Life Transitions: Relocations

Life Transitions: Relocations

Exploring the challenges of moving from one country to another.

Following on from last month’s focus on life transitions, this month we turn our attention to a particular transition undertaken by many Hong Kong and expat families in increasing numbers over the past 5 years. Various issues have contributed to an unprecedented number of families relocating out of Asia – with a significant number going from Hong Kong to the UK.  Many of these families have deep ties and connections with where they’ve been living and the transition, for many, involved challenging and unsettling emotions. These intense emotions have been described as a grieving process, as we close one chapter of our life and transition into the next chapter.

Having relocated to the UK with my family after almost 20 years in Hong Kong, I have experienced my share of homesickness for the country I had called home for so long and grieved for a chapter in my life that was now closing. It is an experience I have seen replicated in many others, both friends and clients. We can find ourselves grieving for our former lifestyles, for a persona of ourselves, career and all the myriad reasons we fell in love with  Asia in the first place.  For some of us, our lives in  Asia allowed us to ‘reinvent’ ourselves: either in our careers, friendships, hobbies etc. With domestic help, endless international travel and lower tax, life can be pretty glamorous in Asia. Places like Hong Kong offer a diversity of food, restaurants, convenience and experiences which are hard to match elsewhere in the world.  

Relocating back to our country of origin, or moving to a new country can stir up all manner of feelings; reintegrating into old social circles can be more difficult than expected, friends and family may not seem as welcoming as you hoped or you might be moving to an entirely new area and need to create a social framework from scratch. In the short term, we lose our sense of ‘belonging’ which can make us feel sad, alone and isolated. 

For some, the grief they feel in leaving their old lives compounds issues that may have been ‘bubbling’ under the surface. Isolation and loneliness can trigger anxieties and depression. Marriages and relationships can be tested with the new reality of life in a different country. The cost-of-living crisis, the fallout from Covid and the war in Ukraine can make the reality of life feel pretty hard.  

So what can help? 

Firstly, acknowledging that you might be going through a grieving process will help bring an awareness of your feelings. As with anyone grieving, give yourself the space and understanding to deal with your emotions. Grief is a deeply personal and complex emotion. It doesn’t have a set timeframe and can come and go, sometimes triggered by an unexpected event or memory.  You may even find yourself experiencing the different stages of grief such as denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and finally acceptance.  Awareness and understanding are key, being kind to yourself and taking some action can help. The good news is that, with time, grief and homesickness can and will fade. That journey may be smooth or rocky but there are certain attitudes and behaviours that may help:

Let’s take a look at some of the key issues which may have the biggest impact when relocating and how you might employ some basic psychology (problem solving, reframing and addressing unhelpful negative thoughts) to make the situation a little smoother: 

  • Change of lifestyle:  Does the impact of losing the domestic help enjoyed by so many families in  Asia mean that you find yourself struggling with housework, childcare and work/life balance?  This is probably the most consistent life adjustment I have heard from friends and clients.  Whether you are a stay-at-home parent, trailing spouse or working parent, the transition to life without all the help most of us enjoyed in Asia is a tough one. It can represent a curtailment of ‘freedom’ for families with younger children and a change in the dynamics in most couples. Add on a longer work commute and dull weather and the stage is set for resentment and fireworks (no, not the fun type!)

Try practical problem solving:  sit down with your spouse and children and explain how the adjustment is affecting you.  Allocate a fair split of housework with everyone in the house, including the children (a friend of mine made sure she negotiated these terms with her family before their move!). Relax your expectations of cleanliness/ tidiness around the house.  Can your resources stretch to a cleaner a few hours a week? Set times for the whole family to help clean on the weekends; cut corners with food preparation and ironing (i.e. don’t).  Allocate set times and limits for housework so that you can get a break. If you are feeling overwhelmed, take a break and try and check in with someone who can understand.  You will not be alone!

  • Losing your sense of belonging.   This is a key issue.  Losing the familiarity of your surroundings and the sense of ‘belonging’ can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.  You may begin to feel disconnected, adrift from your old life and not yet settled into your new reality.   This can lead to sadness and low mood.   You might become fixated on the past, looking backwards and unable to move on with your new life.  Take action and engage:  it is vital that you make the effort in your new circumstances to make friends and establish a new social network. Get to know your neighbours, volunteer at your children’s school, sign up for an exercise class at the local community centre. Many community centres provide a wide range of accessible fitness and leisure courses.  Join a walking club, take up a new hobby. 

Use technology to your advantage – remain in regular contact with your old  Asia friends – wherever they might find themselves, set up regular Zoom calls and stay connected and interested in each other’s lives. Hunt out your local Hong Kong or  expat groups – either in person or on Facebook. I guarantee there is someone nearby who would love to catch up for a coffee!  

