Healthy Boundaries – the key to healthy relationships!

I was recently asked to run a workshop on professional boundaries for Cartwheel Arts, an Art for Wellbeing charity that I work with. It was really interesting hearing everyone’s perspectives on what boundaries meant to them personally. This got me thinking about personal boundaries and why they’re important.

I thought about boundaries in my life and I realised how important they are in forming the basis of healthy relationships. They inform not only our relationships with others but also with ourselves. I’ve certainly found it challenging over the years getting the balance right between being there for others and being there for myself.

Psychologist Katayune Kaeni, PsyD, describes personal boundaries as: “knowing your own limits, needs and desires in order to maintain your sense of self and express that to another person, so you can teach them how to treat you.”

We are individually responsible for how we allow ourselves to be treated, although it might not always seem that way. If we are able to have a clear understanding of our own limits and needs, we can then communicate these to others, which will show them what we will and won’t accept.

Poor boundaries can have a really detrimental impact on our emotional wellbeing, I often hear friends and clients talking about feeling “burnt out”, feeling overwhelmed with responsibility for others, or feeling that someone in their life has become a burden. These scenarios can lead to resentment, stress and relationship issues.

Healthy boundaries don’t have to be rigid and will probably change with different people. The most important thing is that we are clear in our own minds, so that we can really look after ourselves and our emotional wellbeing.

When discussing this topic with others it often brings up the fear of saying “no”. How can such a simple word be so difficult to express.

Boundaries are generally learnt in childhood. If yours were not respected it is possible to believe you don’t have the right to say no or perhaps you might feel that in order to be liked you can’t say no. You might also be scared of hurting someone’s feelings if you say no. These thoughts and feelings are all understandable, but the truth is that everyone has the right to say no and your primary responsibility is you.

Breaking these patterns from childhood can be difficult and it takes practice. As you develop healthy boundaries, you’ll be able to develop more nourishing and balanced relationships.

But how can you set boundaries?

Try to write down the actions & behaviours of others that you find unacceptable so that you can recognize and act on them. Also write down how you would like to be treated and try communicating this where appropriate.

Learn to say ‘No’ and focus on your own needs sometimes, most importantly listen to your own inner voice and trust what it is telling you.

Make self-care a priority. Give yourself permission to put yourself first. This might seem difficult, but starting slowly, do one thing a day that is just for you.

By having healthy boundaries, we communicate better with others, we are more in touch with the world around us, our confidence increases and we ultimately have more control over our lives.


Dancing my way into the day!

I’d been told about these early morning sober raves and was intrigued to find out what they’re all about. Getting up at 5am on a Wednesday morning to get ready to go dancing felt a little bit strange and walking into a busy club at 6.30am, to be met by a woman head to toe in sequins, with a bubble gun was not the usual start to my morning, but I embraced it and got straight onto the dance floor!

These morning events encourage people to come together, to have fun and to express themselves, without alcohol or drugs. As well as dancing, there’s yoga, massage, juice bars and healthy snacks.

The combination of the music, dancing and the atmosphere created by lots of smiling, friendly people couldn’t help but make me feel good. I noticed whilst I was there that everyone seemed so happy and this feeling was infectious. After dancing for 3 hours, I left with a big smile on my face, feeling energised and motivated for my day ahead.

The event got me thinking about how music and dance can elevate our mood and how events like this offers a healthy and fun outlet for people who may be struggling emotionally. Morning Gloryville supported World Mental Health Day in Liverpool, sharing the value of their events.

“Morning Gloryville is an early morning sober rave, but the real value is in keeping healthy in mind, body and soul; building a community who can support each other through the highs and lows. We have received a lot of feedback describing how Morning Gloryville has helped people through depression, periods of grieving, anxiety, or low self-esteem.”

If you can’t get to one of these events, how about using music as part of a positive morning ritual. Research has found that listening to music releases the feel good hormone, dopamine. So by listening to positive, uplifting music you can kick start your day in a good mood.

