Author Archives: Anne McCormack

About Anne McCormack

Anne McCormack is a Psychotherapist and writer living in Dublin, Ireland. Anne is passionate about adolescent mental health. Her first book on preparing young people for social media is due to be published this year. To sign up for more information from Anne on the topic of young people and social media, go to www.annemccormack.ie and follow Anne on Twitter @MentalFitnessXX!

The Selfie Culture – An Invitation to Take a Break

“Authenticity is not something we have or don’t have. It is a practice…a conscious choice of how we want to live. Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real, the choice to be honest…the choice to let our true selves be seen.”
– Brene Brown

I meet many young people who answer the following questions in the following way. ‘Do you compare yourself much to others?’ ‘Yes, all the time.’ ‘Does it happen on social media?’ ‘Yes, constantly. On Instagram mostly.’ There is something going on in society today that is creating a lot of pressure for young people when it comes to their appearance, self-image, and emerging sense of self. While it would be wrong to make a direct link between social media use and rising anxiety levels, it would be even more foolish to believe that the growing use of social media, among young people, is not having an impact at all.

The selfie culture has become a normal part of life for teens and many pre-teens growing up in the 21st century. However, the constant posting and viewing of selfies can prevent a young person’s journey towards discovering who they really want to be in the world. When I speak to young people in therapy about selfies, a lot of what they are trying to achieve with their posts is approval from others and a sense of self-worth. But what if seeking approval from others was let go of for a while. What would fill that space? From asking young people, it is my understanding that a break from selfie taking and thus from Instagram, leads to lower levels of anxiety, which creates space for a more enriched relationship with the developing self.

There is freedom in switching off from the constant viewing of celebrity air-brushed pictures. It allows space for a more coherent view of what it means to be ‘you’, a person of value in your own right, a person who does not need the approval of others in order to know their worth. There is something very freeing about making the choice to be authentic. However, many young people are faced with the pressures of trying to fit in and needing to be like somebody else (i.e., the popular ones or the rich and famous ones). In idolizing these superficial features in others, young people can lose sight of their own value and never feel fulfilled with themselves.

Teenagers are at a sensitive stage of their psychological development. They are in the stage of identity development, which makes them extremely self-conscious and constantly in tuned with feedback from others, especially their peers. You can imagine then how difficult it must be for teens to take a break from the selfie culture, as it gives them so much feedback and information about themselves and others.

This Summer might be the perfect opportunity for you to take a break from this selfie culture and focus on yourself. Even coming off just one social media site for a while can have an impact on how you begin to feel about yourself. If you believe that Instagram boosts your self-esteem because of the positive feedback you receive, it is worth noting that it’s not healthy to become reliant on social media for self-confidence. Confidence should come from within and not be influenced by anyone or anything. Anyone who believes that their worth is dependent on the feedback they get on their selfies is at risk for negative psychological consequences. So be careful and take a break. Your self-esteem will thank you for it.

By: Anne McCormack

Anne McCormack is a Psychotherapist based in Dublin, Ireland. She is the author of ‘Keeping Your Child Safe on Social Media: Five Easy Steps’ available here http://www.easons.com/p-4740342-keeping-your-child-safe-on-social-media.aspx.

Mindfulness: Work Out if it Matters

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‘With neuroplasticity, extraordinary change is possible.’ Rick Hanson

The human brain is fascinating to me. I love the fact that although we are all very different, we are also very much the same. One of the ways that we are the same lies in our potential to train our brains to rewire themselves and form different loops of thinking. This for me is an important aspect of mental fitness training. Being able to train your brain to work well for you links directly to mental health. Doing this can really support us to work out how to manage anxiety.

What is Neuroplasticity?

Knowing about neuroplasticity matters because it is a step towards self-awareness and this is central to good mental health. Neuroplasticity is the brains ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. We have neurons in our brain and they join up and link together to form thoughts. Everything that we experience, whether it is a thought, a sound, a sight or a feeling, all requires underlying neural activity, and so how we interpret our experiences across the board, all contributes greatly to how we think and feel.

