Our culture is damaging our well-being

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Alan White

Alan White

We are living in a time where we have a lot to be grateful for. Modern consumer culture has greatly improved our way of life. Many of us now have access to products and services that only a short few years ago would not have been possible. Over the last few decades the things that are available for us to consume have grown exponentially, to the point where I believe we are now saturated and defined by consuming, possessions and our purchasing power or status.

Have you ever waited and waited for something, only to finally get it and still not feel a sense of satisfaction? Instead your mind immediately moves on to the next thing that we want, not allowing us to take the time to appreciate what we have just gotten or achieved! Our minds are constantly looking for the next thing, the next hit of temporary satisfaction that keeps us distracted for moments until we decide we want more.

This culture that we are living in makes us feel like we never have enough, and when we constantly feel like we don’t have enough, even when in reality we probably have more than enough, our minds tell us that we are somehow inferior and we need to go out and buy more. This vicious circle of buying, consuming, discarding and buying again is to me simply distracting our psyche and preventing us from ever being satisfied with what we have. When we then cannot get all the things we want, our sense of self-worth is affected negatively as we have learned from our culture that to be whole, we need to have all the things that we believe we should have.

We have developed a disposable attitude to things. This I believe has also created a disposable attitude to many other areas of our lives. We are more likely to dispose of our relationships, friendships, beliefs and morals, all in an attempt to get the temporary adrenaline rush that is given to us by the new!

Sitting at home in the evenings I often hear my fiancée listening to fashion bloggers on snapchat. Every day they are talking about the next big thing that everyone must have. This constant bombardment of advertising is having a very destructive effect on our overall well-being. When we are young, most of us had to learn the value of turn taking, sharing and delayed gratification. When we wanted something, it didn’t come straight away. I personally never wanted for anything when I was young and for that I am thankful, but I did learn that things didn’t just come straight away. They had to be earned, saved for and I had to be patient.

These days when listening to young people talk about the things they have and the things they want, there is a sense of expectation and entitlement to the tone of the conversations. This can be difficult for many young people, who are watching celebrities and advertising, telling them that to be worth anything they need to have their product, and if they don’t, they are somehow less.

It’s not surprising that mental health difficulties are increasing in young people, who are trying to fit into an impossibly materialistic and perfectionist world. No human being could possibly live up to the expectations that today’s popular culture portrays. Young people need to be helped to see the value of sometimes not having certain things. The value of friendships, and relationships. That it’s ok to not have everything we think we should have and that our self-worth is not measured by the clothes hanging in our wardrobes or gadgets in our homes.

Young people will not learn this if we simply tell them; we need to model this to the young people in our lives. We need to show them, not tell them, that shared experiences with the people closest to us are more important than new things. That sharing is more important than having everything for yourself and that working to get something is more satisfying than simply having something handed to you ever will be.

On that note I need a break. For all of us it’s good sometimes to stop for a while and recharge the batteries. It’s been a very busy time for me over the past year and writing these articles has been very enjoyable and a great way to share my thoughts on how we can improve the well-being of our children. It’s great to see that education is becoming more open to the idea of teaching well-being in schools. As always though it’s important that this topic is approached in the right way. I am looking forward to beginning again refreshed next September and to help keep the importance of well-being in our schools on the agenda.

Link to shop: Choices – Facilitators Manual Description

The Conflict Within

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Alan White

Alan White

We all know what it’s like to experience conflict in our lives. Whether it’s with the important people in our lives or within, unfortunately conflict is an inevitable part of life. However it’s how we handle conflict that can determine the effect that it can have on our well-being. If we don’t learn from a young age, how to deal with conflict in a healthy way. We risk spending our lives living out a personal drama.

Many of us, I believe are addicted to drama and conflict. Whenever I meet a student who is struggling with their well-being there is more often than not, a narrative of conflict running through their personal story. If we live in an environment where conflict is the norm, it becomes normalised for us, and we inevitably become caught in an internal and external loop of arguing and battling with others and ourselves.

I find that if someone is constantly in conflict with those around them, that they are probably also experiencing a lot of internal conflict. Conflict can be defined as ‘a feeling of being nervous or unhappy because you want two different things at the same time’. For many of us we often want a lot more than two things at the same time. This internal struggle can cause a lot of trauma within and adversely affect our most important relationship, our relationship with ourselves.