Start off by creating a playlist of music that inspires you, motivates you and is fun. It can be lively or relaxing, it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it fills you with positivity.

When you wake up in the morning put on your playlist while you get ready for the day. If you feel uninhibited why not sing along? Singing is a great way to shift the vibrations of our thoughts and help promote mental & physical relaxation.

Pay attention to how you feel after a few minutes singing? Do you feel lighter? Perhaps you feel your mood shifting? Are you ready to take on the challenges of the day?

Have a little dance around the house, dancing is an incredible way to lower stress and relax the muscles in your body. You’ll receive the benefits of both physical exercise and the uplifting power of music. I’d love to hear whether this worked for you.

Nature’s Antidote – Ecotherapy

Take a snapshot of your daily life and that picture will almost certainly revolve around technology. Laptops, iPads, smartphones and TV’s are such a part of the fabric of our modern existence, we take it for granted. As this technology becomes more ubiquitous and accessible, we’re being encouraged more and more to hook up, and plug in, whether that’s from employers, the media, or social platforms. This all has a profound impact on the shape of our lives, with many people in urban areas spending over 90% of their time indoors.

There have been many studies over recent years pointing to the potentially harmful effects devices like mobile phones can have on our health. Including supressing melatonin and interfering with a restful night’s sleep. But still, our constant need to keep our finger on the pulse is deeply imbedded into our routine.

In a direct response to our continued journey away from nature, ecotherapy is growing in popularity as a means of encouraging people to tune back into the world we’re a part of. The theory behind ecotherapy is rooted in an ancient understanding of the environment, with us being a part of that, rather than a separate entity.

Unlike many forms of therapy, in practice, ecotherapy focusses on the holistic experience, rather than just a conversation. You might feel a sense of calm from doing the gardening, or going for a walk in the wilderness. This, in its most undiluted sense forms the basis of ecotherapy.

By distancing ourselves from the habit of relying on our minds to guide us, we instead allow our bodies and our instincts to take a more active role, engaging them as the most natural part of our true self. In essence, an experienced therapist will encourage clients in both ecotherapy and mindfulness to concentrate on bringing the focus into the body, and getting back in touch with the world around them.

Ultimately, for anyone interested in the idea of ecotherapy, the path before them is one filled with adventure and discovery. The beauty of it lies in its simplicity, and purity. Although complex issues may be explored, ultimately all a client needs, is a comfortable pair of shoes, and the right guidance from a compassionate counsellor to step into the wild, and begin their own, personal journey.

“what’s the right way to grieve?” asks a client….

As a therapist I have worked with many clients who are grieving.

Grief occurs in everyone’s life at some point and losing someone or something you care about can be very painful. Grief is most commonly associated with the loss of a person that is close to us through bereavement, but there are many life events that can cause grief, including:

  • Death of a family member, partner or friend
  • Death of a baby, through miscarriage, termination or other causes
  • The end of a significant relationship
  • Change in a relationship, due to illness or injury
  • Loss of a job or important possessions, i.e. home, money etc
  • Major changes in lifestyle

I often get asked by clients, “are these feelings normal?” and “what’s the right way to grieve?”

Grief is a unique and highly individual experience. How you grieve depends on factors such as the nature of the loss, your general emotional resilience, your personality and your life experience. Grief can bring up lots of difficult emotions and the feelings of pain and sadness can feel overwhelming at times.

In 1969, Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the “five stages of grief.” This model can be helpful for you to frame and identify what you may be feeling, but is by no means an exhaustive list of all of the feelings that may come up for you and they are unlikely to happen in order.

These five stages are:

Denial:  Denial of the loss, perhaps not wanting to believe that the loss has happened, fantasising that the person or thing has not gone/changed.

Anger: This can be anger towards yourself or others and is often characterised by questions like “Why is this happening?”, “Who is to blame?”, “Why didn’t I do something different?”

Bargaining:  Usually this involves negotiation played out in the mind such as “if only they were still here, I would behave differently”.