Neuroplasticity and Mindfulness

While this rewiring or reconnecting of neurons happens more easily at a younger age, it is something that is possible at any age, once we make an effort to focus our attention on it. We can’t take our brains out of our heads in order to try to understand them, but we can come to know our brains in various ways by gaining knowledge and by becoming self-aware. By being aware of the neural activity in our brain, we come to know that the more our neurons fire together and join up in particular ways, the more patterns within or brain (like patterns of thinking) develop. These patterns become ‘the norm’ in terms of what our brains routinely do. And if ‘the norm’ is to feel anxious or low, it is possible that focussing on neuroplasticity could help.

We get into habits with our thinking, each developing a style. And just as we can develop a particular style of dress that becomes ‘comfortable’ for us to wear, we can develop ways of thinking that become comfortable for us to fall into. The ‘comfortable’ thinking is akin to our fall back option, the way of thinking that we tend to fall back into when we aren’t really focussing on where our thoughts might be going. For some, this fall back option regarding thought is a really positive or optimistic thinking style. But for others, this fall back option can be more negative, more anxiety-provoking and perhaps very self critical. So if you think a lot or if you tend to worry a lot and become anxious, it can be good to know how to put this neuroplasticity into action in order to make it work in your favour.

One way to take the concept of neuroplasticity and make it work in your favour is to understand what happens to these neural connections during mindfulness practice. When you are practicing mindfulness, your thinking style is interrupted for a moment and that can be a very good thing. The loops of thinking stop running at full speed, your brain gets a chance to slow down and the neural connections loosen. Because the connections loosen, you are making it possible to break out of old ‘comfortable’ habits regarding the way you think, perhaps a thinking style that is contributing to feeling anxious. By practicing mindfulness, you are slowing the connecting of neurons down. You are, in that moment, setting the scene for neuroplasticity to work it’s magic.

My Why for Mindfulness

People have many reasons for practicing mindfulness. When I spoke at the Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit last week about how to incorporate mindfulness into your life if you are super busy, I spoke about the importance of knowing your ‘why’. When super busy, things need to really matter in order for you to make time for them. For me, the reason why mindfulness matters relates to neuroplasticity. Mindfulness is enjoyable, calming and nourishing for the soul, but it matters because of neuroplasticity. I want to be mentally fit. I want my mental health to be good. I believe in the power we each have to influence our own thinking styles and I know that mindfulness creates the potential for neuroplasticity to happen. Work out your why for mindfulness. You will then find the time to work it into your day!

By: Anne McCormack

Anne

Anne McCormack is a Psychotherapist and writer living in Dublin, Ireland. Anne is passionate about adolescent mental health. Her first book on preparing young people for social media is due to be published this year.

To sign up for more information from Anne on the topic of young people and social media, go to www.annemccormack.ie and follow Anne on Twitter @MentalFitnessXX!

A Way to Mind Your Mental Health When It’s Hard to Feel Grateful…..

downloadThere are times in life when being grateful just doesn’t seem to fit well. When times are particularly tough, when someone lets you down, when the deal doesn’t go to plan, when your heart is breaking. How can people be expected to feel grateful when terrible disappointments and hurts come into their life path?

Some people are more optimistic than others, without really having to try that hard. And it’s true that we cannot always fully choose how we feel. On days a person may feel down, they can continue to feel down no matter how much they try not to feel it. And part of that is life, because life is sometimes tough.

Can gratitude fit in on these down days or difficult times? Is it not a lot to expect from a person who is dealing with loss or pain to feel grateful? Research says that it is not feeling grateful that makes a difference to a person’s well-being, it is the effort that people make towards trying to be grateful. Making a conscious effort to cultivate an attitude of gratitude across the board is the thing that matters most when it comes to building up resilience to stress. This does not mean feeling grateful for every single thing that happens or every situation a person finds themself in. Rather it is about adopting a position that is in alignment with gratitude. Choosing the idea of gratitude and trying throughout the day to stand close to it. People can choose to see gratitude as something to add to their daily diet, even if it is gratitude for waking to another day, gratitude for the experience of having been loved. There is nothing in that sort of attitude that denies or in any way tries to  diminish the experience  of difficult emotion.

