Loneliness at Christmas

christmas

For many of us, the Christmas festivities bring with it a range of difficult feelings. It can remind us of the people that we have lost, and it can bring into sharp relief the difference between the ideal families depicted on television and our own complex and less than ideal reality. More than at any other time of the year, Christmas can be a time of great sadness and loneliness. Feelings of loneliness can be as acute when you are in a room surrounded by people, as it is when you are in a room on your own. And it isn’t just something experienced by the few: 1 in 10 of us do not have a close friend and 1 in 5 of us feel unloved. It can affect us at any age whether we are young or old.

Continue reading Loneliness at Christmas

Are You Suffering From Nomophobia?

mobileDo you answer yes to a number of these questions? The chances are you could be suffering from nomophobia – the fear of being out of phone contact:

1. Do you regularly use a mobile phone and spend considerable time on it?
2. Do you have one or more devices and always carry a charger?
3. Do you feel anxious or nervous at the thought of losing your handset or when you can’t use your phone because it has been misplaced, doesn’t have coverage, has a flattened battery or lack of credit?
4. Do you avoid as much as possible places and situations in which you cannot use your mobile phone?
5. Do you constantly look at your phone’s screen to see whether messages or calls have been received?
6. Do you keep your mobile phone switched on 24 hours a day, and sleep with it next to you?
7. Do you prefer to communicate using technology rather than face-to-face?
8. Do you incur debt or great expense from using your mobile phone?

I defy most of us to not answer positively to many of those questions, suggesting that we are suffering from nomophobia.

Nomophobia (named by conflating ‘no mobile’ and ‘phobia’) describes discomfort, anxiety, nervousness or anguish caused by being out of contact with a mobile phone or computer – it is the fear of remaining out of touch with technology.

According to a 2008 survey by the post office more than 13 million British people are suffering from it, which is about 53% of mobile phone users.

Academics are making the argument for the inclusion of nomophobia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is currently in its fifth version and is the standard classification of mental disorders in the United States and influential around the world.

But does this really describe a new psychiatric disorder, or does it describe for many of us the reality of living and working in a modern world?

The Helsinki Institute for Information technology has found that, on average, people check their phones 34 times a day. ‘Over dependence’ on our phones and/or other technology doesn’t necessarily describe a new medical condition it could just be a sign that much of our work and social lives are now conducted on our mobile phones.

Yes for some people this anxiety will be very real and disabling, and it’s absolutely essential for them to be seeking professional psychological help to help them manage that anxiety. But for most of us we just need to practice prudence and common sense.

• Keep your work mobile phone and your personal mobile phone separate. That way you can turn off your work mobile phone at night or when you are on holiday.
• Even if you use your mobile phone as an alarm clock, most handsets will allow you to turn off the ring tone but still use it as an alarm clock.
• Very few of us have jobs where we have to be instantly contactable. Let your phone go to voice mail and respond to the call at a more convenient time.
• Turning off your phone means turning it off – not putting it on vibrate. The constant vibration of your phone is just as annoying as the ringing.
• Before sending that text message or making that call, stop and think – do you really need to communicate that message now? Is it essential that your partner knows what you had for lunch, or that your office knows that you are delayed by 5 minutes or that you are ‘just coming into the station’ – or can that news wait until you see them face-to-face?

If you want to cut back on your mobile phone use, then lead by example – cut back on your communication and other people will follow your example. Manage your technology, don’t let it manage you.

For more information:

Bragazzi, N.L., Del Puente, G., (2014) A Proposal for Including Nomophobia in the new DSM. Psychol Res Behav Manag 7 155-160

How To Manage Anxiety

All of us experience anxiety in our lives; sometimes we experience it more strongly than at other times. That feeling of dread that builds from your gut towards your throat, the sensation of nausea, and the sense of impending doom.

