How does the 2:2:2 technique help me put things in perspective?!

Standing in a wood with a bright sun light

Do you every find yourself worry about something and you’re so surrounded by the thing itself that you just can’t see beyond the end of your nose?! It’s when you get so bogged down in the detail you can’t see the wood for the trees, you can’t see the bigger picture…

The idea behind this exercise is to try and step back from the things you’re worrying about and consider them in the future—will it matter in 2 days time? Will it matter in 2 months time? Will it matter in 2 years times? This helps us put things in perspective because it helps us see the bigger picture.

Female in supermarket picking up an apple looking concerned

It’s important to use a measure of time that’s relevant to the problem. If, for example, you’re feeling highly anxious about being in a supermarket because people don’t seem to be adhering to the social distancing regulations, you can ask yourself, will this matter in 2 minutes? Yes—I will still be here in 2 minutes and I will still be struggling with this problem, however, in 2 hours, you will have returned home, washed your hands and lowered your risks. The idea being that in the moment, you can think to yourself, within a short space of time, things will feel better and this helps manage the anxiety.

If you’re struggling with the anxiety of buying a house, you’re worried about how you’ll cope with all the paperwork, you’re feeling stressed about understanding the legal aspects and you’re lying awake at night. The 2:2:2 technique can help by enabling you look further ahead. Will this still be on your mind in 2 weeks? Probably, how about 2 months? Yes…but how about 2 years? No, chances are, you’ll be in your new home, having unpacked all the those boxes you’re feeling stressed about and you’ll be worrying about something else! Of course buying a house is stressful, but this technique helps you realise that there is a bigger picture, you just don’t know what’s around the corner, life’s stresses come and go and if we spend life worrying, we’ll miss the good stuff!

Female blurred image

This technique can also help if you’re struggling to make a decision. Sometimes our mental health can affect us in surprising ways—indecisiveness being one. In the depths of depression, being asked what I wanted to drink or deciding what to wear could feel like I was being asked for the nuclear codes. Grasping for the right answer felt perilously out of reach… Once I realised, what choice I made wasn’t going to matter in 2 minutes time…. the decision was so much easier, just pick something, anything, whichever was closest to hand, what I drank/wore yesterday, it was fine!

I’m training to be a counsellor; although anyone can call themselves a counsellor, to become a fully accredited qualified counsellor takes a long time because a lot of self-development is needed and there’s no short cut. During the training process, it’s hard that the thing I want to be is within reach but also so far out of reach. I’m working in a job that’s not my ultimate aim and it causes high amount of stress and fatigue; each assignment and hurdle on my course feels like I’m being tested and I worry about “performing” badly when I know I can do better; I worry I’m never going to reach my goal but I have to step back every so often and think… I’ll still be on this path in 2 months but in 2 years, I’ll (probably/hopefully) be the qualified counsellor I’ve been aspiring to be for so, so long!

I’m not saying this technique will solve everything, nor am I saying it’s easy, it may not be for everyone but if you’re struggling, perhaps it’s something you could try? It’s just another tool to stick in your tool box for managing life’s stresses.

Therapist with client

How can counselling help physical health problems?

Sick female on sofa with paramedics and concerned friend

There are countless people suffering everyday with symptoms that are medically unexplained. They may have a label/diagnosis but insufficient explanation as to what is actually going on to fully manage it. These are often managed with medication such as painkillers or anti-inflammatories, or patients simply have to try and put up with them having received a half-hearted explanation from their primary care physician. Examples include non-cardiac chest pain, tension-type headaches, globus-syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, non-epileptic seizures, candidiasis hypersensitivity, chronic pain syndromes, irritable bowel syndrome.

When a patient goes to their primary care physician for a physical symptom they should, of course by investigated to see if the symptom is caused by a physical health problem. For example, if you have difficulty swallowing, the physician will first take a full history, then your throat will be examined and further tests/scans etc will be done to discover any pathophysiology . Differential diagnoses could be gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), stroke, multiple sclerosis and various cancers. But if all of these are ruled out by the time the various tests are finished the most important thing is not to dismiss the patient’s symptom! How many of us with chronic symptoms have had various tests come back as “all clear” and thought—so what next?! I’m still suffering…how do I manage my symptom(s)?!

Female on floor with blanket blowing her nose

Research has shown that 52% of adult referrals to rheumatology, cardiology, gastroenterology, neurology and gynaecology have no known pathology linked to that speciality and are therefore discharged from that speciality without a management plan. This happened to me when I was referred to rheumatology—I received a half-hearted diagnosis of fibromyalgia, was told there might be a leaflet in the waiting room I could pick up on my way out and that was that. No treatment options, no plan, no hope.