Sadness: Overwhelming feelings of sadness over the loss, inability to look to the future and a feeling of futility.

Acceptance: Being at peace with the loss and able to look to the future.

If you are feeling any of these emotions following a loss, I can reassure you that your reaction is natural and normal. However, not everyone who grieves goes through all of these stages, and that’s ok too. There are no “shoulds” in the grieving process so just allow whatever feelings are there.

Whilst there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are things that you may find helpful in processing some of those difficult feelings and moving towards acceptance, such as:


Ask for support: Whether this is from a friend, family member, a support group or a counsellor. Sharing your feelings and talking to someone who is empathetic and a good listener can really help to process some of those difficult feelings.

Allow your emotions: Make time to sit and be with your feelings, rather than distracting yourself. It really is beneficial to cry as this is a natural expression of sadness and pain. Also it is scientifically proven that crying releases hormones and toxins that are built up during stressful times.


Get Creative: Something that I find helps many clients is expressing their feelings of loss in a creative way. Whether this is writing a journal about your feelings, writing a letter to a lost loved one, or by creating a book or a box with memories of a lost loved one. The creative process can be extremely cathartic.


Self Care: Taking time to look after yourself is really important when you’re grieving, yet it can be easy to let this slip. Ensure that you’re getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising. When you’re feeling good physically, you’ll be helping your emotional wellbeing also.


No matter how you’re feeling about the loss, it can be helpful to speak to a qualified therapist who can help you to work through the grief and if you feel like you’re really not coping, a therapist can help you to work through some of the painful feelings. An experienced therapist will offer you a safe space where you can express whatever thoughts and feeling you may have without risk of feeling judged and without being told how you should feel.



Recognising and supporting your colleague with stress

Stress in the workplace is on the rise with the Health and Safety Executive stating that according to the Labour Force Survey “In 2014/15 stress accounted for 35% of all work related ill health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health.”

As a therapist who has worked with many people suffering with work related stress, I hear so often that they can feel very isolated, judged and embarrassed. So it’s really important that we make our colleagues feel that they have someone to turn to for support. There are some key signs that you can look out for that might suggest that your colleague could do with some support:

Have you noticed a change in their normal behaviour or mood? Have they become more irritable, more withdrawn or have their moods become unpredictable. When someone is stressed their ability to regulate their emotions can be affected.

Have they been complaining of physical symptoms? Stress impacts the body in different ways and can cause physical illness and difficulties, such as headaches, stomach problems, sickness, sleep problems, heart palpitations and tiredness.

Is there a change in their working routine? i.e. Are they consistently late or are they skipping breaks, lunchtimes? When someone is stressed it can impact on their routine. If there is a change in their working routine there could be many reasons for this, one of these could be work related stress. They may be struggling to keep on top of their work, so work longer hours or they may do the exact opposite and shy away from work.

Have you noticed a change in their appearance? When a person is stressed self-care can be one of the first things to go, so you might notice that they are not making the same effort with their appearance or it might be more subtle than this and they just look tired or have more closed body language.

Have you noticed your colleague using unhealthy coping mechanisms? Coping mechanisms like alcohol, excessive eating, smoking and other addictive behaviours could indicate stress in a colleague. If you notice an increase in your colleague’s smoking, drinking or eating habits they may benefit from some support.

Any of these signs may indicate your colleague is stressed and by identifying the signs of stress at an early stage, you can really help your colleague to take action that can deal with the symptoms and the underlying causes. In doing this they can minimise the impact on their mental and physical health, as well helping them to build their emotional resilience and their ability to feel happy in their role.

Approaching a colleague with your concerns about their stress might seem scary as mental health can still be a taboo subject, but it’s absolutely vital to cultivate a culture of openness in the workplace and it is helpful if this is led and encouraged by management teams. So how can you support your colleague? Here’s a few tips on supporting someone with stress:

Share what you have noticed By speaking with a colleague from a place of genuine concern and highlighting the changes you’ve seen in them in a compassionate way, you may help them to identify how they’re feeling.

