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Joann Lukins - Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Parents who win at sport

Joann Lukins - Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Helpful hints for after school activities

Joann Lukins - Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Helpful hints for back to school

Joann Lukins - Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Emotional intelligence - the cost of getting it wrong.

Joann Lukins - Wednesday, October 08, 2014
I stood in the line at the grocery store register with afternoon tea for the children and two bunches of flowers in my arms. The fellow in front of me had placed his cans of tuna and bread in front of me as we waited for the person in front to be served. He struck up a conversation about the flowers I was buying asking who they were for and why I was giving them. In the midst of this conversation we hadn't noticed that the person in front was finished and our groceries had merged together on the conveyor belt. 5691243597_ebca2371f3_z"These all yours?" snapped the checkout operator, pointing to everything on the conveyor belt to my new found friend. "No" he answered. She pointed to the dividers adjacent to the belt, "Well what do you think those are for then?" she continued in a less than friendly tone. By this stage the discussion had gained the attention of the others in the line. "It's not that hard" she continued, "All you have to do is put them down between your groceries". The interchange between the two of them continued with both getting more hostile, finishing with an argument over whether or not he had the store loyalty card. By the time they had finished he had stormed off and she was clearly furious. As a psychologist I know as well as anyone that we can never pre-suppose how someone is feeling. A multitude of circumstances and reasons may have led to that staff member feeling and acting the way she did. 

However, with all that aside when we are at work, no matter what our role, we are engaged in a 'performance'. Our game face needs to be on and there are times that no matter what our internal dialogue we simply need to do what is required. I'm sure her anger wasn't anything to do with the use of the dividers, however that is where it was played out on that day. Her intention was to remind us of the helpfulness for her and us of using the dividers. Communicating that in a less hostile way would have greatly increased the likelihood of a positive exchange and achieving her desired aim. Certainly the other customer storming out of the shop was not the best outcome.

Emotional intelligence is the radar we all have to read and understand emotions, and our ability to self-regulate when we use them. Having a well developed emotional intelligence is crucial to the success of our interactions with others. The likelihood that someone will trust and engage with us is built upon interpersonal connections formed on the foundation of emotional intelligence. A starting point for us in enhancing our emotional intelligence is to be self-aware of our emotional state. Are you feeling frustrated? angry? excited? happy? Knowing our emotional tone helps us to moderate how we behave and how we interact with others. If a telephone call with a Telco has left me feeling frustrated (can you guess I'm organising NBN at the moment?!) and I check in with my emotions as I finish the call, it increases the likelihood that I won't take that frustration out on the children when I then walk into the lounge room.

Acknowledging the emotion is the starting point to managing the frustration. The emotion you don't see controls you.2016mixflowers So perhaps if the check out operator had used self-awareness to acknowledge the emotion she was feeling as we passed through the register she could have (inwardly or outwardly) taken a breath, smiled and mentioned using the dividers in a way that would have got her what she wanted. Upon reflection, maybe I could have given her one of the bunches of flowers I had bought!






Exercise and Depression: Recommendations from the research

Joann Lukins - Sunday, June 29, 2014
Directly affecting approximately 10% of the population during their lifetime, major depressive disorder (MDD) causes a significant impact on the individuals affected and their families.  Just over half of the people who live with MDD seek assistance, and of those a smaller number receive evidence-based treatment options.5002869_orig Treatment options for MDD vary, including:
  • anti-depressants
  • psychotherapy
  • neurostimulation (electroconvulsive therapy), andMHT036_man-biking-exercise-depression_FS
  • repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation
Despite the evidence that these treatment options do work, their suitability for any given individual should be carefully considered due to possible side-effects, cost and accessibility.  In addition to these options, alternative economical treatments should be considered. 

Exercise and physical activity as an alternative treatment option for MDD has delivered positive outcomes.  The American Psychiatric Association has taken to including exercise as a option in it's most recent guidelines for treatment. So what do we know about the relationship between exercise and MDD?1234 Both aerobic exercise and resistance training can be beneficial. Aerobic exercise is essentially exercise that causes shortness of breath.  Running, swimming, cycling and walking are all examples of aerobic exercise that has been shown to be beneficial in reducing symptoms for people with MDD. Resistance training involves such exercise as lifting weights, walking with hand weights, and other exercise that requires you to 'work against gravity' (hence the name resistance).  Less research has been conducted with resistance training exercise, however the results suggesting its benefits in reducing the symptoms of depression are optimistic. 

