Why Is No-One Talking About The ‘Why’?

We’ve probably all been in a situation at least once where we’ve been caught up in a debate with someone who has a point of view which is the polar opposite of our own.

Often these conversations revolve around subjects which might be contentious or controversial or simply evoke tension. During the exchange, it’s likely that you’ve spent a fair amount of time laying out a logical, well-considered argument with examples to illustrate the message you’re trying to convey.

And when it comes to the other person’s time to respond, they simply regurgitate their own opinion – which, of course, barely offers a nod of recognition to your carefully manicured opinions. 

And in your head you’re screaming: BUT YOU’RE MISSING THE WHOLE POINT!!

As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close, it feels like the whole debate about mental health is circling round and round the subject without ever really getting to the heart of what’s at stake.

We’ve become exceptionally good at understanding the ‘what’ of mental health. We are more aware of what we might describe as the common mental health conditions – anxiety, depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism and Aspergers, phobias etc. The list is endless. 

Broadly speaking, we’re able, to one degree or another, to recognise some of these conditions – particularly when we are confronted by people who present their mental health in an extreme or exaggerated way. 

And, again broadly-speaking, most of us are aware of the sort of solutions that are available to help treat people facing those challenges daily or episodically, whether through clinical mental health care via the NHS or private medicine or through a counselling approach like hypnotherapy.

There’s nothing wrong with that per se. Treating the ‘now’ is not only necessary but also highly desirable. But the problem is, treating the ‘now’ doesn’t do anything to address what happens tomorrow.

In the UK a quarter of all people will report some form of mental health problem every year. Just think about that for a second. 15 million people a year, every year. And the fact is that the system that exists to meet mental health needs in this country isn’t up to the task.

The current Prime Minister says her Government is spending record amounts on mental health care, yet in a recent survey nearly 60% of the UK’s 200-plus Care Commissioning Groups said they were reducing their investment in mental health services due to a shortfall in funding. 

So, what’s the truth? Beyond the lies, damned lies and statistics, there is only one real truth and that’s the fact that we need to fundamentally rethink our position on dealing with the UK’s mental health crisis.

Instead of talking about the ‘what’ of today, we need to start to consider the ‘why’ and how we deal with that.

Since Zoe Clews & Associates opened its doors in Harley Street 12 years ago we have seen an alarming rise in the number of people seeking treatment for conditions which can be directly linked to potentially serious mental health issues. A very high proportion of these are triggered by events in the past – often in the long past.

A 15-year-old girl doesn’t suddenly wake up one day and decide to become anorexic. No one makes a conscious decision to live with depression. Yet much of the publicity around issues like these seems to simply start from a point of acceptance. 

We have come to see poor mental health in a similar way that we see the common cold – as some sort of unavoidable and inevitable by-product of life – rather than looking more deeply at what brought that person to that point at that time.

If we can teach people – parents, families, teachers and employers, for example – to recognise the early signs of poor mental health and at the same time raise awareness of how to then support that individual through structured care provision we will also begin to erode the instances of a relatively simple issue such as bullying or exam pressure or bereavement leading to chronic mental health issues later on in life. 

By tackling the ‘why’ of mental health we can then get to a place where early appropriate intervention, either clinical or not, starts to have a long-term positive effect on the future.

The wonderful charities that support people with mental health challenges are struggling to cope with the ‘now’ and while they are investing what they can in the ‘why’ they struggle with inadequate support and funding. 

So we think it’s time to challenge the Government and mental health agencies, charities and practitioners to unite in the battle to turn the public’s focus to why people suffer with mental health issues rather than concentrating on how to treat them. 

Whichever Government is in power come June 9th, it needs to prioritise support for the NHS and other agencies to work with the mental health industry of private practitioners and charities to promote public awareness and education around mental health.

That’s our gauntlet. Does anyone care to pick it up?

The (Vital) Difference Between Hope & Fantasy

For two words with such distinctly different definitions, the tendency for hope and fantasy to be confused for each other is remarkable. They are, of course, linked – but mistaking one for the other can have toxic outcomes.