 

  • Friendships and relationships – revisiting old friendships can be an interesting exercise.  Hopefully, it’s a positive experience, but many people report that it can be tough to ‘reintegrate’ into their old lives and social circles. This isn’t so surprising – just as your life experiences have no doubt changed you, your old friends and family will have settled into a new way of life.  Logistics of socialising with young children can simply make  regular contact too hard. It’s important to accept that ‘slotting’ back into your old life might not happen and that’s ok – don’t take it personally.  Try not to fall into a negative thought pattern of “I don’t belong here” or “no one will like me”.   Challenge these unhelpful negative assumptions and give people a chance.  Ultimately, you will find your new tribe in this transition and that can be part of the adventure.
  • Culture shock: settling into a new culture or re-integrating can be challenging. Conversations can be nuanced and misinterpreted. Be aware of what is culturally important to you and your immediate family. Your values and traditions are important and you will find it comforting to take time to recreate the rituals and traditions you enjoyed in your previous life. We still adore celebrating Chinese New Year and putting up all the decorations up in our house!

 

Practice elements of Positive Psychology:

Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes humans happy and creates a sense of wellbeing.
Try some of these proven mood boosters:  

  • Be in the moment – avoid spiralling and thinking excessively about what you have left behind (or perhaps limit your focus on your old life to one hour a day).  Mindfulness and mediation can help ground you in the ‘here and now’.  There are many free resources online to get you started. 
  • Practice gratitude – list all the things about your life that you are grateful for.  Get into the habit of writing down three new things a day. 
  • Connect with your community – volunteering and joining clubs is a great way to give back while growing your social network.
  • Exercise and get out into nature:  I know that sunlight is limited in Europe but try to expose yourself to natural sunshine at every opportunity. Gather the kids and explore the many trails, coastal paths and National Trust properties that are within reach of you. 
  • Stay connected with your friends and family: Even though you might feel down, staying connected will always help the tough moments pass. 
  • Limit mindless scrolling on social media: Flicking through endless photos of junks, hikes and plates of steaming dim sum will not make you feel better.  Limit these to a set time daily or weekly.  
  • Positive thinking:  Look at this transition as a new chapter of your life and make it an adventure! Reframe your thinking into a more positive mindset. Instead of thinking about what was different back home – focus on all the great things at your disposal now.  
  • Humour!  If all else fails – remember to laugh.

 

Helping your children with the integration: 

Part of the anxiety in moving for parents is the impact on their children.   Asia might have been all they knew – other than trips back during the holidays,  Asia represents their friends, school, identity, and social structure. A relocation can be every bit as tough on them as it is on us.  Integrating into the local school environment can be an exhilarating experience (more sports facilities; new friends; new adventures) but it can also be a scary and isolating experience for others. Children (and teenagers, in particular), may feel that they have had little say in the move and feel a sense of powerlessness.  Try and include them in the decision making and involve them when making choices. Help them cultivate new friends, interests and gently steer them towards joining clubs that will interest them and help broaden their social network. We found that engaging with the Duke of Edinburgh Awards soon took care of any spare time on the weekends for our teens. Technology has made it easier than ever to keep in touch after a move – encourage weekly or monthly Zoom calls with their friends ‘back home’ or get together with other ‘returnees’ who can empathise with their situation. Ultimately, children can be extremely resilient but look out for signs of homesickness and an unwillingness to integrate into their new surroundings. Keep the lines of communication open!

Finally, and above all, be kind to yourself and allow yourself to grieve for your past life. Time is a healer, and the pangs of homesickness will eventually fade and you will look back on your previous life with affection and pride. Take control of the narrative for your latest adventure!

If you find that you or a member of your family is finding it hard with this transition, talking to a professional may help. Always take depression and anxiety seriously and seek help.  

Laurence Munoz

MoC

Laurence is our counsellor in the UK team. Find out more about Laurence here.

Please complete the AMindset intake form if you want to start your therapy with Elise or another AM team member. Our therapists offer a FREE 20-minute introductory session for new clients. 

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Executive Functions and Child Development

Executive Functions and Child Development

Executive Functions and Child Development

Why is it so Important for Academic Achievement & Good Health

Executive functions are a set of high-level cognitive processes that allow us to plan, initiate, monitor, and adjust our behaviour in order to achieve our goals. These functions are often referred to as frontal lobe functions because many of the brain regions involved in executive functions are located in the frontal lobes of the brain. The prefrontal cortex, which is located at the front of the frontal lobes, is particularly important for executive functions (Figure 1). It is involved in many aspects of executive functions, including planning, decision-making, working memory, and inhibitory control. Other brain regions, such as the anterior cingulate cortex and the basal ganglia, are also involved in executive functions and are located in or near the frontal lobes (Figure 2). These processes include working memory, cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, and planning ability. While important for people of all ages, executive functions are particularly critical for children’s development.