When conflicted, we are in a state of fear – fear leads to anxiety and anxiety leads to our stress response being activated. If this is how our internal narrative is playing out, all day every day. Then it’s not difficult to see the damaging effects that this can have on our wellbeing.

Over time we tend to accept this struggle within as being the norm, or just the way life is! However when experiencing internal conflict it is possible to resolve it through the process of honest reflection. Looking within is not always an easy process. But we must challenge our long held beliefs and be willing to make changes.

I recently experienced this myself. I have changed jobs within the school I am working in. An opportunity came up to become the Home School Community Liaison. This role means that I will be working with young people and their families when they are having difficulties or need extra support. However it also means leaving the classroom as well as my role as Transition year co-ordinator. Two roles that I have gotten huge satisfaction from over the years.

It took me a few weeks to make up my mind. As you can imagine I was quite conflicted as I wanted somehow to be able to do both jobs at the same time! When I reflected on this decision I was able to see how this new opportunity was not only an opportunity to help people, but also an opportunity for personal growth. I believe that sometimes we have to invite new challenges into our lives in order to remain focused on our goals, and one of my key goals is to promote well-being in education.

In the process of resolving this conflict, there were sleepless nights, periods of anxiety and stress and difficult questions to reflect on. To resolve this I not only reflected but spoke to people I trust for guidance. Eventually through thinking about the situation logically and listening to my feelings on it, I was able to make a more confident decision, and once I did the conflict eased almost immediately.

One of the key questions I asked myself, and one we all must ask at times when we are conflicted is, what do I really want? If you can honestly answer this question then you will be better able to manage your internal struggles.

The problem of course is, that a lot of the time we don’t know what we really want. This is especially true for young people, who are often struggling with their sense of identity and belonging. That is why I believe that encouraging reflection from a young age is vital when developing well-being in young people. Honest reflection takes courage, but can change both how we see ourselves and how we maintain positive relationships with others.

Link to shop: Choices – Facilitators Manual Description

The language of Well-Being

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Alan White

Alan White

I have always been fascinated by language. It’s a very powerful thing. Depending on how we choose to use language, it can insult, hurt, criticise, and devastate someone. Or if used in a compassionate way, it can create meaningful relationships, positive interaction and even change someone’s life. Most of the time we never give language much thought. We take it for granted and use it to express ourselves, interact with people as well as many other uses.

Amazingly though, we do not think in words, we think in pictures. Language is a tool that we have developed over centuries to communicate these pictures with the outside world. For me, it was only when I learned a second language (French), that I really began to appreciate the power of language. How we communicate with each other is a key component in our overall well-being.

It’s very interesting to see how different languages express sentiment in different ways. The little idiosyncrasies between how different cultures can give an amazing insight into how people see the world and see themselves in it. If we look at how we communicate with others, this reflects how we feel about ourselves.

A simple example of the difference in language is how you say your age. In French you say “J’ai 30 ans” for example, which means, “I am 30”, but literally means I have 30 years. For me there is a powerful difference between the phrasing here. We say we are whatever our age is. This tends to define us by our age. Saying I am in this context means that this is part of who you are. However saying you have your age, evokes a sense that this number does not define.

This example might seem trivial, but we tend to use I am in many other ways that I believe is damaging to our well-being. For example we tend to say things like I am always doing the wrong thing, or I am unhappy, If not to others we might say it to ourselves. This is what I call defining language, and can affect how we see ourselves. By changing our language slightly to saying I have made mistakes, or I feel unhappy, we are shifting away from seeing these elements of ourselves as our whole selves and beginning to see them as only a part of us and something that can be changed.

When we talk to young people we often tend to define them though our words and the tones we use. Last week I spoke about criticism, and very often we use a critical tome in an attempt to alter the behaviour of young people. If we use phrases like, you are always making things difficult. You are not working hard enough in school. You are not doing your best etc. we are using defining language that young people will take in and accept as being who they are.

We need again to shift how we use language with young people. Instead of using critical defining language we can use phrases that are more empowering to change. For example instead of saying you are not working hard enough we could make a small change to our tone and language and say something like. “I know you are very capable and I want to see you do your best. Maybe you could do a little more work”. By making this small change we are getting the same message across that we wanted but doing so in a non-critical, non-judgemental and encouraging way.

