Tag Archives: psychology

Give Depression the Bird

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Give Depression the Bird

Let’s get one thing straight. Depression is real. It is not something to be trivialized, snapped out of, or sucked up. In fact, trying to do this often makes it worse. I know, because I’ve been there. I would have loved to have been able to give myself a shake and a rueful smile and reset my mind. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just instantly be happy? Like those heat packs you snap, shake and they heat up? Super cool. And totally ridiculous.

Depression appears in many ways, shapes and forms, and no two people get it exactly the same. Not only does this make it hard to treat, it makes it hard for people to understand. It can’t be put in a box like other illnesses and diseases. There are symptoms, but responses to those symptoms vary. It isn’t a disease, so medication doesn’t work as well as we wished it would, although it does work well for a lot of people.

Not only is depression very real, but it is incredibly misunderstood, and surrounded by an almost palpable stigma. People who have depression are labelled. Crazy, lazy, not trying hard enough, weak. It doesn’t matter if the people wielding these words are trying to help or not, they are all labels, and they are stopping people reaching out for the help they need.

The very way we think about, and react to depression needs to change. And it needs to change fast!

When you think of depression what picture springs to mind? I see a girl curled into a foetal position in a darkened room, sobbing. And this picture is what I thought people with depression did all the time. I was so incredibly wrong.

Last year my husband gave me an ultimatum. Be happier or go and talk to someone. And by someone he meant one of those freaky head shrinking people…

I know that sounds harsh, but he was trying to make me see what he did. You see, up until that point I was convinced I was fine. Tired, but fine. I wasn’t crazy. And I couldn’t have depression! Everything I knew about depression said you had to be constantly sad, crying on the sofa, or suicidal, and I was none of those things. Oh I cried a lot, but more often I was irritable and cranky. (Did you know that was a sign of depression? Me neither)! So the couple of times ‘depression’ crossed my mind I quickly dismissed it.

Was I tired? Absolutely! Sad? Frequently. Did I feel like I wasn’t achieving much even when to others I was doing incredibly well? Only every day. But I wasn’t depressed! Heck no. Depression was for weak people. For people who had suffered massive loss or pain in their lives. For people with a rough childhood, or adulthood. I hadn’t had any of that. I grew up in a loving family. I have an amazing husband and a healthy, happy (albeit very stubborn) child, and I have had a relatively pain free life. And yet the more I looked at it, the more I realised the truth.

I was depressed. And I had been for quite a long time.

During a discussion (on why I couldn’t possibly have depression), my husband told me I seemed to be sad from the minute I woke up, till the minute I went to bed. It took me a while to process that. I couldn’t imagine what living with that must have been like. And that was the moment. Right there. That was the moment I decided I was going to be happy. Whatever it took.

I started researching depression, and working out what made me tick. I found ways to head my bouts of sadness off at the pass, to make sure I focused on my responses to different situations, and how I could react to them differently, and I used any hacks I could to make sure each day I was choosing happiness over sadness.

Scientists have proven that just like paths in a forest, the pathways of the mind can be worn in, the more traffic they get. And when sadness has been your companion for a long time, then those paths of sadness are the well-worn ones. They are straight and wide, and you are comfortable there in an odd way, because it’s familiar. The happiness pathways by contrast, are like little deer tracks. Narrow, precarious, and easy to fall off.

The biggest key to battling depression is to make sure the path that’s getting the most traffic, is happiness. Ever heard the expression ‘fake it till you make it’? Well, that’s how I started. When I woke up, and whenever I thought about it during the day, I smiled. It wasn’t a true smile. I wasn’t happy, and I didn’t want to smile, but smile I did.

Some days I even pushed my mouth upwards with my fingers, all the while wanting to cry. I must have looked as crazy as I felt. But you know what? It got easier. I got better at it. And I started feeling happier.

Your body is a pretty amazing thing. Did you know that every time you smile your brain releases feel good neurotransmitters – dopamine, endorphins and serotonin? Endorphins act as a natural pain reliever, serotonin release brought on by your smile serves as an anti-depressant, and smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress.

Smiling literally makes us happier.

Smiling is one of the most well-known, and easiest to implement, of many ‘happiness hacks’ out there. My books ‘Finding Happy’, ‘Choosing Happy’, and ‘Keeping Happy’, due out mid-2017, will focus on discovering many other hacks, and implementing them in your life. Some are great for people with clinical depression, others are better for people who struggle with sadness, but all the books will be available for free on kindle when they are first published.

