Myth Busting the Stigma of Asking for Help

Helen Keller captured my thoughts beautifully when she wrote the comment “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”. If only people would believe this and see that collaborating and asking for help is a sign of strength rather than a weakness. So many people struggle with asking for help, whether it’s help in understanding an assignment question, help in moving into a new home, or help in trying to manage their emotions over a situation. So if we can achieve more together and asking for help is a strength, why do some many of us struggle? Here are the top 5 reasons I think people struggle to ask for help:

1. Asking for help is a sign of weakness. Asking for help requires courage and accepting help takes strength – not weakness. We all have different skills and resources available to us. Asking someone for help is an opportunity for someone else to experience the happiness that comes from giving or teaching a new skill. In teaching them a new skill they have to help them not only in the moment but for the future as well.

2. It’s my way or the highway – I am the only person who can do it right. Sometimes people like things done in a specific way. They might think that pushing ahead to exhaustion by doing all the work themselves is a better alternative than asking for help, and risking something not being done the way they’d usually do it. For me I know asking my husband to hang the clothes means that they won’t be hung the way I do it and that it creates more work for me later, when folding and putting them away. But when faced with being late for work it’s a higher priority for me to ask for help with the job. It might seem trivial but sometimes it’s the little tasks that we feel the need to control because they are easier than the bigger ones.

3. Accepting help means I have to pay it back. If someone helps you it doesn’t mean you have a help debt. People don’t help others just so that they can ask for help themselves at some point. Think about it: do you think that your tutor is going to ask you to mark papers for them, or maybe do some of their housework because you asked them for some help with an assignment? Or that my husband is counting the number of times I ask him to hang the washing for me so he can trade them for me taking the bins out on bin night? (Because if he is, he would need to hang the clothes at least 3 times for one bin night; our driveway is like a mountain). Besides, in asking for help, you are actually giving to the person you are asking. Giving a gift or help to another stimulates and releases Oxytocin, a powerful bond-stimulating hormone, making the other person feel good about themselves.

4. I am a burden to others when I ask for help. Yes, other people are busy, just like you are. Ask yourself: if someone asked you for help—a favour—would you say “No, I’m too busy”? Most people like to help others, whether it’s to procrastinate so they can avoid a task of their own, a genuine belief that helping others is rewarding, or to make them feel better about themselves because they can see you are not perfect.

5. Allowing someone else to help me means I have lost control of the situation, lost control of my life. Hold on there, this sounds like a catastrophising thought taking hold. Does asking for help in one small aspect of your life mean you can’t do anything for yourself? Have you lost the ability to cook for yourself or feed yourself if you need help to manage your outburst of emotions when you lose someone close to you? Or does asking for help in preparing for an exam mean that you will never be able to prepare for an exam independently again? Absolutely not! Asking for help is a sign that you are looking to maintain control of the situation, not that you have no control.

There are a lot of benefits to asking for help with lots of different things in your life. Asking for help might reduce your stress levels, it might give you some relief from your thoughts and feelings through sharing the load. You could find some useful strategies and ways to cope, or learn a new skill. It could help you to feel less alone and allow you to connect with someone new, or strengthen a relationship with someone you already know. You could stop a problem getting bigger, from spiralling out of your control.

I know I struggle at times to ask others for help, and I sometimes struggle to accept that I have flaws and can’t do it all by myself. At other times I’m really good at asking for help – like right now I’m about to ask my husband to proof read this post so that you don’t realise how terrible my grammar is. Knowing when to ask for help can be tricky. Knowing who to ask for help can be just as tricky. One of the reasons I started this blog was so that you could all get a sense of what types of help are available, and find the right source of help for you. So if you are wondering, have a look through the previous posts and check out the reviews, online resources and tips sheets. If face-to-face help is more appealing then give us a call and make an appointment to see a counsellor. If you want face-to-face or personal contact but you are studying by distance, or can’t attend during business hours then maybe try the Skype Drop-in hours we have available.

Remember what Helen Keller said: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” and next time you are struggling reach out and ask someone “Can you help me?”

 


Skype Drop-in Hours

Just a reminder that next week the Skype drop-in hours are not available due to the semester break for Easter. In this time period if you need additional help outside of business hours you can use the Beyond Blue Online Counsellor Chat program or the Lifeline Online Chat program. You can find out more about these services on the online resources page.

This week the hours are  Tuesday 7-8pm, and Thursday 2:30-3:30pm and 8-9pm. After the Easter break we will be back to the usual hours.


