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Anxiety, stress and fear can manifest in symptoms such as racing heart, swirling thoughts, nausea etc. etc. Stress is not ‘all in the mind’, it is well and truly manifesting in our bodies. When we are ‘in knots’ in our mind, we develop neuromuscular contractions (knots) in the body. This can show up in tight shoulders, back pain, headaches etc. When we engage in anxious thoughts (stinking thinking), we activate a spiral of secondary suffering.  When this happens, the sympathetic nervous system gets activated, which is not good for health if it is switched on too often or for too long.   When the stress spiral is prolonged and unrelieved it can lead to adrenal burnout.

 Firstly, you need to become aware, in fact awareness with compassion is the key to any real transformation. We have a part of the brain, known as the amygdala, which alerts us to danger.  This is part of how we are neurologically and evolutionary wired and was especially necessary for generations passed when they need to be on the lookout in case a bear would eat them!  Humans learned, in order to be safe, to become negatively biased; more inclined to watch for negative dangers more than for positive opportunities. Even though nowadays, we are not usually in physical threat, we often feel we are in psychological threat. This happens when we are anxious over some conflict, stress at work or at home etc. We become hypervigilant and armor ourselves up against the threat like the hedgehog, or we run away. The fight or freeze responses become habitual and the more embedded the reaction becomes the deeper it creates neurological trails (which are difficult to break). Over time the habit can become so chronic that a type of generalized anxiety becomes ‘normal’ for us. 

Nearly every person who comes for counselling will discover these uninterrupted loops going on in the background. As one person said, ‘I have an inner Velcro for negatives and Teflon for positives.   In this habit of watching for danger, we engage in cycles of rumination, self-criticism and anticipatory anxiety. These are energy robbers and all create excessive mental activity. They are sometimes called ‘stinking thinking’.

  The Good News is we become what we practice…we can change the neural pathways by changing our habitual thought patterns and reactions.

Firstly, you need to become aware of the ways you live with habitual fear and anxiety. You may discover that worry and stress has so embedded itself into your psyche that it has become part of your character structure.  However, over time, you can begin to ‘witness’, rather than engage in this habit, and the more you witness it without becoming entangled, the less embedded this pathway becomes.

 Each time you notice yourself getting caught in excessive mental activity, you can gently return to the present moment, to the breath, the body, to the miracle of the now. You will notice that the habit of worry is no longer taking up the Centre of your being.  Trust in God’s Providence is the best replacement to anxiety and stress.

Instead of reacting, obsessing or avoiding, you can gently open to the fear underneath the loops.  Now bring a gentle acceptance to what’s going on. (This begins to interrupt the spiral).  Sometimes labelling the activity helps to disidentify. For e.g. simply saying to yourself ‘this is just ‘fear’ worry’, ‘rumination’, ‘future’.   In this way, you are in touch with the fear, but you are not being frozen by it!

You might discover another deeper layer lying underneath which is usually about fear of abandonment or failure. Discovering this layer is important because this is where healing can begin – Feeling is necessary for healing!  We do not heal anything by   going round and round in mind games.

 It is important to gently be with the emotion and sensation – in the body – creating spaciousness around it.   Give this uncomfortable feeling a message of compassion and slow down the breathing, which in turn slows down the mind. This gentle pausing, and making connection with, generates a soothing hormone known as oxytocin. This will balance those stress hormones which play havoc with our wellbeing. This is important because the more we try to analyze with strategies, internal conversations, scary movies, rehearsals etc., the more stuck we tend to become.

 Return and Remain in the present moment, rather than being caught in the stories in your head. (those incessant inner commentaries, judgements etc.) Each time we pause, notice, connect with and offer compassion we are weakening the cycle that perpetuates depression and chronic stress.  Remember, whatever we feed, we strengthen! If you are feeding worry, you become worry, if you feed compassion – you become compassion.

