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Carers Week 12-18th June

Carers Week is an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring, highlight the challenges carers face and recognise the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK.

You are a carer if you provide unpaid help and support to a family member, friend or neighbour who would otherwise not be able to manage. The person you care for may have a physical or learning disability, dementia, mental health problems, may misuse drugs or alcohol or, most commonly, is ill or frail. The person may live with you or elsewhere, may be an adult or a child but if they rely on you for support, then you are a carer.

All of us can can become a carer; frequently people do not realise they are a “carer”– for some this role slowly enters their life and therefore many carers go unidentified until several years into their caring role. Indeed 3 out of 5 of us will become carers at some time in our lives.

The Letchworth Centre has always recognised that taking on a caring role can mean facing a life of isolation, frustration, ill health and for many, depression. We understand that many carers struggle alone and deserve help and support to maintain their own wellbeing as well as that of the person they are caring for.  We value the tremendous work undertaken by carers and know how our health and social care systems depends on the army of carers delivering care day-in-and-day-out.

Complementary therapies and group-based approaches have much to offer carers – in helping reduce stress, promoting relaxation and in restoring depleted energy. For many years now we have provided interventions and initiatives to support carers. The most successful of these is a carers yoga drop-in session taught by Lisa Challice (Saibhung Kaur) recently we asked participants to tell us how these sessions and our work supports them. They said….

“Coming has helped with posture and breathing.  You go away feeling better”

“I was a carer for my wife, she went to the singing group here when I came to this class. She wasn’t always very keen but the staff here really helped and would sit and talk to her when she was unsettled.  Coming here helped me then and when my wife died.  Coming here gives me stress relief and its nice to have a break.  I like meeting people and doing exercise”

“I have been coming to the centre for many years.  When my husband got diagnosed with dementia I started the yoga for carers class and my husband went to a singing group also run at the centre.  That was really good having a group for him as well so I didn’t have to worry about getting help in at home.  This class has been a life-line for me and has helped me through when my husband died.  The teacher is very supportive but not through overt sympathy, through underlying acceptance, care and support.  Coming here when I was caring for my husband this class was my only let-up.  You come and the worry lifts and its pure joy.”                                       The yoga drop-in session is on a Friday from 2-3pm at the Letchworth Centre. £5 per class.

The award-winning Carers in Hertfordshire works with and for carers, providing information, problem solving, advice and support. It enables carers to participate in service planning and decision making and provides a platform for the voice of carers to be heard. It’s groundbreaking Carers Passport Discount Card is a fantastic resource for carers as it provides valued financial support through savings, services and business offers  – it also helps carers feel recognised and valued, giving a real sense of identify with the photo identity card. To find our more about the Passport and the work of Carers in Hertfordshire visit, call 01992 586969/ 586959 or email [email protected]

Crossroads Care Hertfordshire North is a superb local organisation that works with over 1200 carers in the county, providing essential breaks, support and advice. Visit or call 01462 455578 for further details.

Dealing with Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety can manifest themselves in many ways, our head of counselling, Gillian Marchant explores different options and strategies that may help you cope.

According to a BUPA survey, more than a third of the population find work their biggest stress. Another recent poll of UK workers found that 84% have trouble sleeping on Sundays because they are worrying about the working week ahead. An internet search revealed that there are 1227 books on worry, 24 DVDs and 3,700,000 CDs!

Almost everybody worries and it can be a useful response to life, preventing us from being reckless and stimulating us to take control of a difficult situation. However some people worry a lot more than others, and sometimes to the point where worry becomes a problem in itself. Worrying does not change things and can build up anxiety, leading to stress.

According to the National Stress Awareness Day (NSAD) website: “Worrying undermines our natural ability to cope and most people admit it is completely ineffective. This both reduces energy and undermines self confidence. The NSAD ‘Don’t Worry…..Take Action!’ campaign is designed to focus on this ineffective behaviour and change it to a positive outcome.”

Worry is a learned behaviour and many people spend a lot of time thinking about negative possibilities, mulling them over and developing exaggerated situations and options. Starting thoughts and sentences with “what if”, “maybe” are all part and parcel of the worrier.There are different types of worry;

  • FUTURE – frequently focusing on fears for the future…… things that very probably won’t happen,
  • PRESENT – concerns and worries about situations you feel powerless to change
  • PAST – concern about something that has already happened when there is often little you can do to alter it.

