As part of World Mental Health Day we hooked up with the brilliant Dawn Thomson to get her insight into what mental health challenges she is witnessing in her private clinic. Click on the video now or read the transcript below.
Sara: Welcome every body and as many of you know today is world mental health day and here I am joined by the fabulous Dawn Thompson and Dawn is the relationship expert. I think that’s fair to say you have helped hundreds, thousands of people change their relationships in a really positive way even if that relationship is with themselves.
Dawn: Absolutely. I mean at the, the bottom of it, most problems that people face are really about the relationship they have with themselves and then the way they manifest that, express that and their relationships with other people, whether it’s with their partners, whether it’s with work colleagues or friends.
Sara: Yeah, absolutely. And Dawn kindly joined us because Dawn is one of our key contributors at the mind solution to just talk a little bit about mental health and to give you some really practical advice should you need it. So Dawn, you are a full time therapist here in Edinburgh and I’m just wondering perhaps what themes that you’ve seen coming through in your clients about mental health?
Dawn: I think the main thing at the minute Sara is anxiety and the feeling of powerlessness that people are facing. Because we have quite tumultuous times, extinction rebellion is all over the news. Donald Trump is all over the news. I think a lot of people are quite anxious in general and in terms of their own lives, where they fit in and what life means is becoming a real thing that I’m seeing at the moment. And what their place is and what they can do and who they even are. Because a lot of people don’t feel that they fit the construct that society has set out for them.
Sara: And it’s interesting isn’t it, that actually sometimes the more choice that we have, we’ve got more choice than perhaps ever, particularly in the 21st century, that that’s brought its own barrage of problems, that are impacting our mental health.
Dawn: And with social media being so prevalent, you know, we’re seeing so many people’s experiences. We don’t know how authentic these experiences are for them, but we’re constantly barraged with the so-called perfect life, the so-called perfect diet, the way to be in X, the way to be in Z and actually if you’re not quite sure of yourself, you can really be swept away by all of these particular things feeding on you and it can make for you the source of anxiety and the source of feeling that you’re not good enough or living the best life is actually big at the moment.
Sara: I think you make a really, really interesting point, because you’re absolutely right. There’s all of this barrage out of noise and information that we might not realize that we’re absorbing consciously. But unconsciously with are, we are like sponges. And if we’re not taking the time to, if we’re not conscious of this to just be present. So it’s like, so a lot of soul searching is going on at the moment.
Dawn: Yeah. Lots of people coming through the doors feeling that they don’t know who they are anymore or who they were meant to be. So you know, everything has happened at such a rapid rate in terms of, you know, social media is only really been around for like 20 years and a big way. And you know, the, the roles that people expected for themselves or were told they shouldn’t have it when they’re young aren’t the same anymore, and no one really knows what’s happening in the future. And I think this is why anxiety cause its future paced as you know. And it’s all about looking to the future. I think this is why people are feeling more and more anxious because there’s no set guide or path anymore for people to either accept or kick against even.
Sara: Absolutely. And you know, we switch on the television or we pick up a newspaper. We’re not really being painted a picture of a happy future, instead its all death and destruction and Trump and Borris and Brexit and a lot of it is feeding into those fears.
Dawn: And not only that you know, the world’s going to hell in a handcart. We are also powerless to do anything about it because we look at the governments and they all seem to be in meltdown and you know, although you could rise above that and go, well actually this is an opportunity for us all, if you haven’t consciously made that and actually if you’re not inhabiting that space of ‘well actually who can I believe in to take beyond this’ it can be a real place of stuck where you’re too scared to do anything because you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future and you are, you don’t really know what happened in the past. It’s just, it’s a really, really sticky and hard place for a lot of people at the moment.
