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“There’s no question kids are missing out on very critical social skills. It puts everybody in a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible.” – Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist.

Gen Z were the first generation to grow up amidst social media, with the first notable site, Six Degrees, being created in 1997. Rapidly, social media has proliferated out of control, gaining popularity across the well known sites we know today. 

But what effects has this had on generations starting with Gen Z and that of which followed?

A popular documentary released on Netflix called ‘The Social Dilemma’ examines this and the damaging effect that this has had on children’s social skills. Teenagers in particular have been the primary focus and their ability to create new relationships.

“We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary. Especially for younger generations. And yet, in that world, anytime two people connect, the only way it’s financed is through a sneaky third person whose paying to manipulate those two people. So we’ve created an entire global generation of people who were raised within a context with the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture, is manipulation.” – Jaron Lainer, founding father of Virtual Reality Computer Scientist

In America, a short survey was conducted to discuss this by The Teen Advisory Board (TAB), and they discovered:

– 75% of teens said social media negatively affected their romantic relationship

– 77% chose texting as one of the popular ways to start a relationship

– 82% said texting is one of the two ways to end a relationship.

As children engage in face-to-face communication, they are developing social skills through vocal and visual cues which brings context to the situation. These communication cues can be portrayed through eye contact, tone of voice, facial expressions and space between individuals (Knapp & Hall, 2010).

But if children are communicating solely through social media, they aren’t learning these non-verbal communication skills that are necessary to succeed in life.

It has become trendy across all social media platforms for Gen Z to joke about their social incompetencies with comments such as needing their parents to book doctor’s appointments for them because they’re afraid to talk over the phone, but to what extent is this going to affect how society will function in the future? 

“We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable or lonely or uncertain or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves. That is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.” – Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google and co-founder of Centre for Humane Technologies

Perhaps social media isn’t the future, but something that needs to be changed or consumed in extreme moderation.

Studies discover symptoms of depression and anxiety can be reduced through mindfulness meditation practices.

Studies at John Hopkins School of Medicine reveal a strong correlation between mindfulness meditation and its ability to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety.

After reviewing research on participants in mindfulness based meditation programs, lead researcher Madhav Goyal and his team discovered effect sizes ranged between 0.22 to 0.38 for anxiety symptoms and 0.23 to 0.30 for depression symptoms.

The Journal of the American Medical Association show these small effects are comparable with what would be expected from the use of antidepressants in a primary care population but without the associated toxicities.

“In our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants,” Goyal explains.

While meditation can be dated back to ancient Hindu and Buddhist traditions, this age-old practice is gaining traction from its ability to ease symptoms of depression and anxiety without the harmful side effects of prescription medication.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that mindfulness performs as well as or better than medication,”Adrian Wells professor of psychopathology at Manchester University states.

Mindfulness meditation works by establishing concentration to observe inner thoughts, feelings and emotions while focusing attention on the present moment to not be reactive or overwhelmed by what’s happening around us.

Meditation is a state of induced relaxation that focuses awareness on breathing and encouraging positive attitudes to achieve a healthy and balanced mental state.

Around one in six Australian adults now practice meditation, with the number of people who meditate worldwide rising by three times as much since 2012.

With studies revealing that mindfulness meditation can improve anything from memory in patients with Alzheimer’s to insomnia symptoms, it’s easy to see why this practice is being used by an estimated 200-500 million people around the globe.

The University of Oxford released a new study finding mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to be as effective as antidepressants in preventing a relapse of depression, further enhancing the credibility of this ancient practice.

In the study participants were randomly allocated to either the MBCT group or antidepressant group. The rate of relapse in the mindfulness group was 44%, with the rate of relapse of those on antidepressants at 47%.

Nigel Reed, participant from the study explains how mindfulness based therapy gave him life long skills to deal with depressive thoughts and episodes.

“Rather than relying on the continuing use of antidepressants, mindfulness puts me in charge, allowing me to take control of my own future, to spot when I am at risk and to make the changes I need to stay well.”

Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, psychiatrist at the Centre for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders believes it makes sense to use meditation to treat disorders such as depression and anxiety.