How often?  Ideally exercise 3 times per week for 45-60 minutes each time. Recommendations for how often to exercise and duration can vary considerably.  The reasons for the variation can be dependent upon the desired outcome of the exercise (for example improving diabetic control, increasing fitness levels, weight-loss).  In the instance of reducing symptoms of depression, studies have compared 2-5 sessions per week at 30-60 minutes per session.  The guidelines for optimally assisting with depression are to participate for 3 sessions per week for a duration of 45-60 minutes each time.

How hard?  What should be the exercise intensity? How 'hard' to exert yourself when exercising is an important consideration when planning an exercise routine.  The guidelines for aerobic exercises (walking, swimming, running etc) are based upon your heart rate.  Keeping your heart rate elevated within the range of 50-85% of its maximum capabilities.  exercise-beats-depression In a laboratory this is tested by conducting a VO2 max test.  A VO2 max test requires a period of time spent on a treadmill or rowing machine with various breathing apparatus attached. 

Most of us don"t have the opportunity to complete this rather unpleasant task, so as a rough guideline if you subtract your age (in years) from 220, aim to work at 50-85% of this number. So, a 50 year old person should approximate their maximum heart rate at 170 bpm (beats per minute) and to benefit from the anti-depressant effects of aerobic exercise, be exercising somewhere between 85-145 beats per minute.  This is most easily kept track of with a heart rate monitor.  However if you want to quickly (and cheaply) gauge your heart rate, simply hold two fingers to your neck or your wrist until you can feel your pulse.  Count the number of beats over a 6 second period and add a 0, this will give you an approximation of your heart rate for 60 seconds. The guidelines for resistance training is to repeat an exercise 8 times, briefly rest and then repeat two more times (resulting in 24 repetitions of the exercise).  The weight of the resistance should be 80% of the heaviest weight you can complete by yourself.  So, for example if the heaviest single bicep curl you can complete (with good form)  is 10kg, then the weight you lift for your 3 sets of 8 repetitions is approximately 8kg.

For how long?  Keep exercising for at least 10 weeks. Some studies have shown significant improvement in depression symptoms in as short as 4 weeks.  Most studies are supportive of a continuation of the exercise program for at least 10 weeks.  When focusing from a lifestyle perspective, the recommendation would be to make exercise a life-long pursuit. However, from the perspective of reducing depressive symptoms at least 10 weeks is the recommendation. 

Can I make it easier to achieve?  Using psychology to maintain exercising. Maintaining an exercise regime is not always easy.  Maintaining an exercise regime when you are experiencing depression can be even less so.  Understanding some of the factors that help to maintain exercise can help to make the change easier. Experience tells me that people find it challenging when life feels out of control or unpredictable, it is harder to cope.  Engaging in an exercise regime is best assisted when the opportunity of choice is offered.  Choosing the type of exercise, the location, and frequency will increase the perceived level of control over the activity and consequently increase involvement and adherence. Choosing and maintaining an exercise regime can often be challenging initially. 

For some people, seeking the support of a health professional (such as exercise physiologist or psychologist) may help to overcome some of the barriers to change. Much of the information included in this blog is based on the meta analysis written by Rethorst and Trivodi on the prescription of exercise for people with a major depressive disorder.   A meta-analysis is a research paper that summarises key findings of a multitude of research papers on a particular topic. Information provided in this piece are general in nature.  People experiencing depression should seek advice from their treating professionals to determine the appropriate course of action for themselves.  People who have not exercised recently should seek approval by their medical practitioner to commence an exercise program.  An exercise physiologist is an appropriately qualified health professional to assist you in planning an exercise program.

