Mindful Monkey.

AA Founder had interesting ideas on LSD

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Many people have heard of Bill Wilson. In 1935 he was the co founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). This was a sobriety, abstinence based organisation in Ohio, USA. What people may not realise is that a new book due to be published asserts that Wilson experimented with LSD in order to tackle his own battle with depression. He came to believe; about 20 years after the setting up of this movement that LSD could help people with alcohol problems to achieve a sort of “Spiritual Breakthrough or Awakening” and promote recovery. This is a controversial point of view and he realised this; often speaking about this in a guarded manner. He thought that LSD was a non-addictive substance that alters thought processes in a way that could be helpful.

The Foundation Degree in Drug & Alcohol Counselling and Treatment aims to provide an in depth understanding of the issues in addiction and responses to this.

Mindfulness and the Brain


BBC News – Scans ‘show mindfulness meditation brain boost’. There is more to Mindfulness than meets the eye. While Mindfulness has long been seen as a tool for personal growth and well-being; research into neuroscience can now demonstrate a range of health benefits. This can include overcoming difficulties with sleep, pain, blood pressure and become calmer and centred. Becoming calmer and more centred enables us to deal better with situations. Watch the short clip from the link above to see how modern science is showing evidence that something quite tangible is happening in the mind when we can learn to be mindful.

Health, Happiness and Age


Inspiration can come from many sources and if a story can lift the spirits, I am all for it. A story about a 100 year old man appeared in the media (Guardian 20.10.11). He is Fauja Singh who, at 100, has recently run a full marathon (and he did not come last!). He was setting out to beat the record of the previous oldest man completing a marathon, a 98 year old Greek athlete. Yet, it is not so much the running but what Mr Singh said about his attitude towards life in general that caught my attention.
Firstly, he said something many people who may be struggling to achieve what is important to them need to hear:

“That anything worth doing is going to be difficult”.

Running 26 miles certainly takes some doing. However, so many things people set out to achieve require staying power. What if the secret is to keep going while reminding oneself that perhaps things don’t always need to be easy? Maybe difficult is OK. There is an idea that often people gave up on a project or their dream without realising just how close they came to a breakthrough. (A little known documentary called “Three feet from Gold”( Click here for a trailer) may have this as a theme. It interviews many people who have achieved success but the focus is on how they coped with the tough times. It is easy to be happy when things are going to plan. The film (and book) sets out to look at how they kept going in the face of adversity. Many of them insist it would have been easy to quit but somehow they kept going until a breakthrough happened. This struck me as important in such tough economic times.
What Mr Singh said also was that he leads a simple life, eating when he feels hungry but never so that he feels too full. While he has chosen running as the focus in his life that gives him a sense of peace and “keeps the engine going” many people will find other things that matter to them enough that it provides a deep sense of purpose. That greater sense of purpose can help us through tough times. Perhaps a sense of purpose and intention can help us attract the things we need. For Mr Singh, his trainer works with him for free, a sports company sponsors him and he mostly gives his money away. All kinds of people are interested in getting to know him. What is also refreshing is that here we have a far better idea as to what constitutes getting older. I leave you with another of his quotes:

“I don’t stress, you never hear of anyone dying of happiness”

Quantifying happiness and well being

While I was a student I remember being taught “abnormal psychology”. For at least 8 weeks (and it did seem a lot longer) we learnt about all the different ways in which people can have a range of psychological problems. We were very engrossed in the whole convoluted business of mental illness. Of course we do need to understand the different ways in which people experience a range of mental illnesses. That is a useful start. However, at some point I remember asking the lecturers when we were going to learn something about how we can help people to get better. And the truth is in those days very few people were talking about wellness and recovery.  So I have been delighted to see the new policy ideas on “No Health Without Mental Health”. It actually appears to be a strategy for wellbeing. Many people have argued that a more positive model of mental health is about far more than just the absence of symptoms or diagnosable illness. It is about quality of life. Part of this is about how to have meaningful relationships on the one hand and also enjoy solitude some times. How to develop skills in managing difficult thoughts and deal with stress are some other important considerations. In my trainings on Mental Health Awareness I am increasingly looking at how professionals from a range of organisations can work together with people, actively and in collaboration, to develop wellness plans. The idea being that with the right kind of help people can and do recover and develop resilience. People can then contribute to the world around them.