Tips for a healthy relationship

Since we were first born most of us have been seeking contact with other people. We have been reaching out and trying to establish relationships with other people. The nature of these relationships evolves over time and each relationship is made up of a number of different needs. There are those based on companionship, the sharing of experiences, interests and concerns together. There are those with whom we add a level of intimacy with, which involves being able to give and receive comfort and a new level of honesty and trust. There are also those with whom we organise a shared life with, we may have a house together, share money, and shared responsibility for social decisions. It could be that you are looking for all of these in the one person or you get these things from many different friends in your life. Regardless of the type of relationship you have you need 3 basic elements for any relationship to be healthy:

1. Communication – this is more than talking to someone. It involves your tone of voice, body language and active listening skills. It is about being able to make the time to share your thoughts and feelings and listen to your partner express their own thoughts and feelings. It is a time to talk about what you need and want in the relationship and being able to compromise and negotiate them boundaries of your relationship together. In every relationship there will be difficult conversations to have. If you want some tips for how to prepare for these click here.

2. Trust – to build trust you need to show the other person that you are honest with them, that you are reliable, responsible and dependable. Don’t make fun of them, belittle them or judge them in any way. Behaviour which may lead to a break down of trust is second guessing them, not believing each other, not keeping their secrets, betraying them or obsessively checking up on them.

3. Respect – Respect is about accepting someone for who they are even when they are different from you. Let them have the freedom to be themselves and express their own opinions. Respect their boundaries and encourage them to spend time apart from you and build their self esteem and other relationships as well. Don’t intimidate or pressure them to do things they don’t want to do.

Healthy relationships with family and friends help us develop the skills we need for other types of relationships, like the student – teacher relationship, colleagues, employer-employee or parent- child relationship. Regardless of the purpose and type of relationship these basic tips will help you navigate the course of the relationship.


Bursting the Bubble

As it’s sex week at Callaghan campus this week I’ve been talking about healthy and unhealthy relationships. Whilst the focus has primarily been on romantic relationships I thought I would take some time away from this and talk about other types of relationships, like those with family members. Specifically I’m talking about domestic violence and abuse within the family. Domestic Violence is common in Australia with 1 in 4 teenagers having seen an incident of physical violence by one parents towards another, 12% of girls 15 years and under experiencing sexual assault and between 4.5-10% of children under 15 years of age experiencing physical violence at home. Whilst there are a great number of online resources available for helping young people identify the signs and symptoms of abuse and how they can access resources to help www.burstingthebubble.com is a great resource for teenagers and young adults seeking help.

It breaks down the information into separate sections making it easier to find the information you want to know, like what legal advice is available or what steps to take. There are questionnaires and checklists to help identify the signs as well as information about the different types of abuse. There are text accounts of real stories of abuse as well as information on why is happens and how to deal with it’s affects and the feelings you have as a result of the abuse.

The two sections I like the most are the steps to take to get help and the safety action plan. The overall message on both of these is to not give up if your first plan of action and person you turn to for help doesn’t work out the way you hoped. These two items are found right near the FAQ’s of how to tell someone and handy information on services available if you are leaving home and what the law may be able to help you with.

What’s good about it: The information is broken down into separate sub menu’s and there are a few checklists, quizzes and FAQ items for those who want to access the main point’s quickly.

What’s not so good: There are no video clips or links to information in non text format. It’s a shame because they do have some good true stories to share, but I feel that the younger demographic might find video’s and visual images more accessible than reading the text.


iMatter…..are you in a healthy relationship?

iMatter was launched on Valentines day this year. Aimed at young people, specifically young women it is designed to get you thinking about what’s healthy and what isn’t healthy in a relationship. While it’s quick to download the app the first time you open it takes a while as it loads the content. It’s not surprising though because it has links to and holds a lot of information. Probably the most impressive information is the list of resources in every country available for victims of domestic violence and abusive relationships. You can find this in the Find Support menu. Unfortunately this section isn’t on the main, you have to click on the top left hand menu icon for a further drop down menu.

The main screen consists of four items; inspiration, videos, blogs and quizzes. These items hold a range of quotes and images that you can favourite or share with your Facebook and twitter accounts if you allow the app to link with them. There are also a number of video’s that are linked from YouTube. Again you can favourite these links and share with your other social media accounts. There are a few different types of messages around empowering women, improving your self esteem, recognising the early signs of abuse and the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. I really liked this section of the app and can see myself sending a range of clients to these links not only for help in their relationships with others but also for help in their relationship with themselves. There are a few links to blogs, some specifically around relationships but others around finding happiness and looking after yourself, which I think adds to the app and makes it more than a tool to detect unhealthy relationships but a reminder of the need for looking after your whole self, not just the relationships you are in.

The other two areas of information the app offers are quizzes and a Mymatter section. There are two quizzes, one to identify if you have a friend in an unhealthy relationship and the other for yourself. They are both short and give you a score and feedback at the end. They cover the signs of abuse well and the quick process makes them very user friendly. Finally the last section is the Mymatter section. Here you will find a diary for recording events, thoughts and feelings and a series of lists you can create around relationship deal breakers, 5 ways of improving my self esteem and other relevant lists. This feature does personalise the app a little more but to be honest it doesn’t have an option to lock the app or enter a password so your partner or anyone who gets a hold of your phone could access this information so I’d be a little careful about what I recorded in there.