On a going basis we can strengthen ourselves with practices that help us return to the moment each time we get caught with inner commentaries.  For e.g., when we are caught in irrational thoughts we might say ‘Real but not true’. In this way you are acknowledging that the experience is distressing (real) but educating yourself to say the future is not happening now ( so the fear is not true).

Not only do we need to practice reducing the negatives, we need to practice increasing the positives. We can do this through learning to H.E.A.L

Have a time to yourself each day for simply being, relaxation, stillness

Enjoy   nature, and the simple gifts God Blesses us with each day. Counting our blessings does wonders for our health!

 Allow yourself to surrender and absorb the flow of unconditional Divine love – the place where you are held and cared for each day. Draw strength from the spiritual place of surrender and allow this deeper dimension to help you create perspective. 

 Lower the expectations of your idealized self …how you should be, how life should be, how others should be!  (Perfectionists are rarely at peace with themselves and the world!)

 Remember, each day, we can heal a little, we can change the spirals (neuroplasticity) and we can learn to trust the flow of life a little more.

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Copyright. Patrick Sheehan & Martina Lehane Sheehan

The post Dealing with Stress. appeared first on Cork Wellbeing Counselling.

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Tips for a stress-free Christmas.

People respond to situations differently, what is stressful for one person may be exciting for another. It’s all about how we perceive a situation. Along with moving house, death or relationship breakup,   major illness, and job loss, the expectation you put on yourself or the expectation you feel from others – the list is endless. Christmas can be one of the occasions that can become a challenging time for our stress levels. Where we find ourselves stressed more than usual. Some of the routines that we take for granted can be disrupted by the rushing and preparing for the Christmas festivities and , as a result any disruption of our normal routine can cause stress.

Even though for most people Christmas is a joyous occasion, it can be stressful, Why? Because it can disrupt our normal lifestyle. There could well be expectations, or at least perceived expectations, to create a ‘wonderful Christmas’ with presents and perhaps the most important meal of the year. Christmas Holiday period can also be a time for gatherings with friends, family and relatives which can lead to arguments and falling out especially if a lot of alcohol is consumed.

However, there are a few things we can do to avoid excessive amounts of stress over the Christmas holidays and so make it a time to enjoy and create warm memories to sustain us long after Christmas is past as we wait patiently for the arrival of spring.


Leaving all your preparations for Christmas until the last minute can cause unnecessary stress but planning can save you time and money. Making lists for jobs to do, presents to buy and groceries you’ll need helps to organise your thoughts, prevents you forgetting something (or someone) and makes it easier to stick to a budget.

Christmas shopping.

Start your Christmas Shopping early, don’t wait till the last minute try to get to the city early in the day to avoid the hassle of traffic jams and looking for parking, and remember to put all your Christmas shopping in the boot of your car to avoid potential theft.

Sleep Well

Be sure to take adequate amounts of sleep and rest, lack of sleep can make you feel irritable and more prone to feeling stressed.

Make Time for Exercise

Christmas is, for many, a time of excessive eating and drinking and exercise can be easily overlooked.  Exercise is a great way to reduce stress as it burns off the stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and helps produce mood-enhancing endorphins.  Try going for a walk after dinner as the fresh air and exercise will lift your mood and make you feel better.


Watch your Alcohol intake the celebratory spirit of Christmas and New Year often involves social drinking and although the consumption of alcohol might make you feel more relaxed it is important to remember that alcohol is a depressant and drinking excessive amounts can cause low mood, irritability or potentially aggressive behaviour.

Enjoy the Build up

Give yourself the time to enjoy the build-up often in our hectic pursuit of trying to create the perfect Christmas we don’t take time to enjoy the simple things of taking a trip to town after the shops have closed to look at the Christmas lights and festive windows. Take an opportunity to take some time of silence to enhance your mental and spiritual wellbeing or attend a Carol Service for Instance.

Know When to Stop

Decide when you will stop your Christmas preparations and start to relax and enjoy the holiday.  Work towards and try to stick to this goal, even if it is in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve.  Remember that Christmas is your holiday too.

