Debbie’s Anxiety-Busting Sandwich

Stage four of the roadmap out of lockdown is coming – even if the date is still uncertain. Uncertainty about the future, with new variants and lockdowns overshadowing new social freedom, can bring low-level or substantial anxiety. If you’re feeling anxious or apprehensive about what’s to come, Relate Northants counsellor Debbie has just the thing for you.

And it’s a sandwich…

Debbie’s Anxiety-Busting Sandwich

Anxiety often arises from the feeling of being out of control. During the pandemic, the sense of being out of control has been much stronger. We can often feel that we are at the mercy of this unseen virus and fast-changing government legislation.

So let’s draw a sandwich.

anxiety busting sandwich - living in the nowThe bottom slice of bread represents the past. The past is fixed: although we can change how we think or feel about it, we can’t change what happened in the past. You might find it helpful to write down some things from the past 2 years that make you feel anxious, or play on your mind.

The top slice of bread represents the future. The future is uncertain: we can influence it but we can’t control it. What things about the future are most often on your mind? Write them down in this slice of bread.

The sandwich filling is the now. And, guess what, we can control now! It might be the ‘now’ of the next 10 minutes, or the ‘now’ of today – but it is in our control.

What do you want to fill your sandwich with? This can be your choice.

Focussing on the present moment like this can really help anxiety. It allows us to take control of what’s in our reach.  And, recognising the past can’t be changed and the future can’t be controlled, I can choose to let them go. Now, this present moment, is what matters.

Getting to the root of anxiety

Visualisations can really help to calm anxiety, but often we need to dig a bit deeper to get to the root causes – and to deal with the things we’re carrying from the past. You can reach out to us through our free helpline or find out more about individual counselling. Counselling is free at the moment for Northants residents. We’d love to help you.

How does webcam counselling work?

Since the pandemic, Relate Northamptonshire adapted quickly to provide counselling via webcam and telephone. We wanted to continue supporting people even though our traditional practice of face-to-face appointments wasn’t available.

The experience has been so positive for both our counsellors and our clients, that we are going to continue offering these digital services alongside face-to-face counselling.

So, what can you expect from Zoom counselling? How does it work? Watch the video below to find out:

Don’t have time to watch? Here’s the highlights:

  • Convenient: you’re doing it from your own home. No need to travel anywhere & in the comfort of your own home.
  • Same counselling: the service you receive from the counsellor, and the range of support they can offer, is exactly the same. We can provide individual & couples’ counselling, and counselling for children over age 13.
  • Easy: after booking an appointment, you’ll receive an email with a Zoom link for the session. Just click on this when it’s time for your meeting. Either a phone, tablet or computer (with a webcam) will work.

If you would like to book a counselling session with us, get in touch today.

The Little Things

*Diane came to motherhood later in life. Her little boy *Bobby was her only child, so this experience was very precious to her as something she wouldn’t repeat. So, when the pandemic came she faced the loss of many hopes and dreams she’d had for this once-in-a-lifetime experience and her motherhood story predominantly happened behind closed doors.

Bump to Baby

mother in mask, carrying young bIt started for her in pregnancy. She recalls her sister-in-law complaining about people constantly touching her bump – an uninvited invasion of her privacy. But as Diane commented, “no-one saw me at the whale stage… wouldn’t it be lovely if someone other than my husband could touch my bump!” Her only pregnancy felt like it passed by unwitnessed.

As an older mum at 41, Diane was classed as ‘high-risk’ and cared for under a specialist team. She was blessed to have a problem-free pregnancy and smooth elective C-Section. 

However, at 2 weeks old, Bobby became very poorly and had to return to the high dependency unit for 10 days. She spent those 10 days alone with him in hospital. Another moment of isolation where before there would have been the strengthening comfort of husband, family and friends.

Thankfully, Bobby has thrived since this stay in hospital. Back at home, Diane could begin to settle into being mum – albeit in the midst of coronavirus.

Lasagnes on the Doorstep

Diane remembers the practical ways she has supported friends and family when they had a new baby. “Lasagnes on the doorstep”, representing the way in which community holds new families together. This simply wasn’t possible in the same way during Bobby’s early baby days. 

The pandemic also meant she “missed out on the feeling special”. She didn’t experience the fuss and love and delight that are a part of becoming a mother and having a baby. There was no gathering around to welcome a new child, or to affirm and honour a new mother. 