Food for thought

Joann Lukins - Wednesday, June 05, 2013
ImageYou've had a long day, you come home and quickly put some food together, collapse onto the couch, flick on the tv and minutes later deposit the empty plate and dirty cutlery onto the coffee table.  Sound familiar?  Well for many people, that is a familiar night time routine.  If that describes the last meal you ate, consider the following questions: What did the food look like? What were its colours, how did the colours blend as the different food came together? What were the aromas of the meal?  Did it smell spicy? Zesty? Fragrant? How did it taste?  Your first mouthful - was it fresh? Hearty? Light? The texture - was there a crunch? Was it smooth? Contrasts between the food? Mindless eating occurs when we lose connection with our food.  We eat without awareness of the flavour, we rush and eat more than we need, and we don't enjoy our food as much as we could.  Mindless eating makes it difficult to recognise the difference between hungry and non hungry eating, Mindfulness also allows us to be aware of why we are eating: are we hungry, tired, bored, excited or all of the above?! In contrast, mindful eating occurs when we pay attention to the eating experience.  Considerable research has emerged supporting the importance of  mindfulness in the enjoyment of food, portion control and subsequent weight control. Things you can do to enhance your mindful eating experience:
  • Turn off the television.
  • Slow down - eating fast means eating more.
  • Put your cutlery down between mouthfuls.
  • Consider quiet - even if not for the entire meal
  • Set realistic goals.  You might initially like to commit to eating mindfully to one sit down meal per week.
  • Start a herb garden or grow your own vegetables.  We pay more attention to our labours of love.
  • Chew slowly - whilst not always easy, taking time to chew our food completely slows down the whole experience and increases our awareness.
  • Reflect on all the work that went in to getting the food onto your plate: the growers, pickers, truck drivers, store owners .... gratitude for all that contributed to your meal.
  • Decorate your environment.  Sitting at a table where there has been some level of consideration to its ambience (eg. Candles, music, tablecloth) all adds to the experience.
Above all eating is best experienced as a pleasurable endeavour.  Mindful eating will allow you to slow down, maximise the taste, and enjoy your food more.

Don't act on NY Resolutions until you've read this!

Joann Lukins - Thursday, December 27, 2012
2011-year-resolution-400x400The temptation will be strong over the next week to join in with others and declare your New Years resolutions for 2013.  An admirable gesture for sure, however the reality is that the majority of people leave their resolutions long behind by March.  So how can you be different? What can turn your good intentions into sustainable long-term behaviours? The truth is that whatever the new behaviour is (eg. Starting to exercise, stop smoking, flossing your teeth) it's something that you are currently NOT doing as you would wish .... hence the need for the resolution!  So, whatever it is there are reasons you aren't doing it.  Unless you know what they are and have strategies to overcome them, you are wasting your time declaring your upcoming change. The well known phrase fail to plan, plan to fail' is 100% correct.  Most psychologists view behaviour change as occurring through a series of steps or stages.  We may initially be resistant to change, then we contemplate doing things differently and many people make some quick plans and then launch themselves into whatever the new behaviour is. STOP. You rushed it and that's why so often it doesn't work.  Successful behaviour change comes about when you think and plan, then think some more, and then do some more planning! Let me illustrate two quick examples of how you can considerably increase your chances of changing your behaviour.  I'll use examples of both starting a new behaviour and stopping an existing one. Starting a new behaviour - Going to the gym Why do I want to start exercising at the gym?
  1. It will improve my cardiovascular fitness and strength
  2. It will help me to lose weight
  3. it will help my confidence?
So why haven't I been going to the gym?
  1. I haven't been prioritising it into my weekly schedule.
  2. When I have the opportunity to go, I do something else, for example when the alarm goes off in the morning, I roll over and go back to sleep.
  3. I think about going to the gym and then I tell myself it's going to be hard, and I will be sore, and I'll probably make a fool of myself.
What do I need to do differently to overcome these obstacles?
  1. Prioritising - Get out my diary and make an appointment with myself to go to the gym. Decide whether mornings or evenings will suit me and the family better.
  2. Not seizing the opportunity - go anyway! I know I don't feel like it, but I know it will feel good once I'm done.  I also need to have my clothes out ready to make it easier. So I'll lay them out the night before for a morning session. Or I'll put them in a bag in the back of my car in the morning so I can go straight from work.
  3. Negative self-talk - challenge the helpfulness of what I've been saying to myself.  "Yes, it will be physically uncomfortable at first and I might be sore, but long term it will be really good for me to go".  "I might feel self-conscious, but I'm a long way in front of all the people who stayed home in bed!"  "That's why I'm going to get a trainer to plan out a program for me initially, so I can learn what to do".
What resources do I need to change my behaviour?
  1. sandshoes,
  2. gym shorts and a tshirt
  3. a gym membership,
  4. access to a personal trainer to design my initial training program.
When will I start? I'l ring the gym now and schedule to get a program from a trainer. How will I know when I'm successful? I'll be regularly going to the gym 3 times a week and I'll notice a difference in my appearance and how my body feels. What if I relapse and stop going?
  1. I'll first forgive myself!
  2. I'll then review why I haven't been going and make plans to overcome those obstacles.
Behaviour 2 - Stop eating high sugar and high fat desserts every night. Why do I want to stop eating the desserts?
  1. They are calories I don't really need.
  2. I've just started my gym program and this isn't helping my efforts.
  3. I don't feel good after I've eaten them.
Why do I currently eat desserts every night?
  1. They are in the freezer!
  2. Habit
  3. My partner eats them with me
  4. It's what I do when I watch tv to relax.
What do I need to do to overcome these obstacles?
  1. In the freezer - throw them out and don't buy any more!
  2. Habit- Change the habit, think about something I would rather eat instead like a piece of fruit or some yoghurt and have those foods available.  Remember you don't need to totally abstain!  Perhaps you might have your treat dessert twice a week.  Plan which nights that will be and have that then.  Reducing your intake from 7 nights a week to 2 will make a big difference.
  3. My partner eats them too- talk to your partner about your decision to make a change and see if your partner would like to make the change too.  It will be easier if they do, but if they don't, make the commitment to do this for yourself.
  4. It's what I do to relax- Remind yourself why you are making this change.  Enjoy the fruit or whatever alternative you go with.
What resources do I need to change my behaviour?
  1. A dessert alternative
When will I start?   I'll go grocery shopping this afternoon and buy some fruit alternatives.  When I get home I'll throw the old desserts out (or put them to the back of the freezer for my two allocated nights). How will I know when I am successful? When I have been regularly eating healthy options for my dessert. What if I relapse and stop going?
  1. I'll first forgive myself!
  2. I'll then review why I haven't been going and make plans to overcome those obstacles.
SO WHERE DO YOU START? First I'd like you to copy the questions I have listed below and put them into a word Healthprocessing document.  Take the time to go through the questions and answer them for yourself.  Print the answers off and put them somewhere where you'll see them and start moving towards change.
  1. Why do I want to stop/start                               ?
  2. Why do I currently                          (insert the current barrier here)?
  3. What do I need to do to overcome these obstacles?
  4. What resources do I need to change my behaviour?
  5. When will I start?  
  6. How will I know when I am successful?
  7. What if I relapse and stop going?

