Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye

We’ve all been through a time when the world seemed dull and hopeless after experiencing a loss – regardless of whether they’re family, friends or simply an individual of great significance to us. People experience loss in a multitude of ways beyond the passing of a loved one; we grieve at the end of a relationship, a permanent change in appearance, a passing life stage, or simply anything that we can never again regain or revisit. Due to the cyclic nature of life, we deal with grief constantly. Some of them are more gradual and less noticeable like ageing, while others may be more unexpected and sudden like the death of a loved one.

Grief affects us in ways beyond both physical and emotional pain. The five stages of grief modelled by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross concluded that the five major emotions experienced during grief were denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2014). This model was based on her work on patients with terminal illnesses, suggesting that these five stages were more applicable to people facing their own existential crises rather than those who were grieving. But in practice, we find that the five stages were also shown in grief clients despite the lack of linearity of graphical evidence. Most of the time these emotions are interwoven with many others, including guilt and fear. Beyond emotional responses, the process of grief also includes natural physical responses like sleeplessness, appetite loss, and a weakened immune system. But with proper coping mechanisms, these responses can be alleviated with time, allowing you to feel more prepared to make peace with it. 

Grief is a personal and subjective process, and coping mechanisms vary amongst people, so there is no norm or timetable to abide by. In most cases, people can process and resume their day-to-day functions after a certain period of time. However, in more severe cases (i.e., the loss of a romantic partner, the loss of a parent, the loss of a grandparent) we find it overwhelming. Especially if such grief was complex or unresolved (for example through sudden life changes, traumatic events, or unresolved issues with the deceased). During Covid-19, these situations were more prevalent than ever before. One of my friends was unable to complete quarantine in time to see his beloved family member in the hospital for the last time. Another one was unable to enter Hong Kong due to Covid-19 restrictions and had missed the last call from his father before he passed in the ICU. 

In sessions, we sometimes find people still struggling with loss even after many years due to the build-up of pain over time in addition to mental challenges stemming from grief, including difficulties in emotion regulation or disassociation. Such challenges can become debilitating as individuals often do not even realise that grief is still affecting them. Clinically, the prevalence of prolonged grief disorder (PGD) was found in approximately 9.8% of bereaved adults in the population. Of the adults suffering from PGD, the symptoms they experienced consisted of intense preoccupation with the deceased, persistent distress, detached or numbed emotion, inability to trust others, and avoidance of the reality of loss (Rosner et al, 2018). 

However, there are many ways to make it easier to cope with grief. If you are currently grieving, there are a multitude of things that may help you navigate this time:

  • Know That You Are Not Alone

Because there was love, there will be pain. Whenever there is a start, there will be an end. As the pain of loss is natural and inevitable, no one can live without going through it. But rather than fearing it, try to remember that it is possible to have an easier relationship with the pain of the loss by allowing ourselves to feel it.

  • Talk About Your Feelings

If you feel that you are struggling with grief, resistance or avoidance will not lift the burden. Instead it may cause unnecessary frustration. Try to express and share your feelings though they are difficult. It will aid your grieving progress. Begin to share these thoughts with your support system, address them in a journal, and find your emotional outlet. 

  • Share Your Memories

Share your memories to alleviate fear of forgetting them. Recalling and sharing the memories with those you surround yourself with can bring you a sense of peace amidst this painful time. The most memorable moment during the funeral of a loved one is the sharing of cherished memories with the people who share our pain. These moments may remind us of the fragility of life and how despite the fact that we are mortal, the love we have is eternal. 

  • Find Ways to Remain Connected With Your Loved One 

You can still connect with those who are no longer with us. I have seen many post-it memos placed along the surface of a tombstone by a wife or a grandchild, each inscribed with a message yearning for their beloved husband or grandfather’s embrace one last time. While others may play songs they used to listen to together, or plant a tree to symbolise their everlasting life. These things serve as a reminder to us that despite our loved one not being physically with us, they are here with us in spirit. 

  • Prioritise Yourself

Everyone grieves at their own pace. To find the best way to heal you have to take care and prioritise yourself. If you feel like crying, cry it out. If you need space, ask for space. It is not selfish nor insensitive to take time for yourself to heal. Please do not be hard on yourself for not being ‘strong enough’ in such circumstances, instead, we learn how to be strong enough through grief. Only through pure transparency with ourselves and our emotions can we make peace with them.

  • Remember That Your Life is Valuable

There are a lot of changes that follow loss, sometimes the change is so drastic that you begin to feel lost in the world. Just as how precious the deceased are to you, your life is just as precious to your family, your friends, and most importantly, your own self. With this mindset you will learn to find purposefulness in continuing on with the future and finding back your sense of self that was lost amidst the grief. 

  • Seek Help When You Need It

If you ever feel overwhelmed in the madness, reaching out to your support system is a wonderful method. You can also read self-help books pertaining to grief, seek help from your religion, your support group, or perhaps by paying a visit to a professional psychotherapist as a source of help for navigating past these mental challenges.

If you are accompanying someone who is grieving, here are some helpful ways you can engage:

  • Keep Them Company

Yes, you just need to stay with them. Remember that they do not need advice or positive talk at the moment, they simply need your presence. Having someone alongside you who is listening with all of their heart is one of the best forms of support. Even if you cannot be there in person, texting or calling them is another viable way of showing support. The feeling of being cared for will aid them through this difficult time.

