Please Do Not Feed The Fear

A glance at any newspaper  headline, face book feed or news broadcast would have us believe that the world is rapidly becoming a very unsafe place. Just the last few weeks  Istanbul, Nice, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and the USA have experienced devastating and indiscriminate violence .

For those who have suffered trauma or struggle with anxiety, feeling safe in the world and having the capacity to protect the ones you love may feel out of your grasp. It is important to remember these horrific incidents are isolated events rather than a snowballing trend that could be heading your way.

“Fear makes strangers of those that would be friends” Shirley Maclaine


Although it may be hard to accept, we live in a much more peaceful and inclusive world than our ancestors did. This not to underestimate the sections of our population and areas of the globe that have the potential to experience violence as part of their daily life…however for most of us, our experience is as passive and impotent viewers.

If you are aware of distress and anxiety being activated when you are exposed to the media here are some tips to help ground you.

  1. Turn devices off or limit your exposure. Even aim for a media free day.

  2. Look for the good news stories. They are there ,hidden like gems. Absorb stories of people overcoming adversity, doing good in the world or just having fun.

  3. Find something you can do in a small way in your community to contribute: a community garden, donating items ,time or your expertise to a charity,inviting your neighbours in for a chat.

  4. Dont lose sight of the fact that we also make up the world and through connection with those around us we can experience both safety and new understanding.



Struggling to find words to explain your emotions?


A little while ago I came across this feelings wheel and thought it might be helpful to post it here.

Sometimes we can’t explain in words our feelings- we just have a generalised sense that an event, relationship or interaction is not sitting well with us. Sometimes we can get stuck in our confusion and this can make it even harder to make sense of the event and therefore what to do about it. Naturally, it follows that if we can’t make sense of it, or find the words to explain it to ourselves, that we will then have a hard time explaining to others.

We may have more clarity on our thoughs or cognitive processes. We may get a sense of the most obvious emotion (generally our secondary emotion), but we may not be able to notice what other emotions may be there. Maybe there are emotions that we are not able to show others (these are often our primary emotions, the ones that we feel first but can’t show others).

This wheel may just help to give some initial words to the emotions you may be feeling (and to think about what other emotions may sit underneath the most obviously identifiable emotion). It may also help illuminate some words to describe behavioural responses you may have noticed.

These initial words around feelings and behavioural responses, may give you some food for thought around the links between feelings, behaviours and thoughts.  If that is the case, you may want to book in for a session to make some of these links clearer for yourself and which may improve your life, relationships and functioning.

Happy Easter,
Sarah Joy, Valhalla Counselling Practice

Stress Vulnerability Model of Coping


I thought this month I'd blog about the Stress/Vulnerability Model of 

Often our busy lives are filled with juggling many balls in the air at 
the same time and making multiple decisions (sometimes simulatenously!). 
Many of us would probably consider ourselves able to cope with a fair 
bit of stress before we start to notice that we are maybe not coping as 
well as we thought we were (e.g. we may start to feel run down, start to 
get symptoms of the flu or maybe become a bit more irritable with our 
loved ones that we would normally be). We may initially notice that we 
are making little mistakes (when we otherwise wouldn't) or that 
increasingly we start to feel overwhemled or that we are not coping.

Everyone has a stress threshold. Sometimes it is OK for some people to 
go above their stress threshold and they don't feel great, but they 
otherwise cope (especially after some sleep, good food and general self 
care!). Sometimes people will go above their stress threshold and below 
it (almost like a wave with peaks and troughs). This is to be expected 
with the highs and lows of life. However, if they continue to operate 
above their stress threshold, with no respite and sustained or 
increasing levels of stress, then their functioning and overall mental 
health will start to decline.

It is worth saying that when some people have risk factors for 
vulnerability to stress or mental illness (such as family history, poor 
coping or social skills/networks, communication problems, substance use 
issues, major life stressors, work/study problems, etc), then they need 
to be even more mindful of the impact of stress on their overall health 
and wellbeing.

The stress/vulnerability model of coping invites us to get to know our 
stress threshold and to track or be mindful of when we have been 
operating above our threshold in a sustained or unhealthy way. When this 
occurs, and before our mental health starts to be impacted, it is worth 
upping our protective factors (especially if we are susceptible to the 
above mentioned risk factors). Protective factors include:

- Good physical health or exercise
- Good communication skills and reaching out to people in the social or 
support network
- Good diet/nutrition
- Developing good coping or distress tolerance skills
- For some medication or talking therapy
- Adequate sleep and relaxation exercises

So if you are experiencing high levels of stress at the moment, maybe 
slow down for a moment and reflect on how sustainable this is (or 
whether it would be a better idea to maybe practice some self care and 
enhance the protective factors for your mental health and wellbeing).

If you want to explore specifically how the stress vulnerability model 
of coping may apply to your life, or even if you just want to talk 
through some of the issues that you have been stressed about lately, 
please email me at and we can arrange a 
time for you to come and speak with me in person.