The isolation also undermined the informal community contact that can do so much to keep anxiety at bay. Like most new mothers during Covid-19, Diane couldn’t “sense-check the little things”. She was reliant on the wildly varied, unreliable wisdom of the internet to work out whether to give her son cucumber or when to introduce peanut butter. She missed the lived experience of real-life mums, and the breadth of approach to give her confidence in carving her own way.

Post-Natal Anxiety

Fairly early on in her motherhood journey, Diane was diagnosed with post-natal anxiety (PNA) and referred for support through her midwives. She accessed cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help her challenge anxious thoughts and reshape her mindset. 

Perinatal mental health issues affect between 10-20% of women in the UK. With the added complication of covid-19, recovery is harder. It is more difficult to do the things that help you overcome your anxieties because of lockdown – and harder to draw on the support of others. 

Community connection

In the midst of this isolation, however, grew points of connection and healthy habits that supported Diane on her journey.

Diane’s connection with *Abbie, *Holly and other mums through a Bump and Baby group was “a real godsend”. Diane knew she could send out a message at 3am and get a response within minutes – and there aren’t many contexts where you can do that!

The group become her informal community with other mums. Her opportunity to support and be supported – to draw confidence from others’ experience. 

Diane also quickly recognised the importance of fresh air and exercise. Going for walks with Bobby helped her “get out and have a bit of headspace”

Aspirations of Motherhood

A shower. Eating with two hands. A solo toilet visit. Half an hour to myself. 

The aspirations of motherhood are a lot smaller than you might think! But for Diane these little things went a long way. They were precious moments of self-care in the midst of constant childcare.

She was particularly blessed by friends and family who didn’t wait to be invited. In the midst of post-natal anxiety, it is really hard to ask for help. A text from a friend saying “we’re coming to visit – when would be good?” was exactly what she needed. And if they arrived with food, even better!

Diane recounts the visits of one friend with two older children. During their regular visits, her friend would hold Bobby while she drank a coffee and ate something. Just the simple opportunity to eat two-handed and drink a hot coffee was an immense blessing. 

It’s the Little Things

Diane’s story demonstrates how much difference the little things can make when we’re struggling with anxiety. There was no need for grand gestures; no reason to be put off because the problem seemed too big. It was the friends who did the little things that made all the difference. 

A lasagne on the doorstep. A coffee and cake. A proactive visitor. A 3am text conversation. Real-world answers to simple questions.

If you know someone suffering with anxiety, be encouraged. You can’t solve their mental health struggles for them. But you can be proactive in bringing a little light and a little hope into their day. Those little things can pave the way to recovery. And if you suffer with anxiety – whether postnatal or not – counselling can help you build better mental health. Get in touch with our counsellors to find your way forward.

And if you find yourself struggling with anxiety, like Diane – please know that we can help you. You may just want to access our free helpline to book a 30-minute chat with qualified counsellor, to help you clear your head. Or if you feel the need to explore deeper issues, get in touch with our support team to book in for individual counselling. We often have funding to allow free or subsidised counselling, so don’t let cost keep you back.

This is a true story, told during an interview with three mums for Maternal Mental Health week. *Names changed to protect their identity.

A Story To Be Told

One of the most challenging seasons for women is motherhood. Becoming a mother deeply impacts your body – the physical process of birth and a massive disruption to your sleep cycle. It also has a huge impact on your emotions, being a season of extreme change in your daily life and relationships. And, with both these things comes the challenge to your mental health.  

This isn’t a thing that can be fixed once and for all. It’s situational. At times when life is easy, we feel great. But then, circumstances bring us to the limits of our resilience… and we grow, developing the resources and strength we need to thrive in difficult seasons.

Holly’s story

mother and baby in bed

When the pandemic hit, *Holly was in her second trimester. She and her husband began shielding straight away following government guidance, and prepared for the birth of their son. 

Trying to take ever-changing restrictions into account when writing a birth plan was tricky. Holly ended out with plans A, B, C, D and E! But when it came to *Amos being born, nothing went to plan. Instead of plan A (a water birth at home), Holly had to go to hospital as soon as labour started and eventually gave birth in theatre. Amos got an infection after the birth, which meant Holly staying in with him on her own for 5 days.

Finally, they were reunited with Holly’s husband at home and began to settle in as a family.

A cathartic process

3 months after she gave birth, Holly met an acquaintance, and found herself telling her birth story in great detail. It was a “cathartic process” for her – she realised she had not expressed the trauma and emotion of Amos’s birth and early days until that moment. 

