Mer­ri­lyn Hughes

Australian Health Today - - Aht Experts -

Fully qual­i­fied coun­sel­lor and is pas­sion­ate about help­ing chil­dren, ado­les­cents and fam­i­lies. Mer­ri­lyn has ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in re­la­tion­ship coun­selling. She is a reg­is­tered mem­ber of the Aus­tralian Coun­sel­lors As­so­ci­a­tion.

I seem to get an­gry very quickly th­ese days. I am un­der a lot of pres­sure at work and when I get home, I don’t want to hear my kids ar­gu­ing to­gether, or my part­ner telling me about bills that have ar­rived. My re­ac­tion is to yell at them most of the time, and I don’t like it. I know I need to find ways to con­trol my feel­ings. What can I do? (Mark, 37)

Such a com­mon prob­lem, Mark. When leav­ing work we re­flect on the chal­lenges of the day, list the things we didn’t ac­com­plish so we don’t for­get them to­mor­row, bat­tle the traf­fic or pub­lic trans­port and then carry stress into the home. Adam Fraser in his book “Third Space” talks about mak­ing con­scious de­ci­sions when mov­ing from one space (work) to an­other (home). We can use the time in be­tween (third space) to pre­pare our­selves in three ways.

1.Recog­nise what went well. Fo­cus on what you achieved, the high­light of your day. Get pos­i­tive!

2.Set a goal for the sec­ond space. Mow the lawn, play with the kids, or en­joy din­ner with your fam­ily.

3.De­cide who you want to be when you walk through the door. Do you re­ally want to be that tired, stressed per­son? Make a con­scious de­ci­sion to be some­one else. Imag­ine if the whole fam­ily uses this strat­egy!! Who will your kids and wife want to be when you walk through the door?!?

I have al­ways been happy and healthy but lately, I have had short­ness of breath, tight­ness in my chest and neck and shoul­der pain. I am also feel­ing very emo­tional. My GP sent me for var­i­ous tests (CT scans, ex­er­cise stress test, blood tests) to rule out se­ri­ous is­sues but re­sults have al­ways come back good. I’ve been told that they could be anx­i­ety episodes. There have been a lot of changes in my life re­cently, so it could be anx­i­ety. How can I over­come th­ese episodes? (Lisa, 41)

Lisa, it sounds like you are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the sur­vival in­stinct of fight or flight. In cave­man days, a bear at the cave en­trance, this re­sponse was help­ful.

To­day our chal­lenges aren’t bears, but worry and fears about our mod­ern life. The body’s re­sponse, how­ever, is the same. Shak­ing the ten­sion from your body can help here. Tense your whole body, then drop your shoul­ders and shake your hands by your sides. You should feel the ten­sion leave. Some peo­ple feel this ten­sion in their neck and jaw, caus­ing stress headaches. Loos­en­ing your neck and jaw will help. We have built in re­lax­ation sig­nals from our body to our brain. The most use­ful one of th­ese is the sigh. Breath­ing out long breaths helps us to re­lax when we are chal­lenged. Some­times we need the help of a coun­sel­lor to chal­lenge the thoughts that cause th­ese re­sponses.

My nephew, who is 16, has been very with­drawn lately and not re­ally com­mu­ni­cat­ing well with the fam­ily. He prefers to be alone in his room, read­ing or play­ing games. He is usu­ally a pretty bub­bly per­son and with a happy-go-lucky at­ti­tude, but in the last 6 months, he’s been act­ing dif­fer­ently – more re­served and quiet, and not shar­ing his feel­ings about much even when asked. His an­swer to the ques­tion, “Is every­thing ok?” is al­ways “Noth­ing”. We are wor­ried about him and not sure how to help him as we don’t know what the prob­lem is. What can you sug­gest? (Carol, 29)

As with any re­la­tion­ship, com­mu­ni­ca­tion is the foun­da­tion. Of­ten when teenagers sep­a­rate them­selves, it takes a new rit­ual to change things. A weekly game of golf, a one-on-one din­ner, even a chal­lenge in a com­puter game can open com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Of course, it’s im­por­tant to match this at­ten­tion with your teen’s in­ter­est. Teen years are full of changes and chal­lenges. Ask­ing ques­tions like “Is every­thing ok?” can feed the anx­i­ety and con­fu­sion felt dur­ing this time and is of­ten re­jected out of hand. More spe­cific, open ques­tions and con­ver­sa­tions can have bet­ter re­sults. Try ques­tions like “What is your book about?” or “What progress are you mak­ing in your game?” Th­ese are more likely to be con­ver­sa­tion starters than “Is every­thing ok?” Many teens seek soli­tary sanc­tu­ary. How­ever, if you feel your teen is re­ally iso­lated, en­list help from a coun­sel­lor.

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