  • Distractions

Whether it is house renovation, work, or travel planning, it can help people temporarily disconnect from reality and focus on the world around them. Exercise is always a good idea to help them feel uplifted naturally, so asking them for a walk if they are willing to do so is another effective form of distraction. If they do not want to engage in anything physically, providing them with a list of TV show recommendations may help occupy part of their mind.

  • Be of Help

There are a multitude of things you can do to help provide an extent of aid towards a grieving individual. For instance, you can help them with their chores, take their kids to the park, order food for them, etc., Simply by doing this you are offering substantial help and providing time and energy for the individual to deal with the chaos surrounding their loss.

  • Respect, Empathy, and Understanding

There are times when grieving individuals may have some irrational thoughts like bargaining with fate or impulsive, emotion-centred reactions such as blaming the hospital or the doctor. Try to give them space to sort things out and accommodate them with understanding. Everyone heals at their own pace, so your respect is an important buffer for them to feel supported and loved to learn to make peace with their bereavement. 

 “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not get over the loss of the loved one; you’ll learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” – On Grief & Grieving, Kübler-Ross and Kessler

It is a heartbreaking part of the journey. But aren’t we blessed to ever have someone or something that was so hard to let go of in this life?


Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, David. (2014). On grief & grieving : finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss (Scribner trade pbk. ed.). Scribner.

Rosner, Rita, Rimane, Eline, Vogel, Anna, Rau, Jörn, & Hagl, Maria. (2018). Treating prolonged grief disorder with prolonged grief-specific cognitive behavioral therapy: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials19(1), 241–241.

Megan Chang


If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

Find out more about Megan here.

Other Articles:

Talking About Eating Disorders

Removing the Mask

Removing the Mask

I arrived at my gym for an appointment with my trainer.  “Are you going to Lan Kwai Fong tonight?” he asked enthusiastically.  As a busy (and middle-aged) professional who’d been up since 5 am and still had several work obligations after this gym session, I figured the probability of hanging out in LKF on a school night was pretty low.  “Why on Earth would I do that?” I asked.  He responded, “Everyone’s going there at midnight to burn all their masks!  Can’t wait to see the bonfire!”.  While the thought of such a sight was pretty attractive after 945 days of mask-wearing, I immediately thought of the toxic fumes that would soon travel through central Hong Kong – fumes we could avoid breathing through a mask.  The irony was not lost on me.

I do not know if the LKF mask-burning event occurred, but the sentiment resonated.  It also prompted me to wonder how the people of Hong Kong would feel as they prepared for this change.  No doubt everyone considered what it meant for them and their loved ones.  And as I’ve been listening to friends and colleagues over the last 48 hours, I’ve come to the view that regardless of whether removing the mask mandate is “good” or ‘bad”,  it allows for personal choice, which empowers us all.

Let’s consider kids, for example.  As of Wednesday, millions of five-to-eight-year-olds will (strangely, after showing a negative RAT test to attend school in the first place) be seeing their teachers’ full faces, perhaps for the first time.  Children three years old or under do not know the world without masks.  It will be interesting to see how they interact with their friends now that they can see their whole faces.  It’s difficult enough as an adult to recognize people when they see them without a mask for the first time.  How we look at people and recognize their faces is different with masks on than with masks off.  Also, these little children have learned to read people’s emotions just by looking at their eyes.  What will it be like for them to see a full facial expression?  How will they interpret what they see? Ongoing research at places like the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London links facial expression to healthy social interactions. Within a social context decoding facial expressions is an essential foundation for stable emotional relationships. It is a skill that helps to reduce anxiety.

And just as kids are not used to seeing their teachers’ full faces, the same is valid for teachers with their students.  One teacher shared a story of playing “guess the child” with her peers:  When the kids took their masks off to eat, the teachers tried to figure out who they were.  It wasn’t easy to recognize them, as the teachers had a mental image of the children’s faces, which was inaccurate.  They almost had to re-learn who Nancy, Tom, Millie, or James were, as they were unrecognizable without the masks.  Imagine the child who bounds up to her teacher with a big “HELLO!” and the teacher isn’t sure who she is.  This experience could result in children losing identity or sense of place, as the teachers they’ve become comfortable with don’t seem to know who they are anymore. How disempowering would that appear to the child that a person who is essential in their lives fails to recognize them?

And what about vulnerable people or those in hospital environments?  Most medical clinics allow their staff to choose whether or not to wear masks at work.  Patients with respiratory illness symptoms are still requested to wear masks. 

The mask mandate may have been removed, but does this mean we should no longer consider the needs of others?  A diverse city of 7.6 million people like ours does not thrive without the goodwill and tolerance of its people.  It’s worth remembering that Hong Kong people commonly wore masks when sick – well before any mandate and well before the rest of the world – out of consideration for others.  Perhaps there’s no need to burn all our masks, and we might instead choose to keep a few around for the greater good. As mentioned earlier, it is a choice, and being able to make choices is positive for our mental health.

Today, I also heard another example of two brothers – the younger one thrilled to see his friends’ faces, and the older one worried about his facial acne.   Female colleagues are talking about needing to spend money on makeup now that their whole faces are “on display” again.  Jokes about teeth whitening products selling like hotcakes and dentists being completely booked out.  For the last three years, the beauty ‘playing field’ was somewhat even, and the eyes were all that mattered.  Now our whole faces are back in the limelight. Face masks eased the anxiety of people with body dysmorphia or those anxious about their appearance. This anxiety will have to be dealt with by many people.