I was lucky. Thanks to my amazing husband I was forced to face my sadness before it became the crushing force that so many people have in their lives. I still had the energy (most days), to work on myself, and to focus on choosing better ways. Many people don’t. And this is where medication helps. Because when you can’t move off your bed, can’t shake the feeling of despair and overwhelming sadness, and you think about death far more often than you should, choosing to be happy is just not an option.

Medication provides your mind with enough space to see those fraudulent thoughts for what they are- thoughts not facts, and to look at options to help you heal. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not without its side effects, but it does provide relief from the worst symptoms of depression.

Medication is not the only thing you can try either. There are the talking therapies such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), which is a type of psychology that helps people change unhelpful or unhealthy habits of thinking, feeling and behaving. It is practical and involves self-help strategies. And research suggests that if you do 13 or more sessions it can work just as well as medication for some people. You can even do CBT at home.

Even things like routines and goal setting, eating healthily with lots of omega 3 fatty acids, getting enough sleep, walking in nature, and challenging negative thoughts can help with depression. Exercise (yes the dreaded E word), can even have similar effects on the brain as anti-depressants.

There are so many options out there for anyone suffering from depression or sadness, that sometimes I think just diagnosing depression is the hard part. It certainly took me long enough (5 years I suspect..) and even then it was only my husband intervening that really pushed me to see it- and fight it.

These are some of the main symptoms of depression. How many did you know? Some people get a few, some get them all. Everyone is different. But they are certainly not as cut and dried as I used to think.

• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
• Fatigue and decreased energy
• Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
• Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
• Irritability, restlessness
• Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
• Overeating or appetite loss
• Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
• Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
• Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts, or self-harm
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions

Beyond Blue says ‘you may be depressed if, for more than two weeks, you’ve felt sad, down or miserable most of the time, or have lost interest or pleasure in usual activities, and have also experienced several of the signs and symptoms listed (on their page).

Depression symptoms can also be caused by conditions such as thyroid disease, vitamin D deficiency, and other medical problems. Make sure your doctor does full blood tests to rule these and many other things, out first.

Recognising I had depression was a turning point in my life. I’m smiling as I write this, and I can see the myriad ways in which I’ve changed over the past year. I choose to laugh when my daughter does something silly instead of scold. I’ve learnt ways to make myself happy on a daily basis-before the sadness and apathy take hold, and I’ve learnt how to block that annoying voice in my head that wishes me anything but the peace and happiness I so desire.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have bad days where I have to remind myself to smile. Where I chant my mantra like an actual crazy person to stop my mind turning over conversations that haven’t happened, and futures that will never be. I still have to think about my reactions, swallow my retorts, and examine my thoughts, to see if I can choose a happier path, but it is getting easier and I am getting better at it all the time.

Because I refuse to live my life in sadness. I refuse to let something as intangible as depression steal my laughter, my dreams and my love of life, and turn them into endless days of melancholy.

I choose to be happy!

And I desperately want you to choose happiness too.

I know life sucks sometimes. There are usually patches where it sucks a lot! But when you’ve had depression or even been ‘down’ for an extended period of time, I think we forget how to focus on, and choose those things that make us happy. We forget to try. Because being happy doesn’t necessarily come naturally, and as spontaneously as people make out. You have to strive for it, search for it, and grab it with both hands when you find it.

But you don’t have to do it alone. If 350 million people worldwide (almost 5% of the worlds population), suffer from depression, how many of those around you do you think may also be silently struggling?

Please, if you, or someone you know is struggling with depression, reach out and talk to someone. There is help out there. And for every person who says #ihavedepression another person will find the strength to seek help. And slowly but surely depression will become just another cold to be cured.

And that’s why I’m writing this post. Even though I’m scared of what people will think. Even though it’s taken me a month to hit publish. Even though I don’t want to be labelled. More than anything, I want to give people the courage to choose happiness for themselves. Someone did it for me, and I hope you can do it for someone you know.

I would love to hear your thoughts on depression (whether you have it or not), as part of research for my upcoming books. Please complete the anonymous survey, and then share it on your Facebook or Twitter page, to help raise awareness, give depression the bird, and #endstigma for good.

If you don’t feel you can talk to friends or family, there are some wonderful organisations who can help – even if you want to remain anonymous. The sites below will give you information on depression, hotlines to ring to speak to people who know what you’re going through, therapist directories, and self-help activities you can do at home.

Hold onto hope. You are not alone, and you can beat this!