We can’t live without hope. That’s why, as the old saw says, it dies last. And given the uncertain and turbulent times in which we currently live, that’s nothing if not reassuring: there are worse ways to live than in the enduring belief that things will ultimately get better.

Fantasy – the imagining of impossible or improbable things – also has its place. As the 19th Century Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin observed, by striving to do the impossible man has always achieved what is possible. Without fantasy to fuel the hopes and dreams of humankind, it’s entirely possible we would still be drawing on the walls of caves.

Fantasy is an essential part of our thinking. It drives creativity and ambition, it impels our desire to reach beyond the expected, to overcome, to succeed and to mould our future. Without it, our world would be bereft of the many great works of art and literature and inventions that define our history.   

If we never fantasised about life with someone or something we’re attracted to – a new partner, job or house for example – how would we ever be motivated chase our dreams and hope we might succeed in that pursuit?

The problems start when fantasy, rather than the (possibly hopeless) reality, becomes our day to day existence.

As Circa Survive so insightfully sang:  the difference between medicine and poison is the dose

The truth is, it’s easy to become seduced by fantasy and popular culture is littered with enduring and disturbing examples of it: the story arc of the recent BBC miniseries Apple Tree Yard centred on two people caught, with catastrophic consequences, in one character’s delusion; more extreme, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho revolved around the character Norman Bates, who not only kept his mother’s skeleton his attic, but also assumed her persona physically and emotionally;

And then, in terms of portraying how fantasy can often hide behind a chilling normal façade – and in re-defining the notion of an ordinary person becoming fatally delusional – there’s the ultimate bunny boiler, Alex Forrest, the character played by Glenn Close in the film Fatal Attraction.

Yes, these fictitious examples are extreme. But you need not be that deeply entrenched and wholly removed from reality to experience the pernicious effects of being detached from what is really going on.    

A life lived more in fantasy than reality is, by its nature, inhibiting because it is finitely defined; leaving that ‘comfort zone’ is painful. But as Susan Jeffers, author of Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway illustrates, every time you step out of your comfort zone your comfort zone – and therefore your life – become bigger.

Put another way, by Anais Nan, ‘life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage’.   

Being entrenched in fantasy is more likely to apply to people who find reality unbearable. Traumatic childhoods, painful life experiences and, negative self-belief are all pre-cursors to fantasy-addiction and blocks to doing the hard work of making a necessary change.  

The good news is that you can heal and recover from these things with the right work and the less unconscious pain we are trying to escape the less we need to ‘use’ on fantasy as a coping tool for life.   

When we are continually engaging in fantasy and escapism what we are really doing is avoiding the ‘self’. We choose social media, mindless TV, binge eating, video games, obsessive shopping, drugs and alcohol rather than spending time with ourselves, learning what we really want out of life or engaging in meaningful interaction with others or making our goals happen. Constant distraction and escapism is an exercise in self-administered anaesthesia and is, in many ways, the exact opposite of mindfulness.

Nowhere is fantasy often more present than romantic relationships. It doesn’t help that the media drip-feeds us a daily diet of romantic fantasy nonsense based on intensity, extreme chemistry and bad perfume adverts – but, again, the roots of this are often based in childhood.  As children, we often form a picture of what real love looks like based on fantasy rather on the genuinely admirable qualities that we will actually one day desire in a partner. We use fantasy to fill perceived gaps, to correct perceived mistakes and to perpetuate consciously unwanted, yet subconsciously comfortable familiarities that might recreate an important figure from our youth or obscure our own sense of low self-esteem.

If you have been burned by fantasy relationships and situations it’s really important to flex your ‘hope’ muscle here but also learn to do things very differently next time round. It’s vital to conduct everything from your place of wisdom – friendships, business situations, and romantic relationships. Slowing down is essential to be able to access this. 

Fantasy can also present itself very much in the most unhelpful sequence of four words in the human language: what could have been.

We have to let go to make room for the new – and this is impossible in if we’re always hooked into old fantasises of the past and the ‘good times’ and how it might be in the future.   Living in reality means a commitment to how things are now, not to how things might be when someone else changes their behaviour.

