puppets that come alive. Nevertheless for some, Christmas trees and garlands can leave a feeling of sadness, even anxiety in the face of the collective hysteria and shopping frenzy. We want to relive this Christmas, whether lived or fantasized by the child we once were, and find our idealized family matrix. The belief in Santa Claus and the imaginary function that it represents, the excitement of opening his gifts at the foot of the tree, all which is gone. Growing up forced each on of us to give up his beliefs, and the image of the good Santa Claus bringing presents is far from being that of the good protective father.
The end of the year is also a time of reflection on the past year. Choices and decisions that have been made or not, pleasant or unpleasant events that have occurred throughout the months are reviewed. Corresponding to the winter solstice when the light prevails over the darkness, it allows for a time of mourning and of hope for the new year still full of possibilities and promises.
Consumption and spiritual thirst
The loss of Christmas’ religious meaning could explain the increasing number of people affected by the Christmas blues. Everyone in his Christmas preparation thinks about gifts budget, recipes, decoration, exchange of checks, etc., but we forget the midnight mass. There is a loss of meaning and a real gap between what society proposes and the needs of the individual. At Christmas it’s difficult to get out of the surrounding materialism, of the consumerism that can’t fill our spiritual thirst. Debauchery of consumption makes us focus on everything we lack. Whether we are a believer or not, the sacred dimension of Christmas can be seen as an attempt to get closer to this fairy and magical symbol that is the Christmas spirit. The famous Christmas spirit is not dead, it just needs to be recreated in accordance with what we are living today.
Consider Christmas differently
Some people do not find their place in the middle of these blissful faces and feel all the more isolated in this universe of widespread commodification where the commercial dimension has exploded. During this holiday season, the fear of disappointment, of not being up to scratch or of being criticized is very strong. The pressure of gifts and the organization of holiday meals, often puts the budget in rout while requiring imagination. So why not to reinvent the rules in our context?
Make Christmas a personalized holiday, create your decorations from recycled packaging materials. You will have the pleasure of creativity, the happiness of doing something with your hands, and a sense of accomplishment in saving the planet. Far from the superficiality of malls, up-cycling will give you a sense of accomplishment. If you have children, they will enjoy admiring their work on display too. The money saved with DIY decorations could be gifted to a person in need, like the elderly we see doing odd jobs in Singapore. Do it with your children as an exercise of compassion and respect. Find the Christmas spirit again, a universal love, make Christmas more meaningful for you and your children.
It’s important to understand why we reject Christmas and New Year festivities
There is no magic recipe to approach the festivities in joy but there may be ways to make this emotional period a meeting place with oneself and with those we love. Reflecting on our fears and what we want to discuss with our family is a great start. Being aware of all the anxiety factors will help keep them at bay mentally. Take care of yourself, if you are happy you will help relax the atmosphere, give back meaning and find the Christmas spirit.
If you feel that despite these tips, you apprehend the holiday season, discussing with a psychologist can help you see things more clearly. What’s important is that you too find your happiness in this holiday season. You can contact Dr. Elefant-yanni, Clinical Psychologist / Psychotherapist, by clicking this link.