Stress can stimulate the Fight or Flight response which is the body’s response to real or imagined danger and whilst effective in the short term, ‘Fight or Flight’ becomes damaging in the medium to long term. The result can be:

  • disturbed sleep and eating patterns
  • feeling of inability to cope
  • loss of confidence
  • difficulty in concentrating and making decisions
  • headaches
  • stomach upsets, feeling sick, butterflies
  • emotional distress
  • depleted immune system
  • irritability
  • feeling de-energised

Actions you can take to combat these responses could include:

  • Positive thinking – ban the “worry” word and use “concern”, “issue”, “problem”, “dilemma”, or “challenge” instead.
  • Talk to friends – they may be able to suggest a possible course of action or solution. Worry is often a habit, doing a ‘reality check’ with others can help you to change your thinking from negative to positive.
  • Write it down! – Worrying often happens when you are trying to go to sleep. Keep a notepad by the bed, write it down and tell yourself you will deal with it in the morning. You can use this technique in the day too, deferring all your worries, for example for 30 minutes, to a designated later time is really helpful rather than being unproductive all day.
  • Relaxation – this is another excellent way to cultivate the habit of postponing stress. You can experiment with different techniques to discover which one helps you relax most, for example t’ai chi or meditation.
  • Physical activity – exercise is excellent as it changes the focus from the mind to the body, relieves tension and uses up the excess adrenalin. You don’t have to go for a long run or the gym, a good steady walk can be just as effective. Regular exercise is known to improve mood and will increase your sense of well-being. It’s good for the heart too as well as the head!
  • Improve your diet – it’s a good idea to cut down on caffeine in coffee, tea and cola drinks as it is a stimulant that heightens the effects of tension and stress. This is especially relevant in the evening for those who are prone to worrying at night.
  • Complementary therapies – consult a qualified practitioner who can look at you as a whole person. There are many options that can help including yoga, massage, acupuncture, reflexology and aromatherapy.
  • Psychotherapy/Counselling – talking things through with a counsellor in confidence about your issues can help to relieve the levels of anxiety and stress.

Counselling can give you the opportunity to talk through issues with someone who is detached from the situation and will be able to hear you without prejudice or judgement. The counsellor will not advise you on what you should do but will help you to find your own solutions, empowering you to make changes that suit you best. You may find that your levels of self awareness are increased and you become aware of triggers to stress and anxiety, possibly connecting these triggers to past experiences. By exploring these triggers, it is possible to ‘de-power’ them so that they do not have such an impact on your wellbeing, reducing your levels of stress and anxiety and allowing you to begin to enjoy life again.

Coping with Exam Stress for Young People

Gillian Marchant is an Accredited member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy and manages the counselling service at the Letchworth Centre. in this blog she discusses her thoughts on dealing with exam stress for young people and the ways they can manage their symptoms.

The sun is shining and it’s getting warmer. It must be exam season! This can be a stressful time of year with the thought of having to sit in a big hall in silence, trying to remember all that stuff and worrying about getting the grades you need. Not everyone will feel stressed, but for those who do the stress can be so overwhelming that it is hard to cope with.

Stress and anxiety can be caused by a number of things: lack of confidence, fear of letting yourself or others down, high expectations of yourself, from your school and even from your parents. It is understandable that these things will start to cause stress during the exam period and it is likely to feel worse the first time you sit exams. This is because you are not used to the experience and you don’t know what to expect.

Stress can, however, work to your advantage if you keep it safely controlled at the right levels. This is because it may help you to work at your optimum performance level, keeping you focused and attentive.

But, there’s no harm in reducing stress levels as much as possible! In advance, it is helpful to get organized to making sure you’ve all the tools you will need e.g. pens, pencils, eraser, highlighters, ruler and calculator. You may want to check with your teachers about any specialist equipment that may be needed. Also, make sure that you know exactly what exams you are sitting; nothing is more unnerving than preparing for the wrong exam. Always have a spare copy of your exam schedule on your desk or computer.

To help you feel like you’ve all the knowledge you’ll need, revision is a must. There is no hard and fast rule about how to revise or when but it is a good idea to make a revision timetable which suits you and where you can keep a record of how many hours you’ve spent on each subject. This way, you can ensure you are covering every subject and any topics you feel less confident with you could spend a little more time on. Generally speaking, little and often is better for absorbing information than spending great lengths of time revising, or cramming the day before the exam. Get to know which time of day you work best in, whether you concentrate best on your own or in a supportive group, in quiet or with music on, at home, school, a friend’s house or the library. Going through past exams can be helpful or revision vlogs on the internet. Be creative and keep it dynamic.

On the day of the exam keep calm and clear headed. There are many ways to calm ourselves, for example breathing! Yes, we do this without thinking about it but when we’re feeling anxious and stressed our breathing tends to become more shallow and faster and the muscles in our chest contract, adding to the tension. Becoming mindful of your breath and consciously relaxing your muscles around our upper body, neck, arms and stomach helps to reduce the tension. Concentrating on taking slow, deep breaths takes your mind off worrying about the exam you’re about to sit, counting up to at least 10 breaths. Once you’re in the exam hall, make sure you read all of the questions carefully. Reading questions in a hurry means you can miss vital information and this is one of the biggest mistakes that people make. Do your best: that’s all anyone can do.

