Michelle Elman on how to learn to ask for help

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Why do we feel so much pressure to be self-reliant, and how come it is so hard to accept a helping hand? Columnist Michelle Elman delves into our curious obsession with independence, and the life-changing realisation that allowed her to welcome support

Michelle Elman on how to learn to ask for help

We live in a culture that encourages us to be strong and independent, but is it possible that we have gone too far? When there is so much pressure to do everything yourself, is it any wonder that we associate weakness with relying on other people?

Alongside the ‘strong independent woman’ trope that has been sold as an aspirational goal, I believe part of what has caused this is the fearmongering around being ‘codependent’. Codependency was defined by Melody Beattie, in her book Codependent No More, as “one who has let another person’s behaviour affect [them] and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behaviour.”

Of course, codependency brings its own set of problems, but have we run so far away from codependency that we are now on the opposite end of the spectrum: hyper independence?

Hyper independence is the belief that you are the only person you can rely on. It is often born out of a trauma where you have relied on someone in the past and been let down, so, as a result, you have a “if you want something done, you have to do it yourself” mentality. Consequently, instead of understanding that relying on others is not only normal, but necessary, you feel shame for not being strong enough to go it alone.

I used to be the same. The thinking behind my behaviour was that if I relied on someone, asked them for help or even just a favour, that made me vulnerable, and when you are vulnerable you are exposing yourself to being hurt. What I ignored was that the immense pressure I put on myself to do everything alone was incredibly isolating and, in fact, blocking me from forming genuine and intimate connections, because in order to ask for help, you need to allow yourself to trust others and let them in. And yes, that’s scary! But it’s worth it.

I tell the story in which I learned this myself in my new book, The Selfish Romantic. I had just come back from a funeral when the guy I had been on three dates with checked up on me to see how I was. Being so used to being single, and very hyper independent at that point, I shut down the conversation and said he didn’t need to worry, to go out with his friends, and I’d speak to him the next day. Hours later, he turned up at my door simply saying: “I thought you might want a hug,” and he was right. I really did.

Later that night, I said to him that it was really kind of him, but he didn’t have to come over and that I would have been fine. His response? “I know you would have been fine, but just because you can do it alone doesn’t mean you have to.” It taught me a valuable lesson to not only ask for what you need, but it was actually OK to ask if you didn’t need it, but you simply wanted it. I didn’t need a hug, I would have survived without one, but I sure did want one!

Letting someone in is terrifying. I was right, letting people in gives them potential to hurt you and use your vulnerability against you. But living a life where you don’

Six times as likely to die by suicide: the Traveller mental health crisis

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It’s time to take a hard look at the reality faced by many in the community

Six times as likely to die by suicide: the Traveller mental health crisis

“I’m from the north-west of England, a little town called Morecambe Bay, not far from the Lake District. My family are Showmen Travellers. My mam, she grew up around the Bolton area and her family all had fairgrounds and travelled around the whole of the UK. My dad, he actually came originally from a circus and fairground background. They met and hit it off – not initially, but they got there. And then they decided to have an amusement arcade, so they settled.”

I’m speaking to Xenna Kaser, a counsellor who is also part of the GRT (Gypsy, Roma, Traveller) community. GRT is an umbrella term for those who belong to minority ethnic groups such as Irish and Scottish Travellers, and Romany people, as well as New Travellers, Showpeople, and Boaters. It’s estimated that there are around 300,000 Travellers in the UK, and those in the GRT community share a distinct, diverse, and rich heritage.

“We all went through school still going to those fairgrounds, the big ones in particular, throughout the year to meet friends and socialise,” Xenna continues. “Neither I nor my two brothers have gone into the field. We’ve all gone on to do different things, but are still very much in touch with our background.”

Xenna’s vocation as a counsellor working with the GRT community is an incredibly valuable one. Alongside the everyday joy that comes with family and community, Travellers are one of the most persecuted and marginalised groups in our society. In fact, it was only in 2021 that ‘Roma’ was included as an ethnic group, and ‘Showman’ as an occupation and ethnicity, in the England and Wales Census. And while there is a severe lack of legal sites for Travellers, in 2022, the controversial Unauthorised Encampments: Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act made residing with a vehicle on land without permission a criminal – rather than a civil – offence, giving police the power to seize vehicles and, consequently, people’s homes and way of life. With all that in mind, it goes without saying that living in this environment can take its toll.