And another friend told me she was thrilled to see the mandate go for the simple reason that she’d be able toread lips again – a helpful skill when seeking assistance at various customer service counters around the city.  It was hard enough before trying to understand what the customer service agent was saying behind the plate glass window with tiny holes and poor quality intercom – add mask-wearing into the equation. This friend has said, “sorry, can you please repeat that?” about 17,000 times over the last three years.  These are six words that she’s delighted to remove from her vocabulary.


There are so many stories about the effect of mask-wearing, but that is enough for now. Hong Kong is finally free from HAVING to wear a mask, now is the time for people to appreciate they have choices, and it is up to them what they choose to do.

Perhaps the take-home point is that we in HK must celebrate our adaptability and resilience – we kept masks on for 945 days, the most extended period of mask-wearing in the world.   Now they are no longer mandatory, and we can decide for ourselves.  I can choose to wear it or not, just as I can decide to go to Lan Kwai Fong on a Tuesday at midnight or go home to bed.  Free will and choice are empowering, and as you read this, make a choice for yourself and be empowered in the process of having that choice.

By the Team at AMindset

If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

Other Articles by AMindset Counsellors:

The Mental Health Impact of Hong Kong’s Mask-Free Policy on Children, Anoush Davies

Re-entering the Outside World, Kelly Hutchison

Christmas Alone, Elise Phillipson 

Talking About Eating Disorders, Megan Chang 

The Mental Health Impact of Hong Kong’s Mask-Free Policy on Children

The Mental Health Impact of Hong Kong’s Mask-Free Policy on Children

After months of waiting, Hong Kong is now mask free from the 1st March. This is good news for the citizens of Hong Kong and children in particular, who have been living with mandatory masks for over three years. With the lifting of this policy, children can now see their friends’ faces for the first time in years—and that has both positive and negative implications on their mental health. Let’s explore how this will affect them. 

The Positive Effects of Going Mask-Free

The most obvious benefit to children being able to go mask free is the joy of seeing their classmates’ faces after such a long time. Seeing familiar faces and being able to interact with them can help boost children’s moods, build relationships, and create a sense of comfort and security in the classroom  . Additionally, going mask-free can help reduce stress levels that have likely been heightened by having to wear masks every day for over three years. Knowing they are no longer required to do so can bring an immense sense of relief to many students—especially those who may have struggled with wearing masks due to sensory issues or allergies. 

The Negative Effects of Going Mask-Free 

On the other hand, there could also be some negative effects associated with the lifting of this policy as well. For example, some students may struggle with feeling overwhelmed when faced with direct eye contact or conversations after so long without it. They may also feel anxious or self-conscious about speaking up or engaging in class if they’ve grown accustomed to hiding behind a mask for so long. In addition, kids may need extra support if they find themselves struggling with feelings of guilt or shame due to a perceived lack of effort during pandemic times compared to their peers who were able to socialize more freely while wearing masks was mandatory everywhere else but at school. 

Overall, while it’s certainly wonderful news that Hong Kong is going mask-free from now onwards and children will finally get to see their friends’ faces again after so long apart, parents and teachers need to remain cognizant of potential mental health issues related to this transition period and be prepared to provide additional support if needed. By keeping an open dialogue and modeling positive behaviors in the classroom environment, we can ensure our kids not only adjust but thrive in these new circumstances!

Anoush Davies


If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

No Bad Parts

No Bad Parts

I really enjoy watching the Disney movie “Inside Out,” and I often recommend the film to my clients. The protagonist of the movie is a little girl named Riley and her emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. These emotional characters help Riley face her daily trials and tribulations. For instance when Anger takes over the console of the mind, Riley starts throwing temper tantrums. Our emotions are similar to having these characters inside us, when different Parts become dominant, different thoughts and beliefs, carried by their perspective Parts, may have control over our behaviours. The modality called the Internal Family Systems (IFS) refers to our inner characters as Parts, which are like family members within us, who interact or argue with each other as our family members sometimes will do in real life.

In the book “No Bad Parts”, Dr. Richard Schwartz, the creator of IFS, talks about how Parts can be divided into the three main categories below:

Exiles: Exiles take on the painful emotions of past traumatic events. They often act like a wounded child, being exiled deep inside our psyche, feeling unloved, worthless, shame, and emptiness. In order to ensure that the Exiles are hidden from our consciousness, the Parts that are called Managers and Firefighters are forced to be generated.

Managers: Managers are protectors who try to control everything in our lives, ensuring that we don’t come in contact with our vulnerable or traumatic experiences, and avoiding emotions that we don’t want to experience again. The Critic is a common type of Manager that only sees mistakes and uses criticism as a means to help, thereby motivating us to attain higher job achievements, greater wealth, and positive affirmations. There are also other types of Managers such as Workaholics, Perfectionists, and the Highly Educated one to name a few, but no matter how hard these managers try, they can never heal their Exiled inner child.

Firefighters: Firefighters are a different kind of protector. If the Manager is there to prevent any incentives that can trigger the Exile, the Firefighters mission is to put out the fires at any cost when the Exile’s pain is triggered. The Firefighters will numb or escape painful feelings with more aggressive actions than what the Managers use, such as addictive behaviours with alcohol or drug use, eating disorders, sex, self-harm or even suicide, in extreme cases.

Now let’s pause for a moment and examine our different Parts. I may have a Part that wants to lose weight, while at the same time, I have another Part that tells me I must dine at a buffet. It is also possible when a Part wants to take a good rest, but another Part suddenly tells us not to relax in order to achieve success in our pursuits. I have a client who has several internal Parts and are working very hard every day. For example, when the Hard Working Part is writing a business proposal, Anxiety might interfere by saying, “Are you sure you can meet the deadline? Will the client like this proposal?” Meanwhile the Critic Part also might say, “Why are you so stupid? You can’t do anything well.” When facing the discomfort caused by Anxiety, Play might suggest watching TV, swiping the phone or playing video games. Then Smoking may invite you to enjoy a cigarette, and Binge Eating may start ordering lots of takeout. These Parts appear just to divert attention and escape to face anxiety.