In fact, when we go through any traumatic experience, it really helps to talk it through again and again. To retell the events and the emotions we felt. Without connection to a ready-made community of mums, Holly didn’t have opportunities for this informal therapy. 

Realising the value of revisiting her experiences, Holly took advantage of the Birth Stories Service at her hospital. This gave her the opportunity to sit with a consultant midwife and go through everything that had happened. She could ask questions to understand why things happened the way they did. The midwife was able to explain the decision-making process of the medical staff. And Holly was listened to as she shared her concerns about the care she received. 

Holly found there was tremendous value in being heard. It enabled her to put to rest the trauma of her birthing experience; to reconcile the events against what she had hoped for. She was able to face and acknowledge the sadness she felt and recognise the things she could treasure.

The price of sleep deprivation

Birth isn’t the only challenge new mums face. When Amos was a few months old, he went through a season of struggling to sleep. Holly walked miles with him in the pram or sling, in all weathers. She had weeks of holding him with barely half an hours’ break. And night after night, she was up for hours comforting and feeding her son.

We all recognise the cost of sleep deprivation on our mental health. And the price was far higher for Holly because family and friends were unable to support her in the ways she most needed. She spoke to her doctor about how low she was feeling – and the doctor told her to get more sleep. Impossible when no-one else can be in your house, and no-one else can hold your baby! 

Creative thinking brought some relief to Holly through local friends. One of them would show up on the doorstep at naptime, and take Amos for a walk in the pram. Amos would get his sleep, and Holly got precious time to herself. This became an opportunity for rest, not just physically but mentally and emotionally too.

Holly also began to make regular video calls to family on long afternoons. As well as capturing Amos’ interest, it relieved the repetitiveness and loneliness of life stuck at home. It was an opportunity to connect with someone else and enter their world for a while.

Neither of these things were the solution for Holly’s struggle. But they were a part of her journey to better mental wellbeing – they drew her back from the brink.

Trust in yourself

Another big learning curve for Holly was self-trust. Many mums do lots of reading and research to help them be good parents. Holly was no different! It felt even more significant when so many informal sources of information were hard to reach. But, like *Abbie, she found the books and the social influencers she followed reduced her confidence as a mum. Each one presented their vision of perfect parenting; each had their own theory of how to do it. But which were right? Which were actually achievable for real-life mums? 

In reality, there is no right way for most things and very few wrong ways. There’s just you and your child, and what works for you both. So Holly stopped reading books that were making her anxious. She stepped back from social media. And she made a choice to trust her instincts. Even as a first-time mum, no-one knows Amos like she does. She can trust herself to be exactly the mother Amos needs – and seek guidance when she decides she needs it. 

A beautiful story

Holly’s journey into parenting has only just begun. Yet, already, she is developing strength and resilience that wasn’t there before. 

She has discovered a number of things that are true for all of us for our mental health:

  1. Telling your story matters. Whether it’s about having a baby or about something else entirely, sharing your journey through a trauma is in itself a cleansing experience. Seek out people you can share your story with – whether specialists like counsellors at Relate, or close friends and family.
  2. Be creative to get what you need. Sometimes, we might recognise what we need – for Holly it was rest and space – but it seems impossible to find. Yet, with a bit of creative thinking, Holly could carve out a small amount of space to get her through a tough season. It was enough to clear her thinking and give her fresh strength for the rest of the day. If you know what you need, but aren’t sure how to get there, start thinking creatively with your friends & family.
  3. Notice what undermines your self-confidence and find ways to cut it short. It might mean self-discipline around social media, or perhaps pulling back from some destructive relationships.

Most of all, you don’t have to tackle seasons of mental and emotional pressure alone. Relate’s expert counsellors are ready to hear your story. They can help you make sense of what’s happening in your internal world. And they can work out with you where you want to be, and how to get there. Don’t struggle on alone – find out about individual counselling to draw on our expertise.

If you’re interested the Birth Stories Service in Northamptonshire, visit Bump and Baby Talk.

This is a true story, told during an interview with three mums for Maternal Mental Health week. *Names changed to protect their identity.

You can’t be supermum every day

When we think of motherhood, we all think of the beauty of it. It’s a precious time full of love and joy… All of this is true, but this is not all it is. The other side of motherhood is coping with fundamental changes to your body. It includes massive emotional highs and lows, and the tremendous mental pressure that sleep deprivation brings.

Now throw a global pandemic into the mix… What has it been like becoming a mother during lockdown?

Abbie’s story

motherhood and mental health“Just because something is common doesn’t mean that it’s easy… Giving birth is such an overwhelming experience.”