Once the exam day is done try relaxing for a while before thinking about the next one. There are many ways in which to relax and some will sound more appealing than others, for example:

  • Sit down, close your eyes and just breathe slowly and deeply, relaxing any muscles which feel tense.
  • Go for a walk in the countryside.
  • Go for a work out at the gym or play sports
  • Lose yourself gaming
  • Socialize with your friends, but try to avoid talking about the exam you have just taken!
  • Spend time with family.
  • Watch a film
  • Listen to or play music

In reality the list is endless; the key is doing something you enjoy which helps distract you and allows you to relax physically as well as mentally.

There are a few tips that help to deal with stress and anxiety in general, not just at exam time. Making sure you get enough, good quality sleep each night, drinking plenty of water every day and eating healthily all help to feel well. When we feel well, stress is easier to cope with and we can then feel more confident.

If the stress and anxiety starts to feel overwhelming it may be helpful to talk things through with someone. This could be a family member, friend, teacher or a professional such as a counsellor. Counsellors who are trained in working with young people are familiar with the pressures at exam time. It may be that the stress or anxiety is not just about taking exams but that this is adding extra pressure to how you have already been feeling. By bottling up any feeling that you have, you may make things more difficult to cope with as pressure mounts up. It is completely understandable that people under stress do not feel able to talk about their problems. There is always the fear of being completely overwhelmed or of sounding stupid. Talking to a therapist or counsellor in the environment where everything that is said and done is kept in strict confidence can help you to contain and get over those feelings. It can also help you to understand why you feel that way, and how you are able to solve any issues that you are facing.

Roberta Meldrum on Mental Wellbeing

Welcome to our new blog, our first posting is from our director, Roberta Meldrum. Thirty three years ago she founded The Centre and today it has grown to become the largest complementary health centre within the East of England and quite possibly the UK. Mental wellbeing underpins much of The Centre’s ethos. Here she discusses her own personal thoughts about what being mentally healthy means to her:

I’ve never much liked the term ‘mental health’…  It seems so clinical, so reflective of an artificial division between the mind and the body.  The mind thinks – but what part of us feels?  And isn’t this the part – our emotions – that gets confused and tied in knots?  And what about the soul or spirit? Where does that fit in to the picture?

To me, the essence of being ‘mentally healthy’ is about feeling good about ourselves, about our lives, about others – it’s about being able to enjoy being alive. My take is that we need to go further than simply focussing on ‘mental health’.  We must not forget that ‘feeling good’ has many aspects, all of which are interconnected and which affect our mind…  Our work, our relationships, our sense of fulfilment, our connection with nature – all play a role in determining how we feel from moment to moment.  We are not simply ‘heads’ that talk to each other – although clearly Prince Harry’s recent extraordinary interview gave us a wonderful insight into the dangers of bottling up feelings and the importance of talking about them– whether to a professional or a friend.

These days most health professionals recognise the intimate connection between our bodies and our emotions:  what we eat (because some foods are really ‘downers’), the exercise we take (or don’t take), etc.  There’s a lot of talk about traditional English ways of keeping active – such as walking, cycling, gardening, sport, dance …  But there are also extremely effective approaches which in themselves constitute age-old complete systems of health like Yoga and T’ai Chi and which conventional advice often ignores.  Many of you will know the subtle but nevertheless very palpable effect that these activities can have on our sense of wellbeing – on our inner calm and sense of inner peace.

Whatever our physical condition, our pains and physical issues, we can benefit too from the objectivity that Mindfulness and Meditation can bring.  Both involve ‘being with’ our problems and pain. Both are the opposite of running away from them.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that there is lots we can do ourselves to regain balance in our lives and lift our hearts.  And if we need it, we seek help, too.  But it’s our life – and the responsibility is clearly ours.

Roberta Meldrum

Mental Wellbeing Month

In May we are recognising Mental Health Awareness week and taking a look at the ways in which we can help you with your mental wellbeing. As part of this we are presenting a series of free talks featuring practitioners from The Centre.

Tuesday, 16 May: 13.00-14.00 Relaxation and Breathing for Mental Wellbeing, including practical techniques on breathing and Yoga to help in everyday life.  Teacher of Alexander Technique, Judy Hammond & Yoga & Meditation teacher, Dr Neelam Taneja

Tuesday, 23 May: 13.00-14.00 Strategies to Help with your Mental Wellbeing. Neuropsychologist, Dr Priyanka Pradhan; T’ai Chi teacher, Richard Lang; Teacher of Alexander Technique, Judy Hammond and Counsellor, Andy Zeller.