To recover from illness: prioritise self-care, choose the right thoughts and nourish well.

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Life takes a turn when illness hits. While often times, illness comes and goes without much disruptions; there are times everything has to stop and life has to change drastically for recovery to happen. The illness I had recently belongs to the latter. I have a persisting lung haemorrhage that will recur upon physical exertion, and I have triggered a big episode this time round. Weakness runs through my body, stamina depletes, life has to slow down for weeks. I’m walking on eggshells, not knowing when the next relapse is. I’m lucky to have made the choice to slow down.

At this moment, I am still in the journey of recovery. I have trudged this journey long enough to derive some meaning as to what this illness has shown me. I believe every life experience has a meaning for us, and for such specific life-changing events, the meaning is huge. As I reflect on this meaning, I grow a little wiser.

Illness signals self-care. Put ourselves first, priorities needs to be readjusted.

I believe that illness hits when we neglect our needs for too long. Our needs to be rested, be nourished, be listened to, be cared for emotionally, be seen and be balanced. Such neglect happens, priorities get readjusted even without us knowing it. Illness is a sign for us to reconnect with ourselves and listen to what really matters to us. True recovery happens the moment we stop, reflect and re-prioritise ourselves to the forefront.

Illness gives a myriad of thoughts, choose the thoughts that empowers and gives hope.

When this big episode happens, just like the previous episodes, I had an onslaught of negative thoughts that weren’t so helpful to my recovery. When illness sets, our thoughts can have a life on its own. I have thoughts like, “why me again?”, “this won’t ever go away, no point trying”, “my body is just too weak for anything”. These thoughts were not helping – they took hope away, put me in a victim mindset. And I know that psychophysiologically, these thoughts impede my healing.

I began to choose and create positivity, by starting with myself. Someone really close to me reminded me to work through gratitude, and said “think of the things that are happening well for you right now”. I did that and began to realise that things are actually getting better, albeit minor episodes of relapse. I began to garner hope that things are turning out well. At the same time, I grew more sensitive to others’ pain in their own versions, compassion began to grow within me. They were afraid, tired, confused and unsure, just like me. It hit me when I realised that at the most fundamental level of living, we are all the same. That gave me strength to trudge on because they didn’t give up either.

Illness often needs wholesome food for recovery. Food and rest comes together.

Rest is the time for the body to reconstruct and repair itself, food is the building blocks for this process. When I was really ill one day, a meal that was well-prepared made a tremendous difference compared to a shoddy meal. Nutrition matters, and it can be felt from the inside out. Ensure our food has high levels of growth and repair nutrients. Couple good food and rest, re-prioritise our personal needs and shifting to a positive mental state, the recovery process will be amped up to a higher frequency.                                               

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.

Know how to Get in the Zone: Skill, Challenge and Motivation

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Flow, or “in the zone”, is a psychological experience that can be an asset to our growth. Many would think that being “in the zone” applies to only sports, but it happens to us more often than we realise, whether we notice it or not. Classically, a tennis game involving two equally skilled players would involve flow, whereby each pit individual skills against the challenges posed by the other, each holds clear goals to win the match, and each enjoys the game. Putting this experience in your context, in the past week, have you done an activity with a feeling of energised focus, full involvement and enjoyment? If you have, then you have contacted flow. This post will discuss flow as an asset to growth and how you can access flow states with precision.


Key Notes:

  1. The Benefits of Flow
  2. The Flow Experience – Skills, Challenge, Motivation & Attention
  3. The 7 Flow Conditions

The Benefits of Flow

I choose to talk about flow because it has strong relevance with my work. At some part of the coaching process, I will certainly work with my client to create more flow experiences, which is integral to the change process. Flow immediately immerses my clients in valued-driven activities that they can easily commit to. Flow activities present challenges to the clients in a way that matches their abilities and interests. Hence, when clients detect dysfunctional thoughts and feelings that can debilitating to them (e.g., this is completely hopeless [depressive], there is just too much going on for me to even think [anxious]), entering flow is a diversion strategy at its finest. Entering flow is a whole-sensory behaviour that leaves little “bandwidth” for the client to entertain thoughts and feelings that have negative value to them, breaking that psychological reflex to spiral downwards.

Other than using this flow experience to enter optimal functioning states, research has shown that contacting flow on a frequent basis has been associated with increases in:

  • General life satisfaction and positive feelings
  • Self-efficacy and confidence
  • Creativity, performance and accomplishments
  • Resilience and coping
  • Motivation
  • Personal growth and flourishing

Knowing that flow is an enhancer to our living experience, let us understand the conditions to better access this state and reap its benefits.


The Flow Experience

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The flow model primarily consists of the balance between perceived personal skill and perceived challenge, with an undercurrent of attention and motivation.