 

Figure 1. Frontal lobe and its components.

 

Figure 2. Basal Ganglia and Anterior Cingulate Cortex.

Why are Executive Functions Important for Children’s Development?

Executive functions play a critical role in children’s development, particularly in their ability to learn, solve problems, and regulate their emotions and behaviour. Here are some of the key reasons why executive functions are so important for children’s development:

  1. Learning and Academic Achievement: Research has shown executive functions are closely linked to academic achievement, particularly in domains such as reading, writing, and math. Children with strong executive functions are better able to focus their attention, process information efficiently, and use cognitive strategies to solve problems. As a result, they are more likely to perform well in school and achieve academic success.
  2. Social and Emotional Development: Executive functions also play a crucial role in children’s social and emotional development. For example, children with strong inhibitory control are better able to regulate their emotions and behaviour, which can help them form positive relationships with others. Similarly, children with strong cognitive flexibility are better able to show empathy, e.g., understand others from their perspectives and adapt to new situations, which it can help them navigate social interactions more effectively.
  3. Health and Well-Being: Executive functions are also linked to children’s physical health and well-being. For example, children with strong attentional control are better able to focus on health-promoting behaviours, such as exercise and healthy eating. Similarly, children with strong inhibitory control are better able to resist unhealthy temptations, such as smoking and drug use.

Given the importance of executive functions for children’s development, it is not surprising that many researchers and educators are interested in finding ways to train and enhance these processes.

How Can Training Benefit Children’s Executive Functions?

Here are some of the ways in which training can benefit children’s executive functions:

  1. Cognitive Training: Cognitive training involves engaging in structured exercises that are designed to enhance specific executive functions, such as working memory or inhibitory control. These exercises may involve tasks such as remembering sequences of numbers or resisting distractions. Research has shown that cognitive training can lead to improvements in executive functions, particularly in children with weaker initial abilities.
  2. Mindfulness Training: Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way. Mindfulness training has been shown to improve executive functions in both children and adults. For example, studies have found that children participating in mindfulness training led to improvements in working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility in children.
  3. Play-Based Interventions: Play-based interventions involve engaging children in games and activities that are designed to promote executive functions. These interventions may involve games such as Simon Says or Red Light, Green Light, which require children to inhibit their behaviour and follow instructions. Research has shown that play-based interventions can lead to improvements in executive functions, particularly in younger children.

In conclusion, executive functions are critical for children’s development in a wide range of domains, including academic achievement, social and emotional development, and health and well-being. Given their importance, it is not surprising that many researchers and educators are interested in finding ways to train and enhance these processes. Whether through cognitive training, mindfulness, or play-based interventions, there are many opportunities to promote the development of these critical cognitive processes. By investing in these training opportunities, we can help to ensure that all children have the cognitive skills they need to succeed in life.

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

Find out more about Nicolson here.

 

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:

The Benefit of Laughter

The Benefit of Laughter

Did you know that healthy children can laugh 400 times in a day but adults only average 15 times? It seems that we all need more laughter in our lives. But, does it really matter? Is laughter the best medicine?

The Benefit of Laughter

Well, research indicates that laughter is beneficial for our stress levels and our overall wellbeing. There are immediate short-term benefits and there are great long-term effects:

Short Term:

  1. Reduce stress: Laughter changes the perspective of stressful events and we can view them more as challenges and therefore less threatening. The relaxation of your muscles makes you less tense which reduces the symptoms of stress.
  2. Stimulation: Laughter increases your breathing and the oxygen boost stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles. And, the brain releases more endorphins.
  3. Exercise: Laughing is an exercise for the diaphragm, abs and shoulders and also leaves them more relaxed.
  4. Contagious: Laughter is contagious. It effects the others around you and brings increased benefits to a group. You will laugh more at a comedy with a group than on your own.

Long Term:

  1. Immune system: The positive thoughts that accompany laughter releases neuropeptides that help fight stress and general illnesses. While you have banished the negative thoughts that would otherwise flood your body with harmful and stress producing chemicals.
  2. Pain: Laughter is believed to produce natural painkillers to ease pain.
  3. Depression: Laughter provides a long term and beneficial effect by reducing the symptoms of depression.
  4. Fake it: Research indicates that the positive effects of laughter are not dependant on whether it is real or faked. Like many things, faking it works and, as a bonus, usually leads to it becoming real over the long term.
  5. Social: As in ‘contagious’ above, the group benefits of laughter can lead to an improvement in the quality of your social life.