“People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power. They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.”

“If you have unproductive worries, you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently. You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’

“Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that, a thought, and not a part of my core self,’” Hoge explains.

While meditation can be dated back to 1500 BCE the benefits aren’t just an old wives’ tale as science and studies have repeatedly proven.

Meditation is known for changing the way the brain processes thoughts and emotions but new research by Sarah Lazar at Harvard University reveals it can also change the structure of the brain.

An eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program discovered increased cortical thickness in the hippocampus, and certain areas of the brain that regulate emotions and self-referential processing.

Decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala were also found, with this area of the brain responsible for thoughts of anxiety, fear and stress.

These changes matched the participant’s reports of stress levels, signifying that the program impacted their feelings and subjective perceptions in a positive way through meditation.

Evidence from The University of Hong Kong also confirms Lazar’s study with further evidence suggesting meditation practices have the potential to induce neuroplastic changes in the amygdala.

Participants in an awareness-based compassion meditation program were found to have significantly reduced anxiety and right amygdala activity, which may be associated with general reduction in reactivity and distress.

These significant findings explore the powerful outcomes that can result from using mindfulness meditation practices to alter the way the brain processes thoughts of anxiety and stress.

While there is no magic cure for depression or anxiety, meditation brings hopeful benefits for those not wanting to take medication long term, or those who suffer from the intolerable side effects of antidepressants.

Although many studies suggest the benefits of mindfulness for those with depression and anxiety, it is best to consult a professional to find the best treatment option for you.

 

My life with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder has placed a strain on the very relationships that once gave way to warmth. It holds me close and tight and doesn’t let go until I am left feeling the brunt of its cruelty.

I suffer from disturbing, intrusive thoughts, over which I have no control. These intrusive thoughts can be cruel, and invade my brain throughout the day. With no warning. They threaten the very foundations in which make my life bearable – friendships and relationships.

These destructive thoughts hold me back from enjoying existence. They make me question who I am.

I feel there is something wrong with me.

I have OCD.​

I know the shame that intrusive thoughts bring about. So, I understand that only one-third of the 500,000 OCD sufferers in Australia seek treatment. For a long time, I refused to discuss it with anyone, but it becomes overwhelming and too difficult to keep locked away in my brain.

OCD calls on the demons hiding in the most remote corners of my brain to come downstairs and ruin my optimistic outlook on life. They convince me that I’m a despicable human and a danger to myself and others.

I won’t discuss in detail the context of my thoughts, what I will say though is that they cause such immense grief, I often feel my stomach may very well expel from my body.

The thoughts come in tsunami-like episodes, getting worse as time moves on, leading to one of the most heartbreaking episodes of all.

It had been a long night. I had been locked away from the outside world for just over a week. One could call it a self-isolation of a brain, my brain. It had been occurring for months, years even, somewhat episodically, but this time, it was all too much. I couldn’t handle the strain my brain placed over me. I had called a few helplines who suggested going to see someone but little did they know I was already in the process of finding someone. But as it was approaching Christmas, the wait for an appointment was well over 3-4 months.

My friend and I had planned to meet up for dinner and dessert, however, my eyes, stained red from distress, gave way to crucial evidence. She had been there for me two years earlier when the thought of still being around in 2019 felt like a mere fantasy.

It wasn’t an ideal situation. I sat in my car for 15 minutes trying to calm myself down. Once I felt the air float back into my lungs, I escaped the confinements of my car and made my way to her work. The sun, in its slow process of setting, shone a light shade of pink throughout the plaza.

“Just keep looking at the sunset,” I thought to myself. “It’s going to be a new day soon and this will all be a distant and faint memory.”

When you’re about to panic or on the verge of crying, the best thing someone can do is ask “R U OK?”, but I’ve found that this causes the flood gates to burst open, leading to a tsunami of emotion. The tsunami releases all the negativity trapped inside, explosions and cascades of gasps and tears tearing through the silence of their response. This occurred that night as I waited in the empty plaza outside the department store. Waiting. Breathing. Silence.

“Hey!” she said.

“Shit,” I thought.