Below we have listed 5 techniques to help you cope with anxiety. If your anxiety is impacting on your life speak to your GP, they can help you to check out whether there are physical causes for your increased anxiety, prescribe medication and/or sign-post you to talking therapies.

laughing1. Learn to Relax
Learning to relax is an essential technique to help you to manage your anxiety. Our blog Tried and Tested Breathing and Muscle Relaxation Techniques describes in detail deep breathing, meditation and muscle relaxation exercises that you can complete to help you to relax. Remember to include every day something that gives you pleasure; whether it is meeting with friends, enjoying a warm bath, a lunchtime stroll in the park, or watching a funny film. Laughter continues to be one of life’s great medicines – choose to bring laughter and happiness into your life; our blog 10 Top Tips For Achieving Happiness will help you to discover how.

kidwithapple2. Eat Well
You are what you eat! Avoid stimulants such as alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and sugar. All these foods can raise your anxiety levels for the rest of the day, or stop you being able to sleep or relax at night. Our blog 10 Foods To Make You Happy will give you tips on food that will help boost your happiness – yes we all know we should be doing this, but often our good intentions go out of the window. This time give yourself a couple of weeks on a new improved healthy diet and see what changes it can make to your feelings of anxiety.

bodybuilder3. Exercise
Another thing that we all know we should be doing more of but often feel that we are just too busy to fit it in. Make time. Exercise is essential to your physical and mental health. It helps to lower stress hormones and increase feel good endorphins. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy, and that you can easily incorporate into your life. Create a routine around it; doing it at set times during the week. If you find it hard to motivate yourself join a group exercise or sign yourself up for a fun run or other organised event to give yourself something to aim for. Get yourself a pedometer to help you increase the amount you walk everyday. If monitoring your improvement motivates you then check out the numerous exercise apps that help you to monitor your fitness.

balloon4. Learn to Let Go
There are very strong links between a ruminating thinking style and depression and anxiety. Rumination describes a tendency to compulsively focus on things that are causing you anxiety and stress; to become fixated on problems. We describe the best ways to break the ruminating habit in our blog on rumination. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness both teach us that our thoughts are just our thoughts. Just because we think them doesn’t make them true. We can learn to change or let go of our thoughts, seeing them float away on the wind like a balloon.

raining5. Set Yourself a Time to Worry
Some of our anxieties deserve our attention, and needs us to focus our energy to find a solution. Set yourself a worry-time: 10 or 20 minutes to focus on the things that are causing you anxiety and most importantly to plan a solution to the problem. If you find yourself focusing on your anxiety outside of your planned worry time, remind yourself that you have set yourself a time to focus on your worry and let go it until then. Confronting your worries head-on and planning a solution can help keep your anxieties in check and stop them spiralling out of control.

The History of Anxiety and the Importance of Living in the Here and Now

Our brains have developed through a process of evolution. In their current form our brains have been around for about 100,000 years; a mere drop in the evolutionary bucket. It is important to remember evolution as we consider our behaviours today. Why have certain behaviours evolved? How might those behaviours promote survival or reproduction?

The way we live today is very different to that of our evolutionary ancestors when there were no cities, no agriculture and no technology. We would have lived as foragers. There are still some (an extremely small number) of forager societies living in the world today.

Anthropologists who have studied these societies observe the immediacy of people’s lives, the extreme focus on the present. If your hunt has been successfully you return to camp to eat, if not you search for an alternative food source. People live by the motto “If it is not here and now what does it matter where (or when) it is?”

In foraging societies there is little if any gap between the efforts you make and the feedback you receive about your efforts. In our society there is often a long delay between the efforts we make and the payoff. By the time we do get feedback it may be too late for us to change what we are doing. Take for example farming. Farmers need to plough the fields, plant the seeds, water the fields, monitor for weeds and pests, harvest and store the crop. By the time it is done it will be months before the farmer knows if they have been successful. It is much harder to resort to a plan B if it has all gone wrong.

Some researchers suggest that it is the move 10,000 years ago from a foraging society that focused on immediacy to an agricultural society where there is more uncertainty and a greater delay before outcomes are known, that has led to us experiencing anxiety. We evolved to live in a foraging society where our actions had immediate consequences but modern life means that we are living very differently.

What does this mean for us now? Well, I am not suggesting that we move back to living in foraging societies, but there is a lot that we can learn from that way of life. We live a life now that is very focused on the future – we hurtle towards that future at great speed without taking the time to enjoy the here and now.

Being aware that our brains did not evolve for the way that we live today can give us new understanding and compassion for our feelings of anxiety.