You don’t find that much is funny in life? Just give it a try and try to find the funny side. Laugh at your bloopers instead of cursing. Enjoy a good comedy – live is often best. Observe yourself after a good laugh. Feeling good and relaxed? That’s laughter at work.

Befriend your Nervous System

Befriend your Nervous System

 

Our brain is wired to constantly scan for potential dangers and safety in our surroundings, even if we do so without realizing it. We read thousands of social cues when we interact with others, such as facial expressions, voice tones, body language, and more. Dr Stephen Porgers developed the Polyvagal Theory which describes the process of the neural circuits assessing whether the situations are dangerous or safe. He called it neuroception. This ability to distinguish cues of safety, danger, life-threatening situations, or people in a split second is learned throughout our early childhood development stages by observing our caregivers and from life experiences.

In Polyvagal Theory, there are three stages of the autonomic nervous system: Immobilization, Mobilization, and Social Engagement. Deb Dana, a US social worker and expert in Polyvagal theory, describes these three responses as an autonomic ladder. When we are at the top of the ladder there is a state of social engagement. We feel calm and want to connect or interact with others. When our bodies sense signs of danger, we move to the middle of the ladder. At this Mobilization stage, our heart rate speeds up, our breath is short, and our body will release adrenaline to prepare us for harm. We might ruminate with negative thoughts, feel anxious, and want to run away or lash out. While we continue to encounter extreme life-threatening danger, our nervous system starts to perform intensely. When all else fails, we will fall to the bottom of the ladder to the Immobilization mode causing us to become frozen, numb, dissociated, shut down, or collapse. You might describe ourselves as hopeless, helpless, abandoned, lonely, or too tired to think or act.

We shift up and down on different levels of the Polyvagal “ladder” every day. By being aware of what ladder level we are on at any given moment and understanding how we move between levels, we can be in control to move up if we are on a lower part of the ladder. We can set a specific time-out moment to check our status according to the schedule. When we notice that we are in the middle or bottom of the ladder we can say to ourselves, “Thank you, nervous system, for trying to protect me from danger. I am safe now.” Then we can do the activities that help us move up to the top of the ladder such as taking a break, going for a walk, doing some exercise, or having something to eat or drink. Social engagement behaviours will occur when the neuroception is feeling safe. 

Here is an example of shifting through different states of the ladder. I was enjoying a conversation with my close friends, feeling happy and connected (top of the ladder). The conversation turned to the current COVID situation and I started comparing my life to their friend’s life overseas. I started to feel frustrated that I haven’t seen my family for over two years or even been able to travel abroad (moving down the ladder). I disconnected from the conversation and was not able to pay attention to what my friend was saying (shutting down and moving to the bottom of the ladder). After dinner, I took a walk with my friend and felt more relaxed (beginning to move up the ladder). I started to tune in to the conversation again. I talked about the possibility of travelling and goals for the future (back to the top of the ladder). 

When we befriend our autonomic nervous system, we can then begin to understand our internal response patterns. When we are aware of our movement on the Polyvagal “ladder,” we can successfully manoeuvre to safety and connection. 

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

By Cecilia Yu

Find out more about Cecilia here

Other Articles Written by Cecilia Yu:

Say No to Emotional Blackmail

Negative Emotions Can Be Good for You

Trauma & EMDR Therapy

Nonviolent Communication

Related Articles:

Dealing with Negative Emotions

Re-entering the Outside World

Re-entering the Outside World

Travelling post-Covid

In the 2015 movie “Room”, based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, a mother and her son Jack are held captive in a single-room outbuilding for nearly seven years.  During this time, “Ma” works to keep her son healthy and happy by structuring their days with physical and mental exercises, keeping a healthy diet, limiting TV-watching time, and a strict regime of body and oral hygiene. Because it is all he has ever known, Jack believes that only the things in his immediate world are “real.” Ma, unwilling to disappoint Jack with a life she cannot give him, allows him to believe that the rest of the world exists only on television.  When they eventually escape, Ma must begin the process of relearning how to interact with the larger world, and Jack, who is overwhelmed by new experiences and people (and the realisation that the world actually exists beyond TV), wants only to return to the safety of the world he knows – the world of his Room.

I recently ventured out of Hong Kong for the first time in two years.  My husband and I planned the trip in order to bring our son home – he’d been delayed in Australia because of Hong Kong’s ban on flights from “high risk” countries.  We intended to meet him in Thailand, do a 14-day “wash out”, and then fly back to Hong Kong together.  The trip was functional in nature, with the goal of getting him back to Hong Kong and regular school.  It took weeks of organising, securing various approvals, passes, and certificates, and an off-the-charts level of patience.

About a week before we were set to travel, the HK government rescinded the flight ban, which meant we could potentially fly our son straight back to the city.  This prompted a debate:  Should we still go?  Was it necessary? Should we spend the money?  Would we rather wait and take an actual holiday later?  What if we got Covid while overseas?  Would we be able to get proper medical attention?  Would we be able to get back into Hong Kong?  And on, and on.