Her smile often brings joy and the warm fuzzies, but on this day I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming army of joyless demons crush against my chest. The infection spread from my chest to my stomach as my hands started to tremble. I let out a nasty cry and fell into her arms.

She was the first person I told my thoughts to.

Everything spilt out in a rapid eruption of words and tears. I told her of the thoughts that caved away into the deepest parts of my brain, and how I had no control over them. These thoughts, intruding around my body as if on vacation refused to withdraw.

After 30 minutes of ugly crying, my friend thought it best that we call a mental health crisis helpline. Another 30 minutes went by. My ugly crying grew stronger and my friend performed her duty as a translator, relaying information onto the mental health officers.

I was too busy attempting to breathe. By 9:30 pm we were in the hospital’s mental health ward. Unfortunately, not my first time sitting in an emergency department due to mental health complications. What felt like a 30-minute wait turned into a 6-hour wait.

A lengthy couple of months ensued. I saw several mental health officers including a psychiatrist who put my mind at ease, informing me that these thoughts weren’t me. Asking me a very important question:

“If these thoughts, in any way, represented the type of person you were, then why would they cause you so much distress?” He said. “So much distress that it caused you to question your place on this earth.”

I finally had the answers, I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

It was a relief when I finally had an answer for the thoughts. These maleficent thoughts were so overwhelming that I questioned my place on this earth. And for the week leading up to that night, my brain spun into what felt like a never-ending cycle. Continuing to ask the same three questions:

Why are these thoughts in my head?

Why are they coming back with more ferocity than the last time?

Should I still be alive if I have these thoughts?

The truth is, at that time I wasn’t sure why I was having them; I didn’t realise that OCD could bring about such nasty thoughts. Thoughts that made me feel physically sick. It was as if a hand had made its way down my throat, stuck these ideas in my gut then withdrew in a hurry. Scurrying far away, leaving no evidence it was once there. It left doubt in the pit of my stomach. I asked myself – Am I this sick? Am I capable of these ideas? Is this me?

If these thoughts did in any way portray the kind of person I was, then in no way did I want them to be true. This is why that night I was in such distress. Once I was suffering from this “episode” it felt as though the thoughts would never end. With my previous episodes, I had managed to force the ideas to disappear after 2 or 3 days, but I couldn’t this time.

When I realized I had no control over them a wall of shame crashed into me. This was the moment I decided to lock myself away. Fortunately for me, I had already planned that dinner date with my friend. My stomach wanted to stay locked away, but my brain saved the day. My body activated the “Save Sarah Mode”, hoisting me up, out and into the car. On my way, I went.

Luckily for me, there are be people in my life I could and still to this day can trust. You can spill your guts to them, metaphorically that is.

Even if you feel like you are alone, stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean, someone will eventually turn up, even if they are also stuck in the middle of the ocean, maybe in a dingy. Together you will form an unbreakable bond, forced together by the wildest of fears and thoughts and anxieties that crash against you like the wild, unpredictable waves they are.

 

My friend, that night, was my lifeboat.

There is this misconception that OCD only encompasses cleaning, organising, washing hands or turning light switches on and off. Now, even though these are common compulsions, it doesn’t represent everyone who has the misfortune of living with OCD. And for me, it made it difficult to speak up about my diagnoses.

Since experiencing this terrible uncontrollable episode, I have found peace. I am now able to open up to people regarding my OCD. I am able to accept that these thoughts aren’t me. And I am not able to control some thoughts that come my way.

 

If you or anyone you know require assistance in relation to distressing thoughts and/or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.  Sanskrit Proverb

Nutrition and exercise are the first to be scrutinised when it comes to our health; yet it’s easy to overlook the importance of something that we do 25,000 times a day – breathe.

Journalist and author, James Nestor, believes we have lost the ability to breathe correctly, resulting in dire consequences for our health. He discusses this in his new book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art.

After experiencing recurring pneumonia, Nestor’s doctor recommended he try a breathing class to help strengthen his lungs and calm his mind.