This is where hope is essential, because hope allows you to exercise choice. Hope allows you to make good life decisions. When fantasy outstays its welcome, it can keep us stuck in one place. 

When a situation looks hopeless the thing that has been lost isn’t hope at all, but perspective.

Hope lives in the present moment, don’t waste another second.   

Hypnotherapy In Later Life

There’s a tendency to look at older people and envy them the simplicity of their lives. Unless there are obvious signs of failing physical, mental or financial health, it’s easy to see people in their twilight years as a generation that’s found contentment.

As the rest of us hurtle pell-mell through the frenetic hub of an eat-sleep-work-repeat existence, it’s easy to look on with some degree of jealousy at how the pace of life has slowed for those of a certain vintage.

In our eyes, they have acquired the greatest wealth of all: time. And at the same time, we envy the fact they are unburdened by work or financial worries. It’s easy to tell ourselves that those beyond working age are care-free and happy.

But in many cases, it’s fallacy.

Behind the façade of a simplistic life, older people face vastly more complicated challenges than do those of us of lesser years.

Older people are more inclined to suffer with serious or chronic sleep issues.  They are many times more likely to be affected by grief and are at greater risk of being increasingly afflicted by debilitating physical and mental health issues like Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease. They are far more inclined to become socially isolated (which can cause further mental health challenges such as depression and, at its worst, can pose the same risks to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day). And they are more likely to face anxiety over personal finances and are many times more likely to be inclined to malnourishment.

And all the while, the NHS and local government are creaking under the burden of providing adequate social care for a population that is ageing fast and requires increasing health provision.

Yet many of the wellbeing issues that older people face don’t require clinical intervention. In fact, everything in that list above – and many more besides – can be improved or eased simply through hypnotherapy.

Hypnotherapy is particularly suited in treating older people because it is gentle, non-invasive, focuses on softening the muscles and relaxing the mind. And in cases where there is a pre-existing diagnosed physical or mental condition, a hypnotherapist may work with the individual’s health care provider to complement any clinical treatment.

Hypnotherapy can help with:

Pain management: Hypnosis has proved remarkably effective at helping to ease chronic pain, which can affect people as they age

Sleeping disorders: from insomnia to restless leg syndrome to persistent unpleasant dreams that affect sleep patterns, there is much evidence to show that hypnosis is effective at unravelling the subconscious blocks that usually lie at the root of the problem

Dementia: Quality of life can be improved and patients can be helped to live more positively with everyday challenges. Hypnotherapy can aid improved memory and recall of significant life events as well as assisting socialisation and concentration.

Parkinson’s Disease: Hypnotherapists are able to teach self-hypnosis. This can then be used by the individual to improve muscular and mental relaxation in order to help reduce the severity and frequency of shakes.

Palliative care: As an adjunct treatment for cancer patients and survivors, hypnotherapy can be effective in treating pain, nausea, fatigue and hot flushes.

Depression & Anxiety: We all feel down from time to time, but sometimes the challenges of later life can cause depression and anxiety and this can also lead to issues with physical health. Hypnotherapy is a gentle and effective way of properly re-setting the belief structures of the sub-conscious and giving you a new and positive outlook on life.

Bereavement: Older people are inevitably more likely to lose people they are close to. Bereavement can have a damaging effect on mental wellbeing, but hypnotherapy for bereavement can be remarkably effective in helping people come to terms with loss.

Self-esteem: The sense of self-worth can be an increasingly common factor in later life. Left unchecked, low self-esteem can lead to loss of confidence, depression and social isolation. Hypnotherapy can be tremendously effective way of helping people to understand and appreciate their true value, helping to build the confidence to cope with the everyday challenges that ageing can bring.

Zoe Clews is the founder of Zoe Clews & Associates. She is one of London’s most recommended hypnotherapists. To find out more about how hypnotherapy can help you or someone you know, please visit www.zoeclews-hypnotherapy.co.uk or telephone Zoe on 07766 515272

The Imperfect Pursuit of Perfection

Life, it seems, has become an endless pursuit of perfection. The perfect partner, the perfect job, the perfect body, the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect face. 