Sara: I love what you’re saying about that. How we see, or how we perceive ‘the perfect life’. So that projection on Facebook or LinkedIn of what does success look like, what does the perfect relationship look like? You know, covers on magazines of what we should look like and okay, that shifting a little bit. But again, if you still got a lot of that, if you’re not congruent with who you are and it’s just going to feed that impact on your mental health because we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves about that. We work with a lot of people that are maybe very professional and senior in their roles and they’ve got this perception of who they think they should be. So when anxiety comes knocking on the door or stress or depression or anything on the mental health spectrum that any one of us can be subject to, we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves that ‘I shouldn’t be feeling like this, I should be better than that’.
Dawn: Absolutely. So a lot of people that come to see me are high achievers. And the thing about being a high achiever is that actually what you’ve done is you’ve achieved set points or goals that someone else has set for you. So you are achieving based on, you know, you’ve gone to college, you’ve got exams, I’ve been set by someone else. You’ve got this degree that’s been set by somebody, you’ve gotten a masters, you’ve been picked the job that looks like it fits with someone who’s high achieving. And you might get to this point.
But this, these are all external ways of creating success just as it is with your body weight or your, you know, whether you’ve got short hair, long hair, whether you’re white, black, whatever it is, all these external constructs of success. And so when high achievers feel that they’re not happy, they don’t understand why because they’ve been brought up to believe that you follow this path and that’s what gets you success. So you can be happy for the better. But happiness as we know is quite fleeting, whereas we want more joy. And joy will only come from an authentic place of knowing who you are and what you stand for as opposed to following. And you know, we can say it’s blindly following, but this is what people were brought up to do. And they thought they were doing the right thing for themselves because their parents told them, their teachers told them, you know, but then what happens when they reach that point and it’s not feeding their soul?
Sara: And it’s interesting actually, I’ve had a lot of conversations with people in the workplace recently who actually say I’ve got to a level that they’re high achievers. They’ve got, you know, said job title. They might be earning a very good salary, you know, living on the outside a good life, you know, whether they’re married, whether they’re not married, but there’s this internal vacuum and they’re questioning why, why am I not happy? I should be happy!
Dawn: That word, should! We should strike it from the vocabulary because it speaks so much of something that other people expect of you and not of what you might want to yourself. So that’s something that my clients always come in and say to me, I should be happy. I’ve got a big house, I’ve got, you know, a husband that loves me. I’ve got that, that I’ve got the tick box, tick box, tick box. And yet….
Sara: And actually this external search for happiness, putting all of this vested interests in, you know, when I have the baby, the child’s, this sort of almost kind of American dream, 2.4 children. And they reach that point and it’s like, okay, um, maybe that wasn’t it. Maybe I need to reach this. And again that, that internal happiness and we hear so many people that say what they think that happiness is and think it’s the big events in life. And actually we know that it’s a lot of things that perhaps just appreciating that the tiny moments, somebody bringing you out an almond croissant!!
Dawn: And the thing about that, the whole sense of should and reaching these milestones. It’s like, you know, that was set for you. You set them. And the question is, you know, if you didn’t set them yourselves, how do you know that you truly want them? And particularly when you’re set up to just go for the goal, go for goal, go for goal. Then actually there’s always going to be another goal. So you’re never gonna rest. And that’s where the difference between feeling true joy, because it’s a, it’s like a river and it’s always there and you can move through your life joyfully. But if you’re looking for the next goal and the next goal, it sets up anxiety as well because it’s looking to the future. So it’s the next, the next, the next as opposed to just coming back, being present, loving the taste of the almond croissant!
Sara: And as the relationship expert, you know when people are in relationships, whether that’s with a partner or even a family member or you know, a spouse, if somebody, if one of the two is struggling with anxiety, depression, they can become very shut down. And we know men particularly aren’t taught to vocalise their emotions or be able to express their emotions. And so they can become, yeah, quite shut down and the other person can feel a of responsibility. They feel like they have to fix the person and and that can create a lot of angst in them cant it?