Language is an extremely powerful thing. By choosing to use it in a positive way we can begin to instil a sense of wellbeing in all of us and especially young people who look to the adults in their lives for guidance and encouragement. This is an important responsibility and we must take it seriously and choose both our words and how we say them carefully.

Link to shop: Choices – Facilitators Manual Description

A Criticism of Criticism

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Alan White

Alan White

Life gives us many reasons to be critical. We regularly criticise others quite easily if we perceive that they are not conforming to our expectations. We seem to be always ready to criticise. There is a good reason why criticism come so naturally to us. When we criticise someone or something outside of ourselves, we experience a temporary relief and a sense of satisfaction.

We are essentially projecting things we are not happy about with ourselves onto someone or something else. We all know someone who’s every conversation topic includes a plentiful supply of criticism. Personally I find these types of conversations draining and hard work and I do my utmost to avoid people like this.

Internally we are also adept at criticising ourselves. We often tell others through conversations the things we criticise ourselves about. However more often than not we criticise ourselves through our own thoughts. Many of us live our lives through a cycle of negative self-criticism, running in a continuous loop through our minds. Imagine how damaging to our mental well-being, listening to ourselves constantly criticising our decisions, actions, thoughts and every other aspect of ourselves.

This type of thinking I believe is in part caused by a feeling of never being good enough. We see others who seem to have everything. We look at false images of our friends and celebrities that reflect only life’s perfect moments and not reality. We then compare this to our own lives and we inevitably feel that we are coming up short.

We need to stop! We need to take a step back from the critical narrative we tell ourselves in our minds and begin to treat ourselves with more compassion. Sometimes we will get things right, sometimes we won’t. Sometimes we will experience perfect moments, sometimes we will experience difficult times. But most of the time we will live in the in between bit of life, the comfortable part, the bit where we are content, working towards our goals and looking forward to the plans we have made. This is normal, this is what will help us to cultivate positive well-being.

It’s important to treat ourselves with compassion in the knowledge that we are doing our best. Sometimes our best will not be good enough, both for ourselves and in the eyes of others. That’s ok! We learn and we move on. Sometimes however, our best will exceed our expectations and we will amaze ourselves. When this happens we frustratingly search and find the little flaws, even when we experience success. We must cultivate a sense of compassion for ourselves to allow us to fully experience the joys of life. If we don’t, there will always be that little voice inside our minds that will undermine even our most joyous experiences.

If we cultivate compassion for ourselves, we will then naturally be more open to being compassionate to others. When we can do this we will bring a sense of harmony to all of our important relationships. As I have mentioned before here, “Good relationships are the core of mental health and happiness” – William Glasser.

As you can imagine it’s not easy to break the habit of a lifetime. It takes time and patience. When attempting any shift in thought processes we have to first examine our core beliefs. As I discussed in my last blog. When our core beliefs are challenged, even by ourselves we tend to naturally and immediately reject new information. So it will take a lot of time and effort, but it’s something that’s very worthwhile. I can often be critical of others and even more critical of myself, but I have noticed that when I choose to see the good in others and am compassionate with myself. I not only feel better but I am also better able to handle the challenges of life.

Young people are at a very sensitive stage of development and any criticism can be very damaging to their sense of self. I believe that parents and anyone working with young people have a responsibility to model self-empathy and encourage young people not to criticise each other or themselves so easily. Adults have a responsibility to instil a sense of compassion in young people and the best way to do this is by helping them to see the benefits of not living in an overtly critical world.

The big question is, how do we avoid criticising while instructing young people to allow them to develop? We can replace criticism with feedback, by focusing on what’s good and challenging what could be better. If we change the language we use when working with young people we can help them to cultivate empathy and encourage them to always do their best, knowing they are safe to make mistakes. Next time I will discuss the language of well-being and the importance of tone.

Link to shop: Choices – Facilitators Manual Description

The Backfire effect

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Alan White

Alan White

I recently learned about an interesting psychological phenomena known as the backfire effect. What happens is, that when people are presented with clear evidence on something, such as the importance of talking about mental well-being and well-being education, if it contradicts their long held core beliefs, the truth or evidence will be immediately rejected.

In fact this reaction is so strong, that when our core beliefs are challenged it triggers the same emotional response that a physical threat to us creates. We are all familiar with what is called the fight or flight response when we feel physically threatened. We are also familiar with the stress that can remain with us afterwards. The exact same response is triggered when we experience the backfire effect.