Except, of course, it’s never enough. No matter what we achieve, we keep redefining what we mean by perfection. Yet I’d argue that when we define perfection, we’re instead allowing ourselves to be defined by how we want to be seen by others.

This is certainly true of celebrities. The rock stars, film icons and sporting heroes who occupy the unrelenting attention of the world’s media live in a strange and terrifying alternate reality in which they are presented with an image of themselves and experience the suffocating pressure of trying to live up to it.

A life of celebrity can be almost Orwellian, where the definition of self can become so blurred that the person in the spotlight in turn becomes convinced that the image they see on the news, in the papers and on film is actually who they are or should become.

That’s a road fraught with danger, because the sheer pressure of trying to live up to an ideal is so great, so all-consuming that it becomes destructive.

This manifests itself in many different ways – often in acute depression or anxiety or, as we’ve so often seen, in some form of serious addiction.

I could write at length on why celebrities are so prone to becoming lost to themselves to such an extent that their mental health is seriously compromised, but it’s enough to say that the nature of stardom is such that it tends to happen when we are young and unprepared and the industry of stardom often – though not always – isn’t qualified to offer the sort of protection needed.

And when I talk of about the industry of stardom, I’m not referring to the film or music industry or a particular sport (though they certainly play their part), but rather to the amorphous machine that exists to service the uber-famous – the agents, the PR gurus, the security and the seemingly endless hangers-on that make up the entourages of the famously rich.

Like all stress, the pressure of living up to an ideal is enormous and breeds a near-genetic imperative to find a release valve. Addiction, whether to alcohol or drugs, is an apparently attractive escape route because it offers immediate relief from the stress of living under public scrutiny and, by and large, the tools of addiction are relatively easy to come by – particularly when you have people on hand whose job description is focused on meeting your every need.

Consider, also, that a great many of the world’s superstars spend a great deal of time alone. Separated for long periods from friends and family, confined to an endless blur of hotel rooms, dressing rooms or trailers and often befriended by people whose only wish is to live in your reflected glory, being an icon can be a desperately lonely existence.

And because drugs and alcohol give the illusion of washing away the stress or unhappiness or boredom almost in an instant, it’s easy for addiction to be the wolf in sheep’s clothing you invite in.

The equation of addiction is as simply as it is destructive: stress + relief = repetition.

Those who have good people around them probably find it easier to reject the empty solace that addiction provides (though not all of them have escaped, or will escape, its clutches).

There are also those who, like Robert Downey Jr., for example, found a way to beat their addiction and managed – through enormous hard work – to rebuild their careers and lives with a greater sense of perspective.

Yet the world’s graveyards are filled with the headstones of those who were unlucky; the stars who failed to see the monster under their bed until it was far too late: in the relatively recent past addiction has claimed the lives of Prince, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Winehouse, Corey Monteith, Joan Rivers, Whitney Houston, Heath Ledger and George Best.

The ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle’ is such a cliché yet it perseveres because there is something other-worldly about it. It’s associated with money and the high life and good times. It’s linked to applause and adulation and validation. And we revere our icons because they represent a life we think we want.

Our idols are, to us, the personification of perfection, even though the people we see are merely products we have ourselves manufactured through the prism of the media.

And in that lies a profound irony.

That the perfection celebrities feel bound to project in public masks the greatest imperfection of all: that of their own emotional wellbeing.

Zoe Clews is one of London’s most recommended hypnotherapists and the founder of Zoe Clews & Associates.

Why Meeting Yourself With Love Is So Important

Nourishing your heart involves making a practice of loving every aspect of yourself. This is about embracing all of your inner world too. This includes those parts of you that are responsible for some of your greatest challenges. Many people have parts of themselves that are closed down to love, push away opportunity and sabotage their best attempts to make positive changes in their lives. It can be tempting to attack these parts of your mind, making them wrong and blaming them for everything that is difficult in your life.  Unfortunately that only makes matters worse. If you do have parts of yourself that seem set against you, they are working on some level to serve you. They always are. Yes, those parts may be serving you in wholly destructive ways, underpinning any number of terribly limiting behaviours and beliefs but those parts will be doing that with your best interests at heart. Somewhere in the middle of their motivation is a desire to keep you safe.