Ask how you can help Rather than making them feel like there is something wrong with them ask them what they need. Ask if they would like your support. Don’t feel offended if they become defensive as there may be reasons for this.

Be prepared to listen Simply by giving your colleague the chance to talk openly could help them to feel calmer and more able to deal with their stress. Just being there for someone without trying to fix or change them can really make all the difference.

Support them in seeking help Speak to them about how they can access support, whether this is speaking with a manager, visiting their GP or accessing therapy. You might be the first person your colleague has spoken with so they might be more inclined to open up to others once they have with you.

Accessing professional support through a therapist can be really beneficial in dealing with stress. A therapist will help the person to identify the root causes of the stress and will then help them to develop their emotional resilience through effective coping mechanisms.

Self Harm – Separating fact from fiction

Self-harm is still a big taboo subject and because of this it is rife with misconceptions and myths. As a therapist I work with people who self-harm and these clients tell me that the main thing that helps them is when they feel really heard, understood and not judged. Here’s some of the main myths I’ve come across, as well as the facts to help develop your understanding:

Myth 1: Self-harm means cutting yourself

The term Self-harm or Self-injury can be used to describe a range of harmful behaviours. Self-harm is when you hurt yourself as a way of dealing with very difficult emotions, experiences or situations. Self-harm can be a very addictive coping mechanism, often with a temporary feeling of relief following the harm. There are many ways of self-harming with the most common being cutting and burning, but other ways of self-harming can include:

  • Hitting self or walls
  • Overdosing
  • Poisoning
  • Over or under eating
  • Scratching
  • Hair pulling
  • Drug/alcohol abuse

Whilst self-harm can offer some short term relief from difficult feelings, it often results in more difficult feelings about the self-harm, further impacting mental health. There can also be significant risks to physical health.

Myth 2: People who self-harm are attention seekers

Self-harming can be a cry for a help but for the majority of people who self-harm it is a very personal and private coping mechanism, it should certainly not be judged as attention seeking behaviour. People who self-harm will often go to great lengths to conceal their injuries, often feeling ashamed and embarrassed.

People who self-harm talk about a number of reasons why they do it. This can be as a form of managing difficult emotions or events in their life, as a form of self-punishment for things they may feel they have done wrong, or as a release from emotional pain by instead feeling the physical pain. Whatever the reason, it is not a form of attention seeking and this attitude to self-harm could stop the person from reaching out for the help that they need.

Myth 3: Self-harming is a teenage girl thing

Self-harm can happen at any age and to either sex. The media often publicises self-harm in young people more and this fuels the misconception that it is a teenage problem. Of course it is imperative that children and young people are supported in this area, but adults self-harm too. National charity Harmless state “Findings suggest that in fact for the age range of mid 30s, men represent the majority of people attending Accident and Emergency for the treatment of self harm.”

Myth 4: People who self-harm are suicidal

People who self-harm are not trying to commit suicide, in fact, often people use self-harm as a coping mechanism to deal with very difficult emotions and it can be seen as more of an act of survival than a desire to die. However, some people who self-harm do also have suicidal feelings and in addition, some forms of self-harm can cause accidental death, so it’s really important that if you are self-harming or know someone that is, that the right support is accessed as soon as possible.

Where to go for support

There are many ways of getting support for yourself or someone you know who is self-harming. It is advisable that the first step would be to talk to your GP or a qualified therapist, they will be able to advise you and refer you to the best local services for you.

Talking therapies can really help people who self-harm, by talking to someone who can empathise and offer you a safe and confidential space to explore those difficult feelings and to develop some safer coping mechanisms.

If you don’t feel ready to get direct support, there are some really good online resources with advice and support, like  and


Being kind really is good for your health!

Wednesday 17th February is Random Acts of Kindness Day and this got me thinking…

In the media and in society today we can be programmed into seeing the more negative aspects of life and humanity, but if we choose to look a bit more closely, we see that there is kindness and compassion everywhere.