We can see this effect in many ways. And I’m sure we have all experienced it for ourselves. When someone challenges our belief, we immediately respond defensively, without any thought. This is why many of us fear change for example. The backfire effect can cause a response in us that is similar to our reaction to a physical threat. This is why new ideas that contradict our old comforting beliefs are often initially rejected.

So how does this fit into well-being education. As anyone who reads my articles on a regular basis will know, I am passionate about introducing a space within education to allow students to learn skills to take control of and take care of their well-being. Thankfully the conversation around mental health is beginning to normalise in this country thanks to the tireless work and campaigning by the many wonderful organisations working in mental health.

However we are still a long way from where we need to be. There is still a large scale rejection when the topic is brought up. Time and time again I am contacted by teachers who are interested in introducing well-being into their school. There is a clear willingness in education to engage in this important area. So how do we continue to make progress?

When an idea is rejected it is almost always rejected out of fear or lack of understanding. I believe that fear must be met with compassion rather than anger and frustration. Yes, Well-being needs to be urgently taught at all levels of education, but the resistance to this need is inevitable given the historical stigmatisation of the topic. When we meet this fear based rejection, we are not meeting a bad person or someone who is not willing to help. I believe that a long held belief is being challenged and this is triggering the backfire effect.

As Socrates said, “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think”. So when we encounter such a situation, it is only natural to become frustrated and through frustration inevitably comes anger. However rather than allowing anger to take over which will ultimately not work anyway, I believe that by using compassion, firstly with ourselves, and then with those whose attitudes we are trying to change, will achieve much better results.

It’s normal to become frustrated at times when working towards something, no matter what it is. I have often become frustrated myself over the years. If I’m being honest I have struggled to keep the fire burning recently despite making incremental progress during this time. But as I have mentioned in previous blogs, it’s sometimes necessary to stop, reflect, refocus and begin again.

Remember that change is happening right now, progress is being made, however slow. Yes it needs to happen faster but meeting fear with frustration will never work. Let’s keep the conversation going and remember to use compassion whenever we meet resistance.

Link to shop: Choices – Facilitators Manual Description

Meeting our needs helps improve our well-being

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Alan White

Alan White

This week I have been asked to give a class on Developing Mental Well-being in young people, as part of the Cork Lifelong Learning Festival. Preparing for this, I had to look at the question of how to do this in a different way, as I will be talking to adults about how to help young people. I found as I worked that I kept coming back to the idea of our basic needs, and how taking care of these are intrinsically linked to not only our well-being but our sense of self-esteem.

To maintain our mental well-being I believe it is vital to first know ourselves. To do this we need to be aware of our needs. When I am working with students, I always spend a lot of time discussing our basic needs and how neglecting these needs can have a negative impact on our overall sense of well-being.

According to Dr William Glasser we have five basic needs:

  • Love and belonging- this need is met by getting along with others and having fulfilling relationships.
  • Power- achieving, feeling important.
  • Freedom- independent, free to do what you want.
  • Fun- learning, relaxation, laughter.
  • Survival – food, shelter, clothing, health and exercise.

I like this classification of our needs as it is understandable, relatable and young people generally grasp the meaning and importance of each concept quickly. I find it is important that each need is looked at individually and rated for its strength and importance, i.e. we all have different need strengths. For example one person might have a high need for love and belonging and a low need for power, whereas another person might have a high need for freedom and fun and a lower need for love and belonging.

By taking the time to identify which are strong needs, and which are lower needs, for each of us, we can learn some important things that we need to do to take care of ourselves. When we meet our needs we will feel better about ourselves and are able to do our best in our daily lives. When we identify the needs which are most important to us, we can focus on these needs. We can also reflect and look at finding better ways to improve those needs.

An example of how important meeting our needs are, is when we have an argument or a falling out with an important person in our life. Love & belonging is one of our most important needs. As Dr Glasser said “Good relationships are the core of mental health and happiness.” We can all relate to when we are not getting along with the people we care about; we do not feel good, our minds wander, we don’t feel positive and in many cases we may feel persistently worried or guilty.

