How talking it over can help to get your life back on track

(l-r) Kath Palmer, who received help from cognative behavioural therapist Viola Masona. ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (142852-0599)
(l-r) Kath Palmer, who received help from cognative behavioural therapist Viola Masona. ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (142852-0599)

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Anxiety, stress and depression are ever-increasing problems, and Talking Change is a service that helps people deal with the pressures that modern life can entail. Health reporter Priya Mistry finds out more.

You wouldn’t ignore a bad back or cold and flu symptoms.

secondary agenda Talking Change pic gv pic 1

secondary agenda Talking Change pic gv pic 1

Yet hundreds of us are thought to ignore feelings of worry and anxiety and think it’s normal to carry these thoughts.

When it comes to mental health, there’s still some way to go to break down barriers and encourage people to talk.

And one such service in Portsmouth helps people to deal with stress, anxiety and mild depression, which one in four of us will suffer from.

Talking Change is run by Solent NHS Trust, which provides community and mental health services.

Kath Palmer, of London Avenue, North End, who works as an auto-electrician, referred herself to Talking Change, after work pressure affected her mood to the point where she couldn’t leave the house to go shopping.

The 50-year-old says: ‘About five years ago, I started to lose self-confidence at work.

‘I used to be very outgoing, always involved in school trips with my children, seeing friends and generally a happy person.’

Kath says that pressure from work started to make her lose her self-esteem and confidence, which then started having a knock-on effect on the rest of her life.

She became a recluse and stopped enjoying activities she would usually go to.

She says: ‘The pressure at work caused me to have anxiety attacks, and not just in work. I couldn’t go out with friends, I couldn’t even go out shopping or play darts at the pub.

‘I have been married for 30 years and have three children, and my family couldn’t believe the change in me.

‘I was always quite good fun and outgoing, but that all changed and it was awful.

‘Once I started getting put down at work and made to feel inadequate, it had consequences on me as a person.

‘It was awful and horrible, I felt I couldn’t do anything right and believed I wasn’t good enough.

‘Even though I stopped doing everything else, I was still doing to work because I felt I had to, but would come home feeling worse.’

That’s when Kath knew things needed to change and went to see her doctor.

She says: ‘I was feeling claustrophobic and it wasn’t me, so I went to see my doctor.

‘I was prescribed with anti-depressants, which if anything started to make me paranoid.

‘That’s when I got in touch with Talking Change.’

The service is free for all those who live in Portsmouth and are aged 18 and over, and people can make a self-referral by visiting online or calling the service.

Dr Mahdi Ghomi is a consultant counselling psychologist, and heads the service.

He says: ‘One in four of us can feel anxious and depressed and it is as common as having the flu.

‘We would go and see someone if we were in pain or treat ourselves if we had a cold or flu.

‘Yet when we feel anxious or depressed, we don’t talk about it – this is what we need to change.’

The service sees around 3,000 people a year, and of those 80 per cent make an improvement and half go away without any further problems.

‘We are improving our therapies and for different groups such as veterans, post-natal mums and black ethnic minority groups,’ adds Dr Ghomi.

‘We are doing our best to break down those barriers and encourage people to come to us and talk.

‘As humans we use fear as a survival tool, but sometimes that can take over and we become anxious and worry.

‘At Talking Change we give people the tools to recognise when this is happening and how to keep on top of it.’

Cath had an assessment before it was decided she would benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy, and went on a 12-week course, after which she had six weeks of group therapy.

She adds: ‘My therapist was so welcoming and I felt relaxed.

‘I had gone in thinking it wasn’t going to make much of a difference, but it really did.

‘I started to see I couldn’t control what other people said and did, but I could control how I reacted to it.

‘It was brilliant and it really has changed the way I think and feel. I was worried about the group session at first and what people would think, but again it wasn’t as daunting as I thought it would be and now I meet up with those in my group socially.

‘The group also had a variety of people, there was a college student, there were men, women, which showed me this can affect anyone and everyone.

‘It was scary to get help, but once I took the plunge I knew I had done the right thing, I would urge people to think about the service if they are feeling low.’

Strategies for coping

IT’S easy to fall into the trap of worrying, stressing and getting anxious so much that it becomes a daily part of your routine.

Experts from Solent NHS Trust’s Talking Change team said this level of worry is not normal and there are ways we can recognise overthinking. Below are 10 tips given to try and relax by Dr Mahdi Ghomi:

- Notice and engage with the present, as the past is history and future is a mystery.

We often spend the least amount of our time paying attention to, and, observing our day-to-day experiences. Our mind has the tendency to worry about the future or get lost in the past, so we have to train it to remain connected with the here and now.

A simple way of doing this is to pay more attention to our senses in everyday life.

- Confront and process your emotions and problems.

Feel and confront your emotions, whatever they may be, as avoidance only makes things worse.

Emotions like sadness, guilt, fear and anger are an essential part of being human and can help us develop and grow.

They need to be experienced and expressed to bring about a sense of relief and resolution.

Similarly, facing your problems by breaking them down and looking for solutions, rather than just dwelling on them, can help improve your psychological wellbeing.

- Motivation and positive energy proceeds action.

Don’t wait to be in a mood or have the energy to be active.

Activity, rather than being idle, can make us feel more energised and help bring about positive emotions.

- Build a balanced life and set realistic goals.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Try to devote equal amount of energy and time to difference sources of positive energy. These may include friends, family, work, contribution to, and connecting with, the community and personal growth like learning and developing new skills.

This way if one area of your life breaks down you have something else to fall back on.

- Exercise, exercise, exercise.

We know from research that exercise alone can improve our mood and anxiety.

However we have to keep it regular and relatively challenging. So if you do one thing make it be exercise to help boost your mood.

- Treat your body like your most valuable and favourite possession.

If you had a car you saved for and really valued you would probably service it regularly, make sure you drove it gently, keep it clean, and try to use more expensive petrol.

Well your body gets you around for your whole life and is much more than just a way of getting around.

It is more valuable than anything else you will ever have in the world. So treat it kindly and gently look after it.

- Watch out for attention bias.

As a simple experiment, if you start thinking about red cars a lot, there is a good chance you will start noticing more red cars in the street than before.

This is because our minds will go towards what we pay attention to. On top of this, as part of our evolutionary make-up our attention can be particularly prone to automatically focus on themes around threat or loss.

To balance this out, we need to practise focusing more than anything else on what can bring us positive emotions and sensations.

- Don’t treat your thoughts as facts.

We tend to treat our thoughts as divine truth even though most of what we think is insignificant and meaningless.

Learn to always challenge your thoughts and treat them with a pinch of salt. If you can, try to test your assumptions to see if they really are true before letting them influence your life.

- Meditate.

Meditation can be a wonderful source of positive emotions and can boost our mental health.

Mindfulness meditation is now a standard method of therapy which is becoming widespread and there are many courses available which you may benefit from.

- Talk to yourself with kindness and compassion.

We all have internal dialogues where we process our day-to-day life and our place within it.

Positive affirmation and gentle non-judgmental self-talk can have a significant impact on our emotional wellbeing.

Compassion towards self can be extended to how we live our lives. Making sure we treat ourselves daily, or weekly at least, with one thing that is enjoyable and makes us feel good about ourselves is crucial in dealing with the pressures of modern life.