Remember to that for many people especially the elderly, that at Christmas time loneliness is a real issue. They may not have someone to sit with them in the dinner table; they may not even have a festive table or even people to speak with.

I hope these few tips will help you enjoy the Christmas, and allow you to enter the true Spirit of The Christmas season. When we understand and accept that in life things are not perfect and beautiful as in television shows and films. Often life is unpredictable, and we should focus on things that make us happy.

The post How to have a Stress-free Christmas, appeared first on Cork Wellbeing Counselling.

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Healing our Losses

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked
and the self-same well from which your laughter rises
was sometimes filled with your tears.

(Kahil Gibran, The prophet)

In Ireland November is traditionally a time when we remember and honor our loved ones who have passed away. It can be a diffcult time for many, as it comes when the time changes to winter time and we have increased amounts of darkness and we head towards the winter solstice.

Loss affects People in different ways. It is not usual to experience.

Disbelief. Immediately after a death, it can be hard to accept what happened. Sometimes people try to deny it, feel numb or even shock, or expect to see their loved one even though they know the person is gone.

Guilt, it is normal to regret things you might have said or done, or failed to say or do.

Physical Problems. Grief can take its toll on your health, causing weight loss. Or gain. Anxiety, less ability to fight off diseases, extreme fatigue.

Fear. Death often causes people to  face their own fears about dying, while others fear life without their loved one, or taking on new responsibilities.

Anger. Some people feel angry at their loved one for having “deserted” them. Some may feel angry about the unfairness of the death. Others might find the need to blame someone.

Grief Spasms. Many people have uneven emotions which seem to come and go, some days “feel good” while the next day or the next minute, and out of nowhere you feel intense sadness. This is normal even though some people feel they are “going crazy”


Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. The more significant the loss, the more intense your grief will be. You may associate grieving with the death of a loved one—which is often the cause of the most intense type of grief—but any loss can cause grief, including:

  • Divorce or relationship breakup
  • Loss of health
  • Losing a job
  • Loss of financial stability
  • A miscarriage
  • Retirement
  • Death of a pet
  • Loss of a cherished dream
  • A loved one’s serious illness
  • Loss of a friendship
  • Loss of safety after a trauma
  • Selling the family home

Even subtle losses in life can trigger a sense of grief. For example, you might grieve after moving away from home, graduating from college, or changing jobs. Whatever your loss, it’s personal to you, so don’t feel ashamed about how you feel, or believe that it’s somehow only appropriate to grieve for certain things. If the person, animal, relationship, or situation was significant to you, it’s normal to grieve the loss you’re experiencing. Whatever the cause of your grief, though, there are healthy ways to deal with the pain and eventually come to terms with your loss.

The grieving process

Grieving is a highly individual experience; there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and how significant the loss was to you.

Inevitably, the grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

‘We experience grief as a result of a loss of attachment to anything or person that has helped to define us’. How to deal with the grieving process 

While grieving a loss is an inevitable part of life, there are ways to help cope with the pain, come to terms with your grief, and eventually, find a way to pick up the pieces and move on with your life.

How to deal with the grieving process

While grieving a loss is an inevitable part of life, there are ways to help cope with the pain, come to terms with your grief, and eventually, find a way to pick up the pieces and move on with your life.

  • Acknowledge your pain.
  • Accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions.
  • Understand that your grieving process will be unique to you.
  • Seek out face-to-face support from people who care about you.
  • Support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically.
  • Recognize the difference between grief and depression.

Loss is an ongoing theme in our lives.

“For we lose not only through death, but also by leaving and being left, by changing and letting go and moving on. Our losses include not only our separations and departures from those we love, but our conscious and unconscious losses of romantic dreams, impossible expectations, illusions of freedom and power, illusions of safety and the loss of our own younger self, the self that thought it always would be unwrinkled and invulnerable and immortal”

Judith Viorst: Necessary Losses.

The post Dealing with Loss and Grief appeared first on Cork Wellbeing Counselling.

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