What’s feeding your Psychological Soil?

What’s feeding your Psychological Soil?

This month, on The Conscious Adventurer Radio Show, we’re talking about internal and external environments and choosing these with awareness so that they can be more conducive to wellbeing.

This Tuesday, I had an interview with Dennis Enright and Vermis the Worm, which I had taped a few months ago. Dennis and Vermis had important tips about soil health and looking after the worms.


Vermis the Worm

I talked about the psychological soil that goes into developing us. If we think about our beliefs as a tree with the beliefs as tree trunks, the soil that grows those beliefs is our experiences. We learn not only from what was told to us, but also what we felt and observed.  So, when we observed how important women in our lives were spoken to or treated, that gives us a template for how women are treated. We also learn by what wasn’t done as well as what was done. When we were hurt or scolded for being a particular way, we learn a rule “it’s bad to be that way”. When praise is omitted or affection withheld, we learn another rule – I am not worthy of love. These experiences are incredibly powerful.

Our current experiences also matter though – like a tree, we are constantly growing. Those in our environment now can really nourish the soil of our growth or not. So, my invitation to you is to consider your beliefs about yourself and where they come from. Looking at those beliefs that no longer serve you, where did those come from? Also, are there people in your current environment who nourish you or who aid in these negative beliefs?

The visualisation I did on the show was about tuning into that younger hurting part of ourselves and sending messages of love and affection; holding that part in gentleness.

What experiences do you find, enrich your psychological soil?


Image courtesy of Tusita Studio via Pixabay

The Vital Role of Self-Validation in Overcoming Overthinking

The Vital Role of Self-Validation in Overcoming Overthinking

I’m going to go out on a limb here. I’m used to writing about overthinking based on empirical research, which I am familiar with, and which I have been immersed in for over 15 years. This perspective about overthinking though, comes not from the literature, but from my clinical experience.

So, when we’re talking about overthinking (“rumination” in the literature), we’re talking about brooding, going over the same material repeatedly, feeling stuck, dwelling on problems, passively focussing on symptoms, etc. We know from the literature that those of us who overthink feel less support and more criticism from those around us. There are also specific parenting histories and backgrounds that make people more likely to overthink. Women overthink more than men do, and this gender difference explains the difference in rates of depression (women are 2-3 times more likely to become depressed, compared to men).

In my clinical experience, what I’ve come to see is that overthinking is sometimes used as an emotional validation strategy. When overthinking, the overthinker wants to know that their emotional response is justified. For example, after an argument with her partner, a woman might say, “It’s not fair that he said….” with a question in her voice. She asks me, implicitly, or explicitly, to validate her emotional reaction while, at the same time, doubting herself. I’ll be writing more about this Inner Critic and the Inner Vulnerable Child at some point. Attempts to re-hash aspects of the interaction or go over things seem like attempts to justify feeling a certain way. It seems to me that accepting feelings as they are and decreasing the loudness of that Inner Critic, are vital when overcoming overthinking.

I’ll be talking more about this in my upcoming workshop on Beyond Overthinking on the 13th of February, 2016, in Dunedin. I’ve just recorded a CD with mindful-based coping strategies/meditations/visualisations. Here’s a sneak preview of version 1 of the cover…still working on it! What do you think? Too orange?

Overcoming Overthinking V1

Self-validation is part of self-love. Here’s a beautiful blog post I saw about some strategies to start the day with greater self-love.


Stretch like a Cat: Album out! Three free tracks

Stretch like a Cat: Album out! Three free tracks

I am pleased to announce that my album of coping skills, visualisations, and meditations for young people (aged approx 5-16/17 years) and people with an intellectual disability, is OUT! Three tracks are completely free to download. The album can be purchased from CD baby.


Stretch like a cat 3

Here is the track listing and sample uses for the tracks:

All these exercises help with feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed. I have indicated, however, particular conditions where the exercises may be especially useful. The exercises are meant to be used preventatively, to promote resilience, as well as reactively, to help exit a state. For maximum gain, practice the exercises when calmer, so that skills can be used even when anxious.
01 Stretch like a Cat: A brief, playful progressive muscle relaxation to decrease tension. Especially useful for trauma, worry, anger, sleep problems.
02 Tummy Breathing: Diaphragmatic Breathing. Useful for all conditions. An essential skill.
03 Affirmations: Neutral and positive coping statements. Useful for worry, managing anxiety including panic, performance fears, low mood, self-esteem.
04 Bubble Breathing: Slow Breathing. Useful for all conditions. An essential skill.
05 Sticking Attention: A grounding exercise consisting of paying attention to something that can be seen, heard, felt and smelt. Useful for: trauma/dissociation/spacing out, feeling overwhelmed, panic, feeling out of control, social anxiety, low mood, agitation, anger, worry.
06 My Bubble of Protection: A visualisation exercise, developed originally for adults, where we imagine creating a bubble of protection for the day that shields us from negativity, and criticism. Useful for: dealing with bullies and critics, social anxiety, self-esteem, trauma.
07 Safe Place Visualisation: A visualisation for helping with carrying a feeling of safety around inside. We create a safe place that can be gone to when needed. At first, it may be difficult to imagine a safe place. Practice will help. Useful for: trauma, social anxiety, stress.
08 Riding the Waves of Anxiety: In this visualisation, with accompanying ocean sounds, we imagine coping with anxious feelings. Useful for exposure and response prevention work, trauma, panic, agitation.
09 Walking through a Rainforest: Peaceful visualisation to promote calmness.
10 Zap Zap Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs): Automatic Negative Thoughts quickly enter our head and we believe them! They affect how we feel. In this exercise, we practice tuning in to thoughts and then zapping them! Useful for: all conditions including worry, stress, feeling overwhelmed.
11 Throw Worry Stones into the Water: in this practical, mindfulness visualisation, we practice letting our worries go. Useful for: feeling overwhelmed, stressed, worrying, self-esteem.
12 Inviting a Superhero to Help: we all need extra help sometimes! In this visualisation, we increase coping and changing perspective by inviting a favourite superhero in to help us. Useful for: nightmares, stress, worry, low mood.