Perceived skills relates to the ability, self mastery and confidence to complete the tasks. Perceived challenges relate to the demand of the goals set ahead. When we have high skills, aiming for goals set at a high margin, when accompanied with absolute focus and motivation, this optimal experience will generate a process of growth, regardless of the outcome. The importance of the flow experience is that once we enter this optimal experience, the process itself is already the reward, as we exercise our self-mastery to attempt a worthy challenge. If we succeed against the challenge, it is furthermore an icing on the cake.
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When skills mismatch challenge, there will be  other possible experiences that are less optimal. Generally, when challenge exceeds skills, the feeling of less than adequate usually arises; when skills exceed challenge, we slowly disengage from the experience.

The 7 Flow Conditions

The optimal flow condition is likely to be achieved when the following conditions are met (Schaffer, 2013):

  1. Knowing what to do
  2. Knowing how to do it
  3. Knowing how well you are doing
  4. Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved)
  5. High perceived challenges
  6. High perceived skills
  7. Freedom from distractions

Flow is an experience that revolves around how our self-mastery interacts with the demands placed on us, and how we cognitively engage with this challenge. When the conditions are all met, and when flow is frequently contacted, our lives will naturally be filled with meaning and opportunities for growth. As a personal experiment, try to test this out in your own life.

Schaffer, Owen (2013), Crafting Fun User Experiences: A Method to Facilitate Flow

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.

Depressive Reaction & Reactive Depression: Only One is Worrying.

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Throughout our lives, we experience a range of moods. Some of these mood states are more activating, while others are deactivating. One of the most deactivating mood state is depression. Depression is a cause of concern in societies around the world. It is one of the most common mental health issue faced by many people, regardless of gender, occupation and age. Less known to the population is that depression can be classified across a spectrum, from milder levels (depressive reaction) to critical level (reactive depression). It is essential to know the difference along this spectrum, as when the critical level is reached, professional help is often needed. I have seen many people keeping serious depression in the closet and try to self-cope. Many times, for them, the struggle remains recurring, as Winston Churchill said, “when the black dog comes to visit”.

Depressive reaction is a mood-related response most people can exhibit in a challenging situation. Like any mood state, such as feeling anxious, happy, sad and grieve, depressive reaction is temporary, and will come and pass in its own time. It feels like a flattened emotion, with little positivity present. Like depression, depressive reaction will also generate self-defeating thoughts (e.g., hopelessness, over-generalisation) and negative attitudes. But, unlike depression, depressive reaction does not last long, and the person will regain functionality as the mood passes.

Reactive Depression is a conditioned involuntary responses in the face of adversity, stemming from personal belief system and schemas. These responses are likely to be episodes when the depression comes in and stays over time. Reactive depression is likened to a knee-jerk reaction that got triggered, and stays triggered due to cognitive and emotional regulatory reasons.

To properly identify a reactive depression, these are some of the major symptoms:

  1. Duration: Can potentially last from days to months-on-end to even years. It is not a mood, but a state of being that carries the depressive emotion consistently as the norm.
  2. Functionality: The person has difficulty functioning normally or effectively on a daily basis. Activities that were once enjoyed or done easily becomes difficult.
  3. Intensity of thoughts: The person is strongly influenced by the negative thoughts in the head. These thoughts has control over the person, can be irrational and seldom challenged.
  4. Experiential avoidance: The person is resistant towards new experiences, new ways of thinking, behaving and exploring.
  5. Physical exhaustion: These negative mental states will eventually affect the physical state. Other symptoms such as insomnia, weight loss and bowel problems may result.

With these criteria as benchmarks, if you recognise these symptoms in the people around you, it is advisable to help them approach mental health professionals, click here to explore which is an appropriate profession. However, if it is only a passing mood state, do sit down quietly by yourself with the depressive reaction and ask why is it here? And what meaning it has for you? Such exploration will surface some personal truths and foster growth.

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.

 

 

 

 

Life Coach, Counsellor, Psychologist or Psychiatrist: Which one to approach when distressed?

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Mental distress is a human experience that can range across a wide spectrum. It can be a depressive episode that comes and goes regularly, a relationship argument that triggers anger issues, or suicidal attempts to end all the struggles right now. When a person is struggling with such distress, it can be confusing to know who to approach to resolve these issues. In my work, I have seen clients who have sought each of these professions, and they turned out very differently, with horror and success stories. Hence, I write this post to highlight the differences between each of these professions, in the way they are trained, and the likely approaches they adopt to help. Share this post with people whom you know will benefit from this knowledge.


1.Psychiatrist / GP – The Medical Professionals

This is the most common go-to I see in my clients. When someone is in psychological distress, such as anxiety, insomnia, depression, they see a doctor, thinking that psychological and physiology can be treated the same way – through medications. Psychiatrists are trained first as doctors, through a typical medical degree, and specialised into mental health. The primary mode of treatment from the medical system is medications, such as antidepressants and mood stabilisers.