Often with loss and hurt, the pain can be really intense and even felt very physically. But there is a way to think about loss that allows space for that attitude of gratitude. To think of the pain of the loss as bearing witness to the love that was felt or shared is a way to bear holding it. As Tennyson once said it was ‘better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’ and there can be gratitude for having experienced the love that caused the pain, even if a person feels very let down or hurt. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude helps people cope with crisis situations. It builds resilience and while we cannot always choose how we feel, we can make a choice about attitude.

Adopting an attitude of gratitude rather than trying to feel grateful is a mini-habit that enhances mental health. And it’s those small, daily, mini habits that matter most when it comes to mental health.

By: Anne McCormack

Anne

The Risk of not Risking

0f2134d‘Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently….The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do” said Steve Jobs.

What happens if you have a plan, a wish or a desire to change something about your life but you are fairly certain that for you, the risk of trying to implement that change seems too big. Many people tend to ruminate about the possible consequences of taking a risk. What might happen if you take a certain course of action? What will the fall-out be? It can be easier sometimes, and ‘safer,’ to just remain within the status quo or so at the time it may seem. At least then, the anticipated consequences won’t materialise and they don’t ever have to be something that becomes real. At some level, you know that what you ruminate about is only the negative side of taking the risk, but it can seem best not to risk it just in case the risk leads to things not working out.

Although it would not be wise to go thoughtlessly wreaking havoc in our lives, with thought and conscious desire for change, it is important, I believe, to consider the impact on oneself of not risking. The risk of not risking, in both our personal as well as our professional lives can be profound. If we are not willing to allow some level of uncertainty into our lives then the consequences of this inaction to take risk (even if it is to bring about desired change) can lead to depression, anxiety and health problems. If you feel you want to take a risk but don’t do it because of fear, then you are letting fear dictate how you live your life. Is that the choice you consciously wish to make? Contemplating the consequence of not taking the risk and considering what risk you may be taking in terms of the cost to your mental health and your ability to live your life authentically, can be a good place to focus some thought and energy if you do not wish to allow fear to dominate your path through life.

Be confident in your ability to make your plan work, whatever the plan might be. Be aware of the fear but don’t let it stand in your way. Triumph over fear and be courageous. Believe you can do it and you’re already half way there. We only get one shot at living our one, precious life. Live it for you…… you are worth the risk!

 By: Anne McCormack

Anne

Do You Want to Increase Mental Fitness?

imagesWe all know how it goes…. Someone tells you not to worry about something and while it may help marginally, it generally doesn’t. Worrying does not just automatically stop when someone suggests that you stop. Something else needs to happen. You need to be able to tell yourself not to worry and this requires you to have a certain amount of control over how your mind is working.

Hearing from someone else that you shouldn’t worry gives you the idea that for others the thing you are worrying about is not necessarily that worthy of worry, you may even feel that things won’t turn out so bad when you are reassured by another. But to take control of your mind, to actually train your mind to not get stuck in loops of worried thought, that can be a harder thing to achieve and it requires a focus on mental fitness.

Research has emerged that is suggesting a possible link between chronic worrying and the likelihood of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is but one very important reason why mental fitness training needs to become a focus in people’s lives. In the Epidemiology Department of Michigan State University, researchers have found while studying participants over a long number of years, those who as children were prone to worrying a lot over everyday occurrences were much more likely to develop symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a traumatic event. The statistics indicated clearly that chronic worrying is an indicator of vulnerability to developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder rather than the chronic worrying being a feature that develops as a result of the trauma.

We can’t necessarily avoid the trauma that happens to us as kids or on our journey through life, but there are things we can do to better prepare the next generation to meet trauma with resiliency. Tuning in to how much worrying children do is the first good step in helping them take control of minding their mental health. This is a key part of mental fitness training but it is only a first step. If the child has a natural propensity towards worrying, you can guide them to an alternative way of thinking, not by saying not to worry, but by increasing their own awareness about what thinking is behind the worried feeling. Helping them to explore what thoughts are causing the worry and then to look at the evidence to suggest that that particular thought is not essential. For example, a child who is worried about what may happen in the schoolyard may be feeling worried because something difficult happened in the yard the week before. By exploring the child’s thoughts around this, they may be able to come up with a strategy to deal with the particular situation and then will begin to develop a belief that is along the lines of ‘I am able to problem solve.’ If this belief becomes strong over time, mental fitness increases. This is not only then a route to better mental health but as the researchers in Michigan have found, it may also be a part of the resiliency a person develops to the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is worth learning about and focusing on mental fitness. A fit mind keeps kids psychologically safe.