For *Abbie, as for so many first time mums, birth was a shock. No amount of reading or conversation can prepare you for it. She had planned to have a home birth, but safely delivered *Cara via an emergency c-section. Her story is common, as she puts it – but is also deeply emotional and traumatic.

Emotional Recovery

Dealing with the overwhelming experience of her story in the isolation of lockdown was very hard. Most her friends don’t have children. And, without access to a community of mums through baby groups, it was harder to find people to process with. Abbie said she eventually sought out “people I could cry with” and shared her story in all its details. This was an essential part of her recovery.

Abbie also dealt with anger. She felt angry at friends that haven’t make the effort to see Cara. Even though she recognised that the situation was to blame rather than her friends, it still hurt. That anger is a valid response to her loss in such a valuable time.

Entering another space

But there were many things for which Abbie was grateful in this season. She learnt what she needed to build good mental health despite the isolation.

Audio books were particularly important for her. It didn’t matter what she was listening to (as long as it wasn’t about parenting); it was taking her brain into another space. The protection of her bubble also escalated her anxieties and fears, turning small issues into huge problems. By getting out of her own four walls, both mentally and physically, she regained perspective for her day.

Finding Help

In many ways, the pandemic pulled support out from under all new mums. The informal support that so many mums have taken for granted wasn’t available for these mothers. No-one coming and cleaning your house, or holding your baby, or booking a playdate. And even formal support predominantly moved online, meaning little physical connection with health visitors or doctors.

For Abbie, this was compounded by her immediate friends not being parents. They didn’t have the experience to anticipate her needs, or recognise the monotony of her days.

She was tremendously blessed by her digital bumps and babies group, including mums like *Holly and *Diane. Although developing relationships and trust was harder than it might have been in person, there is now a wonderful depth of support. It has become a group where Abbie and the other mums can be vulnerable with each other. In fact, they have stood in the gap for her: “these mums have seen Cara grow up more than my closest friends and even some of my family”.

Perhaps most poignantly for Abbie, however, wasn’t the practical support but the validation she got from her own mum. Abbie’s mum allowed Abbie to find her own way as a parent. She didn’t offer advice unless asked and trusted her to know what Cara needed. This increased Abbie’s confidence in herself as a mum, which felt especially important when she didn’t have the company of other mums to encourage her.

Rejecting Guilt

The opposite of this validation was the “mum-guilt” Abbie battled. It might be a book about parenting, or an Instagrammer she was following… As parents, we can never tick all the boxes or measure up to all these expectations. Abbie decided to reject the guilt she felt. As she puts it, “you can’t be supermum every day”. She accepted her down days, just as she accepts Cara’s down days.

Throughout our conversation, I was struck by Abbie’s self-awareness. She has been able to recognise and accept her emotions. She’s been mindful of what she needs to keep healthy perspective on her life. And she has developed confidence in her own parenting – she trusts herself.

What about you?

Becoming a parent can lead to a huge amount of anxiety. But you don’t have to live in anxiety. Like Abbie, you can learn to trust yourself. You can develop an awareness of what you need to be a good parent. Flourishing Babies is a Northamptonshire service that helps parents build their self-confidence. Their extensive services are available both before and after the birth of your child and support you to become a confident, capable parent.

If you are struggling with anxiety, Relate’s counsellors can help you find your feet as a mum. Find out more about our individual counselling services or contact us now to have a chat with our support team.

This is a true story, told during an interview with three mums for Maternal Mental Health week. *Names changed to protect their identity.

Bridging the Gap: A journey with Tom & Mary

This series tells fictional stories of the counselling journey. Drawn from our counsellors’ extensive experience, this story recounts how a couple overcome communication weaknesses to build a stronger future together.

Pandemic Pressures

Tom & Mary had been together 4 years when lockdown began and had been living together for two years in Tom’s house. They had great plans for the future having sold Mary’s house, and were getting ready to sell Tom’s house to buy a home together – when the pandemic started.

The last 4 years hadn’t been a simple journey for them. Tom’s previous marriage broke down many years ago, and his children, now adults, struggled to accept Mary into their lives. Mary had 3 grown-up children, and while she had had two long-term relationships, they felt threatened by this new relationship. Life wasn’t straightforward but they had begun to build relationships with their stepchildren… another thing put on hold by lockdown.

Tom was then made redundant, and Mary was furloughed, so finances began to get stretched and living in the house all the time together brought out tensions between them that Tom couldn’t make sense of. Mary often lost her temper and would shut down when he tried to discuss it with her. He started  worrying about this relationship falling apart like his marriage had

He knew they needed help, so he got in touch with us at Relate Northamptonshire.