Nestor shares, “I’d been feeling these cracks for much of my life, and chances are you have, too: stuffy noses, snoring, some degree of wheezing, asthma, allergies, and the rest. I’d always thought they were a normal part of being human.”

Nestor was shocked to discover after his first breathing class ended, he was dripping with sweat. The following morning after a surprisingly restful sleep, he felt even better, and wondered what exactly had transpired to induce the intense reaction in his body.

Nestor wanted to learn more, so traveled the globe for answers behind the science of breathing. He first visited Greece and wrote on free diving, which led him to pour over even more research on the breath, and how it can influence longevity, weight loss and overall health.

The Breath

From there, Nestor continued to travel and interview experts, conduct research and learn about ancient breathing practices such as Pranayama and Tummo.

Nestor discovered that information concerning the breath was found in unlikely places such as dental offices and ancient burial sites, rather than in the area of Pulmonology, which specialises in emphysema, cancer or lung collapse, mostly dealing with emergencies.

Scientists discovered, since the Industrial Age, the way we breathe has deteriorated, with 90% of us breathing incorrectly, exacerbating or resulting in a catalogue of chronic disease.

Nestor describes breathing practices as a lost art. Many of these techniques are not new discoveries, but methods which have been around for hundreds and thousands of years.

Researchers have found asthma, psoriasis, attention hyperactivity deficit disorder and anxiety could be reduced or eliminated by adjusting the way we breathe.

Nestor believed this work was “upending long-held beliefs in Western medical science.”
“Breathing in different patterns really can influence our body weight and overall health,” he says.
“Yes, how we breathe really does affect the size and function of our lungs. Yes, breathing allows us to hack into our own nervous system, control our immune response, and restore our health. Yes, changing how we breathe will help us to live longer.”

The Chinese Tao dating back to 400 BCE, the Hindus, and the Buddhists, all valued breathing as a method for healing, both to lengthen life and to reach higher consciousness.

Nestor explains that regardless of age, fitness level, weight or genetic predisposition, nothing will matter unless we are breathing properly.

Mouth Breathing

Breathing is an unconscious act for most, causing this vital pillar of health to be overlooked in chronic disease.

Dr. Jayakar Nayak, a nasal and sinus surgeon from Stanford Department of Otolarynology Head and Neck Surgery Centre, conducts investigations before, during and after one of Nestor’s research endeavours.

To explore the nuances of nasal verses mouth breathing, Nestor plugs his nostrils with silicone for 10 days, only breathing through his mouth.

The results are frightening, and during the mouth-breathing portion of the experiment, Nestor experienced:

  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Lowered heart rate variability indicating his body was in a state of stress.
  • Increased pulse.
  • Decreased body temperature.
  • Decreased mental clarity.
  • Increased snoring by 4820%.
“Mouthbreathing, it turns out, changes the physical body and transforms airways, all for the worse,” Nestor says.

A 2010 study concluded, mouth-breathing throughout critical growth stages in children results in:

  • Increased inclination for clockwise rotation of the mandible.
  • Decrease in posterior facial height.
  • Irregular increase in anterior lower vertical face height.
Nestor explains that snoring isn’t normal, and that any amount of sleep apnoea comes with risks. “Dr. Christian Guillemunault, a sleep researcher at Stanford, found children who experience no apnea events at all-only heavy breathing and light snoring, or “increased respiratory effort”, could suffer from mood disorders, blood pressure derangements, learning disabilities, and more.”

Symptoms of Mouth Breathing

  • Dry mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Snoring
  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Waking irritable and tired
  • Hoarseness
“Sleep apnea and snoring, asthma and ADHD, are all linked to obstruction in the mouth,” says Nestor.

Nasal Breathing

Phase Two of the experiment sees Nestor switch pathways, only breathing through his nose.

“Inhaling from the nose has the opposite effect. It forces air against all those flabby tissues at the back of the throat, making the airways wider and breathing easier. After a while, these tissues and muscles get “toned” to stay in this opened and wide position. Nasal breathing begets more nasal breathing.”

During the nasal breathing portion of his experiment, Nestor reported:

  • Blood pressure 20 points lower than its highest point.
  • Increased heart rate variability.
  • Increased energy.
  • 4000% decrease in snoring from 10 days prior.
  • Sleep apnoea became non-existent.