Many psychology modalities try to correct these so-called negative behaviours or thoughts in different ways, but IFS believes that we do not need to push away these emotions or behaviours that might be dragging our lives down, nor is it necessary to beg these Parts to change. Just like the Movie “Inside out”, Joy tries to push Sadness away from Riley’s life, but in the end, she accepts Sadness for who she is, understanding that she serves an important purpose in Riley’s life. Joy is only one element of true happiness, Sadness and other painful emotions make life more meaningful. 

IFS believes that every Part is there with good intentions, and even with extreme, sometimes seemingly unhelpful or destructive actions like Managers and Firefighters, they are doing their best to protect us. Through listening, understanding, and discovering the purpose of each inner Part, we can improve their mutual relationships. When we find our true self (Self) who is caring, curious, empathic, and compassionate, as the leader of the internal family, the healing journey begins. 

​If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

Articles by Cecilia:

How to Navigate Sibling Rivalries At Home?

How to Navigate Sibling Rivalries At Home?

It’s a tale as old as time and one many are all too familiar with. Sibling rivalry is a common dynamic in many households, but it takes many forms, and while some are a healthy aspect of family life and development, others might prove to be cause for concern. 


Sibling relationships can be some of the most rewarding and lifelong relationships in our lives. They can serve as role models, friends, and a marker of a shared identity. In many families, sibling rivalries are a common aspect of life and not one that dominates the dynamic. Siblings will argue and conflict, but the conflict can be brief, perfunctory and result in a learned lesson and repaired relationship. In these cases, conflict can serve a purpose and help to promote developmental growth. 


But while some conflict is inevitable and in fact healthy, there are several predisposing factors that can cause conflict between siblings. First, the order of siblings. As an only child prepares to become a sibling for the first time and welcomes a new personality into the home and family dynamic, competition can breed as the eldest sibling seeks to assert themselves and the younger sibling competes to keep up. Sibling rivalries also tend to be more significant in single parent and blended-family households, while those who have witnessed domestic conflict may at times model this behaviour at home. 


But when does it go too far? Pay attention to whether teasing has become persistent and if fights become physical and require intervention. Persistent conflict and rivalry may also lead to refusal to speak to each other, to withdrawal on a short- or sometimes more permanent basis. If one or both of the siblings is experiencing a mental health challenge such as depression, seeking additional support can prove very beneficial, both from the family system and from mental health professionals. 


There are several ways to improve the sibling dynamic in the home, but it’s important to recognise that that doesn’t mean removing arguments and conflicts altogether. Working collectively to create a set of parameters for healthy conflict can increase the likelihood of these boundaries being respected. Parents should be mindful of whether one child feels there is favouritism at play, and while each child is different and has different needs, everyone can benefit from dedicated time with their parents.


Be reminded that these relationships extend into adulthood, too. Consider how you dealt with similar issues in your youth and handled prior conflicts but remember that each relationship is different. There will always be several ways to handle a situation, either by creating a position of tolerance and allowing it to run its course, or learning when to manage and mitigate issues that arise from sibling rivalry. 


by Amanda Sheppard

If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how Amanda or AMindset can support you, please contact us.

What is ‘Mental Hygiene’?

What is ‘Mental Hygiene’?

The latest mental health buzzword has been circulating the Internet, but what does it really mean for us, and what are its essential components?


Hygiene, health and safety have been popular phrases used in almost every post-Covid setting. We’re all being reminded to wash our hands, practice good hygiene and to ensure we protect ourselves from flus, viruses and more. But is there an equivalent practice to safeguard your mental health? 


Hygiene is now also being discussed in an altogether different setting. Mental hygiene is not a new concept or phrase. In fact, the National Council for Mental Hygiene was established 100 years ago. But it’s been seldom used outside of psychological practices until recently, and there has been growing interest in it in recent years as people’s awareness and understanding of mental health continues to grow. 


Just as you build your physical strength through small, every day, consistent behaviours, so too can you build your mental muscle, building resilience and promoting an overall sense of wellbeing. 


While there are no globally recognised standards for mental hygiene yet in the same way that there are for physical exercise or maintaining good physical hygiene practices, setting aside a short period of time each day – even if it’s just 10 minutes – can help to create a consistent pattern.


Mental hygiene involves the daily practice of essential preventive measures to keep your mental health at the forefront of your mind. This includes a roster of common self-care strategies, from walks in nature and mindfulness exercises to breathwork and more creative outlets such as journaling. 


Encourage yourself to take note of how you feel during these practices and whether they have an impact on your mood throughout the day and week. You might find that you benefit from the same activity at regular intervals or from adapting your mental hygiene to suit how you feel at the time. This can take the form of varied physical exercises or interchanging between physical movement, mindful practice and more.


Combining mental hygiene with attention to your physical health – by eating a balanced diet, making time for exercise and ensuring you are getting enough sleep – can help to create new and lasting positive habits. A recent study by Tremblay, Rodrigues and Gulati saw those who engaged in mental hygiene, including self-led positive psychology interventions, time spent in nature and meditation, reported decreased rumination, more feelings of positivity and a heightened awareness of their cognitive processes. 


by Amanda Sheppard

If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how Amanda or AMindset can support you, please contact us.