Dawn: Absolutely. I think the thing that, and this is another kind of myth that we’re sold about relationships, is that you have married this person or you are with this partner because you are the one person that can make them happy and you can bring them out of anything. And you know that actually is so far from the truth and it does create a lot of angst in relationships. It’s, you know, if I only changed this for him, he’d be happier. Or if he only changed this then I’d be happier. And it creates a kind of codependency, which isn’t healthy at all. You know, you’re both two separate beings. Two separate souls have come together to walk through life together, but you’re still separate. And so it’s really important. Almost the most loving thing you can do for your partner is just hold space for them and allow them to do their work in their own way. So almost just saying, I see you going through something, I’ll be here for you when you’re ready. Presupposes as you’re giving them space to think about what you said, to give them the chance to work with themselves because only they can really do that and you’re offering that loving trust and space to allow them to do that. You can’t make them happy. Only they can make themselves happy.
Sara: Yeah, really good point. And we know that analogy of the journey of a thousand steps starts with the first step and perhaps the first step is actually recognising within yourself that you’re not in a good place, that this is not magically going to disappear. You know, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings is not going to appear with the white stick and say ‘you shall not pass!’ – I’ve got bit of an obsession with Lord of the Rings at the moment!
So it’s not going to go away. And recognising that actually something needs to be done, something proactive needs to happen can be where a few people falter because maybe they’ve got a preconception of what therapy is and think that they have to go through this very long drawn out process, talking about all of the things that are going wrong in their life, and I know that you do not work like I do. I don’t work like that.
So what words of encouragement could you give somebody to reassure them about actually what therapy can be like and the benefits of taking that next step?
Dawn: Well, you know therapy is such a loaded word. And you know in America everyones in therapy, and you know in Britain no one really wants to admit that they are in therapy at all. And it’s got a sense of stigma about it and a sense of failure. And you and I both work from the standpoint that there is no failure, only feedback. So there’s only feedback if you’re not feeling great, that’s your body, your mind, and your soul telling you something’s not right. And that’s all it is. It doesn’t mean you failed in any way. It doesn’t mean that anyone’s failed you. It doesn’t mean you failed in life. It just means you need to give pause to work out what, how things can be better for you.
So you know, the therapy that I offer and that I know you offer is more about not what happened before, and we don’t talk about “tell me about your mother!”, unless it’s really important, it doesn’t work like that. It’s more about how you want to feel now going forward and going forward and helping them remove those blocks to the life they want, without feeling embarrassed about it, and without feeling shame and worry about what others think. You know, this is a very individual journey and only you or I can make our own journey. Same for our clients. And we just guide them and walk them beside them as they do their work and helping them to, to, to reframe or to change or to release anything that’s holding them back. So it can be a very creative process, can be a very fun process, there’s as much laughing , there’s a fair bit of swearing! And that as a general sense of creating something different for yourself, a world and a life that you want for yourself.
Sara: Absolutely. And it’s wonderful, isn’t it? When we help somebody to realize that things can be different because sometimes they’ve got into the mindset that this is my lot. And I have to just deal with that. We know that the brain is made a pure neuroplasticity and it can be moulded and shaped or we can rewire that thinking to the way that creates the reality that we choose. Rather than one that we think we have to be stuck in.
Dawn: And it’s important for them to know that in terms of your perception, you know, we’re bombarded with millions of information from the world every second. We can only take in between five or nine of those things.
So essentially, you know when you went like that, you’re right, you’re filter the perception is set up to see five to nine things, but there’s so much more out there and using the therapies and modalities that you and I use and other therapists use, then actually the choice or your, your sensory perception becomes so much broader. And when you know what you want, what you stand for, then actually you’re not bombarded with the choice. You see much more. But yet your path was much clearer because you’re much more aligned to what you need and what you want in your life.
Sara: And we love talking about this in the workplace because through the webinars that Dawn is a regular contributor to, we can invite into somebodies workday, that new angle of thinking, that new perspective. So if what’s resonated with you today has struck a chord, then find Dawn’s details at the bottom of this video. If you’re an organization that’s curious about how we can support you going forward to create healthy, happy workforce that has the resources, the practical resources, and the knowledge to thrive and move forward, then drop on over to the mind solution.com and we look forward to hearing from you soon.