How does nasal breathing have so many advantages?

  • The nose becomes a filter to particles in the air.
  • Adds moisture to the air, preventing dryness.
  • Warms up air to body temperature.
  • Adds resistance to the air stream, maintaining lung elasticity and increasing oxygen uptake.

While breathing is an unconscious act and a body function we rely on, its significance can easily be overlooked.

As Nestor states: “Everything you or I or any other breathing thing has ever put in its mouth, or in its nose, or soaked in through its skin, is hand-me-down space dust that’s been around for 13.8 billion years.”
“This wayward matter has been split apart by sunlight, spread throughout the universe, and come back together again.
“To breathe is to absorb ourselves in what surrounds us, to take in little bits of life, understand them, and give pieces of ourselves back out. Respiration is, at its core, reciprocation.”

As Australia’s cosmetic surgery rates surpass America’s, our obsession with social media and the current COVID-19 pandemic creates a minefield for those who struggle with disordered eating and body image issues.

 So far, 2020 has been a lot to process. In what will most likely be a once-in-a-lifetime historical event, the world has been totally affected by COVID-19 – a virus which has so far killed more than 264,000 people.

As Australia combats this, most of us have found ourselves on leave, unemployed or working from home. As the lockdowns have progressed many businesses have shut down and the nation’s gyms have not been immune.

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of content online focused on exercising from home, especially on Instagram, which has become flooded with posts about ‘body goals’, losing weight and becoming ‘healthier’ in quarantine.

The COVID-19 pandemic offers numerous triggers for those who are struggling with an eating disorder or those with distorted body image and low self-esteem.

“We understand that the prevalent discussions around stock-piling food, increased hygiene measures, food shortages and lock-ins can be incredibly distressing and triggering for people experiencing disordered eating or an eating disorder,” states The Butterfly Foundation in relation to COVID-19. 

When you combine these triggers with an increase in spare time to spend scrolling social media, such as Instagram, this can create the Perfect Storm.

Instagram and its tribe of entrepreneurs and models is no stranger to criticism from body positivity advocates, largely because the app is focused on images, a majority of which are highly edited. The concept of Instagram is the ideal social media app- share images and see images of your family and friends – plus your favourite celebrities, bridging the gap between fan and friend.

Instagram launched in 2010 and had 1 million users within two months, it has since been purchased by Facebook and become one of the largest social media platforms in the world.

The New Yorker journalist Jia Tolentino has talked extensively concerning the phenomenon of Instagram models, and their strikingly similar looks in ‘The Age of the Instagram Face’. 

She writes, “The gradual emergence, among professionally beautiful women, of a single, cyborgian face. It’s a young face, of course, with pore-less skin and plump, high cheekbones. It has catlike eyes and long, cartoonish lashes; it has a small, neat nose and full, lush lips.”

The commodification of women was once selling the products to make us beautiful, but as ‘Instagram Face’ rises and social media continues to excel, cosmetic surgery becomes more commonplace than it ever has been before.

Presently Australia’s cosmetic surgery numbers have surpassed America’s; in 2017 Australian’s spent more than 1 billion dollars on plastic surgery, surpassing America’s procedures per capita numbers, a feat considering America is often considered the ground zero for enhanced beauty.

Since when did this new prototype of a woman, a mish-mashed version, a high light reel built to bend over; a tiny waist, big lips, no blemishes- become the new standard of beauty, and how achievable is this?

Claire Finkelstein has been a clinical psychologist for fifteen years and is co-founder and co-director at Nourish.Nurture.Thrive, a multidisciplinary practise based in Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula that specialises in helping young people who struggle with eating disorders and body image.

Claire and fellow clinical psychologist, Ainsley Hudgson, started Nourish.Nurture.Thrive after years working in the public health system and seeing how overwhelmed it had become with a “growing population with eating disorder concerns,” says Claire.

Isolation, quarantine and an increase in social media can be very triggering for not only those who struggle with eating disorders but anyone who finds themselves feeling out of control in this stressful time.

