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Taking photos as a mindfulness practice

When we think of mindfulness many people make the association with sitting in meditation but the essence of being mindful is more about developing the capacity to bring our focused attention to whatever it is we are doing, whether that’s washing the dishes, brushing our teeth or eating diner:

By coming to notice our mind chatter we can begin to drop in to a place that exists below the surface.

Dr Dan Siegel eminent psychologist and author of Brainstorm The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain uses the metaphor of ‘the sea within’ to explain how mindfulness works. On the surface there may be a storm blowing, large waves abounding but if you delve down below surface level at the depths exists a calmness and stillness. Just as when we pay attention to the surface of our mind we can get swept away by our thoughts and feelings – by dropping anchor through a mindfulness practice we can gain access to the calm depths that simultaneosuly exist.

When I work with young people I often introduce different mindfulness based practices to support them to access this calm place, a place of stillness from which they can observe their thoughts and feelings without judgement.

The benefits of developing this kind of presence can be far reaching and can act as an antidote to the stressful lives many of us lead.

Over the years I have found taking photographs to be a mindfulness practice that really works for me. Combining being out in nature, walking and creativity supports me to drop in to the place of stillness beyond the mind chatter helping me to regulate and to turn the volume down on the demands of external stimuli.

Taking time to look more closely at the world around me, at the detail and the interplay of light and shadow brings a different perspective in to focus. The resulting images are less the goal than the practice of slowing down, being present, and looking.

The term ‘down the rabbit hole’ goes some way to describing what this activity elicits for me. Time out in a busy schedule to practice being. A way of pressing pause on the adrenalised ‘doing’ of life.

I would really encourage anyone interested in mindfulness or creative mindful practices to open the door to further exploration of what this practice can bring to your life. Below are some tips to help you get going:

Observe before you take the picture – ask yourself what descriptive words come to mind in relation to what you are seeing?

Close your eyes – use all your senses to take in your environment, what do you smell, taste, hear and feel, bring it all in.

Stop and breathe – put your hand on your belly for a moment andbring yourself in to the present moment by breathing slowly in and out through your nose, feeling your abdomen rise and fall under your hand.

Focus on colour, shapes, patterns – look beyond the obvious to the more subtle interplay of shapes, colours and patterns, there is so much more detail in everything

The journey is the destination- think about this as an exercise in slowing down and developing presence as opposed to all about the finished product.

Creative practices are often overlooked as an antidote to stress but if we engage creatively without expectation of a particular outcome the process itself can help us feel to more relaxed, present and engaged with the world.

Nikki Simpson is a Counsellor and Visual Artist who works in private practice with teenagers and adults. Alongside her therapy work she enjoys spending time in nature, dancing and taking photographs.

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Emotional first aid kits for teenagers

indexMost of us have about the house a first aid kit in case of emergency – a kit containing plasters, badges, antiseptic and the like. But how many of us have thought about creating an emotional first aid kit?

When I work with young people in counselling I often talk about the value of creating a first aid kit for their emotions. Thinking together about things that help or could help when they feel stressed, worried or low.

As as adult who was once a teenager myself I clearly remember days when I felt down, self conscious and anxious. My tendency in these situations was to end up dwelling and ruminating and ultimately feeling worse about about myself.

In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) there is a useful diagram referred to as the thoughts, feelings and behaviour cycle. What we think about ourselves in a situation has an effect on how we feel which dictates our reaction. If we feel low, our thoughts about ourselves are often negative and our resulting behaviour is likely to reflect this.

Thinking together with a teenager about the challenges they are facing in their lives and the ways they currently deal with their feelings is a starting point. If they are stuck in the cycle we might think about what they would like to be different, focusing on what makes them feel good about themselves.

I often introduce the idea of the emotional first aid kit at this point*. Does the young person have any hobbies, what activities do they enjoy – how do they feel when they are doing these, who do they trust to talk to? What do they do to relax? What makes them laugh? Are there any special places they spend time in. After a short while of discussion there are usually a good number of ideas that help; from talking to a friend, drawing, listening to music, to going out in nature, cooking, having a bath and watching funny clips on Youtube!

Alongside ideas that are specific to the young person’s interests I also may also introduce mindfulness and grounding techniques and quite often these end up on the emotional first aid kit too. Once the kit is completed the young person may take a photo of it on their phone –  ensuring they have it to hand to refer to in case of emergency!

Why not have a go creating one for yourself!

Nikki Simpson – Person Centred Counsellor MBACP (Accred)

*From Margot Sunderland’s brilliant book Draw on Your Emotions.

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Young people and self harm

“11-21 year olds are exposed to self harm images online in alarming numbers and causing many to consider hurting themselves, according to a poll commissioned ahead of Self-Harm Awareness Day on Sunday March 1st ~ NSPCC (For the full article click here )

I have been made aware of this trend of late by young people that I work with and it’s certainly saddening. I understand young people’s motivation to connect with others and find support and solace but when other people’s images make you want to hurt yourself more! Accepting the prevalence of self harm amongst young people seems paramount right now, for many parents and carers this is a big ask. This is where counsellors and other trained professionals can help. Supporting your child/ teenager without judgement to explore the reasons why they may hurting themselves can allow for change to occur and healthier ways of expressing to emerge.

Gloucestershire also run a free support service Glos self harm network: The text line number is 07537 410022, the helpline phone number is 0808 801 0606, and access to the online support is through the website www.rethink.org/glosselfharm –

Raising awareness of this trend seems paramount in terms of counteracting it. Please share.

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The courage to seek support

Seeking help for matters relating to our mental health is often a challenging process. Accepting that at times we may need the support of others to heal can make us feel vulnerable and small. Feelings many of us protect ourselves from experiencing most of the time.

From my own experience of healing from a childhood overshadowed by Boarding School, I have found that therapy has played an integral part. Often times I have sought the support of a therapist not because I didn’t have friends and family that I could talk to but because therapists could offer me something quite unique. A way of listening and receiving who I am entirely without judgement. A way of responding to me with utmost regard for who I am, and a certain empathetic manner that comes when someone is entirely present and focused on just us. I found the process of being in therapy alchemical and for the first time I was able to experience myself independently of my own inner critic. I was able to separate out who I was intrinsically from the ways of thinking about myself that I had taken on from others.

Being in therapy is not always an easy journey and I respect and appreciate that everyone’s journey in to and through it is different. In my practise I aim to bring sensitivity to the fact that asking/ admitting we need help takes alot of courage. If you have managed to harness enough of this to pick up the phone and call me that’s the the biggest hurdle overcome! Turning up for the first appointment the next biggest challenge. My aim is to create a space where you can come to ‘Be’, hence Space to Be. This means a cosy, non-clinical environment with a genuine warm welcome from me. I am not here to fix you rather support you to find the answers to your own challenges. In my way of working I believe that we inherently know what is best for us, we just often need someone alongside us so we can discover what that is!

If you are an adult client seeking support for yourself or a parent seeking support for your teenager you can rest assured you will be met with care, compassion and consideration from me. I look forward to hearing from you : )

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