Initial Meeting

Mary is very reluctant to come to the first couple counselling session, but eventually is persuaded by Tom who’s keen to restore their relationship through counselling. 

However, Mary refuses to acknowledge any part in the breakdown of their relationship, and in our first session announces that she isn’t sure she wants the relationship to continue. 

At this point, it is really important to see each of them individually, giving each partner time to share their perspectives on the relationship, and their relationship history. These individual meetings are completely confidential, so give both Tom and Mary the ability to speak openly with their counsellor.

I meet with Mary first. It becomes apparent that her previous relationships were mentally abusive. She is only just beginning to recognise what that abuse did to her emotionally: low self-esteem, low confidence, the inability to make decisions, and particularly struggling to deal well with conflict. As we discuss her past, we notice together a similar pattern from her childhood – her parents didn’t manage disagreements well either.

Tom, on the other hand, feels completely helpless. He’s desperate to get this right. In his first marriage, his wife drove everything and he went along with what she said – but he wants to learn to be stronger and more assertive in this relationship. He’s worried that it’s not working, but he doesn’t want to go back to the way he was before.

It is clear from their two histories that there is a significant communication gap between them. They both bring lots of baggage to the relationship that they haven’t unpacked together. This is leading to a lack of understanding between them.

Journeying

In our next session, with both Tom and Mary, we focus on the need to rebuild the foundations of their relationship. I start by setting a very simple exercise of active listening 3 or 4 times a week. Tom and Mary sit down together at the kitchen table with a cup of tea. One speaks to the other without interruption, and the other then reflects back what they have heard. They listen not only to one another’s words but also their body language and tone. The listener also avoids inputting their own opinion or comment. They are practicing really hearing each other’s perspectives.

Over a number of weeks, this practice begins to bear fruit. They find that the cycle of arguments is beginning to be broken and instead, they are finding ways to listen to each other.

Through this process, Mary is able to communicate that she feels trust has been broken. Tom spoke to his children about what was going on between them before he started counselling, which felt like a betrayal. It has further damaged the relationship she has with his children. Tom apologised for his actions, but Mary is still left with the sense of broken trust.

Building Bridges

An individual session with Mary helps her to realise that she wants to tell Tom about her previous relationships but feels crippled by fear and shame. We discuss the possibility of telling her story in the dark, where she can’t see his face – but while cuddling to give physical reassurance of his presence.

Mary decides to have this conversation, with Tom using his active listening skills to really hear her. Mary feels safe in the dark with him, and he is able to show that he respects her voice – and that she is emotionally safe with him.

It’s a huge turning point for them both. Tom begins to understand Mary’s responses, and he adapts his words and actions so that he doesn’t trigger those memories in her. And in return, Mary begins to trust Tom, and is no longer acting out of fear.

Ending well

Mary and Tom have been on a huge journey through counselling. Their unspoken past created a big gap in understanding between them. As they leave counselling, they have learnt how to communicate and have started to bridge that gap. They can disagree well, without falling into an argument. And they continue to practice active listening.

It’s wonderful to see them begin to think once again of the future, and plan a life together. They are intentionally rebuilding relationships with their stepchildren, with each other’s full support; Tom is looking for work; and they hope in a year or two to buy a house that’s theirs.

Both Tom and Mary are aware that they may face further challenges in the future – and both say they would be quick to return to counselling again if things go awry. 

We always have an open door at Relate, because we know that building bridges takes time – and relationships are a work in progress. 

This story was told by Lin, a Relate counsellor specialising in couples & families.

Many relationships have been deeply stretched by the coronavirus pandemic. We believe that these crises points can become moments to build new strength in intimate relationships. If you and your partner are struggling to communicate well, get in touch with us. It could be one of the best things you ever do for each other.

Is my child struggling with their mental health?

How can parents know whether or not their child is struggling with their mental health? How do we assess or measure a child’s state of mind?

This matters all the more today and even more now as they step back into the school environment after nearly 3 months away. Many children will take time finding their feet again, especially adjusting to school in its Covid-secure form.

So, what can we do to help them? And how do we assess if they are coping?

Annie, one of our Northamptonshire Relate counsellors who specialises in children and young people, shares here three areas which might indicate your child is struggling, and gives you ways you can support your child.  Bear in mind each child is different; we will notice changes in their behaviour and mood in different ways.

What are the key signs that my child is struggling?