Pros: Medications are highly effective in reducing psychological distress on a biochemistry level. This approach is highly suitable when an immediate treatment is necessary, such as to prevent drastic self-harm or suicide. The medications increases the concentration of “feel good” hormones that balances the activity of the brain, so negative thoughts and behaviours get reduced.

Cons: Medication are just temporary stop-gap measures, with possible chances of forming dependency and addiction. I have clients experiencing severe mood swings and insomnia once the medications are reduced, which is not surprising because medications does not change the internal cognitive and emotional processes. The same patterns of thinking generating the distress will still happen once the biochemistry is reverted.

Indeed, research has shown that interventions using medications and therapeutic sessions have significantly higher improvements and less relapse rates, as compared to using medications alone.

I believe that a psychological distress is contributed by both biochemistry and dysfunctional patterns of thinking. And once formed, these 2 factors self-perpetuate into a negative spiral. Hence, the best way forward is to include therapeutic sessions. The latter three professionals are trained to provide these therapies.


2.Psychologist – The Scientist-Practitioners

My doctorate is in the field of psychology. Psychologists are first trained as a scientist of human experience, then a practitioner to help. Most psychologist have no practical experience in helping during the undergraduate years. Their orientation is to approach a client as a scientist-practitioner, and will be unethical to practice any therapy that has not been supported by science.

Pros: Any strategies adopted by a psychologist are backed by science and has been tested with many subjects. The chances of treatment success is high. Treatments are also highly based on scientific approaches, where pre and post-intervention assessment scores are systematically obtained and compared to determine treatment success.

Cons: Many psychological experiences cannot be generalised. What is supported by science may not work on the specific client. Under a psychologist, the client can only be treated with strategies that work on the majority of the population. There is a chance that the client can be better helped with an alternative therapy, which is hard to research on and so cannot be adopted by the psychologist – which encompasses many useful therapies other professions use (e.g., Hypnosis, NLP and Narrative Therapy). Counsellors and life coaches, as elaborated later, are not confined by these requirements.


2.Counsellor – Past & Present Orientation

Counsellors are getting to mainstream psychology. Counsellors are trained primarily as experiential practitioners, and less of being a scientists; hence, they are more flexible to attend fully to a client’s experience without the red tapes. They focus on helping an individual come to terms with life challenges by focusing on the past and present. They have wide access to many different approaches that have shown treatment success, which may or may not include those adopted by psychologists. Counsellors also treat milder levels of distress, such as time management, confidence, forgiveness, as well as tougher distresses, including mood dysfunctions and relationship problems. GP/psychiatrists and psychologists are more inclined to treat at-risk and near-clinical cases.

Pros: Counsellors provide a more personal touch to the treatment process. Some of my clients detest to the process of scientific measurements because those numbers do not represent how they really feel inside. A change in the numbers did not necessary make them feel okay to be let off the therapy. Some clients prefer a more personal approach.

Cons: Counsellors focus heavily in the past and present, including heavy exploration of the past. My experience as a life coach demonstrates that the conversation about a past problem is very different from the conversation about a positive solution-focused future. I have clients who relate to me counselling experiences that were so invested in past abuses, that they left the session not knowing how to move forward. And over time, it becomes a negatively geared therapy process. Life Coaching provides the “what now from here?” answer.


2.Life Coach – Present & Future Orientation

Life coaching is my preferred profession because I believe true treatment success has to be one that is unrestricted and authentically personal. It has to also include invested growth elements so that the clients not only improved from a -5 to 0, but also from 0 to +3. The client will leave being a stronger and more resilient person.

Life coaching has most of the skills and therapeutic knowledge a counsellor has. But a life coach focuses on creating a positive future, from a distressed past and present. The focus on moving forward is intense, and the client will be consistently challenged to be empowered. A frequent question we use is “knowing all these are happening or have happened, what is one small step you can take right now to change your future?”. Life coaching is a thoughtful and challenging process because the client has to truly show up authentically and start climbing up the rut.

Another key strength of a life coach is that we produce clients who can eventually self-coach. I see most clients not more than three sessions, with efficient treatment success, and little relapse rates because they know how catch themselves as they realised they are slipping.

Pros: A truly empowering and personal therapeutic process to restructure the thoughts and emotions to be more functional, without needing the use of medications.

Cons: Life coaching is not suitable for highly unstable or clinical clients, with a thick traumatic past.


Mental distress can be seen as mild or severe, and its treatment approaches can be taken from the medical or therapeutic processes. Also, both biochemical and psychological processes have to be accounted for, if applicable. Depending on what a client is experiencing, the right professional has to be selected to obtain the best care.

Share and spread this knowledge, and raise the global awareness.