Overall it’s a great user friendly resource to help identify the warning signs and access support and help. It is worth downloading and spreading the word given that 1 in every 3 relationships ends in abuse of one kind or another.

What’s good about it: The information is provided in a visually appealing way. How many apps around mental health has long lists of text based information. It’s refreshing to watch a video by a peer, or watch a reproduction of a relationship play out in front of you.

What’s not so good: There is no password to protect others from looking at any information you want to store in the Mymatter section – which given one of the warning signs of an abusive relationship is your partner checking your phone is a little concerning.


It’s Sex Week at Callghan

This week on Callaghan Campus it’s sex week. There are a range of activities across the week, starting with movie night tonight in the Derkenne courtyard. After movie night I’ll be hosting an additional Skype session for any student who wants to drop by and ask any questions. I’ll be using instant messenger and you just have to request me as a contact UoNonlinecounsellor.  If you miss me tonight I’ll still be online Tuesday night at 7pm, Thursday at 2:30-3:30 and again at 8pm as well as Friday morning at 9am.

If you miss me online or want to meet me in person I’ll be at the Sexual Health Expo on Tuesday between 11-2 in the park behind Bar on the Hill. Come along, get a free sausage sandwich and check out the different services available to students. I’m also running a workshop on relationships on Thursday at 12 o’clock in the NUSA meeting room. The full schedule of events is found here.


Anxiety Home ToolKit

Are you looking for some strategies you can try yourself to manage your anxiety and stress? Or maybe you are looking for some tips to share with someone else who is under pressure right now? Or maybe you want to add to some work you are already doing with a health professional. Either way you might find the Home Toolkit that the Anxiety BC website offers.

Anxiety BC is a website set up by consumers, parents and health professionals to make information about anxiety and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) skills available to members of the public. There are a number of different resources available in multiple formats on the site. There are video’s on the use of CBT for anxiety and the experiences of people with anxiety you can view. All the information is available in different formats including a more interactive and visual way to digest the information in the Youth and Young Adults section.

One of the resources available on this site is the Home Toolkit. On this page there are links to more information on each of the CBT skills and a PDF document with worksheets available for you so you can work on the strategies yourself. There are examples of the worksheets available and the explanations are easy to understand. The website also tries to provide a rationale for the use of CBT to manage anxiety and makes references to research in the area and the support it has in being an evidenced based approach.

Whilst the resources are good they are not for everyone. They don’t take the place of a health professional and whilst they are a good introduction some of the skills can be difficult to master and getting assistance from a trained professional can help make good use of them. The Home Toolkit whilst useful shouldn’t be used alone to manage ongoing anxiety. Make sure you are reviewing your anxiety over time and if the tool kit isn’t helping then seek some additional support.

What’s good about it: The resources are easily understood and available for free. The page offers an alternative approach to skill building outside traditional therapy.

What’s not so good: Finding some of the information in the youth an young adult section is difficult and you can get lost in a series of sub menu options.


Working through anxiety

You may have noticed a theme to this week’s posts: anxiety. I have noticed this past week that the level of anxiety in students is rising. Assignments are due, the workload is high and the census date is approaching. Students are trying to make decisions about subjects, full or part time study, transferring courses, changing career paths. They are trying to make these decisions under pressure and based on the assumption that they need to know the answers now. Whilst the reality is that we have a lifetime to make these decisions and that we never really close a door to anything—there is always a way back when it comes to our education—our worries and anxieties stop us from seeing this reality. So if you, like so many students, are finding yourself pondering some big decisions over the coming week, you may want to try a few of these strategies to reduce your anxiety before making them.

1. Learning to identify anxiety. There is a lot of information on the internet, in journals and the library about the signs and symptoms of anxiety. Understanding both the physical symptoms (increased heart rate, tightness in the chest, sweaty palms etc) and the cognitive symptoms (unhelpful thoughts, irrational beliefs, patterns of thinking) will help you know what strategy to use when. For example when you are walking into an exam and your heart rate increases and you start shaking it won’t help to try challenging your anxious thoughts. At this time you will need to use one of the relaxation skills we talk about below.

2. Learning to relax. There are a number of ways you can learn how to relax. People usually start by learning some breathing techniques and then progress to progressive muscle relaxation, meditation and mindfulness tasks. These skills all require practice before you can use them effectively in a moment of panic. Like any skill, if you want to be good at it you need to invest the time in developing it. It’s not like representing Australia at the Olympics, you don’t have to spend hours every day working towards success. Usually you can spend between 5 and 20 minutes each day for a couple of weeks and you will notice that your skills are improving to the point where you can use them in these situations.  These techniques are not the only way people relax. Some people do Yoga or Pilates to relax, some surf or go to Zumba. These are great strategies to help maintain good mental health but they can’t be used when walking into an exam.