  1. Have you noticed changing sleep patterns in your child? Are they struggling to get to sleep, or waking very early? Sleep is vital for good mental health, and disrupted sleep is a clear indicator that a child is struggling. Take time to notice when a child goes to sleep, how well they sleep and when they wake up. Compare it to what you would consider “usual” for them and notice any changes.
  2. Is your child not willing to talk anymore? Do they spend more time in their room or on their own? When a child withdraws from relationship, it’s likely that they are feeling low. They may have emotions they are afraid to articulate, or perhaps they feel the contrast between themselves and happier members of the family. If you notice your child avoiding connection, you know that there’s something difficult in their inner world.
  3. Are your child’s reactions out of proportion? Do they explode over a small thing, or dissolve into tears over a small problem? Do they seem quickly overwhelmed? Inner turmoil often leaves us vulnerable to ‘overflow’: because we’re already containing so much unexpressed emotion, we have no inner space to cope, even with small things. This sensitivity can indicate that your child needs a way of processing all that’s going on in their mind.

Boy and mumHow can I help my child?

You may have noticed only one of the above, or your child might be exhibiting all three symptoms. Whatever your situation, there are plenty of things you can do to help. If you notice all these symptoms or are unable to shift any of these behaviours, talk to your GP for further help or contact us.

Good sleep

Helping your child get good sleep is a sure way of improving their mental health. There are many things you can do here, but routine is the key. Work with your child to develop a good routine that helps them wind down to sleep well; these work as well for children as they do for us!

Here are some ideas:

  • Turn phones and devices off 1 hour before bedtime, and charging them in another room. The stresses of screens are well documented, so cutting down use of them before bed helps limit their impact on sleep.
  • Set a going to sleep and waking up time for the same time every day of the week – including the weekend.
  • Plan how they will get ready for bed: a bath, clean teeth, pyjamas, a story or reading time and then lights out, for example. With the repeated pattern every evening, their mind will learn that this routine means it’s time for sleep.
  • Plan how they will get up: getting dressed, opening the curtains, having breakfast – a routine to tell their body it’s morning.
  • If your child is kept awake by specific worries or fears, build into their bedtime routine an occasion to write those down or name them. Buy a book to be their worry book, encourage them to write down all the things in their head and then put the book, and their worries, away somewhere outside their room. You could also use a worry monster or a worry box for younger children.
  • If your child is keeping a record of their worries, agree a time once a week where you’ll look through those worries together. There may be some they feel able to cross out and others you can talk about together. Avoid a time too close to bedtime.

Better connection

Every parent knows you can’t force a child to communicate. Nor can you choose the times when they will suddenly be ready to open up! So how can we help improve their connection with family?

  • Notice the times your child is most likely to talk and deliberately make space to be available at that time. Invite them to join you for a drink or a snack at that time. Let them lead the conversation, and be curious about what they want to talk about.
  • Make it a habit to sit down together as a family and look at the week ahead. Talk about the things you would each like to do together that week and when you’re going to do them. This might be going on a walk, preparing a special meal or dessert together, playing a game, popcorn and a film… Don’t fill every day – choose a few things that everyone enjoys. The goal here is to build connection.
  • We all feel love in different ways (broadly, there are five love languages). Try to discern how your child feels love most (the Family Love Languages Quiz can help here) and seek out opportunities to love them in that way. This will increase their sense of connection, and they are more likely to open up to you.

Manage emotions

When your child is emotionally overwhelmed, there’s a need to work through all the things they’re feeling. This can be challenging if they are struggling to name or understand their emotions, but there are ways you can support them in articulating themselves, and ways to help them discharge the power of those emotions.

  • Build family habits around sharing the ups and downs of the day. Meal times together are a great time to do this. Ask one another what the best bit of the day was and what the worst bit of the day was. Model naming the emotions for those moments yourself, to help build emotional literacy. This process helps externalise worries your child might be feeling, and develops their vocabulary around emotions.
  • Plan a regular walk, run or other simple outdoor exercise with them. This can afford surprising opportunities to talk, without the pressure of face-to-face contact.
  • Are there other key grown-ups that your child has a good relationship with? Build a time in their week where they can regularly chat or if possible meet in person (following current restrictions). This gives your child more opportunities for conversation with people they trust.

How can Relate help?

With the trauma of the pandemic over the last year, it’s expected that some children will be struggling with their mental health, and for some, extra help will be needed.