Eventually, having reminded ourselves that we both loved Thailand and we hadn’t been outside of Hong Kong for what felt like ages, we decided to go. Being effectively ‘grounded’ (or as some of our friends described it, “imprisoned”) for the last two years had taught us two things:  first, that life is short, and it is richer with travel; second, that we’d taken for granted our ability to see friends and family whenever we wanted.  Like most Hong Kong people, we were used to hopping on a plane at a moment’s notice, and living away from our families had not precluded us from seeing them.  We saw an opportunity to reconnect through this trip.  We decided to turn it into a long-awaited holiday, and invited the rest of our family and some friends to join us.  With the decision made, we felt a surge of joy and anticipation.  We had something to look forward to.

While we fully expected that travel in a post-Covid world would be a logistical hassle, what we didn’t anticipate was how it would feel to be out in the world again.  We experienced walking mask-free down public streets and entering restaurants without checking in.  We went to bars that were packed wall-to-wall with people (again, no masks).  We saw people shaking hands and hugging again.  We made plans and reservations for meals and activities, without having to check whether venues were open.  We were able to go out without carrying our phones.

How did it feel?  Honestly, it was a strange sensation, which led us to reflect on how we’d coped with the last two years.  We felt happy, sad, frustrated, regretful, guilty, optimistic, and resigned all at the same time.  The joy and appreciation of rejoining the outside world sat very uncomfortably against a sense of grief at having missed two years with people we love.  Had we done the right thing in avoiding travelling to see our family and friends, simply because of government restrictions?  Should we have pushed ourselves harder to just cope with multiple periods (and the expense) of hotel quarantine, for the reward of spending precious time with loved ones?  What if something had happened to them (as it did for so many families) and we weren’t there?  This was an experience of simultaneous celebration and self-flagellation.  Being with our family and friends again filled our hearts, and also reminded us of how much we’d missed.  In addition, it highlighted how much we’d gotten used to life with Covid – mask-wearing, contact tracing, vaccination discussions, rapid antigen testing, and avoiding coughing in public all felt normal to us.  The absence of these things felt uncomfortable and foreign.

There is something in this for me that connects back to Ma’s experience of escaping the Room.  She’s been isolated for so long, and the narrow world she’s inhabited for the last seven years has suddenly widened beyond comprehension.  She does not remember how to exist in that world. What was an effective coping mechanism – creating structure, routine, and stories for herself and Jack to deal with a lack of freedom – is no longer needed.  The prison no longer exists.  But she also feels guilt at not preparing Jack for the real world.  Anger for being imprisoned for so long and missing out on life. Uncertainty about how to relate to people other than her son.  Regret at not having been able to escape sooner.  Grief at the loss of time and the experiences she and Jack have missed.  Fear and discomfort at re-entering a world that has been lost to her for seven years.

The tight restrictions in Hong Kong were nothing compared to what Ma and Jack had to endure.  I am not suggesting for a second that travel restrictions are anywhere close to being imprisoned and traumatised on a daily basis for seven years.  What does strike me is the wide range and similarity of feelings that bubble up once a fuller amount of freedom is available to us, whether that freedom comes in the form of post-Covid travel or a release from captivity.

Our ability to adapt to our surroundings has ensured our survival over time.   Covid led governments around the world to implement restrictions on daily living which none of us could have imagined.  And we’ve coped with those restrictions by getting used to not travelling, by learning to be more still, and by adapting our daily routines to fill the void.  Ma coped with her lack of freedom much in the same way – by creating routines to foster a sense of normalcy for her and her son.  We humans have the capacity for profound resilience in the face of adversity.

As our world begins to open up, a new range of choices becomes available to us.  What will we do with that freedom?  We can stay home, avoid the complexity of travel and the risk of getting sick, and remain comfortable in the routines we’ve built for ourselves.  The trade-off is, perhaps, a greater richness in life.  Alternatively, we can start travelling and stepping back out into the world, accepting that we don’t know what will happen when we do, and we don’t know how it’ll affect us.

Regardless of whether you stay put, or step back into travel, you can expect to “feel all of the feels”.  The challenge is to stay in the present and allow the full range of emotions to wash through us.  Nothing can be done to change the past or to control the future.  

What choice will you make?  

Kelly Hutchison

Kelly Hutchison is a psychotherapist, counsellor and executive coach with aMindset, based in Hong Kong. 