We all know how good it feels when someone is kind to us and it also feels great when we’re kind to others and the good news is that being kind really is good for your physical and mental health! Studies show that people who are kind produce far less cortisol (the stress hormone), increased levels of dopamine (the natural high!) and age slower than the average population….and if that’s not enough of a benefit here are some more:

Improved self-esteem

In being kind to others we are more able to see the good in ourselves. It feels good to make a difference and the feeling of giving can reinforce positive thoughts and feelings about ourselves.

Also, it’s important to note that when thinking about kindness, being kind to ourselves should not be forgotten. How about giving yourself a random act of kindness today? Perhaps try doing something for yourself that you wouldn’t normally do…

Feeling more connected

I hear lots of people reporting a sense of loneliness and disconnection. People show concern about not feeling part of a community and as humans we have an innate need for this sense of connection and community and we’re really feeling lack in this area.

Showing kindness and compassion to others can really help to develop a feeling of deep connection with others and is the foundation on which communities are built.

Improve close relationships

It can be easy to forget to be kind to those who are closest to us at times. We can slip into ways of being with our loved ones where we take them for granted, forgetting that old saying of “actions speak louder than words.”

Showing kindness to a loved one can really strengthen that bond and makes both the giver and receiver remember how grateful they are for that relationship.

Kindness really is contagious

Being kind really does seem to have a ripple effect. The feeling that we get from receiving an act of kindness elevates us and makes us want to pass it on. There has been lots of research into this ripple effect with Jonathan Haidt’s study showing that corporate leaders who engage in self-sacrificing behaviour and elicit “elevation” in their employees, also yield greater influence among their employees.

In the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi “We must be the change we wish to see in the world”.

As I talk about the benefits of kindness, it feels important to note that there should be no ulterior or selfish motive for kindness, but with so many benefits to the giver and receiver why wouldn’t you choose to be kind?

So what will you do today on ‘random act of kindness day’? Not that it’s limited to today of course…perhaps you could make it a daily practice and see how good it feels!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this….

Starting the New Year with good intentions….or perhaps not?

A very belated Happy New Year to you!

I don’t know about you but towards the end of December I have lots of big ideas about how I’m going to begin the New Year and I’m full of motivation for the year ahead. I like to take stock of the past year and set intentions for the year to come….

So this year was no different, but I was completely derailed from my grand plans by the dreaded winter cold which completely put me out of action for the first couple of weeks of January! The first few days of the New Year, I was allowing my mind to catastrophise with messages like “well this is the worst start the year EVER!” and “This probably sets the tone for the year ahead” etc etc… However, as I started to feel less ill and therefore more rational, I was able to see that this was a minor bump in the road and that actually, who says the ‘New Year, New Me’ has to start on 1st January?

What this time of illness gave me was lots of time to reflect on the lessons learned from 2015, to feel gratitude for all the good things that happened last year and to acknowledge my successes. I was also able to think about my intentions for the year ahead.

I like to set intentions rather than the usual resolutions as they like a more compassionate way of framing my year ahead. Resolutions often involve big and immediate changes like stopping smoking, losing weight, saving more money. The problem being, these are often things that feel like they ‘should’ be done rather than actually being desired. Intentions for me are a way of looking forward and stating how I’d like my year to be and really getting a sense of where I’d like to be this time next year.

My top tips for easing into the New Year are:

  1. Be kind to yourself. Try to reframe negative self-talk when setting your intentions for the year ahead.
  2. Spend more time with family and friends. Studies show that we are happier when we feel connected. Resolve to reach out to somebody who cares about you.
  3. Enjoy what you do, be it your job or a hobby. If you aren’t enjoying it, ask yourself what are you able to change that would make things more enjoyable.
  4. Learn to say no. Saying no may seem hard to do, but with practice these two little letters become easier to say and you can have more time for you and feel so much better!
  5. Cut out images from magazines that represent goals you want to achieve. Create a vision board of your intentions

Corruption or Compassion – Where will you focus your attention?

compassionAs a client of mine last night talked about the corrupt world that we live in and the futility they feel about even trying to challenge the system, there was a part of me that really agreed with this view and I could certainly empathise with my client’s feelings of disillusionment, discontent and fear of the future. Listening to my client, I thought about how easy it could be to feel beaten down by the system and to adopt a really negative view of the world we live in.