Christmas Alone

Christmas Alone

Don’t be stoic about being alone this Christmas, or any time when you are usually with family.

No matter what kind of person you are: a people person, or someone who likes to spend time alone, there is nothing as lonely as a traditional family day spent on your own.

It can be particularly difficult this time of year when growing up; it would be the most exciting thing to look forward to.

Be aware of your feelings:

Acknowledge disappointment if you were planning on spending Christmas with family or friends and nothing has come of it. It’s okay to feel sad.

Acknowledge that it may be possible to meet up with friends and family on another day, even if it may be a few months away, and feel the love and joy then: give yourself something to look forward to.

Accept how you are feeling. Move your pride and prejudice of being ‘strong’ and ‘stoic’. Being alone at Christmas can be awful, especially if your denial of your feelings comes back to bite you on the day itself. It can lead to resentment of self and others and a drop in well-being and self-esteem.

Change your expectations of this Christmas, whether you choose to spend it with others or alone.

Expecting perfection leads to disappointment and having low expectations can lead to no action, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Spending Christmas with Others

Be pro-active. Instead of hoping someone will reach out or invite you, reach out to them.

Hope only sometimes leads to a solution, but action always does

Chances are that the other people thought you were busy or were hoping you would call. Reach out and see.

Don’t turn down invitations because of your pride. Accept that people have invited you because they want you there.

If someone asked you to spend Christmas with them and their family, and you answered no because you thought that you would only intrude, they did not really mean it or it makes you feel uncomfortable, call them and ask if the invitation is still open.

But: accept invitations from people you actually like, so you can enjoy your day with them.

Avoid people you do not want to spend time with.

Spend time with those you can spend time with. If you can do something and get there in person, do so. If need be, get out of your comfort zone and suggest something. If you cannot meet up, schedule a call, Zoom, FaceTime, or even just chat over WhatsApp.

If you cannot be with family this year, organise your own:

Host or join an ‘Orphan Christmas’ at home, in the park, on the beach (weather permitting), make it a potluck so everyone can contribute, or go out for a meal.

Create your own temporary Christmas Family. There are not many days left, but ask your single friends, or those whose partner is away if they would like to spend Christmas with you. It does not have to be big, or expensive. These days, it’s about being with people you like and get on with instead of being alone.

Go to a church, temple, or another prayer place, even if you are not religious. These places have had millennia of perfecting these traditional days to work for everyone. Usually, there is a post-service event where you can talk to other people who are not quite ready to go home either.

Volunteer at Christmas There is nothing quite like the good feeling we get from volunteering, especially in comparison to sitting home alone and feeling lonely. When you volunteer, you are actively helping other people feel better which, in turn, lifts your mood and mental state. The conviviality experienced with other volunteers is positive and good for mind and spirit.

Spending Christmas Alone

If you really are better on your own, make sure your day is planned. Have a planned walk or a marathon of uplifting movies that will get you through.

Focus on what you can do:

Is there something you’ve wished you could do if only you had the time? Something you really wanted to do? Give yourself the gift of time and permission to do it at Christmas this year. Plan it out, look forward to it and do it.

Go for a long walk around the city or in the countryside, getting rid of the cobwebs in your mind, invigorating and connecting with the oldest part of your brain that likes to look at and listen to natural surroundings.

Be kind to yourself.

Reward yourself throughout the day by doing things you love: a long bath, spa treatment, a good book or a box set to lose yourself in, cooking, a long walk, or something that makes you feel happy and comforted.

Do something you like that brings you joy.

Decorate your house as if you are not alone at Christmas because you are worth the decorations. Turn your home into a warm, self-loving nest. It can be a little tree with lovely little lights in the corner or the biggest tree with lots of decorations and flashy lights, depending on your personality, style and budget.

Get yourself a nice Christmassy candle. As we have learnt from aromatherapy, scents have a powerful effect on us, taking us back to places we love or hate and helping us feel better and comforted.

If Christmas is something you would rather ignore completely, surround yourself with people who do not celebrate either, and do something different with them. Even lunch or a movie will do.

You don’t have to celebrate Christmas.

Get yourself somewhere else. On the day itself, go out, and change your environment.

If you can afford it, have a change of scene altogether.

Many cultures do not celebrate this holiday, so get to one of those countries where Christmas is not on the calendar (i.e. Thailand) and revel in it being just another day…  Get out of your comfort zone and ask your friend to come with you.

Stay away from social media, as it can lead to negative comparisons, leaving you lonely and depressed. Do a digital detox with things that make you happy.

Lonely with Your Friends and Family Present.

If you have to spend Christmas with family who will not meet your emotional needs, have a call, chat, or video with friends you do connect with, or the Samaritans. They are brilliant listeners and allow you to talk it off.

Choose another day to meet up with those who meet your needs, such as good friends or have a ‘reward yourself’ day to recharge your batteries.

Whether Alone or with Others:

Practice gratitude. Sometimes we get so bogged down with what we don’t have that we neglect or take things we do have for granted. Sit back, look around and appreciate what you have, even if it’s just a little thing. Gratitude increases the positive chemicals in our brains, making us feel better.

Plan ahead. At Christmas, look ahead and plan for next year. What goals will you set? What would you continue doing? What would you stop doing? What will you start doing? Write a plan, timeline and actions to create a positive outlook for your future with goals and ways of getting there.

Sleep! Have a few good nights’ sleep, as sleep deprivation can increase stress and depression.