Changing behaviour only works in a real and lasting way if we can get every aspect of ourselves into alignment. It is about negotiating with yourself so that every part of you comes into agreement. Then it no longer involves any will power. Will power is when one part of you wants one thing and another wants something else and you go to war against an aspect of yourself.  True transformation comes from realising on a deep level what truly serves you. This is not a chore, a duty or a loss. It is a gift of love. From there, there is no more struggle or effort required. So, how do you bring those parts of you into agreement?

Alignment comes with love, respect and faith.

To do this try the following negotiation exercise. Once you become familiar with this exercise, it is possible to do very rapid negotiations with yourself. However, sometimes I f you are working with something big, you might want to take a long time over this, spending time getting very deeply relaxed before you begin. Sometimes, negotiating with yourself can involve a few rounds of internal discussion. To do this close your eyes, relax your breathing, become still and then invite this part of yourself to come into your awareness. This could be a part of you responsible for smoking, over-shopping, overeating, never stopping, angry outbursts etc. You may see this part in your imagination or you might just sense that you are talking to yourself on some deeper level. Either way is fine. You then first of all thank this part for everything it is doing to help you. You let it feel that you have faith that it is trying to help you. Do your best to feel sincere gratitude for this part. Then let it know that you are not here to force it to change. You are here simply to invite it to think and feel differently about this behaviour or habit. There is a more loving way of living and loving yourself and you are here to give this part a chance to find even more beautiful ways of loving you.

Sometimes we can happen upon an aspect of ourselves that seems absolutely dead set against us, that wants to pull everything down and ruin all hope. That part more than anything needs your love not your hatred. It will simply be trying to hold you responsible for everything that went wrong in your past. It will be protecting you from painful thoughts and feelings that you once couldn’t bear to be conscious of. If you find that part in you, let it know that you are finally here to help it. You are finally here to feel the feelings and to think the thoughts that you were once too afraid to think and feel. By meeting every part of us with love, the battle and the blame begins to dissolve. Peace moves through our choices and a sense of adequacy transforms the pain of imagined inadequacy and failure that drives all of the behaviours that cause damage and pain in our life. From there what we truly want gets exciting, we act in healthy and harmonious ways because we really want to. No will power is required. We are no longer battling against some sense of something being wrong, something needing to be different. That primary resistance simply isn’t there so we naturally find balance.

Meet every part of yourself with love.

Bring every choice into your conscious awareness, trusting that you will make the perfect choice at the perfect time when you can relax into the process of simply bringing more love to life.

You Don’t Throw Away A Mercedes Because It’s Got A Scratch

Everywhere we look we see things that are supposed to make us prettier, hotter, thinner, richer, smarter, more popular.  Advertising feeds off the very premise ‘you are not enough, but with this you could be’.

The voracious rise of social media has only exacerbated this – the relentless daily bombardment of glossy perfectionism supported by the current trend of wholly transparent captioning.   Pretence: “Guys, look at this beautiful ocean!” Subtext: “Check out my bikini body! I’ve worked sooooo hard to look this supreme!’

And then there are the nauseating hashtags that even some of the most intelligent of celebrities do not appear to be immune to: #sugarfreediet #eatclean #beachbodyready #nodaysoff. For many, Instagram has become, I suspect, an exhausting and relentless life-long competition. It’s the ultimate example of Keeping Up With The Joneses.

Plastic surgery is more popular than ever and new information released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) shows continued growth in cosmetic procedures over the last year. Since 2000, overall procedures have risen 115 percent.

The age at which people are are having procedures done is decreasing, and the internet is littered with memes featuring before and after photos of Kylie Jenner, consoling audiences with the message ‘no one is ugly, they’re just poor’.

And it’s not just the beauty and body industry – perfectionism addiction is leaking into all facets of society and it’s becoming something of a menace.

My problem is with the level of intensity that perfectionism addiction has taken on: it has worked it’s insidious way into all areas of our lives – appearance, bodies, level of fitness, relationships, socialising, work and so on.

