Thursday 23 November 2017

How to be happy: act

In her five-part series, the psychologist teaches us how to calm our minds and make positive choices

Dr Claire Hayes, a consultant psychologist and clinical director with mental health charity Aware. Photo: Damien Eagers
Dr Claire Hayes, a consultant psychologist and clinical director with mental health charity Aware. Photo: Damien Eagers

Dr Claire Hayes

In the previous articles in this series, I suggested four steps we can take to recognise and reduce stress. These on their own are not enough. Yes, slowing down to notice what is causing us stress is important. Yes, considering our options and deciding what to do is important. But acting proactively to reduce our stress is essential.

So what can we do? We each have our own particular way of coping when stress becomes too much. These can backfire and may actually increase the levels of stress we experience. A sugary hit or a caffeine drink might give us energy, but could well set us up for increased cravings that may never be satisfied. People who smoke argue that it relaxes them, but the adverse effects of nicotine are unquestionable. Even things that are recommended in moderation, such as exercise, can add to stress if they are used excessively.

There is an optimum level of stress that we need to keep us motivated, interested and challenged. Too much stress can cause health issues. Too little stress can too.

So what do we do? My suggestion is we go back to basics. We work, rest and play in balance, (without a particular high calorie chocolate bar to help us). We recognise when our stress levels have tipped too high and we ask for and take help. This might be from family, friends, a GP or from organisations such as Aware. We acknowledge what we do well. We put our own ‘oxygen mask’ on first before rushing to help others put on theirs.

Aware supports people who have depression and bipolar disorder. It also supports their family members and employers who wish to better understand and support them. The World Health Organisation now considers depression to be the number one disability in the world, with at least one in four adults experiencing it. That is a lot of people. Even more are impacted by depression.

One proactive action you may wish to take today is to look at Aware’s website, aware.ie. It contains information on what depression and bipolar disorder are, along with practical suggestions on what to do to manage them. In addition to its Support Line, Support Mail and Support Group services, Aware also provides psycho-educational life-skills programmes for adolescents, people who experience depression and friends and family who wish to develop skills to support them. These are free of charge and are based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) principles.

Details of these are on the website, along with a library of lectures from its monthly lecture series. These focus on a range of issues, including bipolar disorder, depression in adolescents, depression in the elderly, mindfulness, acceptance commitment therapy and anxiety.

Writing this series has been a very enjoyable and interesting process. I have taken note of what I have written and am the better for it! In conclusion, to change our levels of stress, it is important to (1) slow down enough to (2) notice what is happening. This gives us space to (3) consider our options and to (4) decide what we want to do. What remains is for us to (5) act in a proactive way.

Dr Claire Hayes is a consultant psychologist and clinical director with mental health charity Aware. Register online now at fitmagazine.ie for the 11th Annual Aware Christmas Run which takes place on Saturday, December 10 in the Phoenix Park, Dublin.

Irish Independent

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