Alcohol is a depressant. Drinking your sorrows away is a myth – try other drinks. Hot chocolate or aniseed milk are warming, good before bedtime, watching a movie, or reading a good book.

If you’re not coping or are not sure, reach out. Either friends, family, or the Samaritans. They are here to listen, are open all the time and are happy to take your call, even if you feel just a little blue or lonely.

See a counsellor or psychotherapist to talk about it. We are here for you, on your side, supporting and working together with you to figure things out and get you through this tough time.

Elise Phillipson is a psychotherapist who practises at AMindset in Central and at Central Health in Discovery Bay.​

Please contact us if you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you.

by Elise Phillipson

Find out more about Elise here

25 Great Ideas to Celebrate Kindness Today

25 Great Ideas to Celebrate Kindness Today

“Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.” 

– Barbara De Angelis


By performing random acts of kindness, we not only brighten someone else’s day but also enrich our own life. This is the ideal day if you have been meaning to do something kind for someone but have been putting it off.


❤️ See below some great ways to be kind to somebody:

  1. Compliment the first three people you talk to.
  2. Write a hand-written note to your partner or child
  3. Say good morning to the person next to you in the coffee shop.
  4. Call a friend or family member you haven’t spoken to in a long time
  5. Pick up litter. Spend 10 minutes cleaning a park/beach or your neighbourhood.
  6. Place uplifting notes in library books, mirrors or on someone’s computer screen.
  7. Dedicate 24 hours to spreading positivity on social media.
  8. Surprise your neighbour/friend with some freshly cooked snacks or meal
  9. Go out of the way to make someone smile
  10. Leave a generous tip
  11. Give someone a genuine compliment.
  12. Send flowers to someone.
  13. Visit a dog or a cat in an animal shelter
  14. Donate for a good cause
  15. Write a positive review or recommendation for someone who provided good services for you
  16. Listen to someone empathetically 
  17. Set an alarm to go off three times on World Kindness Day. When the alarm sounds, stop what you’re doing a call/text/email someone simply to tell them how awesome they are
  18. Buy coffee for the person behind you in line
  19. Learn the names of your office security guard, the person at the front desk and other people you see every day. Greet them by name.
  20. say “hello” to strangers and smile.
  21. compliment a parent on how well-behaved their child is
  22. Send a gratitude email to someone who deserves more recognition
  23. Write a kind message on your mirror for yourself, your partner or a family member
  24. When you hear that discouraging voice in your head, tell yourself something positive — you deserve kindness too
  25. Bring a little bit more kindness in each and every day from today onwards. 

We each have the potential to improve each other’s lives through understanding and kindness. Whether it’s a friend, family member, colleague or stranger, our ability to show our humanity should have no limit. Be kind, be kind be kind. 

If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

by Anoush Davies

Find out more about Anoush here

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Retrain the Brain, Change the Habits

Retrain the Brain, Change the Habits

Have you ever wondered why habits are so hard to break, especially the bad ones?

The habits that human beings follow might have a positive impact on behaviours, but they can have a negative effect on social relations. Human habits are complex, and the significance of habits has been demonstrated in various behaviours across all domains; for example, our work or exercise routine, our morning walks, our route to work, our eating habits, our favourite restaurants and how we interact in our environment. Changing habits to retrain the brain can be challenging since our behaviours are not only hardwired in our physical activity. The repetition of these behaviours has a significant effect on our brains.

The Brain

As neuroscience is discovering, the brain’s ability is greater than the best computer invented by man. The brain is a complex piece of machinery, and the approximately eighty-six billion neurons in the brain are eager little individuals that create their little habits based on our repeated thoughts, feelings, and actions. The brain operates using chemicals, and different behaviours result in the production of the various chemicals that are released into the brain. The feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine is well known, but dopamine is also a neurotransmitter involved in reinforcement and plays a part in developing and reinforcing our habits. How we feel is a result of the chemicals in our brain. Antidepressants work through balancing neurotransmitters, the chemicals that affect mood and emotions. An individual with depression has a lower level of the serotonin neurotransmitter. Serotonin is a multifaceted and complex neurotransmitter that is known to affect mood and cognition. Our actions and environment can impact our mood because of these brain chemicals and the neurons and their synaptic connections. The synapses connect the eighty-six billion neurons in the brain throughout the nervous system to other neurons in the body.

Repeat Behaviours

The more we repeat a behaviour, the more synaptic connections we associate with that behaviour, and this affects specific parts of the brain. The repeated behaviour results in stronger synaptic connections, which gives the neurons enough ‘juice’ to create an action potential. The release of an action potential plays a crucial role in carrying messages from the brain to other parts of the body. The voltage of the action potential allows the neuron to fire from the neurons’ pre-synapse membrane to the post-synapse, with neurotransmitters being released in the space between. The neural networks become more substantial when we repeat a behaviour or thought. The behaviour or thinking develops into a habit, providing a strong stimulus to cause the cells to work together, becoming bigger and better. This explains why with repetition, new information eventually becomes memorised and long-lasting, resulting in the brain having more synaptic connections in the relevant area.

The Synapse

Four Major Brain Lobes

And just to refresh your memory, the four major lobes of the brain are:

The Frontal Lobe – includes the neocortex and controls voluntary movement, expressive language, and higher-level executive functions. Executive functions are cognitive skills that include planning, organising, self-monitoring and managing responses to achieve a goal.

The Parietal Lobe – is essential for sensory perception, including taste, hearing, sight, touch, and smell. It is an area that interprets input from other regions of the body.

The Occipital Lobe is for visual processing, including visuospatial processing, distance, and depth perception, determining colours, object and face recognition and memory formation.