Six times as likely to die by suicide: the Traveller mental health crisis

The suicide rate for Travellers is six times the general population

That’s according to a study by All-Ireland Traveller Health, and the figure rises to seven times the general population for men. Another survey found that 82% of the Travellers surveyed had been personally affected by suicide.

“I’ve known people who have taken their own lives, and it’s really devastating,” Xenna says. “I think there are a number of factors behind it. One, is that it’s a relatively closed community and it is very misunderstood – so I think people who are having problems, if they were to go to a doctor or a therapist who hasn’t been briefed on the community and how the community works, they could feel quite misunderstood and, therefore, that leads to a lot of shame.”

Xenna’s insight rings true. In January 2019, the Government published its first-ever cross-government Read more

What is trauma-informed nutrition and how can we use it to support recovery?

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Exploring the complex ways traumatic experiences impact us, and the essential reason why practitioners and clients must be aware of it

What is trauma-informed nutrition and how can we use it to support recovery?

Discussions concerning trauma tend to centre around the mental, emotional, and physical impacts of traumatic events. But in recent years, this has expanded to explore the relationship between nutrition, trauma, and physical and mental health. Let’s take a closer look.

What is trauma?

The charity Mind speaks of emotional or physiological trauma as the result of very stressful, frightening, or distressing events which cause lasting harm, even if the harmful effects are not immediately obvious.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are harmful events that can occur from as early as in the womb through to age 17, and do not have to be remembered by the child to be traumatic. Examples include experiencing violence, abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction, and adversity including bullying, poverty, war, natural disaster, discrimination, pandemics, medical trauma, and involvement with child protective services. According to the California Centre for Public Health, up to six in 10 people have experienced at least one ACE, and one in six have experienced at least four.

Expanding trauma from the individual to the collective experience, Historical Trauma is that which is experienced by ethnic, racial, or cultural groups over generations – such as slavery, the Holocaust, and colonisation. Then there is Systemic Trauma, which refers to the environments and institutions that contribute to traumatic experiences.

Trauma is multilayered, and has the potential to impact our daily lives. The lasting effects are present irrespective of how or when the trauma occurred. So, the question is: how can trauma-informed nutrition support clients more effectively?

Trauma and nutrition

For some, adverse food-related experiences can be a source of trauma. This includes unreliable or unpredictable meals, imposed restriction or control of food,body shaming, and reward or punishment using food. Trauma may also impact food habits and result in eating disorders and disordered eating, food addictions, high fat, salt or sugar diets, an over reliance on convenience food, and poor food budgeting and planning.

According to Mind, people who have experienced trauma have an increased risk of chronic and long-term illness, including severe obesity, heart disease, strokes, and diabetes. To effectively support their clients, nutrition practitioners who aim to address root causes of illness understand that trauma is a contributory root cause for illness and disease.

The gut/brain axis is central to discussions about trauma and nutrition. Through the vagus nerve, there is a two-way communication between the gut and the brain using hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which influence our feelings and mood. It explains why we may feel nervous jitters in our stomach, have looser stools when stressed, or feel nauseous when in distress. Our gut microbiome directly impacts these hormonal messages, so a healthy gut can support this process.

Trauma-informed nutrition

This approach acknowledges the role adversity plays in a person’s life, recognises symptoms of trauma, and promotes resilience. As noted by the California Department for Public Health, trauma-informed nutrition und

Advocate Shaun Flores on how he found a sanctuary in OCD

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It’s a condition that affects 1–2% of the population, but it’s often misunderstood. So what is it like to live with obsessive compulsive disorder? One man shares his story of acceptance and advocacy

Advocate Shaun Flores on how he found a sanctuary in OCD

When we hear the word OCD, many images come to mind: cleanliness, symmetry. Maybe even something comical – “I am so OCD.”

But for those living with OCD, it is the opposite of comical. I use the word ‘living’ and not ‘suffering’, as language is very important. ‘Suffering’ infers a constant state of negativity, trying to survive, whereas ‘living’ suggests a harmony. I live with OCD. So, let me tell you how I remain happy with its existence in my everyday life.

