An Introvert in an Extroverts’ world

I don’t mind being an introvert most of the time.  I get to enjoy the house that we bought and I learned how to listen to my more extroverted friends at a young age, thus leading to my career in counselling.  But sometimes it is tough to be an introvert.  When trying to start up a business, it pays to be an extrovert.  Last night, I went to a gathering of various types of therapists and heard a presentation on networking.  And I wish I could do it better.  Cause not only am I an introvert, but I’m also shy.  Most people wouldn’t recognise this as I fight through it a lot, but it’s hard.  I have a tough time of making cold calls and asking people to like my Facebook page.  And so building a business and, to be honest, this blog has been a much slower process.

I’ve left parties early, I’ve chosen not to date certain really interesting (and way too extroverted) people…you get the idea.  But, there are some positives to being an introvert and I’d like to try to celebrate them.

Susan Cain has a wonderful Ted Talk on how introverts ought to be celebrated.  And I do appreciate some of my qualities.  I do work quietly and quickly, with confidence.  I don’t have to ask someone else what they think about it.  I can be content with a book.  And I have a very powerful imagination, which is fabulous when you can’t fall asleep (I just tell myself stories to calm my brain).

So, how am I going to cope as an introvert in an extroverts’ world?  I’ll do it slowly, get it done and hope that I don’t have to stay at too many parties for too long.

How Should We Talk About Mental Health

I just read a fabulous TED blog. It was written by Thu-Huong Ha, who does a lot of writing for TED. She asked several people their thoughts on how to speak about mental health in a ‘healthier’ manner. Here are a few ideas, but you should check out the full blog post!

End the stigma – this is one that I fight all the time as a therapist. People seem so ashamed and it’s because it’s always looked down upon to have an ‘issue’. I know so many people who think that seeking help for anxiety or depression makes them or shows them to be weak. It’s just not so!

Avoid correlations between criminality and mental illness – we’re seeing a lot of this with the gun issues in the US. But what isn’t pointed out is that most gun deaths AREN’T caused by someone who is mentally ill. People who commit crimes may just be bad people. But if they do have some mental health issue, then shouldn’t we try to help them out through therapy?

But do correlate more between mental illness and suicide – you don’t kill yourself just because you are weak or just because something has gone wrong in your life. You attempt to take your life because of mental health issues, which as very treatable.

Avoid words like “crazy” or “psycho” – I have to admit that this is one I need to work on too. It adds to the stigma or makes mental illness seem ‘funny’ or not as serious as it should.

If you feel comfortable talking about your own experience with mental health, by all means, do so – this was something that was powerful for the teens I worked with. When we would bring in people who had suffered themselves but where willing to share in their journey, it helped those who were also suffering and had lost hope.

Don’t define a person by his/her mental illnesses – you are not the illness. You are not anxiety or depression, even if you are suffering from it at this moment. You may have bipolar disorder, but you are not a bipolar person. You are a person in your own right!

Sometimes the problem isn’t that we’re using the wrong words, but that we’re not talking at all – sometimes we get so worried about how people are going to feel about talking about depression or anxiety that we just shut up. That’s wrong. Talking about mental illness does not create it, but can help make it more normalised and thus people may feel better about getting help

Recognize the amazing contributions of people with mental health differences – I can’t even begin to list the number of amazing people who have suffered a mental illness and yet contributed so much to society.

Humor helps – I think Ruby Wax was the first person I knew of who really focused on depression in her comedy routine. And I think it helped a lot by normalising it and bringing it out into the open.

I do hope you read the entire blog post on TED, as there are great thoughts from great people on there!

Making Stress Your Friend

Want to live longer and healthier?  You must watch this Ted Talk!

How to Make Stress Your Friend

Let’s say that you hit a situation that makes your heart start to pound, your stomach swirls and you begin to sweat.  In many situations, you will interpret this as anxiety or that you aren’t coping.    But what if you interpret this differently?  What if you see this as your body as helping you rise to the challenge?  If you do so, your body will ‘believe you’ and your response to stress will be much more healthy.

So, instead of trying to get rid of stress or deal with stress by lowering it, perhaps what we should be doing is re-interpret our stress response in a more positive way.  There’s a lot more to the video than this idea, so definitely check it out!

Shy child? Listen.

Recently the New York Times posted an opinion piece, in their Health section, about shy children.

I was once a very shy child. I would rarely talk in class. Some of it was because I was lightly bullied and afraid to open my mouth due to fear of reprisals, but a lot of it was due to the anxiety of getting something wrong. I wanted to be in control of what I said and how people saw me, so talking less was part of taking that control. It took me until university to really start working on the shyness and I did begin to speak up in classes during my sophomore year. It was liberating. And I learned that, sometimes, saying the wrong thing was a good thing…I would learn and thus become better at my process of thinking.

If your child is shy and seems to be struggling at school, the gist of the article is that you should talk to him or her. We don’t want to ‘pathologize’ shyness, but we also want to make sure kids aren’t in needless distress. The article gives some great suggestions to parents on how to work with their shy kid. For me, it was all about feeling more comfortable with a few things – that is was okay to not be perfect, that learning was more important than being right, to have the skills on speaking in public, learning relaxation techniques and doing a few ‘acting as if’ sessions.