It’s as if the sneaky voice of the advertising industry whispering ‘you’re not enough’ has had its volume cranked up to eleven and it’s now shouting: you must work harder, be more, eat clean, exercise more, wear a different outfit every time you venture out of the house and – keep doing that until the day you die’.  It’s perfectionism addiction on steroids.

One particular hashtag that gets me, which is typically alongside gym selfies, is #nodaysoff.  An impeccable work ethic is admirable. I get it – most goals aren’t reached by fantasising about the future whilst doing little but flicking through Netflix.  However, embodying the “no days off” mantra provides little flexibility for the self-care we need to maintain our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.

There is, of course, nothing wrong – and many things wonderful – with wanting to do your best, look your best, realise your dreams in life and achieve your goals. We are, after all, growth-seeking beings.

But it’s the lack of self-acceptance of where we are right now that’s the problem – and the false premise that happiness is in some way a destination, that somehow everything will finally fall into place when we are 14 pounds lighter, £20k richer, in the ‘right’ relationship or smashing some far-off level of success.

The fact is, we’re continually ‘kicking the can’ when it comes to our own self love and self esteem. Yet paradoxically, I think it’s the acknowledgement of our flaws, not the obsession with perfection, that ultimately makes us better, more human, more understanding and more likely to do well.

That comes from learning to look at the cracks and beginning to come from a flexible, growth-based approach that is gentler and less rigid than perfectionism addiction’s shame-based core.

By accepting our flaws and imperfections, we are accepting our ‘humanness’ – leaving room for growth without telling ourselves we ‘should’ be somewhere or something else, which ultimately leads to a more peaceful life.

It’s also worth noting that the very idea of perfection is exactly that: just an idea – a concept, a mental impression, an opinion and a belief. There is no such thing as perfection because thankfully we are all blessed with unique preferences and a good old dollop of individuality.

Which brings me back round to the title and a conversation I overheard whilst walking down the street behind a young couple. The beautiful teenage girl was complaining incessantly to her boyfriend that her arms looked ‘fat in this top’.

‘Babe,’ he said, as he looked at her imploringly, ‘you don’t throw away a Mercedes because it’s got a scratch’.  Now that really was perfect.

If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes

In the build up to New Year, all the changes we want to make can feel exciting.  But when it actually arrives, those resolutions can feel more than a little daunting to broach. Where do we start to begin tackling all – or even some – of those unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaving that we really are so eager to transform?   

This can be especially daunting if we have a previous history of dumping resolutions on the scrap-heap before the month is even out.

When we see this happening we have a tendency to get heavy with the self-reproach, which of course never helps anyone.  Whatever we beat ourselves up for doing – or not doing – we often continue to do – or not do – more of that very same thing.   Guilt unfortunately seeks punishment.

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When You Wish Hindsight Would Hurry The Hell Up…

It’s painful not getting what you want.  However what we want is not always necessarily what we need and when we look back we can see that it was a blessing. Admittedly when caught up in the maelstrom of angst and yearning for what you cannot have that can be nigh impossible to see, at the time. It’s only with the 20/20 vision of hindsight that we are able to rest in ‘I’m glad that didn’t work out’.  With the beauty of time and space, in looking back we can see the positives in the reasons things did not go to plan.  However if we cannot manage this then hopefully we can grow to feel more neutral and at peace because time brings acceptance.

Let it also be said, that hindsight, while it is enormously valuable, and builds your wisdom reserves like nothing else on earth, can also be a bit of a bitch.

Every single one of us can look back and see how we would have done some things differently.  With the knowing of how choices have panned out we can see with stellar clarity where we would have made different decisions. The job you didn’t go for – that was actually your perfect role. The things you’d said in an argument – that you really wish you hadn’t. The money you excitedly poured into a business venture – that went nowhere. The true feelings you wish you’d expressed about something – that would have changed everything had you possessed the courage at the time! And so on.

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Additional Credits

Video by Weeks360.

Photography by Liz Bishop Photography.

Production by Mark Norman at Little Joe Media and Joanne Brooks.

Hair by Jonny Albutt.

Make up by Olly Fisk and Nabeel Hussain.