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.

 

Begin each Morning with Gratitude, Positive Intentions and Peace

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On a typical weekday, the “morning rush” encounters us the moment we gain consciousness from sleep. The alarm rings, eyes open, rush to prepare for work, sip a breakfast and commute among others rushing. I watch this every morning, and I wonder if the minds of busy people also rushed along, without having the time to center and set a positive tone for the day.

I think the start of a day is a huge foundation on which the rest of the day builds on. As I reflect, I know that the days I began with stress and having to rush mindlessly, often ends up in me feeling exhausted and flustered by mid-day, not to even mention the drag by the end of day. Whereas, when I began the day with gratitude, positive intentions and peace, it sets a tone to see the world quite differently. I am more composed, focused and emotionally stable throughout the day. I enjoyed the day more, and throughout the week, the effects are amazing. Hence, I devised a morning ritual to set this tone, and here are some suggested ways you can try this ritual out. It just takes you at most 15 minutes to change how you experience your whole day.


1.  Be Grateful

Gratitude has such a profound impact on our lives. It can immediately shift us into a positive space, to know what is happening well for us. It is an automatic positive reframe, that no matter how much we are challenged, we can find something that is happening well for us, and be thankful for it. As we begin the day knowing that we do have enough in our lives, it could give us the strength to trudge ahead stronger. It is an awareness that not all is “doom and gloom”, which is important amidst difficult times, bring the light into the darkness.

Try this:

a. Think of 3 people/events/things that you are grateful for right now, after waking up.

b. Ask yourself “why am I grateful for this?”

c. Immerse yourself in the emotions that come with the gratitude associated with each of these experiences.


2.  Set Positive Intentions

Beginning a day with positive intentions is about setting directions and aims for the day. Compare this to going through a day of routine, with nothing we want to do different from yesterday or last week. Set these intentions in a way that is positive, making “towards” move, such as wanting to achieve milestones for a project, rather than “away” moves, such as avoiding reprimand from boss. Positive intentions do change our energy for the day. Also, as we tick off the “to do list” set positively, such progress checking gives us a sense of accomplishment throughout the day – a huge sustenance to motivate us.

Try this:

a. Think of the things you would like to achieve for today, list them down, take them with you and check them off along the way. Schedule the unfinished tasks for later dates.

b. Imagine the state you will be in as you accomplish each of these tasks. It could be the excitement, joy and fulfillment you get as you move through them. Take some time to really feel and embody these visualised states. Bring them with you.


3.  Peace

I love the mornings when I am the first to be up, making the breakfast in the quiet, and getting ready for gym. It gives me time to be still and aware of my mind, and busk in the peace. As I consume my breakfast, I begin my gratitude practice and set positive intentions for the day. With the time remaining, I meditate to settle into a deeper state of peace and focus. And this peace and focus will stay with me throughout the day, even without me willing for it. That is the final icing of my morning ritual.

Try this:

a. Slow down what you are experiencing. Notice what is around you externally, then bring your attention to your breath, let your breath be. Close your eyes. Count from 10 to 1 internally, and allow with each count you go deeper within yourself into a place that is peaceful and still. Go in internally, with each thought and feeling that enters your mind, watch them, and let them go. If they are important, write them down. And let them go. Go into your inner stillness, and be still. Count down again if you need to regain focus again. Just for 5 minutes, you will reach your depth.

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.

Sciatica nerve pain: The shooting pain from hips down the leg

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Ever experience a shooting pain or numbing ache from the lower back down one of the legs after a long day standing or sitting at work? This nerve pain is a common symptom when the lower back or glutes muscles contract, impinging onto the sciatic nerve. Sometimes, it causes a limb, and even weakess behind the knees. If left untreated, it is likely basic actions like sitting and standing would be unbearable. The treatable neuromuscular version of this pain (a.k.a piriformis syndrome) is the point of this discussion. However, the vertebrae version due to spinal disc compression would require professional support.

Inflamed areas: Piriformis syndrome is often a result of inflammation in the lower back and glutes muscles, due to prolonged sitting, standing and lifting upon bending down.

Symptoms: Pain pattern usually starts with minor pain and soreness in the hip area, followed by stronger pain when the glutes muscles are compressed. Serious cases involves shooting pain down the back of the hamstring, and further aggravation involves pain down the centre of the calves or side of the legs.

Risk factors: Structural imbalance, such as flat foot and imbalanced shoulders or hips. Repetitive strains, due to activities or motions straining the lower back and glutes. Lack of sufficient recovery period after work or exercise.

Self-Treatment: Use tennis ball and foam roller to reduce swelling and inflammation of lower back, glutes, hamstring and calf. Work on these trigger points primarily to begin the therapeutic process. Rest for 24 hours between each treatment and reduce the relevant risk factors if possible.

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.