“Everybody is showing their exercise routines at the moment, everybody is making those jokes about putting on weight during lockdown and I think it’s just incredibly triggering even for people with a fairly robust sense of self-confidence and body image but particularly for people who are in the eating disorder space,” says Claire.

The showing of exercise routines is found on Instagram amongst other social media, promoting diet culture.

Diet culture is defined as a system of beliefs that worship thinness and oppress people who don’t meet this beauty standard and idea of health. The one underlying fact for nearly all diets and wellbeing programs is that thin is best, demonizing certain food groups and body types, all while promoting the most important idea of them all; if you weren’t so lazy you’d have the body of your dreams.

“It feels like you can control your weight, so in a time when you feel out of control you try and control your weight and what we know is that your weight is biologically determined within a set point and that’s one of the difficulties – all these messages around ‘this is something we can do’ and if you’re not doing it successfully you’re inadequate and that is such a damaging, damaging story that is part of diet culture,” says Claire.

The infamous ‘beauty is pain’ mantra handed down to young girls from their mothers has a whole new meaning, the pain having grown from a waxing strip full of pubic hair to a surgery scar or a vigorous training regime.

Earlier this year glamour magazine Girls Girls Girls collaborated with Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon to create a video titled ‘Be a Lady they said’. The piece included various clips from movies, news, and glamour shots to tell the story of the myriad of requests and expectations women are meant to be adhering to, ironically the women featured in the video are beautiful, thin and passive.

One of the most impactful lines reads,

‘Be a size zero, be a double zero, be nothing, be less than nothing.’

Cynthia Nixon spits these words at the screen as it turns dark and the sound of someone’s heart flatlining takes up the darkness. It is powerful commentary on the notions behind our desires for female perfection and the gruesome control it creates.

As Naomi Wolf states in her classic, The Beauty Myth, published in 1990, obsession with beauty and thinness is a form of control and oppression.

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one,” says Wolf.

The US health and weight loss industry is worth an estimated $72 billion and Australians are estimated to spend $452.5 million on weight-loss counselling services (and the low-calorie foods and dietary supplements that go with it) in 2019-2020.

These figures show what has been in the shadows all along – this business is big money built off the back of diet culture. A truth hid underneath the bright lights of Instagram, the ‘life updates’ and the relatable posts – the influencers who make you feel like a family, like you could look like them if you had the grit – when you’re just a customer.

 Resources and coping mechanisms

For those who are spending a lot of time online and feel triggered by the change in routine, there are ways to seek help, guidance and support.

The Butterfly Foundation suggests that stretching, light exercise, talking to a loved one, drawing, being creative and mindfulness techniques can help you support your health and wellbeing during this crisis and stop negative body thoughts.

Their Helpline is also open on webchat, email or phone from 8am-midnight, 7 days a week.

Claire Finkelstein from Nourish.Nurture.Thrive admits boycotting social media is unrealistic, especially as it is one of our main sources for communicating with the outside world, however, she does recommend an ‘audit’ of who you follow.

“Use social media to connect rather than compare, use it to engage with people who are important to you, who you feel supported by, who give you a laugh who make you smile, who make you more connected and less alone and try to engage less with social media that leaves you feeling terrible afterwards,” says Claire.

Unfollowing accounts that make you feel inadequate or leave you feeling unhappy and starting to follow body positive accounts instead can stop that downward spiral of self-loathing many of us find triggered by social media.

“Research shows if you have a diverse imagery, diverse bodies, diverse beauty, or other images like architecture, animals or whatever makes you feel good – that that can really dilute the impact, the negative impact of imagery that doesn’t make you feel good,” says Claire.

Below are resources for those who need help.

The Butterfly Foundation:

T: 1800 33 4673

W: https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/

Beyond Blue:

T: 1300 22 4636

W: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/national-help-lines-and-websites

This week Australians all took a deep breath in unison and read the news no one was prepared to see, a decision that is more fitting for a Hollywood drama then for real life, a decision that has left survivors reeling and parents holding their children a bit tighter than usual.