At Relate Northamptonshire, we have significant expertise in counselling children and young people. If you find your child is stuck, and are struggling to know how to help them, get in touch with our support team. We can see children aged 13+ by Zoom or telephone for counselling. Or, if your child is younger than 13, we can support you as a parent in helping your child.

We also may have funding to help support children in particular circumstances, so don’t hesitate to call us on 01604 634400 and find out more.

The Perfect Friday Night Family Quiz

We all love a good quiz! Especially a personality quiz, telling us things that are so true we can’t believe we hadn’t noticed yet. And that’s exactly what this family love languages quiz does…

This Family Love Languages Quiz (found on the Five Love Languages website) is a great way for a family to find out more about each other – and it’s suitable from age 8 up. Check out the five love languages below, each have a go at the quiz and then take on the challenges at the end of the article!

What are love languages?

Love languages are the different ways we experience and express love. We each prefer a different ‘language’ of love. That’s why you might feel very loved by one person, who happens to share your love language – and baffled by another, who shows you love in a completely different way.

There are 5 broad love languages:living out the five love languages at home

  1. Physical touch: holding hands, a hug, a massage, even just simply touching someone’s arm – for some, physical contact with others makes their heart sing.
  2. Words of affirmation: when someone says something positive to you, whether about what you’ve done, how you look or who you are – this is the highlight of your day.
  3. Acts of service: perhaps it leaves you feeling fantastic when someone goes out of their way to help you, even in little ways – helping with the household chores without being asked, tidying away a mess before you’ve even thought about it or popping to the shops when the milk has run out.
  4. Quality time: spending focussed time over a coffee or dinner; playing a game together; going on a walk. Someone choosing to spend good time with you means you feel deeply loved.
  5. Gifts: it might be a bunch of daffodils, or a diamond ring; perhaps they made a card and posted it. Getting gifts is what really makes you buzz.

Love languages aren’t just about how you best feel love – they’re also the most natural way you give love too. So you can often spot someone’s love language by noticing how they show love to you!

Do the quiz

Everyone needs to do the quiz on their own. (Select the relevant age group at the start.) Secretly write down your love language results in order from most to least.

Challenge Time!

Guess the love language

Can you guess each family members’ top love language – and the one that means zilch to them?

Note down what you think for each family member and see who gets the most right!

Write down everyone’s top love language and stick it somewhere in the house, like on the fridge or a pinboard.

Most loving moment this week

See if you can each think of the moment you felt most loved this week. Does it match your love language?

What about a moment when you showed love to someone else? Does it match your love language – or theirs?

Why do love languages matter for my family?

Love languages matter because they are a key way of communicating with each other. Showing love well to each other opens up conversation and connection that would otherwise not happen.

When parents know their childrens’ love languages, they can make sure that they are loving them in a way they understand. And children – particularly teens – benefit from knowing what really helps their parents feel loved.

At Relate, we believe families really matter. Family is the primary place where children learn how to love. It is where they develop emotional literacy, that equips them for the outside world.

There are lots of ways in which family trust and closeness can be broken. It can then become very hard to show love to one another. If your family is struggling to connect with one another, especially after the pressures and complexities of lockdown, our counsellors can help you. We are still running family counselling, via Zoom or telephone. Get in touch with us today to find out more.

Defeating the Poisonous Parrot: A Journey with Sonia

This series tells fictional stories of the counselling journey. Drawn from our counsellors’ extensive experience, this story recounts how a young woman defeats her poisonous parrot and rediscovers her self-confidence.

Sonia is a bubbly, cheerful, positive 20-something woman with an active social life and lots of friends.

Or she was.

During the pandemic, she regularly joined social Zoom meetings and connected digitally with as many friends as she could. She was working from home, living on her own and feeling OK.

Then friends started to comment on a change in her. “You don’t seem your normal self.” “Are you OK? You’re not as upbeat as normal.”

Sonia realised that she wasn’t OK, something was out of kilter. So, she came to counselling, not sure what the problem was but knowing she needed help.

Initial Meeting

We began counselling over the telephone. Sonia described how something had shifted and she wasn’t herself any more. She felt guilty for not being positive. She was losing motivation for work, for her home, for herself… it just wasn’t like her to feel down, and she didn’t know what to do about it.

We talked about what being positive means to Sonia, and it became clear that much of her self-worth was attached to being happy all the time. If she was negative, people wouldn’t want to spend time with her, so she worked hard at putting on a positive front. Even though, inside, she felt miserable.