3. Challenging your anxious thoughts. Anxiety can trigger unhelpful thoughts, usually about yourself, or these unhelpful thoughts trigger the anxiety response. So what are unhelpful thoughts? If we take the above example of anxiety walking into an exam you might be thinking along the lines of “I’m going to fail”, “Why am I even trying, I’m useless”, “I’m going to bomb out, leave early and everyone will be looking at me”. Are these familiar? So now you know they are unhelpful you will stop thinking them, right? I wish it were that easy. Identifying them as unhelpful is the first step. There are a number of different techniques you can use to gather evidence against them and accept them as false. After you have mastered the art of identification and changing your beliefs about the thought it’s time to try and generate new rational thoughts to replace them with and believe in. For example, “I’ve been anxious about exams before and passed them”, “No one is looking at me, they are too consumed in trying to pass the exam themselves”.

4. Facing your fears and sitting with anxiety. This is the time to test out your new skills. Sometimes it’s a good idea to do a test run before the event. Get up, get ready and arrive at the exam destination the week or day before at the right time. Notice the feelings that are coming up, any physical symptoms you are having and try using one of the relaxation techniques to see if you can reduce your symptoms. Use different ones and see which are the most effective. Now notice what thoughts are coming to you and practice challenging them and replacing them with more rational thoughts. Exposing yourself to this and practicing will help you reduce the fear you have and change your experience of the situation.

All these tips are great to have but where and how do you learn the skills that I’ve mentioned? There are a number of ways you can go about this. You can make an appointment to see a counsellor on campus or online by phoning 49215801, or a private practitioner in the community. You could also enrol in an online workshop like those offered throughout the year by Mindspot. Or you could have a look through some self-help resources like  the tips sheets and online resources and smartphone applications mentioned on this website or those offered on Beyond Blue or Anxiety BC to get you started, then reach out for more help if you need it as you go.

Anxiety is a normal part of life, in fact it’s how we avoid dangerous situations like swimming in the ocean when we have seen a shark or walking into a building when we see the roof collapsing in. You can’t avoid anxiety, you need to learn how to identify it and manage the physical sensations and thoughts that come with it so you can have a different relationship with it – You control it, it doesn’t control you.


Just Breathe

One of the most universal and necessary skills that we learn during early life is breathing. It comes naturally right? Well so we are thought to believe. Yet I spend time with nearly every person I see in the counselling service talking about breathing and teaching them different techniques on how to control their length, depth and speed of breathing. So it can’t be as easy as we first think it is. Sure breathing to survive is easy enough but what about breathing to reduce your stress or anxiety? Breathing to relax?

Breathe2relax is a free smartphone application for the iphone and android which teaches you diaphragmatic breathing techniques – which is just a fancy way of saying deep breathing. The app allows you to personalise the visual and audio settings to suit as well as set and adjust the length and number of cycles you want to include in each exercise. I found this useful because to be honest the default inhale was 7.2 seconds and this felt like forever for me to begin with. I adjusted it down to about 6.5 but left the exhale at the longer duration. I am gradually increase the time back up to 7.2 on inhale as I get better at the skill. Each exercise you can record your stress or anxiety level and then again at the end of the exercise so you can see the difference on the graph for each session but also across time as you start to practice over the days and weeks ahead.

This app also provides some psycho-education about stress, breathing and the impact of stress on the body. You can either read about it and click on the different parts of the body to see the impact stress has on each or you can watch a video that will give you the same information. Not every person experiences stress in the same way and I found myself identifying with different physical sensations that I acknowledge are part of my own stress symptomology.

What’s good about it: It’s quick to set up and understand, you get to control the length of time you spend each time practising and you can either read or watch and listen to the information about stress and breathing so vision and literacy is not a limiting factor.

What’s not so good: Your data whilst anonymous gets sent back to the developer of the application for research automatically. You will need to go turn this function off in the settings if you don’t want it to.


Change in times online….

This week there will be a change in times for the online drop in hours. I will be available as usual on the Tuesday night from 7-8pm and Thursday from 2:30-3:30pm and Friday from 9-10am but instead of the Thursday night I’ll be online the Wednesday night instead at 7pm. So if you want to drop by ask any questions about anything or get some advice then request to add me as a contact to Skype, I’m UoNonlinecousnellor. I hope to see you online this week.


The material or views expressed on this Blog are those of the author and do not represent those of the University.  Please report any offensive or improper use of this Blog to RPS@newcastle.edu.au.
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