This is a guest post written by Heidi Farrelly. You can find out more about her here: Heidi Farrelly

Your Personality can be Determined by Your Handwriting

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Your Personality can be Determined by Your Handwriting


Are you aware that your personality can be determined by your handwriting? You can understand more about your personality by looking at your handwriting. The study of handwriting is known as graphology and it has been used as a tool for personality assessment in many sectors. Most people live their life without knowing their personality and this can end up with negative consequences. It is very important to know your personality, as it can help you understand your strengths and weaknesses and live your life accordingly. When it comes to psychology, your personality and your handwriting:  the space between two letters, the dot, the size of the letters and many other small characteristics matter significantly. For example, the spacing between two words signifies your freedom and independence. Take a look at the below infographic prepared by Essay Writing Service UK to understand more about your personality.


Handwriting Infographic

Mandy X

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?


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What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Past events and our upbringings shape the way we think. As we progress through life we begin to make assumptions about ourselves and others – some of these thoughts will be helpful and others will be unhelpful. In the same way, some assumptions/thoughts will be accurate and some will be inaccurate. The longer we have thought in a certain way, the harder it is to shift and change. We end up over time having core beliefs about ourselves and the world, also referred to as “rules for living”.

Rules for living often take the form of “if this…then that”. For example: If I go out and socialise I will end up making a fool of myself. Or…if I get into another relationship I will get hurt or – If I don’t please others I will be disliked and rejected. Core beliefs are often in the form of:

“I am not good enough”; “I am a failure” and so on.

So, our past experiences create our beliefs and assumptions about the world which appear as “if this ..then that” thoughts or “must and should” statements.

Becoming more aware of your “must and should” statements is one key way to begin uncovering your rules for living. We can’t change the past but we CAN update our beliefs about the worldand ourselves as many of the core beliefs we hold are often outdated and incorrect.

We learn false beliefs from other, especially our parents and we internalise these thought. If your parents were critical, we begin to see ourselves in the same way (eg. I am stupid, fat, ugly, etc) and we act in accordance with these thoughts by withdrawing, avoiding or finding ways to hide our assumed failings and inadequacies.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a brilliant way to identify inaccurate thoughts and start to replace them with healthier, more helpful thoughts. CBT also involves setting up behavioural experiments to test  out our faulty assumptions to show us how they aren’t true.

If you find yourself repeating negative patterns of behaviour, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) might work for you. CBT is available in many areas and most CBT therapists offer skype sessions too – so it can be offered from anywhere in the world.

I offer CBT online and if I cannot help you I can refer to another CBT therapist who can.

Mandy X


How defense mechanisms protect us


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How defense mechanisms protect us

(and the best ones to use)

A defense mechanism is a psychological term that describes how people protect themselves from harmful emotions. It is a coping technique that is used to limit anxiety and fear. Defense mechanisms generally occur unconsciously-that is we are not aware that we are using defense mechanisms most of the time.

A good example would be of a child who is subject to cruel parenting. They may be unable to cope emotionally and create ways to lessen the emotional strain. One way to do this would be to dissociate (detach emotionally) from what is going on around them.

Types of defense mechanisms

Primitive defense mechanisms (often develop in childhood)

1) Denial

Denial is the refusal to accept the fact or reality. It is considered one of the most primitive defense mechanisms because it is characteristic of early childhood development. If we deny that a problem exists we do not have to attend to it. A person who is a functioning alcoholic will often simply deny they have a drinking problem and will point out how well they function in society.

2) Regression

Regression means going back to an earlier stage of development when the current stage of life is unbearable. For example, an adolescent who is overwhelmed with fear, anger and growing sexual impulses might become clingy and start exhibiting early childhood behaviours such as bedwetting. An adult may regress when under a great deal of stress-refusing to leave their beds in an attempt to avoid normal everyday activities.

3) Acting Out

Acting out occurs when a person feels incapable of expressing themselves verbally. Instead of saying, “I am angry with you”, a person who acts out may instead throw a book as a person will punch a hole through a wall. This acts as a pressure release and helps the individual feel, once again. It is very common to see a child have a temper tantrum when they do not get their way. Self injury may also be a form of acting out, expressing physical pain what one cannot stand feel emotionally.

4) Dissociation

People who have a history of childhood abuse often suffer from some form of dissociation. In extreme cases dissociation can lead to a person believing they have multiple selves (multiple personality disorder). People who use dissociation often have a disconnected view of themselves in their world. Time and their own self-image may not flow continuously as it does for other people. A person who dissociates can effectively disconnect from the real world and live in a different world that is not cluttered with thoughts, feelings or memories that are unbearable.

5) Compartmentalisation

Compartmentalisation is a lesser form of dissociation. Parts of oneself are separated from awareness of other parts. The different parts behave with separate sets of values. An example might be an honest person who cheats on their income tax return and keeps the two value systems distinct and separate thereby escaping any tension due to conflicting values.