To book an individual consultation or discuss mental health & wellness initiatives for your organization, contact Kelly on +852 9179 4454 or kellyamindset@gmail.com 

Other Articles by Kelly:

Find out more about Kelly here

Qualifications:

  • Master of Counselling, Monash University, Australia
  • Master of Applied Science (Innovation & Organisation Dynamics), RMIT University, Australia
  • Bachelor of Arts (Liberal Arts/Music), Florida State University, USA
  • Executive Coaching – Level Two Coach, Institute of Executive Coaching & Leadership, Australia
  • Member, Hong Kong Society of Counselling & Psychology
  • Member, Australian Counselling Association
  • Member, Hong Kong Professional Counselling Association

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



How Meditation Helps Relieve Pain

How Meditation Helps Relieve Pain

It does not matter what sort of pain you experience, pain is very unpleasant and something you all want to avoid.  If you suffer from chronic pain which is a persistent and long-standing ailment anything that can help you be free of that pain is frantically sought. The use of drugs is a natural development but drugs can have negative side effects. Plus the use of prescription medication has to be carefully monitored as the body builds up resistance to the most powerful of medicines. As the dose is increased your mental agility decreases and life can become pretty miserable.  It is therefore good to know that medical research has found in the past few years when you meditate you are providing yourself with some natural pain relief. The fact that scientific research shows that meditation helps relieve pain is a positive step forward for helping millions of people at a global level.

As meditation becomes more common and a normal part of life in the Western Hemisphere more research is being done to find out what the effects of meditation are on the brain. As meditation is researched by these diverse groups the benefits of learning to meditate and making it a part of your daily routine is becoming more evident. A study at the Berth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre showed that meditation helped reduce blood pressure by decreasing the blood flow. With stress the Harvard Medical School reports that meditation helps the brain calm the body. Jon Kabat-Zinn a Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School is one of the many authors of Books and CDs using the technique of Meditation as a pain reliever

In her article, Meditation: proven to lower pain, improve memory and focus Jeanette Padilla, an experienced herbalist and iridologist, writes about the studies that are being carried out which show that meditation helps relieve pain.  And not only can meditation help relieve pain it also increases memory function which is the opposite of what the prescriptive drugs did.  Meditation is not just for the people who sit in an Ashram in India it is a proven pain reliever.

Meditation: proven to lower pain, improve memory and focus

Meditation is a powerful tool, but not until recent years has its wide array of benefits been studied so extensively. Once neurologists discovered how meditation creates changes in the brain, research of this alternative tool rose exponentially. Many recent studies have proven that meditation can diminish pain, improve memory, and sharpen focus.

Meditation can help lower blood pressure

A recent study published in NeuroReport suggests meditation can activate specific areas of the brain that may influence heart and breathing rates. Sara Lazar, Ph.D., author of the study, used a brain imaging process known as fMRI, functional magnetic resonance imaging, to measure blood flow changes in experienced meditators. Senior author of the study and president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Berth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, Dr. Herbert Benson said, “What we found were striking changes. There was significant decrease in blood flow and activity in specific areas of the brain.”

Meditation is better than morphine

Researchers have also found that individuals who partook in an eight week mindfulness meditation program experienced increased density in sections of the brain associated with empathy, memory, one’s sense of self, and stress response. The study was published in the medical journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging in 2011. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, meditation can reduce pain more than morphine can. The study, led by Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., reported individuals new to meditation displayed a 40% reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness after only a few quick sessions of mindfulness meditation training. For reference, morphine generally lessens pain by about 25 percent.

In the case of Cassandra Metzger, meditation worked to reduce her pain caused by fibromyalgia. Metzger was 34 when she was diagnosed. Doctors prescribed pain killers, sleep drugs, muscle relaxers, mood stabilizers and other drugs to help manage her pain, fatigue, insomnia, and depression but nothing worked well. Metzger credits meditation saying it, “saved me from despair more than once.” She adds, “During episodes of acute illness, I was saved by knowing that the experience of pain was just one moment in time – maybe an excruciating moment, maybe a long moment, but still a moment. I learned this by meditating.”

Meditation benefits everyone around you

In instances of stress and/or severe pain the brain’s natural fight-or-flight response causes the release of adrenalin, which is stressful to the body. Meditation helps the brain calm the body. “People with chronic illnesses often experience a lot of self-loathing and self-blame,” says David Vago, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He adds, “If you can transform those negative emotions toward yourself into compassion and love, it not only benefits you, it also benefits everyone around you.”

For example, people suffering from chronic pain, such as those with fibromyalgia, tend to dwell on thoughts about pain because they frequently experience acute pain. Dr. Vago’s research team saw those types of tendencies disappeared after eight weeks of meditation. Meditation teaches you to recognize pain, anger, or fear without letting yourself be overtaken by negative thoughts or behavior that typically accompany those emotions. According to researchers, meditators have discovered how to effectively manage their emotional response to pain although they still sense it. Katherine MacLean, Ph.D., of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine explains that meditators are,”…actually more in tune with the sensation of pain, but they don’t have their usual emotional reaction to it.

Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication

 

Healthy, productive communication is crucial to keep any relationship strong. Dr. John Gottman, the renowned psychologist and relationship researcher, determined that there are four kinds of communication habits that are the most destructive and biggest predictors of relationship demise. Dr. Gottman referred to those four traits as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and they are Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling. Based on the “Four Horsemen,” Dr. Gottman and his research team can predict the probability of a divorce with over 90% accuracy within 15 minutes of observing the communications patterns of a couple during conflicts.

Conflicts, in any kind of relationship, are inevitable, normal, and even necessary. Having conflict is not the problem, but rather dealing with those conflicts is the key to defining the quality of the relationship. Each disagreement can be seen as an opportunity for couples to either achieve deeper connections or the possibility to tear their relationship apart. When conflicts happen, please ask yourself, do you want to argue for a win or want to connect and be heard? If you choose to connect, then we need to practice expressing our thoughts and needs with healthier communications skills. 

One of my favourite models of communication for solving personal conflicts is Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s theory of Nonviolent Communication (NVC). The objective of NVC is to have a sincere and frank conversation while paying attention with empathy and handling potential disputes with respect and thoughtfulness. The basis of Nonviolent Communication is being ready to recognize and proceed towards matters in a non-judgemental way.

Following four fundamental steps can help us to master the art of NVC. The steps are Observations, Feelings, Needs, and Requests, from the book, “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life,” by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. Let’s examine each one individually. 

Observations: Making observations is the act of describing factual information about what happened without judgments or interpretations. For example, instead of saying “He is a bad player,” you can say, “He did not make any goals in the past two games.” Or instead of saying, “You are so sloppy,” a person can say, “You did not change your clothes for three days.” Without emotional or judgmental words, the listener will most likely understand the detail being illustrated.

Feelings: Express your emotions not your thoughts. For example, instead of saying, “I feel misunderstood,” which includes an interpretation of behaviour, one could simply say, “I feel frustrated.” The key is to focus on words that describe our inner emotions. Sentences starting with, “I feel like,” or “I feel that,” usually end with describing our thoughts or interpretations of another person’s feelings or actions.

Needs: Negative feelings are caused by unfulfilled needs. State your needs rather than the other person’s actions as the cause. The key is to connect our inner values and focus on words that describe shared human experiences. For example, one can say, “I feel annoyed because I need more support,” rather than, “I feel annoyed because you don’t do the laundry.” 

Requests: Ask clearly in positive action language. The request must be doable and specific. The key is to focus on what we want instead of what we don’t want. For example, instead of saying, “Please don’t invade my privacy,” one could say, “Would you knock on my door before coming in?”

Here is another example of a wife using NVC to express her concerns. 

“This is the third weekend in a row that you worked during the weekend (OBSERVATION). I feel sad because we don’t have the chance to spend some time together (FEELINGS). It is important for me to feel connected with you (NEEDS). Would you please come home earlier and we can have dinner together (REQUESTS)?”

Nonviolent Communication is a process for us to understand and take responsibility for our own feelings, needs, and inner experiences before communicating with others. It begins with observing the situation, recognizing our feelings, followed by connecting with our needs, and finally proposing the request specifically. Hopefully, the listener will empathize with us, fostering understanding and creating a connection that leads to meeting everyone’s needs. Learning NVC is similar to learning a new language. With practice, a person can speak fluently in Nonviolent Communication in no time. 

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

By Cecilia Yu

Find out more about Cecilia here

Other Articles Written by Cecilia Yu:

Befriend your Nervous System

Say No to Emotional Blackmail

Negative Emotions Can Be Good for You

Trauma & EMDR Therapy

Related Articles:

Dealing with Negative Emotions

Say No To Emotional Blackmail

Say No To Emotional Blackmail

 

Are you always a “Yes” person? If the answer is yes, maybe you will realize people around you always ask you to do something for them and you are the one who doesn’t know how to say no. If you don’t do what other people ask then you might feel very guilty and are probably concerned that something bad will happen as a result. If this seems familiar then you are probably engaged in a cycle of Emotional Blackmail. 

What is Emotional Blackmail?

In the book “Emotional Blackmail,” Susan Forward and Donna Frazier, defined it as the condition when someone uses fear, obligations, and guilt to manipulate another person to give in to their demands. Emotional Blackmailers utilize a person’s fear of displeasing others to compel them to capitulate to the blackmailer’s demands, while also making those who don’t comply feel guilty.