 By: Anne McCormack

Anne

For simple tips to increase mental fitness, follow Anne @mentalfitnessXX

Adolescent Brains and Mental Fitness

150302071349_1_900x600Everything that a person experiences; thoughts, sounds, sights or feelings, it all requires underlying neural activity in the brain. Neural activity means activity in the brain between the neurons that are there. The more the neurons fire together and join up, the more patterns begin to develop and take shape. These patterns then become the ‘norm’ for the brain, in terms of what that brain routinely does.

Brains and the reality of the world created within a person’s brain takes its form from whatever perspective the brain routinely rests upon. If a young person wakes in the morning and rests upon an idea such as ‘I am alive and so glad I have this day to live,’  or an idea such as ‘I like myself and know I am a good person,’ then this will impact the structure or pattern that that particular young person’s brain develops. Because young people are at such a crucial stage of development, it is important for young people to know how their patterns are becoming set, the more their minds rest upon ideas. And what their brain routinely rests upon can only become a choice for the young person if that young person knows that this choice is theirs to make. Otherwise, young people can become a slave to the brain and as a muscle; it can become weak and more out of their control. They then become more likely to need external feedback in order to feel good as the brain inside their own head is not necessarily working in their favor. Young people can train their brains to work in ways that make them resilient and strong. This will help them to better protect their own mental health but in order to do this successfully; they need to be encouraged to think about what ideas they are routinely allowing their brains to rest upon.

So much growth and change happens during adolescence. It is a prime time to gain awareness of how to train the brain so that mental fitness becomes something the young person feels is within their control, just as taking steps towards physical fitness is within their control also. Young people need to approach the brain as they would any other muscle in the body. They cannot control the muscle completely but they can certainly work to make it strong. Step one in making the brain strong is to become conscious of how experiences are being interpreted. If they make a good choice about how to interpret events, a choice that allows them to see their developing self in a positive way, then their internal strength of mind will increase. Minding mental health matters and young people need to be developing skills to mind their mental health.

 By: Anne McCormack

Anne

Young People and Social Media Use – How Parent’s can support them Mind to their Mental Health

socialmediatree-540x440For young people today, social media is an integral part of their world. Parents accept this to be the reality but because parents of today have only ever experienced social media as an adult, it can be difficult for parents to know how best to support their child to mind their mental health while online. Parents can find it hard to relate to what it is to experience social media use as a young person, as they never had the chance to experience social media during their adolescent years. Supervising their child’s interactions online may work at the start for parents but eventually, young people will seek greater independence from parents and that is normal for them to do. Therefore, it is good to think in terms of equipping young people with tools and strategies to mind themselves mentally as well as physically online. There will be times when parent’s are not there by their side so it is good to see the value of preparing young minds for what they may encounter going forward.

One tool or strategy that works well for young people is having knowledge about how their mind is working. For young people about to start into adolescence, the task they are beginning to face in their mind is the task known as identity formation. That means that young people are beginning to look outside of their own small world of family and close friends more. They are beginning, on an unconscious level, to ask themselves who they are in the world and what their place within the world is. Because this task is faced in the unconscious part of their mind, it is therefore not within young people’s awareness. Because of his task, young people can become very fixated on feedback from others online as a way to garner information about what others think of them and therefore, what they are like as a person in the world. This can be a difficult process in many ways for young people as social media is a very narrow filter through which to work out your worth. If young people are given information about their stage of mind development and if this task that they are facing in their mind is explained to them, they at least have the knowledge in their conscious mind and have awareness. They will have awareness about the fact that they are trying to work out their identity. They also will have the knowledge that other people their age are busy working out identities too and that gives them a context within which to understand the behaviour of their peers. Knowing themselves on the inside is a vital tool when it comes to young people minding their mental health. Giving them information about their own mind is one step parents can take; mental health matters so much.

By: Anne McCormack

Anne

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