6) Projection

Projection is the misapplication of a person’s undesired thoughts, feelings or impulses onto another person. Projection is used especially when the thoughts are considered unacceptable for the person to express, they feel completely at ease with having them. For example, a spouse may be angry at their significant other for not listening, when in fact it is the angry spouse who does not listen. Projection is often the result of a lack of insight and acknowledgement of one’s own motivations and feelings.

7) Reaction Formation

Reaction formation is the converting of unwanted or dangerous thoughts, feelings or impulses into their opposites. For instance, a woman who was very angry with her boss and would like to quit her job may instead be overly kind and generous towards her boss and express a desire to keep working there forever. She is incapable of expressing negative emotions of anger and unhappiness with the job, and instead becomes overly kind to publicly demonstrate a lack of anger and unhappiness. In essence it is another form of denial in the form of the exact opposite of what they are feeling.

Less primitive, more mature defense mechanisms

8) Repression

Repression is the unconscious blocking of unacceptable thoughts, feelings and impulses. The key to repression is that people do it unconsciously, so have very little control over it. Repressed memories are memories that have been unconsciously blocked from access or view. Due to the fact that memory is very malleable and ever-changing, it is not like playing back a DVD of your life. The DVD has been filtered and even altered by your life experiences, even by what you read or viewed.

9) Displacement

Displacement is the redirecting of thoughts, feelings and impulses directed one personal object, but taken out upon another person or object. People often use displacement and they cannot express the feelings in a safe manner to the person they are directed at. The classic example is the man who gets angry at his boss but can’t express his anger to his boss for fear of being fired. He instead comes home and kicks the dog or starts an argument with his wife. Of course it works the other way around as well. This is a pretty ineffective defense mechanism because while the anger finds a route for expression it’s misapplication to other harmless people/ objects will cause additional problems for most people.

10) Intellectualization

Intellectualisation is the overemphasis on thinking when confronted with an unacceptable impulse, situation or behaviour. No emotional context is used to help mediate and place the thoughts into an emotional human context. Rather than deal with the painful associated emotions, the person might employ intellectualisation to distance themselves. For example a person has just been given a terminal medical diagnosis, instead of expressing their sadness and grief, focuses instead on the details of all possible fruitless medical procedures.

11) Rationalisation

Rationalisation is putting something into a different light or offering a different explanation for one’s perceptions and behaviours in the face of changing reality. Example: a woman who starts dating a man she really likes and thinks the world of is suddenly dumped for no reason. She reframes the situation in her mind with, “I suspected he was a loser all along.”

12) Undoing

Undoing is the attempt to take back an unconscious behaviour or thought that is unacceptable or hurtful. For instance, after realising you just insulted your significant other unintentionally, you might spend the next hour praising their beauty, charm and intellect. This is an attempt to counteract the damage done.

Mature Defense Mechanisms (the most effective)

Mature defense mechanisms are the most constructive and helpful but may require practice and effort to put into daily use. While primitive defense mechanisms do little to try and resolve underlying issues or problems, which defenses are more focused on helping a person be a more constructive component of their environment. People with mature defenses tend to be more at peace with themselves and those around them.

13) Sublimation

Sublimation is simply the channelling of unacceptable impulses, and emotions into more acceptable ones. For instance, when a person has sexual impulses they would like to avoid, they may focus instead on rigorous exercise. Refocusing such harmful impulses into productive use helps a person channel energy that otherwise would be lost or used in a manner that might cause the person more anxiety. Some aggressive forms of sport could possibly be seen as a form of healthy sublimation.

Humour and fantasy are also forms of sublimation. They can both reduce the intensity of the situation and allow for more appropriate behaviour.

14) Compensation

Compensation is a process of psychologically counterbalancing perceived weaknesses by emphasising strength in other areas. When we emphasise strengths, we recognise that we cannot be strong in every way and in all areas of our lives. For example, “I may not know how to cook, but I’m brilliant at cleaning up.” When done appropriately and not in an attempt to overcompensate, compensation helps reinforce a person’s self-esteem and self-image.

15) Assertiveness

Assertiveness is the emphasis of a person’s needs of thoughts in a manner that is respectful, direct and firm. Communication styles exist on a continuum, ranging from passive to aggressive with assertiveness falling neatly in the middle. People who are assertive strike a balance when they speak up for themselves, express their opinions and needs in a  respectful but firm manner, and listen when they are being spoken to. Becoming more assertive is one of the most desired communication skills and helpful defense mechanisms.

Defense mechanisms are most often learned behaviours, most of which we learned during childhood. That’s a good thing because it means that as an adult, you can choose to learn some new behaviours and new defense mechanisms that may work better for your life.

Mandy X

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