Don't think of the Eiffel Tower!

Joann Lukins - Wednesday, October 03, 2012
I am writing this whilst sitting down the back of the room where my son is participating in a music 'workshop'.  I promise I sat attentively for the first 50 minutes, but I can fortunately multi-task so now am writing whilst listening!  Whether they be musicians, coaches, or teachers I am always interested to hear the language used to instruct and encourage students or athletes. Within this particular class the instructor is trying to get the students to play the piece smoothly.  Unfortunately his delivery isn't going to assist the children in achieving that. Phrases that have been said thus far include:
  • Who made mistakes in that piece?
  • No gaps
  • Don't come in before one
  • No wrong notes please
  • Who played some strange notes in that piece?
  • If you play a wrong note you have to stand up
  • Not one wrong note please
  • Don't overlap your notes
  • Don't make that too long or too short
Language is very powerful in its ability to create a visual image.  By example, "Don't think about the Eiffel Tower".  The problem for our brain is that there is considerable effort required to process the word don't. Particularly when time is of the essence, our brain tends to skip the word don't and only hears the remainder of the sentence.  So, "Don't come in before one" becomes "Come in before one", which is exactly what one young 8 year old has just done 5 times in a row in this workshop. So what does the instructor need to be doing?  The key is to put the positive image of success into the persons thinking.  "No gaps" and "Play smooth" are the same instructions with two very different resulting images. Just as when speaking to an athlete, "Safe hands" vs "Don't drop the ball" have the same intention, with two quite different outcomes.  When we hear "No gaps" or "Don't drop the ball" we need to interpret the meaning and then translate it to the intended action - essentially it is additional work for our cognitive processing - and more often than not we don't do it.  If you've ever been with a 3 year old carrying a glass of water across a room, all it takes is for Mum or Dad to say, 'Careful, don't spill it' and you will soon see the mop coming out to clean it up! If you want to enhance the instructions that you give, tell the person what they need to do rather than what they need to avoid.  I'll say that again, if you want to enhance the instructions that you give, tell the person what they need to do rather than what they need to avoid.  Do is so much more effective than don't.  Listen out for when you use don't in a sentence and rephrase it so it is very clear what you intend - what is needed rather than what is to be avoided.
  • Catch the ball
  • Come in on one
  • Play smoothly
  • Good articulation
  • Carry with two hands
So back to the piano class.  The instructor is getting some of it right, I've just heard. "As smooth as possible", and "I heard some lovely sounds".  However poor little miss 8 has just played the starting note early (again), I hope the teacher isn't surprised.