I received my OCD diagnosis on Saturday 4 June, at 27 years old. According to OCDaction, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety condition that causes someone to become stuck in a cycle of distressing obsessions and compulsions. And it’s much more common than originally thought, with estimates of those with the condition suggesting between 1–2% of the population have OCD. That’s anywhere between 600,000 and just over one million people.

Advocate Shaun Flores on how he found a sanctuary in OCD

Even so, OCD is often trivialised, not helped by TV shows like Obsessive-Compulsive Cleaners. First airing in 2013, in this portrayal OCD was shown to be almost desirable. That couldn’t be more wrong. Additionally, the numbers (given by OCD UK) show that “only 26.5% of people with it actually have cleaning compulsions”. Throwaway comments of willful ignorance about OCD perpetuate misconceptions, and do not reflect the torture it can, at times, create.

OCD popped up in my life around three years ago in the form of a sexually intrusive thought, triggered by being given chlamydia three times by people I dated and trusted. Thoughts like “You still have chlamydia,” “You must have HIV,” and “I need to go to the sexual health clinic,” ran through my mind like a never-ending marathon. Whenever I tried to remove the thought, like the Whac-A-Mole game, it kept popping up. OCD migrated to obsessional thoughts of sexual assault, with the intrusive thought of “rape” popping into my head constantly. Due to these thoughts, I incessantly and illogically believed that I was a rapist. My intrusive thoughts then moved to suicide.

As you would expect, depression hit me like a freight train. Why was I having such detestable thoughts? Thoughts so against who I was as a person?

I was unaware that sexually intrusive thoughts were a part of OCD. But now, since learning that OCD manifests itself through thoughts, urges, and images, I am able to differentiate between my own thoughts and OCD thoughts. It has been a relief. OCD remains a part of my life, but it is not all Shaun Flores is.

People often talk about triggers, what about glimmers? Glimmers are those positive moments that change our pain, turning it into something heartwarming. The glimmers for me are the things I took for granted. OCD taught me to live every day and to stop simply existing. My first glimmer was when I contacted Emma Ga

What is cosy gaming, and why is it so good for your mental health?

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Grab a blanket and your gaming console of choice, and let’s settle into the wonderful world of cosy gaming

What is cosy gaming, and why is it so good for your mental health?

During the first lockdown of 2020 I made an excellent decision; to purchase The Sims 4. I’ve always been a fan of The Sims, a game where you create ‘Sims’, build houses and help them pursue their aspirations, but I hadn’t played since I was a teenager. Lockdown presented an opportunity to pick up this hobby and I haven’t looked back.

It seems I am not alone here. The Sims is considered a ‘cosy game’ and while the term ‘cosy gaming’ has been around for a while, it strolled into the mainstream during the pandemic – remember when everyone from actor Elija Wood to US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was playing Animal Crossing?

While the initial uncertainty and panic from those times has somewhat settled, new worries and uncertainties seem to fill its place. So it’s no surprise more of us are seeking different avenues to relieve stress.

What is cosy gaming?

A cosy game generally means there are no high stakes or difficult challenges. The aim of the game is to, quite simply, have fun.

“The atmosphere, the music, the visuals and the gameplay make a game cosy.” Video game artist Dan Francis explains.

“A lot of cosy games are focused around small towns or farms, generally with a lot of nature around and a small but welcoming group of characters to interact with. The calming music along with the sounds of chirping birds and crickets, all whilst surrounded by a beautiful natural environment can feel very relaxing.”

Those who embed themselves into this genre of gaming often set themselves up in a cosy setting, lowering the lighting and pulling up a blanket for maximum comfort – mentally and physically.

What is cosy gaming, and why is it so good for your mental health?

Which games make us feel the most relaxed?

Looking into which games make players feel the most relaxed, TheSlotBuzz.com took to Reddit to analyse the percentage of gaming comments containing swear words to understand which games generate the least anger from players.

The top spot goes to Minecraft, with just 1.55% of Reddit comments including swearing. Minecraft is one of the most successful games ever and some counsellors are even using it therapeutically with young people.

“Minecraft is a vast and creative space and I, along with a number of other therapists, have been developing ways to provide boundaries and structure within the session. That way, it offers children a safe place to make sense of their feelings and difficulties, while also making good use of the game’s amazing resources and opportunities for adventure and discovery.” Counsellor Ellie Finch explains in her article

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