When we are happy we can tell. We can also sense when someone else is happy. However, we often describe it not as having happiness but being happy. This suggests something about action. There is a new group called Action for Happiness which is pointing out that doing things for others, connecting with people, random acts of kindness (there are some who go around giving free hugs to people) are ways in which we can increase happiness. Being engrossed in something you love, walking in nature and exercise have all shown to help. If happiness is something about creating flow states rather than having, then perhaps, it is something that can be cultivated even if it is not easy to quantify.

Until next time.

Natural Sleep


Promoting Natural Sleep

Many would agree that the first two things that go when we are not at our best are our sense of humour and sleep! Sleep is a natural process, related to many biological rhythms (“Circadian” Rhythms).  Yet, many different issues can become a trigger for a disruption of such an important part of our lives.  Sleeping tablets are only useful as a short term measure to overcome a crisis perhaps. After that they become part of the problem. Over the counter medication too will soon become ineffective as our body becomes used to the substances. Alcohol and sleeping medication will also cause problems with the various stages of a natural sleep cycle.

Learning practical strategies for good sleep hygiene as well as psychological interventions can help people to overcome Insomnia. Once a person can learn to deal with the worry of not sleeping they are on the way to achieving something very important, that is to break a vicious circle of worry, tiredness and less sleep. Sometimes sleep problems have a physical cause (pain, obesity and breathing problems).  Deciding to talk to someone is the start towards solutions; because there are times we feel stuck and need someone else to help us make changes.


Mental Health & Women


An organisation called Platform 51 has revealed that 20% of women have suffered from a common mental health problem (compared to 12% of men). Further, they point out that almost 33% of women have taken anti-depressants.  Mental health is about more than just an absence of symptoms of illness. It is about quality of life, relationships and how far people can fulfil their potential. There is still a great deal of mystery surrounding mental health problems. Think of the terms “Mood”, “Self-esteem”, “Confidence” and “Stress”. These are all aspects open to change and development. A better understanding of what constitutes mental health and that there are effective psychological approaches available can help promote a sense of hope.  Hope is a good place to start.


California Sunshine

: Is there more to California than sunshine?

“Mindfulness Meditation” is a phrase that will bring up a series of pre-conceived ideas. What does it bring up for you? That many famous Hollywood stars have been using techniques that have been popular in the United States may or may not inspire you. Certainly mainstream psychology has only recently started to take it seriously. The Mental Health Foundation has taken up the cause and promoted the concept of Mindfulness. The American Archives of General Psychiatry has shown research showing it to be as effective as anti-depressants. Indeed, much of the research is showing it to be effective in terms of preventing relapse. Now NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) has approved it to be used for depression.  More and more research is pointing to the potential benefits of learning how to refocus our awareness can help to actually reshape our experience in any given moment.

Some people who have experienced the benefits of Mindfulness have, for the first time in their life, been able to manage anxiety without medication. It is not a quick fix and learning it requires an active approach towards practicing the skills. This enables the experience of Mindfulness to become a part of our busy life. Many feel it to be an approach that feels gentle, natural and respectful, developing a sense of compassion and change through calmness and developing emotional management skills. This may help whatever the weather.


Alcohol Awareness

Mixed messages on Alcohol Consumption

Here is question to consider; what happens to alcohol (and drug) use in a time of recession?