Take care,
Sarah Joy

The importance of slowing down and breathing

Breathing is such a fundamental part of life. But as we try and maintain our functioning in our daily life, in the myriad of problems and issues that come into our lives, often it is our breathing that is the first thing to go awry. Unconciously we hold tension in our neck, shoulders, jaws, spine and other parts of the body and at the same time, we often hold our breath or our breath becomes more shallow and this in turn, effects the flow of oxygen around our body and our capacity to maintain our thinking and physical and emotional well being.

In my work in inpatient adult mental health, as well as in my private practice work, mindfulness and the importance of breathing comes up again and again. Regardless of the mental health problem, the acuteness of the problem or the stage in which treatment is being sought, learning how to be mindful of our breathing can make such a fundamental difference to our body and well being.

Mindfulness in its simplest form means to develop the self awareness of the present moment, to accept what is occuring in this moment, without judgement. In the same sense, mindfulness of breathing (in its simplest form) means to re-direct our attention to our breathing, in the present moment and to try and slow down the ‘chatter’ that goes on in our mind, so that we can relax, become reconnected to our body and start to regain some sense of control over our breathing and therefore our wellbeing.

I encourage you to give it a go and explore this simple exercise as you start the New Year, regaining connectedness to yourself and starting the journey toward positive emotional and physical wellbeing in 2016.

Good luck,

Sarah Joy

How to grow your Empathy



You never really under stand a person until you consider things from his point of view- until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it” (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Empathy is hard wired into our brains and seems to be the catch phrase in the board room, class room and in the media . However, though we may seek understanding and connection with others, our rapid paced consumer life style appears to leave us hungry for this deeper meaning in our lives.

“..One in four say they are lonely and the same proportion suffer a mental health problem in their lives..this could hardly be called a happy state of affairs..” so says Roman Krznaric in his new book Empathy: A Handbook for a Revolution

Krznaric aims to show how empathy has the power to transform our relationships from the personal to the political. Here are his top five tips to help grow your empathy

Practice empathic listening:  Next time things are getting tense with another person at work or home simply focus intently on really listening to their needs and feelings. Pause and give them your full attention rather than planning what you want to say next. We would all like some one to step into our shoes if just for a minute to fully understand our experience. This can stop niggling resentment turning into full scale attack.

Get curious about strangers: Being empathic with those we care about is one thing , however Krznaric suggests we need to nurture our curiosity about strangers. Have a conversation with a stranger at least once a week. The man in the queue at the supermarket, the cleaner at your office, a fellow passenger on the bus. Beyond the chatter about weather is the deeper stuff in life that really matters so try to get to that. Conversations with strangers can be illuminating and also challenge our assumptions and snap judgements about  age, accent or appearance.

Go on an experiential adventure: Ask yourself the question “Whose shoes can I stand in next?” Perhaps you can travel to a part of your city you don’t know well and take in the sites and sounds. Volunteer for a charity, plan a holiday that explores a people or history unknown to you.  Expand you experiences of how others live.

Become a revolutionary: Empathy happens on a small and large scale. The Occupy Movement and The Arab Spring were motivated by empathy and the desire to create change for others. One way to grow your empathy is to connect with your community and join others in taking action on issues that have meaning to you.  Wether this is local politics, humanitarian or environmental change, working with others is a powerful and connecting feeling.  Even joining a local sporting club or interest group is a way to break down barriers between others.

Travel in your arm chair: Finally, Krznaric says you don’t have to go far at all to walk in the shoes of others. Books and films can catapult us into the human world . Stretching our imaginations and expanding our knowledge on how others live. Krznaric has founded the first online Empathy Library to help you find the best novels, non-fiction, children’s books films and videos all about empathy

You can see Roman Krznaric TEDx talk  How to Start an Empathy

So how are you going to change the way you connect to others around you?

So….What is Emotionally Focused Therapy?

As counsellors working from an EFT perspective ,we prioritise the emotional world.  We believe that lasting change comes by making sense of emotions through reflection, awareness and expression .

We have emotions because ….emotions

  1. They tell us what is important to us.
  2. They tell us what we need or want. That helps us figure out what to do.
  3. They give us a sense of consistency and wholeness.

There are  3 main kinds of problems people can have with their emotions:

  1. Sometimes the emotion that dominates is not the one we need to give attention to. This may be hidden underneath or inside it. Like becoming tearful when really you feel angry
  2. Sometimes the level of emotion is not right: Its too much and it overwhelms us .Perhaps its too little or too distant and we can’t use it to help us. When that happens ,we need to get the right “working level” .
  3. Sometimes we get stuck in an emotion because we are missing an important bit of it.  Either what its about , how we feel it in our body or because we are not able to put it into words.  Because we can’t connect make sense of the emotion we don’t know what action to take. When that happens we need to figure out which piece is missing and fill it in.

Constructive unpleasant emotions often contain great guiding wisdom. They can act as cues and direct our growth.

And being emotions, they often contain the energy to get the job done. Properly harnessed emotions often lead to profound shifts in our well-being.

Befriending and taking time to understand your emotional world can lead to powerful changes .

More information about EFT can be found at The Institute for Emotionally Focused Therapy’s website.