11: Find Something Bigger than Yourself

For some it may be religion.  For others, it’s through a form of spirituality.  And for others, it may be through math or science.  Regardless, we need to recognize that life is bigger than us.  Once you realise that you are not the soul focus of the universe, you become more connected to our world.

I love doing various types of meditation to find this connection.  It may be while sitting on the tube, while walking in nature or while sitting in my bedroom.  It doesn’t matter how I get that connection as long as it comes.  I have friends who find a connection through painting or writing.  Become focused, become mindful, find a way.  It’s tough in our current world to unplug as we’re constantly connected through mobile phones and computers.  How many of you find it tough to be away from any technology while on a holiday?  Can you do it?

Here’s a great Ted Talk by Andy Puddicombe about doing a mindfulness exercise in 10 minutes.


10: Commit to Your Goals

This can be a tough one. It can be scary to commit to something that might or might not work out.

I went to see Carol Dweck yesterday in a small talk given in central London. She spoke about her book, Mindset, and the difference between a fixed and growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset believe that effort means that you aren’t smart or talented, and so you if it doesn’t come easily, they won’t do anything to get better. Those with a growth mindset believe that you can work toward becoming better at something and that mistakes are a good way to continue learning.

In order to fully commit to a goal, you HAVE to have a growth mindset. There will be set-backs and you may have to learn new skills. You have to work on optimising your strengths and figuring out how to work around or strengthening your weaknesses. Do Not go for perfection in the way a fixed mindset sees it – as nothing can go wrong. Go for “perfection” in the way a growth mindset sees it – working toward making what you do better and better along the way.

My goal is to start and improve a private practice in psychotherapy. I have begun to follow this goal by getting into a CBT programme at Oxford, finding a space to do my therapy, starting a twitter & facebook page that will eventually be linked to a website (as will this blog), and through networking as much as I can!

So, make those goals and go for them! They can be a small goal or a big one, it doesn’t matter, but find that passion!

8: Increase Flow Experiences

According to Psychology Today, flow is a state of effortless concentration and enjoyment. I remember quite a few moments of flow in my life – while playing field hockey, getting married to my husband, while singing in front of a church audience. In a flow state, you feel almost as if time has slowed down. Nothing else comes between you and your task. It is a fine line and a balancing act. I think I best achieve flow while reading, as the world could almost blow up and I wouldn’t notice.

So how does one achieve flow? Flow is achieved when doing a task that may be a challenge but it’s one you can handle. Flow can be achieved if you fully concentrate on the task at hand and nothing else. I think flow can be hard to achieve in this day and age of trying to achieve so many things at once. How often are we truly focused?

Just two weekends ago, I went to a mindfulness day. Meditation was difficult, but I enjoyed it. I believe eventually, I will be able to get in the flow through being more mindful of what I’m doing and living in the moment.

If you’d like to read more, then check out Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

7: Learn to Forgive

Luckily, this has been an easy one for me as my father taught me to let go of negative emotions quite early on. Holding onto hatred is not great for your wellbeing. It doesn’t mean that you have to forget that someone treated you wrongly or that you have to let them into your life again…but it is focused on letting go of the emotion.

I went to a meditation workshop this past weekend and there was a big focus on living in the moment. That means the past and the present aren’t important. Just the here and now. And that’s an amazing way to live. I can still make plans and drea, while also remembering the past, but I hold onto the current moment and try my best to live in it. A great book which helped me work on this is called “Thinking Bodies, Dancing Minds” by Huang and Lynch.

Just remember, when you focus on the positivity in front of you, you are more likely to find it, than when you think about the negativity. How you respond to people will encourage their own response to you…so if you can learn to forgive, you will get back a lot more than you’d ever imagine.

3. Avoid Over-Thinking and Social Comparison

I find the third of the 12 things that happy people do differently to be one of the toughest to achieve. I grew up in a competitive world, where students would compare themselves to each other all the time. It became part of who I was, in some ways. But I’ve worked hard at fighting these thoughts. When I see a friend who has done much better than me, academically or financially, my first thought should be, “How awesome for them.” Instead, I tend to do a comparison, and thus think worse about myself. Envy is not something that helps you grow, but rather holds you back.

So now I try to use thought stopping and fighting those thoughts. Someone else’s achievents have nothing to do with me. Am I happy with where I am right now? If not, then what steps do I have to do to get there? And what successes have I already achieved? I then can remind myself that I have the skills to problem solve and get to where I want to be.

2. Cultivate Optimism

The second thing that happy people tend to do differently is to cultivate optimism. When the students ask me how I can be so positive and optimistic, I ask them if they would want to talk to a counsellor who isn’t. They laugh and see my point. Optimism can be an amazing thing.

Optimism can have a very positive effect, particularly if you think about the idea of a self-fulfilling prophesy. In a self-fulfilling prophesy, you predict that something is going to happen in your future. This prediction tends to come true due to a feedback system. If I am optimistic that things are going to go well, then I will act in this way and thus it’s more likely that things will go well. The opposite applies too.

Optimism is part of a growth mindset (if you haven’t read Carol Dweck’s book, you need to!). For example, if you have a failure, instead of seeing it as horrible, you’ll see it as a mistake to learn from, an opportunity to grow.

So, every day, take a minute or two to imagine just how well the day is going to go. Visualize yourself doing an activity the way you want it to go. It’s more likely to happen that way.