The seven judges of the high court have handed down what might be one of the most controversial decisions Australia has ever witnessed. Their decision, convicted and jailed child molester George Pell is to be released and all convictions dismissed, finishing off a series of events that started fifty years ago.

It is every parent’s worst nightmare, a predator walking the streets ready to prey on your child, made even worse by the fact that the alleged perpetrator is a Cardinal, a high-ranking priest in the Catholic Church, elected by the Pope himself.

The Cardinal in question is the soon to be infamous Cardinal George Pell, aged 78, who was accused of molesting two choir boys in 1996 whilst he was appointed as Archbishop of Melbourne.

The crime allegedly took place as Pell found the boys drinking wine in the church, innocently playing around after mass. The account of the Cardinal looming over them before he attacked the boys and forced them to perform oral sex on him is nothing short of an act of evil and that of nightmares.
The rapes and molestation allegedly occurred in the St Patrick’s Cathedral, located in East Melbourne, and is one accusation amongst many made against Pell, numerous of which stem from his time as a younger priest in the small Victorian town of Ballarat in the 1970s.
Of the two choir boys involved in the accusations from 1996, only one survives, one dying of a heroin overdose in 2014 and refusing the abuse allegations up until his death. In the same year the Victorian Government created a task force dedicated to investigating the handling of child abuse cases by ‘Religious And Other Non-Government Organisations’.

In 2015 the surviving choir boy broke his silence, letting go of the secret he had carried for nearly two decades. One can only imagine the weight this man had carried into adulthood, scared of judgement and sharing his secret with the world, all to not be believed.

Three years later in December of 2018 Pell, who had pled not guilty, was found to be guilty of the accusations against him in the Melbourne case of the choir boys, charged with five sex abuse convictions in total.

Since then the Cardinal’s lawyers have faced the high court, arguing that the court failed to adequately take evidence supporting Pell’s innocence into consideration.

On April 7th 2020, after spending just a mere 400 days in prison, Pell has been set free, just in time to spend Easter in the free world.

Amongst the turmoil the world is facing at the moment, yesterday’s news from the high court has left Australia in shock, with the question on everybody lips the same; how?

If a high-profile case can have the ending that Pell’s has, then what chance do the everyday equivalents have. The George Pell’s who hide in our local shadows, in our schools, our churches, our family trees.

The #Metoo movement has given survivors of sexual assault worldwide a group consciousness, hope that if we just stand up we must be believed, that the reason why these monsters have been allowed to walk our streets is a mistake, that if their crimes had been reported they would be locked away.The man who killed Sunshine coast boy Daniel Morcombe in 2003, Brett Peter Cowan, had viciously assaulted seven year old boy Timothy Nicholls in 1987. Cowan served a little over half of his sentence of two years for the brutal rape of Timothy, before being released and eventually finding his way to that bus stop next to Daniel in 2003.

Daniel’s parents must stare at their ceiling at night wondering what if, what if he had served his full sentence, what if he had been sentenced to life, what if, what if, what if.

The pain of all survivors, of the choir boy, Timothy Nicholls, of all people who have been affected by child abuse, who have been brave enough to speak up, for their abuser to be able to walk free is a pain that is immeasurable, leaving a community once hopeful for change and justice, vulnerable and disappointed.

If we didn’t believe the choir boy, then who has a chance?

 

 

 

 

 

Elaine Benson of soberhood.com.au speaks out about her struggles with alcohol and wanting to be better for her sonSoberhood is a supportive judgement-free zone aimed at normalizing an alcohol free motherhood. Elaine is a single mother to a mad but beautiful three year old boy, a Cork native living in Sydney, Australia.

Former grey area drinker, I knew alcohol was crippling my life, but I didn’t realise just how much it was damaging my relationships and body until I felt forced to stop.

I had been drinking regularly from about the age of 16 and, my teens and 20’s were hedonistic, to say the least. It was accepted to drink till you blackout and somehow wake up in your bed the next morning not sure of how you got there.

I had some great experiences but mostly it was a blur of alcohol, drugs, anxiety, depression and self-sabotage.

It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I started to question my antics and see that for the most part, I was numbing the pain in my heart. