Tag: Mental health

How normal is it to be normal!

But first off this is not going to be a normal couple of weeks!

My daughter, Maija, son-in-law, Marius, and grandson, Morten, aged two, are staying with us over the next couple of weeks, arriving tomorrow.

So being able to offer a daily fresh post on Learning from Dogs will be a challenge.  As indeed, it should be: Family should always be the top priority.

However, rather than leaving you with blank pages, I shall be regurgitating some earlier posts, starting tomorrow.  In wandering through rather a large number of posts (1,775 as of today!), I was reminded that at the start one of my fellow authors was Jon Lavin.  He wrote a number of posts before deciding that his ‘day job’ was too demanding of him and something had to go.  It wasn’t just writing for Learning from Dogs that Jon had to let go, even his own website, The People Workshop, is a tad out-of-date!

But even so, there’s an article on Jon’s website that I wanted to share with you and, with Jon’s permission, here it is.



10 AUGUST 2011 BY 


Normal – it’s not a particularly challenging word; or is it?

The fact is that for most people their ‘normal’ business day is far from being effective.

What I do, indeed my passion, is to work with people and allow them to see the huge benefits that come from bringing ‘mindfulness’ into their everyday working environments. What do we mean by mindfulness?

Generally, anything that brings us into a state of mind where we are making decisions, interacting with people, communicating in the here and now, not away somewhere where we are controlled by what happened in the past and our fears of what might happen in the future.

Bringing change into business requires many qualities and if ever there was a time for displaying the qualities of integrity and compassion, it is now.

I believe we are on the cusp of an enormous change that will affect us all – it already is, we’re just hoping that it will go away and we’ll be able to carry on as before after this unpleasant recession is over. It’s more likely we are living through a core change in society.

I’ve realised that I can no longer rely on ‘out there’ for support, instead, it has to come from within.

By knowing myself and having a different relationship with myself, I encourage a balance in my life and recognise what ‘resources’ I need. Being out in the fresh air, in the woods and fields ‘resources’ me.

So when I work with my troubled clients who may be reeling from the latest batch of redundancies, I am able to be in a state of calm rather than the anxiety which is such a familiar friend.

Have you ever noticed how people are attracted to calm people when insecurity and uncertainty are around? From calmness and balance, options in the here and now present themselves to us. We are aware that we are connected together and working together in an atmosphere of integrity and trust to do the best for all.

My clients use me when they are dealing with circumstances that demand the very best from their employees, and when those employees demand the very best from my client company.

I would be interested to hear your comments!


Do please offer your thoughts to Jon’s essay; I will pass them back to him without delay.

What Jon underlines is the power of relaxation, of taking time off at regular intervals during the day, the dangers of overload; as I recently highlighted in this recent post.

Thus proving, once again, that old adage – less is more!

Another view from the ‘top’!

A perfect companion to yesterday’s post.

I published a wonderfully funny piece yesterday sent to me by Lindy C. from Devon.  Today, another precious senior’s tale sent to me by Richard Maugham, he of the Understanding Europe post.


An elderly man is stopped by the police around 2 a.m. and is asked where he is going at this time of night.

He replies, “I’m on my way to a lecture about alcohol abuse and the effects it has on the human body, as well as smoking and staying out late.

The police officer asks, “Really? Who’s giving that lecture at this time of night?

He said, “My wife.


Have a great Sunday wherever you are!

The way forward?

A big vote of thanks to Paul for plugging away for so long without any contribution from me.  Unlike Paul who is retired, well retired in the sense of a paying job, I have a family, a dog (Jess) and the usual set of household overheads to cover, so the week is very much a working week for me.  Ergo, I shall never be able to contribute to Learning from Dogs in the same manner as Paul but a regular contribution is assured. To get things rolling again, I want to re-publish an article that I wrote on my business blog the other day.

Removing the fear of the unknown

Seeing the light

I’ve been working with most of my clients recently through painful transformations brought about by the economic downturn.

An interesting metaphor really because since the first wave of uncertainty triggered panic, first noticed in the UK banking system, I have been picking up on that uncertainty that feels like it’s stalking the globe and has been for some time. Recent stock market crashes have simply exacerbated this and that, coupled with the riots taking place in major cities in the UK, make for pretty disturbing reading.

Interestingly, I, too, have been aware of an underlying fear that was difficult either to name or source.

It has been rather like a deep river in that whilst the surface feels slow-moving, currents are moving things powerfully below.

So this ‘fear’ has caused a few household changes.

1) We now are the proud owners of 12 chickens. Our youngest son and I have dug up the back lawn and planted vegetables and built a poly tunnel.

2) We have also installed a wood burning cooker. Right back down to the base of Maslow’s triangle really!

Maslow's triangle of needs

These feelings have brought about such change everywhere and I wonder seriously whether we will ever return to what was; indeed would we want to?

I might not have mentioned it in previous blogs but as well as an engineering background, in latter years, I have focused on how success in business is linked directly to aspects of relationships and how we are in our relationships with others, so things like integrity, self-awareness and the ability to see the point of view of others, and modify our approach appropriately.

To inform this, some 7 years ago, I embarked on an MA in Core Process Psychotherapy, primarily to work on myself so that I could be the best I could be in my relationships, in and out of work.

The point I’m trying to make is that the same panic I notice in many of the companies I work in, and in me, is based on fear of the unknown and on a lack of trust in all its forms.  I’ve deliberately underlined that last phrase because it is so incredibly important.

The truth is that we get more of what we focus on.

So we can choose to focus on the constant news of more difficulties, hardship and redundancies, or we can focus on what is working.

In the workplace this positive focus has been pulling people together across functions and sites and pooling resources and ideas.

When we realise we’re not doing this alone it’s amazing how much lighter a load can feel and how much more inspired we all feel.

I also notice how humour begins to flow and what a powerful antidote for doom and gloom that is.

Transformation is never easy but the rewards far exceed the effort put in ten fold.

So what is it going to be? Are we all going to bow down to the god of Doom & Gloom, fear and anxiety, heaping more and more gifts around it, or are we going to start noticing and focusing on the other neglected god – that of relationship, joy, trust, abundance and lightness?

Whatever the future holds for us all a belief in our inherent ability to adapt and change and focus on the greater good rather than fear, anxiety, greed and selfishness is the only sustainable way forward.

By Jon Lavin

From ants to cities

More on the work of E. O. Wilson

Yesterday, I introduced a 50-minute film concerning the famous biologist E O Wilson, Lord of the Ants which, as well as being a wonderful tribute to Prof. Wilson, also allowed us humans to have a better understanding of our deeper human issues.

Coincidentally, around the same time of watching that film, I saw an article on the Grist website that referred to some research published in Nature magazine.  This what I read, first from Grist, reprinted with the kind permission of Libby S., Senior Marketing Manager of Grist.

Scientists have been doing studies for years that show you are more likely to suffer from mental illness if you live in a city. What they haven’t figured out is why.

Now, researchers in Germany have conducted experiments that they believe might begin to get at the neuroscience behind the crazy-making nature of urban areas.

Publishing in the journal Nature, a group led by Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg of the University of Heidelberg’s Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany, looked at how social stress affected the minds of subjects, some city-dwellers and some not.

If we then turn to that article in Nature (to get access you will need to arrange prior free sign-up) we get to read this,

City living marks the brain

Neuroscientists study social risk factor for mental illness.

Alison Abbott

Epidemiologists showed decades ago that people raised in cities are more prone to mental disorders than those raised in the countryside. But neuroscientists have avoided studying the connection, preferring to leave the disorderly realm of the social environment to social scientists. A paper in this issue of Naturerepresents a pioneering foray across that divide.

Using functional brain imaging, a group led by Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg of the University of Heidelberg’s Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany, showed that specific brain structures in people from the city and the countryside respond differently to social stress (see pages 452 and 498). Stress is a major factor in precipitating psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.

The work is a first step towards defining how urban life can affect brain biology in a way that has a potentially major impact on society — schizophrenia affects one in 100 people. It may also open the way for greater cooperation between neuroscientists and social scientists. “There has been a long history of mutual antipathy, particularly in psychiatry,” says sociologist Craig Morgan at the Institute of Psychiatry in London. “But this is the sort of study that can prove to both sides that they can gain from each others’ insights.”

I feel uncomfortable about reproducing more of this fascinating study without some formal permission to do so, therefore, if you want to read the full article then do sign up for access at the Nature website.

Back to the article from Grist written by Sarah Goodyear, Grist’s cities editor,

I called Dr. Meyer-Lindenberg to ask him more about the implications of his experiment, and what he thought might be the cause of heightened sensitivity to social stress among urban dwellers.

“On the neural level, we find two things,” he told me. “A, the neural effects are completely dissociated, so current urban living only affects the amygdala, urban upbringing only affects the cingulate. And B, these areas are associated with these illnesses. The amygdala is sort of a danger center, and it’s critically important for fear. And it is clear that the amygdala is a major player in depression. The cingulate is a prefrontal area regulating negative emotion, and it’s known to be one of the earliest areas affected by schizophrenia.”

So what accounts for the hyperactivity of the amygdala-cingulate circuit in urban dwellers? “That exact circuit that we found hyperactive has also shown to be activated when someone comes too close to you and crowds your personal space,” Meyer-Lindenberg told me.

But he cautioned against inferring that mere density of population is at fault. “It’s still speculation,” he said. “There could be myriad components of the urban experience that might or might not be bad for you from the point of your risk for mental illness. No one really knows. People are annoyed by noise or by traffic, or it could also be lead, or air pollution, but there’s no evidence base to say this is an important factor, this is not an important factor. Therefore there’s no basis for urban planning that’s grounded in human biology, at least with regard to mental illness.”

Later in the Grist article, Dr. Meyer-Lindenberg told Sarah Goodyear,

“Social status is closely linked to socioeconomic variables. What we found in our imaging studies is that if your social status becomes labile, and especially if you are in danger of losing it, a very similar brain circuit becomes active. There is a convergence of socially relevant risk factors on that circuit.”

Different types of urban environments might also affect people in different ways. “It’s very different if you live in Manhattan and you sort of live in a series of overlapping villages, if you will, or if you live in a city like Sao Paolo, in which no such microstructure is immediately available to you, or if you live in a large spread-out area,” said Meyer-Lindberg.

The social connections that are fostered in more walkable neighborhoods could help city dwellers from losing it. “A previous study found that that the size of your social support network is actually correlated to the size of the exact brain circuit we found in this study,” Meyer-Lindenberg said. “So that’s a protective factor. The more friends you have, the bigger those brain structures are.”

Already, more than half the human population lives in cities. That proportion will only increase. New cities are springing up all over the developing world, some built to order, some completely unplanned. The form they take could be crucial.

More knowledge about what exactly drives people could lead to concrete solutions that would make for better mental health — the same way the discovery of how disease was spread by waterborne germs finally ended the scourge of cholera in London.

“I think it would be important to make cities better, given that we can’t escape cities, given the dynamics of urbanization,” said Meyer-Lindenberg. “That’s a reality that we’re not going to get rid of.”

Fascinating article made doubly interesting by E O Wilson’s lifetime study of ants!


Is happiness elusive?

Well the first thing that raised a smile was me putting in the word ‘happiness’ into a Google search and noticing the response – About 50,000,000 results (0.15 seconds)!

50 million results – wow.

Let me tell you that I don’t propose to cast myself as anything other than an ordinary Joe.  The simple motivation behind this Post is that if a single person reading these words gets some insight into seeing their own lives in a richer way, then it’s worth while.

Let’s come at the subject from the perspective of good mental health.  What’s that then?

Here’s an extract from MIND – the leading mental health charity in the UK.

From which comes this:

What do we mean by good mental health?

Good mental health isn’t something you have, but something you do. To be mentally healthy you must value and accept yourself. This means that:

  • You care about yourself and you care for yourself. You love yourself, not hate yourself. You look after your physical health – eat well, sleep well, exercise and enjoy yourself.
  • You see yourself as being a valuable person in your own right. You don’t have to earn the right to exist. You exist, so you have the right to exist.
  • You judge yourself on reasonable standards. You don’t set yourself impossible goals, such as ‘I have to be perfect in everything I do’, and then punish yourself when you don’t reach those goals.

If you don’t value and accept yourself, you are always frightened that other people will reject you. To prevent people seeing how unacceptable you are, you keep them at a distance, and so you are always frightened and lonely. If you value yourself, you don’t expect people to reject you. You aren’t frightened of other people. You can be open, and so you enjoy good relationships.

If you value and accept yourself, you are able to relax and enjoy yourself, without feeling guilty. When you face a crisis, you know that, no matter how difficult the situation is, you will manage. How we see ourselves is central to every decision we make. People who value and accept themselves cope with life.

The BBC, often so good at important public service issues, ran a series of programmes in 2008 under the banner of The Happiness Formula.  Included in that web link is a simple test to measure one’s own happiness.

Psychologists say it is possible to measure your happiness.

This test designed by psychologist Professor Ed Diener from the University of Illinois, takes just a minute to complete.

NB: I just tried this test myself and wasn’t sure if the analysis part of the test was working – try it yourself.  But the information offered is still well worth reading.

There’s more background on Prof.  Diener here.  And a short video below.

Perhaps more valuable is another excellent TEDtalks video Habits of Happiness.

Enjoy and smile!

By Paul Handover