It can be very difficult to see how a very physical symptoms can have any psychological component but the mind is an incredibly powerful organ. It controls everything that happens in your body. Day-in-day-out, unconsciously, your mind controls digestion, metabolism, your heart rate and respiration. You don’t consciously think “breath-in…breath-out…” but your body just does it. However, you can choose to slow down or speed up your breathing, take a deep breath or hold your breath if you want to. It’s also been shown that being aware of your heart beat can be effective during times of anxiety when you need to calm yourself down, you can consciously slow it down.

If you want to manage physical symptoms, a helpful exercise can be to think about where you feel emotions. For example, most people feel, at least a little workplace stress—where do you feel this? Do your shoulders feel tense? Does your chest feel heavy? Do you feel a knot in your abdomen? Noticing how your emotions impact your body is an important start on the road to getting your mind and body re-connected.

Another helpful processes is to think about when you first started noticing your physical symptoms. For example, did you experience a bereavement, a period of work stress, bullying, car accident or other trauma? Once identified, considering how you managed this event is key—do you think you’ve fully processed it? Don’t compare yourself to others, everyone deals with life’s events differently. Do you think there’s a pattern to how you deal with things? Are you a stiff-upper-lip type? Or do you busy yourself with helping others? Perhaps some things feel too painful to process? Noticing these patterns and considering what impact this could be having is important. If we don’t process stressful events, the stress needs to go somewhere; the tissues in your body will hold onto it until your consciously choose to release it.

Male on side of bed with head in hand

Not processing events fully can lead to shame and guilt. Holding onto these feelings becomes a negative cycle that can impact every area of life.

You may feel that your physical symptoms come and go randomly with no connection to anything and despite trying to find triggers. The body is amazing at holding onto stress and releasing it at a later date. For other people the body provides an early warning signal that your under stress. Counselling can help you become more aware of your emotions and how you process them. It can also help you becomes more in tune with your body, which, in turn, will improve your physical health.

If you’re not yet convinced that the brain-body connection is important, take a look at this study (Suzanne C. Segerstrom, Ph.D., et al.), it shows that law students who were confident had more and better functioning immune cells than worried students. This systemic review and meta-analysis (Alan Rozanski, MD, et al.) also showed that optimism was associated with lower risk of cardiovascular events.

During these difficult times, people are struggling with all sorts of unusual experiences and are dealing with untold pressures, don’t downplay how hard you’re finding it! It’s been shown that talking is one of the most important things we can do, whether this is to a trusted friend or to a professional counsellor, making the first step will be the hardest but it will benefit every aspect of your life.

Time To Talk—The Power Of Small

Today, 4th February 2021 is Time to Talk Day and the Theme is The Power of Small. The idea is that it’s the small conversations that make a difference but I’m going to take it a step further and say that any small thing can make a big difference when it comes to mental health.

green wooden door with chain and padlock

I think it’s fair to say most people are struggling with something at the moment. Some people may be enjoying the simpler life of lockdown or it may not have impacted them as much as others but not being able to go about life as we want is really hard. Being told what we can and can’t do and when is taking its toll.

Most of us will have an unhealthy coping mechanism we turn to, it could be ‘socially acceptable’ alcohol, or it could be relatively-easy-to-hide eating too much. Or perhaps you’re someone who gets irritable and snappy with those around you? Maybe you’re someone who stuffs your feelings down, pretends everything’s fine, maybe you’re a workaholic or a exercise-addict? But none of these things work in the long term, eventually, the cracks will show, your body, your mind or your relationships will tell you something is wrong, talking about how you’re feeling is the most powerful thing we can do.

2 people chatting by a fire in a wooded area

Speaking to my therapist the other day, I was talking about how I wanted to support someone close to me but I had no idea what I could do to help because I don’t have any skills that they need. He asked “but do you need to do anything?”. As I’m a trainee counsellor, he really shouldn’t have needed to ask this question, but how often do we find ourselves desperately trying to do good things when just being with someone is all they need?

Not everyone will be able to find the words and saying “I’m struggling” can be exposing and make us feel quite vulnerable. But talking about our emotions, feelings and mental health is becoming more ‘normal’. The phrase ‘it’s ok not to be ok’ is regularly used to express an acceptance of each other’s emotional state, no matter where you’re at.

Today is the day when we highlight the importance of talking but it doesn’t just need to be today. Think about who you might reach out to, a friend, a family member, or anyone you feel you can trust.

mosquito on skin

If you don’t believe that small things make a difference, you’ve never shared a bed with a mosquito!