As I reflected on this, I realised it’s all about your view or perspective and I’d been lucky enough to experience this only minutes before this counselling session. As I walked into work, there were a large group of people outside the courts, singing and rapping about austerity, homelessness and corruption in our government and it really moved me. I am of course moved by the problems that our society faces, but more so, I was touched by this group, using their creativity and passion to campaign and push for a better future for civilisation. It made me think about all of the amazing work that is being done by so many people to challenge the way things are and to support communities.f me that really agreed with this view and I could certainly empathise with my client’s feelings of disillusionment, discontent and fear of the future. Listening to my client, I thought about how easy it could be to feel beaten down by the system and to adopt a really negative view of the world we live in.

It can be easy to forget that genuine compassion and care exists in this day and age, but if we look (and we don’t have to look very far) it is all around us. So we can either be eaten up by futility and cynicism, or we can look to inspiring people who are really coming from a place of compassion. These people can be those around us or public figures like the Dalai Lama who really does come from a place of compassion, with a message of global peace and wellbeing for every person.

I stumbled across this TED article about the Dalai Lama this morning and it just articulates so well why looking to the Dalai Lama for leadership advice might just show us all a more compassionate way of living.

How’s Your Emotional Resilience?

I met with a friend the other day who inspires and humbles me with the way she deals with her life. She has a number of factors that have the potential to make her life really stressful and yet she seems to take it all in her stride. I started to think about other people I know, including myself and about how we all deal with stressors in our lives.

The very next day I was on a training course about mental health and emotional resilience was discussed. The trainer reminded me of the analogy of the bucket of water. We all have things happening in our lives that fill our ‘bucket’. Sometimes we might go through something that means our bucket becomes full and overflows, symbolising the struggle to manage our emotions. People with higher resilience are those who have learned how to keep the bucket from overflowing, by having release valves to keep the water at a manageable level.

So how do emotionally resilient people do this? Do you recognise it in others when you see it? There seem to be some common traits and techniques that these people have in common and if we can strive towards even a few of these, we can start to build our own resilience so that when times are hard we can look within ourselves and find strength.

1.       Having a good support network

Resilient people often have a group of people around them who will listen and support them. They will offer encouragement, without being pushy and or trying to fix their problems. Resilient people will often have some resilient friends.

2.       Self Care – “me time”

We spend so much time trying to please others and looking after others needs, but seem to find it hard to take care of ourselves. Think of some things that help you to relax or feel good. Simple things like going for a walk, buying yourself some flowers, taking a bath or reading a book. Whatever it may be, the most important factor is that you enjoy it.

3.       Working on their self-awareness

Self awareness enables us to understand our emotions and the impact these have on our minds and bodies. Self aware people become able to pick up subtle cues that their bodies or emotions are sending and to work through this with a deeper understanding and greater ease.

4.       Acceptance

Emotionally resilient people have learned to accept that life involves stress and pain. These feelings can be uncomfortable and it can feel easier to distract ourselves or even deny these painful feelings. Accepting that our emotions ebb and flow can help to cope in those difficult moments and it is more healthy to allow both painful and joyful feelings to be fully felt and experienced.

5.        Practicing mindfulness

Sitting in stillness and silence is not as easy as it sounds. Practice taking time to be still and present. Try focusing on your breath to quieten the mind.

6.       Consideration for others

Emotionally supporting others when they are need can help boost your own resilience. Offering encouragement and kindness is good for your own positive psychology.

By no means is this list exhaustive and we all have different ways of managing our own stress. So back to the bucket analogy, what are your release valves? How do you manage stress in your lives? In this link Karen Horneffer-Ginter shares 25 ways to boost your resilience.