The Temporal Lobe processes auditory information, memory encoding (learning from previous experiences) and the processing of affect/emotions, language, and some visual perceptions.

Brain Lobes retrain brain

Brain Associations – Shape our Thinking

The input of sensory impressions affects many areas of the brain, and their associations affect the neural network of our experiences. And it is not as if one experience is isolated; when we think, we often associate multiple inputs, which can affect our mood. For example, a mother may enjoy the scenery and fantastic weather walking in a park. She feels good, but then she hears a mother shouting at a child, and this causes her to remember the time she was depressed after a baby was born and how she used to yell at the older sibling. The child in the park starts crying and holding onto his mother’s skirt, apologising and looking distressed. The mother remembers a blue dress she wore one day and how her son made it dirty by holding onto it whilst sobbing and saying sorry for upsetting her. She can see her 2-year-old son’s large blue eyes staring at her with tears streaming down his cheeks. She gets angry with herself for being such a horrible mother, and she regrets her son’s upbringing and knows it is why she is estranged from him now. She feels miserable and, looking at the present scene of the mother and child, she believes she is the worst mother in the world and deserves to be lonely and alone; this is her life now.

How did this mother go from having a lovely walk in the park to feeling sad, unloved, alone and wanting to cry?

Neural Networks

We can thank our habits, episodic memory, and brain associations for this change in mood. The brain responds to input by activating a neural net to the sensory organs and triggers thoughts associated with that memory. The mind is activated and reconnects to that memory. Any event or people related to that neural net of the experience will trigger the part of the brain where those old circuits are lurking, waiting to be woken up by our episodic memory. As we remember, our consciousness will activate the cluster of neurons associated with the memory. The brain’s neurons will fire in a particular sequence and chemical combinations, and we are consciously reminded of a memory hiding in the unconscious, and our mood is affected.

How the Past affects the Present

How we respond to daily stimuli is affected by past interactions. We navigate our environment using a combination of semantic (language or logic) knowledge. The more often we use the same information, the more solid that data is hardwired into the brain. As we repeat the same thoughts daily, the same neural networks will become more potent, automatic, unconscious, familiar and habitual. We start to automatically think of ourselves in a certain habitual way. The neural networks result in an unconscious response caused by the environment and the memories it awakens. We start to operate unconsciously on an autopilot created by the chronic neural networks we have developed. Once a thought activates a particular neural circuit, it causes an automatic sequence of thought forms, and we are no longer living in the present but instead are feeling and thinking from past events. And the more we live from past habitual thinking, the more those associative neural networks will be strengthened. The power of these neural networks is why it is so hard to change behaviours or negative thoughts. We have spent a lifetime developing and maintaining these neural networks, and they are hardwired into our thought processes. When we decide to attempt change, we are strongly resisted by billions of neurons and their associated neural pathways.

How can the mother stop thinking she is the worst mother in the world?

She must change her thinking by retraining her brain to create positive networks and associations, which takes time and a lot of effort. She must also be willing to develop a different personality which may require her to change her behaviour, values, beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions of her environment. Some of the genetic predispositions from her parents and upbringing may need to be challenged as she chooses to form a new identity and image of herself. She may focus instead on the positive memories, even using photographs that show happier times with her son. She may repeat and use a daily strategy to focus on these positive memories, so they take precedence over the negative ones. She may decide to contact her son and ask if she may see him as she wants to apologise or discuss the past. There are many possibilities. But, it is up to her to make that change while accepting that the habits and the associated brain networks created over a lifetime will take some time to transform.

To Sum Up

Associations and repeat behaviours form neural networks that create habits of thought and behaviour. But we could retrain the brain if we introduced new and more positive neural networks and their associated memories into the brain. Our synapse may be formed by genetics and what we have learned over a lifetime, but that is not the end of development. Neuroscience has shown the brain can change; the brain and the mind are not static; they are forever changing. An individual can decide on which type of circuits they want to be in action. Suppose we repeat positive behaviours and are vigilant and control negative thoughts and even transfigure them into positive thoughts and associations. The new neural networks thus created will be associated with positivity and empowerment. The more we develop these types of networks, the more these positive patterns will become our habitual way of thinking and living.

Liz McCaughey

MC, MSc 

If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

Adapting to School

Adapting to School

Happy September, everyone. May the new school year kick off on a positive note. Wishing calmness, strength and zen-mode to all of us (both children and parents).

Adapting to school 🙇 🏢📗📘🗓✏️🖋📝🙇‍♀️ can take a month or even more. And not only for children but also for ourselves, their parents. Here are some ideas on how to help us all get into school rhythm as painlessly as possible – learned from my personal experience, the experience of other parents and recommendations within the framework of positive discipline.


⭐️ Preparation for school starts in the evening


In the morning, it will be easier if the child knows what he is wearing and what he needs to bring with him. If you know that there will be something unusual at school the next day (doctor, meeting, photographer), it is best to talk it through and discuss it before going to bed. The younger the child, the earlier the bedtime, especially in the first weeks: due to stress from beginning classes (comparable to the stress from the birth of a new sibling). The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are already produced in large quantities and, if you add to this lack of sleep, then everything can end in a nervous breakdown. If classes are online, then it is best for your child to have a specifically allocated place to study. For example, a desk in a room, on which there is a computer and where all required supplies are easily accessible. In the evening, you can set up the computer and prepare all the necessary materials so that in the morning you just have to switch the computer on and log in.