It usually happens to two people with close relationships, especially between parents and children. Knowing that someone close to them wants love or approval, blackmailers may threaten to withhold affection or take them away altogether, making the other person feel that they must earn them by agreement. Some emotionally immature parents use emotional blackmail to control their children often because those parents have low self-esteem caused by a difficult childhood. Those parents can only feel loved and important when their children fulfill all their demands. 

It’s natural for children to try anything to feel connected to their parents. Receiving approval or affirmation from parents creates connections that make children feel more secure. As they  grow up in these manipulative relationships, they might develop core beliefs such as, “What I need is not important,” as well as, “If I don’t do what my parents ask, then I am a bad person.” However, if a person always puts other people‘s needs before their own then sooner or later they might neglect their own emotions and needs.

Since they have given up recognizing their own feelings and demands, others have no obligation to be responsible for their mental health. As a person starts to pay attention to their own feelings and needs, they start to love and take care of themselves. When one starts to know how to reject others for self-protection, they will start to feel their inner strength, which empowers them. During this process, others will also learn how to interact and respect those feelings and boundaries. 

How to Respond

If a person suspects that they are engaging in the emotional blackmail process, they can use the SOS principles, which stands for Stop, Observe and Strategize.

Stop: Do not respond immediately and give some time to think and step away from the pressure. A person could say, “I don’t have an answer for you right now. I need some time to think about it.” Once a person stops complying with the demands in order to calm their fears and deal with the guilt, they can regain control over the situation and their life. 

Observe: Become an observer of both oneself and the other person. Explore the demands objectively and be aware of internal thoughts and feelings. 

Strategize: Use strategies such as non-defensive communications to present boundaries to the blackmailer and hold ground no matter how the other person reacts. You could say, “I am sorry you are upset, let’s talk about it when you feel calmer” or “Maybe you are right, but I think we just see things differently.”

Building Emotional Boundaries

Some people feel very guilty when their parents have negative emotions. They feel responsible for other people’s feelings and never build emotional boundaries. However, everyone should only be responsible for their own feelings, not others. When we say no to people, the rejected person might feel hurt and upset. However, it is precisely at this moment that a person needs to accept and allow themselves to be responsible for managing their own emotions and feelings.

If someone is too guilty to take care of their own needs then they are living the life of other people’s expectations, thus making the purpose of life just worrying about how to satisfy others. A person can be kind and caring to others but at the same time avoid over sacrificing. He or she is only responsible for his or her own behavior and actions, not for other people’s emotions. If only one person is allowed to express their feelings and needs in a relationship then the relationship is no longer healthy or balanced. 

Emotional boundaries should also be flexible and not on a thin deadline. Sometimes the boundaries will change, depending on the situation. We all need to learn how to express ourselves, guard our boundaries, and escape from emotional manipulation to live our own life. Otherwise, we may fall victim to Emotional Blackmail.

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

By Cecilia Yu

Find out more about Cecilia here

Other Articles Written by Cecilia Yu:

Befriend your Nervous System

Negative Emotions Can Be Good for You

Trauma & EMDR Therapy

Nonviolent Communication

Related Articles:

Dealing with Negative Emotions

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

The concept of emotional intelligence is different from other, more traditional concepts of intelligence. It refers to our ability to identify, manage, and respond appropriately to emotions in ourselves and others. Emotional intelligence is related to multiple mental constructs, like empathy, awareness, and problem-solving abilities. It’s not a topic that gets a lot of attention, but putting time into honing our emotional intelligence can have many benefits.

People have a habit of letting their emotions take control of their thoughts and actions. This trait is more pronounced in some, but most of us have had such an experience at least once in our lives. Emotions can be hard to control due to their intensity and abruptness. A high emotional intelligence is associated with an improved ability to manage emotions, either through direct suppression or by using a coping strategy like mindful meditation.

                                                       

Gaining Awareness

In order to develop our emotional intelligence, we must first become aware of the way that emotions influence our daily lives. Our minds are constantly awash with information that isn’t relevant to whatever we’re doing at the time. Memories, anxieties about the future, and random biological processes are all capable of spontaneously triggering emotions. Even if they don’t cause emotions directly, this background noise can certainly leave us primed to be more affected by environmental emotional triggers, like those experienced during regular daily communications. Becoming aware of these influences is the first step toward addressing their impact on our lives.

Developing Emotional Intelligence

There are a number of ways to improve emotional intelligence, one of which is by practicing mindfulness. A mindful perspective places focus on the present, helping us to better deal with the moment at hand, and reducing the influence of the constant background noise within our minds. As mentioned above, much of this noise can cause us to be more emotionally reactive. When we react to emotions without any type of thought or intervention, we are failing to use our emotional intelligence. Mindfulness helps us develop our emotional intelligence by teaching us to stay in the moment and to become less susceptible to mental activities that don’t directly apply to the present.