Please pass the word!

Improved Wellbeing in under 5 minutes (!) & Late Garlic Planting

Improved Wellbeing in under 5 minutes (!) & Late Garlic Planting


I’ve planted the garlic out late. Last year, I bought far too many bulbs and planted them too closely, resulting in a good harvest, but small cloves. This year, I’ve only bought two bulbs (so far) and have increased the space around them and also mulched with pea straw. Although I don’t use garlic as much these days, in an effort to keep my son’s tummy as settled as possible, I do believe that it’s good for wellbeing.

Speaking of wellbeing, I am so excited about my latest project: recording two albums of mindfulness-based exercises to promote wellbeing and relieve distress. I started making sound recordings on my trusty dictaphone for clients some while ago, finding that it was helpful if people had an actual guide through the exercise, away from the session. I’ve recently invested in a mixer/microphone and am learning the ropes!

Here are some sample visualisations/meditations. You don’t need to sign up for soundcloud to access them. Each is shorter than five minutes, as I appreciate how time poor people are.

Morning Tonic – want to start the day afresh? Let go of the hold of yesterday? Start the day with more focus and an awareness of your values? Try my morning tonic!

Bubble of Protection – facing criticism or negativity? I recorded this for adults, especially after thinking about how much criticism mothers (including myself!) receive.

Thoughts as leaves – trying to get unstuck from thoughts or feeling overwhelmed? This is a mindfulness exercise to practice detachment.

Recorded for younger people and people with an intellectual disability (although I also think these work for adults who need something more concrete or playful)

Stretch like a Cat – a brief, playful progressive muscle relaxation, which is useful for aiding sleep, tension reduction, anxiety, and stress.

Inviting a Superhero to Help Us – we all need extra help sometimes! This exercise helps us practice taking a different perspective and increasing our coping.

Please share these tracks and let me know if you find them useful! It’s brightened up my days to hear that people are using these and having great conversations with their children as a result of doing the exercises with them.

Interested in hearing about upcoming albums, discounted/free tracks, and other resources? Please sign up to my newsletter.

Kale, Shoulds, and a Nourishment Diet

Kale, Shoulds, and a Nourishment Diet

I have been surprised at how well kale has grown in my new garden and I’ve been using it a lot, including in smoothies. I’m trying to eat more whole foods and more of what we grow.

On the matter of diets, something many of us attempt in the new year, I have more to say, but in this post, I’d like to focus on ‘shoulds’; which count as their own category of cognitive distortion in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. In fact, Fairburn and colleagues suggest, in relation to eating disorders, that clinical perfection may be the implicated. Clinical perfectionism is characterised amongst other things by this overwhelming sense of ‘should’.When we think we should do something it results in very different feelings than when we think we could do it. One is characterised by a sense of having failed already while the other is associated with a sense of choices. In a related vein, one of my friends shared this fantastic ‘anti anxiety diet‘ blog post which I think is fabulous. I really like the sentiment about choosing foods based on nourishment and self love rather than based on what should be eaten.


Autumn, Artichokes…and Persistence

Autumn, Artichokes…and Persistence

It’s astonishing that it has been so long since I last blogged. These last few months have been a blur of teaching, assessment and report writing, returning to work activities and, amongst it all, planning and having a fabulous wedding!
This year, with my new interest in gardening, I’ve been more aware of the seasons. I hadn’t appreciated, before, how March heralded the coming of Autumn (for those of us in the southern hemisphere) and I hadn’t even realised that the three months making up each season divided the season into “early”, “mid”, and “late”. The timing instructions on seed packets are making more sense! So little time for each planting!
I rushed to get lots of seeds planted in seed trays in late summer. Although I was initially a little disappointed with the arrival of autumn (and the awareness that there were fewer varieties to plant), I decided to try and grow artichokes – one of the things that can be planted in Autumn. My first lot of seeds failed. Not one germinated!
Not to be defeated, I had another go and…success!!
Persistence is such an important psychological skill. In supervising research students, I really notice that it is persistence that matters in the longer run. No matter how insightful, original and creative someone’s idea is, without high levels of persistence, there is no thesis, or paper, or finished product at the end of the day.
I’ve been thinking about persistence a lot as I’ve been reading more about neuropsychological functioning and the executive system in particular. In a nutshell, the executive system is about planning, organising our activities, holding things in short term memory and focussing on a goal. My students this week are working on a hypothetical case of a child with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). This is one disorder where significant issues with the executive system can be seen. The good news for adults (and children with ADHD) is that there are psychological interventions that can help with these executive system issues.

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