⭐️ May the mornings be good


A good mood in the morning is the key to a good day. This is easiest to do when Mom and Dad are in a good mood and there is no mad rush. You can set the alarm 15 minutes earlier and have an early morning chat and cuddle. Exercising is another great activity to do together.


It is not necessary to have a bootcamp style workout; even a few minutes of stretching can be enough. You can also add a minute of meditation and visualisation of a cool day ahead. The kids love it.


⭐️ Morning routine


Even if the school is online, get up at the same time as on the days when you have to go to school. The morning programme should be repetitive day after day. As an option: exercise, teeth, breakfast, a little game, dressing up, going out. Maybe dress in school clothes before turning on the computer).


Another good rule is no gadgets or TV in the morning (right before the start of the online process), so that nothing distracts attention.


⭐️ Not wanting to go to school is normal


Sooner or later you will hear the phrase: “I don’t want to go to school.” Any parent should be ready for it on any day. There are a lot of reasons for reluctance: from superficial (got up on the wrong foot and it’s cold) to deep internal processes related to school fights, quarrels or even bullying. Here are several options for interaction: 🧩 Accept and mirror the child’s feelings: “I understand you so well, I also don’t want to go to work (to the store, babysit your younger brother)”. This phrase is often enough. The child sees that he has been heard and understood; 🧩 Accept and give an example from your life: “I totally understand you. I also often did not like going to school as a kid. Especially in winter. Imagine, I had to wear tights, leggings and woollen socks. Everything itched, and it felt hot at home, but so cold outside ” 🧩 Try to find out if there is a deeper reason, and offer to convey this to the teacher: “You really do not want to get changed for PE today and because of this you do not want to go to school? Maybe we will write Ms. Smith a note asking her to help you with your buttons?” To minimise the number of such days (as a preventive measure), you can also try other methods, for example: 🧩 Play school with your child on weekends with the help of toys: “Oh, look at this dolly Anabelle, she cries every morning that she doesn’t want to go to school. How can we help her?” Often, in the course of such a game, the deeper reasons would come out and you can suddenly hear something like: “She does not want to go to school because Mark pushes her against the walls all the time” or “She just does not like to have lunch at school, but they make her eat that food and that makes her sad. ” Children often automatically transfer their associations and emotions to the play situation. 🧩 Chat about the day ahead with your child on the way to school: “Who, I wonder, will be the funniest today? Will the teacher wear a red sweater or a green one?” Here, again, you can switch on your fantasy and say that it seems to you that she will be wearing an orange hat with an ostrich feather. Together you laugh at this picture, and the level of tension will subside. With an online school, there may be a similar reluctance due to lack of socialisation, screen fatigue, inability to physically move. The main thing here is to give your child a break and a change of activity. Switch his or her attention. 👆By the way, at the age of 8-9-10 years old, three hours of screen time per day is the maximum. Up to 6-7 years old the maximum is two hours.


⭐️ Teacher authority


At school, the teacher takes the position of a “significant adult”, which means that the child needs to establish a connection with this person. The focus should automatically be shifted to the teacher and their authority. Usually within 2-3 weeks it becomes clear whether the connection has been established. If the teacher was able to correctly communicate her authority and is being respected by the kids , then he or she becomes a source of instructions and rules: “No, Mom, Mr. Jones said that it has to be a green folder, not a red one.”


If this does not happen and the child cannot adjust to school even after a long period of time, it is best to contact the teacher and discuss what you can do together (an experienced teacher in such a situation will contact the parents).


⭐️ Everyone needs friends


Kids go to school for many reasons and, of course, socialisation is one of the main ones. It is very important for the kids to have friends. At least one or two. The sooner such person(s) appear(s), the better and easier the child’s school life will be.

Often this just sort of happens itself and you start hearing the name of a certain student more and more: “Jake brought markers, Jake gave me a carrot. Jake and I ran.” If the schooling is online and you do not have a strict quarantine, then it is probably worth organising playdates and other out-of-school activities with peers a few times a week.


⭐️ Promise you will be back to pick them up


Usually, this is dealt with in pre-school or nursery, where you establish with your kids that you will definitely be there straight after lunch or sleep or walk. But if your child did not go to kindergarten and is only just experiencing this big new life for the first time, the separation is scary, and it is better to discuss everything in advance.

Even if a child is eager to go to school and outwardly remains calm, remember that inside he can be tense and anxious. After all, it’s not difficult to discuss school hours and the end of the school day: “Look, it’s 8:30 now, I promise – at exactly 3 pm I’ll be waiting for you at the entrance.” At first, you can even leave a little memory of yourself (a little squishy toy or photo or key chain to instil positive feelings and your presence when the child is in school). And it is best to be in school at exactly 3 pm as those 5 minutes of lonely waiting when the rest of the kids have already gone, can seem like an eternity in childhood.


⭐️ Let off steam after school


Sometimes, when they start school, some other things can happen – like nightmares, nail biting or sleeve sucking. Kids get all sorts of colds and viruses. They might have upset stomachs and all sorts of other emotional and somatic reactions. This is all normal and will pass quickly if caused solely by adaptation to starting school.

Therefore, I suggest we parents be patient, get some herbal teas (or a couple of bottles of wine) and try to get through the first weeks as calmly as possible. The beginning of the new school year is a difficult time, but it is wonderful nevertheless. Children are discovering a new world for themselves, and in many ways, the mindset of the parents determines their long-term relationship with the school.

If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

by Anoush Davies

Find out more about Anoush here

Other Articles:

7 Weird and Fun Ideas to Deal with Stress

The Brain is not Hardwired

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