She began to recognise that she was being bombarded by negative thoughts about how she felt. She was annoyed with herself for feeling low. What would happen when we came out of lockdown and could see people again? No one would want to be with her if she felt like this.

And those thoughts were spiralling, becoming more and more toxic, more and more unforgiving of herself eroding her confidence and self-esteem.

We agreed that we needed to explore these thoughts and emotions together and unpick what was happening for Sonia.

Journeying

In our next session, we started by talking about all of these ideas and emotions. Which ones did she feel were acceptable, and which were unacceptable? What feelings did she reject?

We began to reframe those feelings she rejected and look at them a different way.

With anger, for instance, we framed it as a tool that gives drive and focus. It’s how you behave as a result of that anger that brings a reaction in others.

We recognised that she beat herself up about feeling sad. But we reframed sadness as her mind telling her it needed something. What did she need when she was sad? How could she be kinder to herself?

Growing in confidence

As we continued counselling, Sonia quickly noticed the impact reframing her emotions had on her. She found that when she accepted her sadness, it didn’t last as long as it did when she rejected the emotion.

A key moment for Sonia came soon after, as we considered what made her reject those feelings. As a child, Sonia was never allowed to show she was cross, or express herself negatively. She wasn’t allowed to say if she was frightened, upset or angry.

Showing emotions was considered a weakness in her family.

But Sonia found that talking about her emotions actually built resilience in her, not weakness.

With this growth in confidence, Sonia decided to switch to Zoom counselling. It was simpler than she thought, with just a link to click on. She found being in the same ‘room’, seeing one another’s reactions, helped her have courage to open up in a new way.

The Poisonous Parrot

A turning point in counselling for Sonia was discovering her poisonous parrot.

A poisonous parrot is a way of describing the negative feedback we give ourselves. This “parrot” is taught, by us and those around us, to say horrible things to us all day – it is an internalised bully. It is a hollow echo of a long-forgotten lie about who we are.

The problem is this parrot is hidden in our subconscious; we have to discover it, and pull it into our conscious mind before we can deal with it.

When Sonia identified the poisonous parrot in her mind, she became able to tackle the negative thoughts. She learnt to look at each negative thought, and challenge it. She would ask her parrot “where’s your evidence?”.

So when her parrot said “You’re not very good,” she could respond “I am, I did all these good things today. I am a good person.”

Each time she challenged the negative thoughts, she reduced the parrot’s power. She became increasingly adept at spotting the bullying thoughts of her parrot and meeting them head-on.

Finishing Well

As we came to the end of our counselling together, Sonia had grown significantly in her understanding of herself. Her self-esteem and self-confidence were coming back.

One particular response to her poisonous parrot had wonderful side effects for Sonia’s friends. When her parrot told her one evening “no-one wants to talk to you”, she decided to pick up the phone and ring someone. It turned out that the person she rang was having similar feelings.

Sonia’s bravery and increasing resilience led to the creation of a support group amongst her friends. Once a week, they spoke to one another and were as real as possible about their poisonous parrots.

Sonia’s advice to you today is reach out to people. Even if you feel trapped, make connections. You are not on your own – plenty of people feel as you do.

Take the time, with the help of others, to notice your poisonous parrot. When you pull it out of your subconscious, you can challenge it and change it.

This story was told by Debbie, a Relate counsellor specialising in mental health.

Many of us face mental health challenges through this extended period of lockdown, whether we live on our own or with others, but we don’t have to wait for the pandemic to be over to tackle these difficulties. Like Sonia, you can strengthen your mental health and build your confidence right now. Get in touch with our support team to arrange counselling today. You can read more about the poisonous parrot on Get Self Help’s website (adapted from “The Malevolent Parrot” by Kristina Ivings). 

3 #covid Christmas tips for coping with loss

Many families this year have lost someone to #covid, or because of #covid. Facing grief and loss is often harder at Christmas, especially this year. So how do we cope with loss in the midst of Christmas cheer?

  1. Gather as a household and light a special candle, perhaps next to a picture of your loved one. This act of remembering permits all the sadness, anger and other emotions that loss causes, and gives it space.
  2. Share memories and stories together. It can be easy to avoid remembering, especially if those memories come with the pain of grief, but sharing memories can also bring laughter and joy.
  3. When tears come, let them come. They are a natural part of grieving someone we love, and are acceptable expressions of loss even at Christmas.

Remembering those we love at Christmas is always bitter-sweet. Making space for the joy of memories alongside mourning helps everyone to heal.

Bereavement during the #pandemic has been extremely difficult for many. If you need help processing your grief, please get in touch.