As Alfred said to young Master Bruce Wayne, “Why do we fall?” To which Bruce replied, “So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

Joann Lukins - Tuesday, September 25, 2012
A recent discussion with friends raised the question as to whether the current generation of children are over protected by their Gen X parents? The criticism being that in protecting children from failure and praising them for every action (deserved or not) they are in fact making them ill-equipped for later in life when the reality of the 'real world' kicks in.  Parenting effectively can certainly feel something of a balancing act that we don't always get right.

There is no doubt that the intentions of most parents are to give their children opportunities to experience life in a positive, rewarding and enriching way, we do need to be careful however that our intentions don't in fact harm our children in the short and long term. There are two parenting styles that don't do our children (or their parents) any favors: 

The helicopter parent - hovers on the periphery of their child's activities and at the slightest hint of disappointment or disapproval being directed their way, the parent swoops in and attempts to rectify the situation. This may include telling the child they were wronged ("the judge is hopeless, you were clearly the best"); manipulating behind the scenes (organizing for the child to get another opportunity when that is outside the scope of the rules or Imagewhat is fair); or giving the child feedback that is positive, yet unwarranted or undeserved. 

The lawn mower parent - spends their time smoothing the path of life for the child, pre-empting what may go wrong and fixing it long before the child comes anywhere near it.  Such as speaking up for the child (for example to a teacher), when the child really needs to take that responsibility. 

Often the child will be 'protected' without even knowing what has happened in the background. So if these are the approaches in parenting that we need to avoid, what is the preferred way for us to speak to our children? The way we understand and subsequently explain our world is known as our causal attributions.  It is these attributions that result in an emotional response and drives our subsequent behaviour.  Broadly, the explanations of our behaviour will fall into one of four categories: ability, effort, task difficulty and luck. Ability is a characteristic that can certainly change, but may do so at a relatively slow pace. 

The difficulty of a task will vary according to who we compete with and the situations we are placed in. And luck, even when considered the combination of preparation meeting opportunity, is at times exactly that, luck. What then of effort?  Well effort is within our control.  We decide the intensity with which we engage with an activity.  We decide whether our effort will be high or low.  And in a world where people frequently struggle when life feels out of control and unpredictable, effort is our best shot at feeling like we are making a difference.

So when offering feedback and encouragement to our children, this distinction is important to remember.  Our children can not on any given day do too much to drastically change their ability, they can however completely control their level of effort.  So with your feedback, encourage and recognize effort over ability.  Certainly it is a great moment when children demonstrate success and mastery within their sport or academic endeavors; however self-esteem is best encouraged and enhanced when effort is acknowledged. The important point to remember in setting goals, and setting out to achieve, and trialling new things is that with that effort invariably comes some level of disappointment.  Whilst many would react to using the term ‘failure’, the reality is that not achieving our intended goal can bring about some level of disappointment.

And in building our resilience, this is the most important part!  When we fall down, when we ‘fail’ we have an incredible opportunity to reflect on why it didn’t work and what we can do to be more successful next time.  As parents our role is usually not to make it all better and make the hurt go away, but rather to be the soft place to land so that our children can dust themselves off and have another go.  We only learn from our mistakes and if we deprive our children from this opportunity, we are not helping them in the long term. The evidence is clear that in the long term, a healthy self-esteem facilitates performance.  So encourage your children to give their all, to strive for their personal best and let them make mistakes.

Through their best efforts, this is their best opportunity.


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