However when we consciously work to get along better with others, we tend to feel more positive and as a consequence are more productive, social and eager to do things with others. We often tend to belittle our own needs for the sake of other things i.e our families, jobs, commitments. Paradoxically however, we cannot be fully present or involved in any area of our lives unless we take the time to care for our own needs. It’s not selfish to do so, in fact we are better able to help others if we do.

For me, helping others to identify their needs and how they can better meet these needs, is an integral part of any learning about developing positive well-being. Sometimes it is important to be a little selfish and concentrate on our own needs, before we can really be there for anyone else.

Link to shop: Choices – Facilitators Manual Description

Crossing the line – Fun vs distraction

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Alan White

Alan White

We all have an innate need for fun. Sometimes we can forget this, especially during busy times in life. Fun means something different to each of us and the things we do for fun can be as varied as reading to parachuting out of an aeroplane. However no matter what we do for fun, it’s important to make time in our lives to do something that brings us joy.

In fact fun is a need that must be fulfilled as part of a balanced approach to positive well-being. Just like connecting with others, having fulfilling relationships, achieving personal goals, as well as the many other things we can do to help maintain our mental fitness.

But have we crossed a line from fun to distraction. Fun as we know is an enjoyable experience. For an experience to be enjoyable it must be something we love to do. It can also be something that we build into our daily or weekly routines as well as something we do occasionally, like going on a nice holiday. For many young people, fun is using technology to watch TV or connect with friends. It’s clear to see that the social lives as well as private lives of teenagers are focused around their phone. They watch TV and movies on them, listen to music, chat with friends and so much more.

This is a wonderful technology unavailable to the previous generation and I have spoken before about the dangers of not managing this new way of interacting with the world can bring. A lot of what I write about here is based on what I encounter on a daily basis. It’s not a once off or strange event that captures my attention, but it’s unfortunately, the growing concern of distraction.

Young people are becoming consumed by the ease in which they can continue to chat with friends or watch videos, on a personal and completely private platform. I regularly chat to students who arrive into school every day with black circles around their eyes, barely able to stay awake, never mind perform adequately in class. When I ask why they are feeling so worn out and tired, very often they will eventually admit, sometimes with relief, sometimes with reluctance. That they are awake until two or three in the morning chatting or watching something on their phones.

I don’t need to tell anyone that a severe lack of sleep is detrimental to the cognitive development, physical development and overall mental well-being of children and teenagers. Have we all become so distracted by the deluge of information, entertainment and general distraction we have available to us today, that we think that this is ok? There are a myriad of things that I could talk about in relation to what’s happening, but I want to focus now on distraction. What should be a fun outlet for all of us, has become a debilitating distraction, especially to our young people.

Children and teenagers need boundaries. If they are left to their own devices, both literally and figuratively, they will not self-regulate and why should they? It’s not for a child to know better! If a child is not given a routine with boundaries, they will continue to engage in activities that are destructive to their well-being such as staying up all night messaging with friends at a cost to their physical and mental well-being. They are living in a world of distraction, and although it may be more difficult than allowing them to be distracted, children need guidance and boundaries around this distraction. This will allow the amazing things that are available to all of us these days to remain fun, without becoming dangerously distracting to the point where our health is being compromised.

Young people need a lot of sleep to allow both body and mind to develop fully. Sleep deprivation, together with overstimulation, can lead to feelings of anxiety, guilt, low mood and low self-esteem. All of which will lead to difficulties with mental well-being. When young people get caught up in this circle of staying up all night, it will lead to deeper negative feelings about themselves, the lens through which they see themselves will become so distorted that they may lose any sense of their real selves.

To protect themselves from these feelings, students will stop trying at school. If they don’t try after all, it’s not their fault if they don’t do well. This can lead to school avoidance and early school leaving, which ultimately lead to negative self-worth. This can then lead to many damaging things such as addiction, inability to form mature relationships and many more.

So while we are all being distracted, this is happening to many of our young people. It’s tough to watch as a teacher, so many young people with endless potential fall victim to this distraction culture. We can do a lot in schools to give young people the boundaries they need, and in fact appreciate though they may not admit it. However it takes every responsible adult parenting and carers, to implement a balanced boundary approach to young people activities.

We must remember, all of us, to have fun. However when the fun becomes dangerous to our well-being, it’s time to re-evaluate and reflect on what is fun and what is distraction.