When I used to work for the community drug team in Leicester the focus was very much on illicit drugs, and alcohol problems appeared to have a more low key profile.  A recent article in the Guardian newspaper (“How Britain fell out of love with drugs”, G2 Thursday 24.2.11, by Leo Benedictus) points to a decline in the use of illicit drugs. At the same time a lot more attention is being placed on alcohol consumption in Britain. There was another article which was also widely reported in the press and BBC. A study published in the Lancet (21 February 2011) suggests that up to 250,000 more people than expected may die in England and Wales over the next 20 years due to harms done by alcohol. They point to a doubling of deaths from Liver disease since 1986. Also 1 in 4 people are drinking above what is considered safe levels.

Hence while there is some evidence that, overall, there may have been a slight decline in alcohol consumption, there are many who are drinking more than ever. One statistic above others caught my eye: There are 171 Countries around the world where alcohol consumption is lower than in Britain. How many people know the number of units of alcohol they consume in a week? It may be that fewer people are going to bars to drink, but what about the cheap availability of alcohol in shops that leads to drinking at home? Similarly, harms from problematic drug use are very much with us.

While the politicians and academics discuss the availability and minimum costs of alcohol, much can be done by workers in a variety of settings to help people who may be drinking in a hazardous or harmful way. Anyone working in the addictions field will know that just telling people how something is not good for them does not seem particularly effective. Effective training for staff can highlight how there is far more to alcohol problems than dependant drinking or alcoholism. Good information and an effective way of putting across that information can make a real difference. Ideas borrowed from the field of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Mindfulness and Motivational Interviewing can provide practical skills. There is also good evidence that brief interventions can help people. I am providing training on Alcohol Awareness in Nottingham for those who may be interested in finding out more.

Getting things done in difficult times

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When the pressure is on we can be forgiven for rushing around in our desire to get things done. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be effective, the intention is good. However, the problem is our mind can end up seeing this as a fight or flight emergency. Again, the intention is positive and good, to protect and keep us safe. If there is a tiger chasing us we do need the fight or flight. Our minds can just as easily perceive a psychological threat such as dealing with difficult phone calls, traffic and work deadlines as a fight or flight emergency. But is that so? In these situations the triggering of fight or flight can shut down higher functions of the brain, just when we really need them most. In this state we end up reducing our ability to problem solve, consider options and to bring out our best, most creative efforts. It is not that there is anything wrong here. Fight or flight is important when we need to rush, to protect ourselves. In tough times, however, we need our creative ingenuity, our ability to weigh up options and to make good decisions. So what if we were to consider how many of the situations we face in the modern world are flight or fight emergencies or situations that require a more subtle and complex response (rather than an automatic reaction)?


What can the placebo effect tell us about the mind-body connection?


No one knows exactly how the placebo effect works! The more one considers this fascinating phenomenon, the more intriguing it becomes.

We know that if someone is given a tablet that has no active chemical in it but believes it to be an active substance, a certain number of people show a response (as if it were an active substance).  So a sugar pill can in effect work as an analgesic if the person taking it were to believe it is a pain killer. What is now even more puzzling is the efficacy of the placebo is further enhanced by a number of factors such as:

  • The colour of a tablet
  • The size
  • Two are better than one
  • The price (the more expensive, the more effective it is)
  • The trust and quality of relationship with the prescriber
  • If given as an injection (placebo here being just sterilised water for injections) rather than a tablet taken orally…

It would appear healing is more complicated than we thought. Of course there will be times when we need conventional medical interventions. In many situations, however, wouldn’t it be useful if we were to believe we are getting better, and then be on the way to being healed? This could have so many important implications for our day to day well-being. There are a number of chronic conditions around that could be helped. Think of psoriasis & eczema, IBS, insomnia or many other problems. If psychology and our mind can play a part in recovery and well-being then perhaps we should use it more often.

I leave you with this thought: What if stress, worry and striving are not nearly as effective in terms of getting things done as being in a flow state? Mindfulness, Guided Imagery and Relaxation skills may all help.  When calm you get things done even better; and you may well enjoy the process of getting things done. In difficult times is this an idea more important than ever?

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