Link to shop: Choices – Facilitators Manual Description

The Mindfulness experiment

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Alan White

Alan White

Although I am passionate about well-being and I believe that all young people need to learn key skills to take control and care for their own well-being, I have, in the past, been resistant to mindfulness. Why? Because I am the type of person that finds it difficult to sit still for any length of time. It took me a very long time to discover for myself, not only the many benefits of Mindfulness, but also how it can transform how we approach caring for our well-being.

After learning more and more over the years, I have discovered that mindfulness is not just sitting in a chair deep breathing. It is so much more and can be done almost anywhere. Focusing on deep breathing is an important part, as is remaining in the present moment. However what I was surprised to learn that many of the activities that we do on a daily basis can be done mindfully and can help us to relax, de-stress and improve our overall well-being. For me, mindful walking has helped me to incorporate Mindfulness into my life. That way I can move and yet take time to quiet my mind, relax and gain invaluable perspective on anything that I might be finding difficult at that time.

Over the past few years I have been developing a 30 day Mental Well-being challenge for students. This challenge is based on positive psychology and each day participants are taught something new that will empower them to care for their well-being. Central to this challenge is mindfulness and this is the first challenge for students. They are asked to spend at least 5 minutes every day of the challenge practicing Mindfulness.

I initially thought that this may be difficult to implement with young people. However over the last few months, along with a few colleagues, we have implemented the 30 day challenge with a group of second year students. I was quite nervous when beginning this with a large group of 14 year olds. I’m not sure if anyone has ever been in a room full of second years, but they can be quite energetic to put it politely!

At the beginning we found it challenging to hold the group for longer than around 3 minutes. To be honest that was fine as I thought we wouldn’t even get that far. The challenge is broken up into three ten day periods with a break and some reflection on key skills the students learned in between. What we found was that towards the end of the first ten days the students were able to sit still focusing on breathing with their eyes closed for at least 10 minutes.

What was even more encouraging was that the students themselves started asking for more time. If we missed a day during the challenge they were disappointed and eager to get going again. I was even asked by one student “why aren’t we doing that mindfulness thing today!”

The results were amazing and the change in the students overall demeanour was evident as they became calmer and more ready for learning. When we surveyed parents of the students involved, the vast majority reported seeing a difference in their child as a result of both mindfulness and learning how to care for their well-being.

There is a huge amount of evidence on the benefits of mindfulness but if I didn’t see it for myself with my students as well as recognising the benefits it has for me, I wouldn’t have believed it.

I would encourage anyone to try this for themselves and I strongly believe that Mindfulness not only benefits us by reducing stress and allowing us the mental space to take time out, but can also change how we manage student behaviour in schools. Our lives are hectic at the best of times and encouraging people of all ages to take some time during the day to check in with themselves and in essence press the pause button, will have huge benefits for general well-being.

Why not take the first step in that challenge for yourself. Take 5 minutes every day for at least 10 days to practice mindfulness. At this point I must stress that I am not an expert here, but what works for me is the 7/11 technique. Breath in for 7 seconds, hold your breath for 3 or 4 seconds and breathe out fully for 11 seconds pushing out your stomach and relaxing your shoulders as you do so. Try to focus your mind on the present. If thoughts do come into your mind try not to hold on to them. Just acknowledge them and allow them to float away.

I don’t always remember to do this myself but when I do I tend to not only feel better in myself, but I also feel more ready to deal with whatever needs to be done. Either way, if you try it at worst you will take a little time for yourself and at best you will learn the importance of mindfulness to our well-being.

Link to shop: Choices – Facilitators Manual Description

Sometimes we just need to stop

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Alan White

Alan White

“Beware the bareness of a busy life – Socrates.

Life is becoming more and more hectic for all of us. I’m finding it hard recently to remember when I last had nothing to do. Don’t get me wrong, I believe it is important for our well-being that we have goals and are motivated to work hard to get to where we want to be in life. However sometimes we can get so caught up in our responsibilities in work, our relationships and our daily routines that we forget to simply stop, take some time to ourselves and simply switch off for a while.

I was talking to a friend of mine recently who is a psychotherapist, working with teenagers. I had contacted him to refer yet another young person in crises. He told me that he would contact the person but that he was extremely busy. He then commented that there seems to be more and more personal suffering these days.

This is something that I have also noticed. Recently I have been wondering to myself why this is. I was finding it difficult to come up with any answers that made sense to me, until I was at an event with a small group of students this week. During the lunch break I overheard one of the students say to another, “I found that app that fixes my face in photos!” when I asked what they were talking about they were only too eager to tell me about a filter that can be used to make someone nose smaller, cheeks thinner eyes bigger etc.

Can you imagine living in a culture that not only requires you to need such a thing, but has also normalised it to such a point that my shock at the fact that young people used this in every photo they took of themselves, couldn’t be understood. In a culture where everyone feels the need to change how they look digitally before posting a picture, is it any wonder that young people being to feel that they are not good enough as themselves. This is having a catastrophic effect on people’s self-esteem which is consequently having an adverse and often extreme effect on mental well-being.

So as well as our lives getting busier, we are also being bombarded by images that have been digitally altered to portray perfection. This is a perfection that many people, especially young people feel the need to live up to. This can begin to take up a lot of a person’s time, either thinking about or partaking in this digital remastering of the self. When we can no longer differentiate what is real and what is an illusion or an abstract form of reality, is it any wonder that we begin to lose our sense of self and our self-esteem.

The quote that I began with reminds me not only of how we must be careful of how busy we let ourselves become but also how we must be aware of how our own internal narrative can become. Our inner dialogue can become overwhelming and full of self-deprecating thoughts and therefore we need to take the time to develop our own sense of self-acceptance. Our current culture is counterproductive to positive well-being and thus we must become more aware of this, if we are to learn to be satisfied and content with the uniqueness of who we are.

Link to shop: Choices – Facilitators Manual Description

Listening to understand

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Alan White

Alan White

“Loneliness doesn’t come from having no one around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that are important to you.” – Carl Jung

How many times have you had a conversation, and after it finished, you struggled to remember what you spoke about? More importantly, how many times have you struggled to remember what the other person said? When we interact with others, we tend to listen to respond, rather than listen to understand. While the other person is speaking, we are preparing what we are going to say next in our minds.

We do this for many reasons, such as, making sure we say the right thing. To ensure we tell the person what we want them to know or even sometimes, we do it when we are simply not interested in what the other person has to say. It’s not always a serious thing if we communicate with some people like this. However when we communicate in this way with the people who are closest to us, we can often feel like we are not understood.

We all need to feel like we are valued and heard. One of the greatest gifts we can give to another person, is our undivided attention. Taking the time to really listen to someone can be empowering. Both for the person talking and the listener. This need is particularly true for young people. Children and teenagers are told what to do and given instructions a lot. This obviously has positives. Young people need and actually like structure in their lives. However it can be difficult for them to get the opportunity to really be heard.

We are living busier and busier lives these days, often bordering on the frantic. We rush from one thing to the next, rarely taking the time to really talk and listen to the important people in our lives. When we ask someone close to us, “any news?” we often get a quick synopsis of their day and not much else.

Young people can have a very delicate sense of self-esteem. The adults in their lives have a key role in helping them to strengthen this sense of self-worth and actively listening can play a major role. If a child or adolescent does not feel listened to, it can often make them question their value and affect their sense of self-worth.

So how can we improve our communication and actively listen to someone? Active listening is not just a case of being quiet when someone else is talking. To feel understood, a person, especially a young person who is developing their sense of self needs to feel not only heard but understood. This means that when they are telling you something about themselves, or something that happened to them, it needs to first of all, be taken seriously. Young people are often reluctant to talk to adults about what is going on for them. So if they do confide in us, it’s a big deal.

When actively listening, it is also important to seek clarification if you are unsure what the person meant. This shows that you are interested in what they are saying and want to understand their perspective. To show that that you are listening, it is important to repeat back what they have told you, in your own words. This shows that you do understand what they are telling you.

Another aspect of listening, especially to children and teenagers is that, it is important not to Judge. If you come across as judgemental or critical, they will simply shut down, and it may be difficult to get them to communicate again. Many young people are quite insecure in themselves, as they are trying to figure out not only themselves, but where they fit in, in the world. If they feel judged in any way, they will retreat and shut off open communication.

The old saying, a problem shared is a problem halved, comes to mind here. Having caring adults in their lives is key to the healthy emotional development of children and teenagers. If a child feels that they have someone they can go to, no matter what they will feel safe and cared for. This is an inherent need in all of us and if met, can be one of the greatest gifts we can ever receive.

Link to shop: Choices – Facilitators Manual Description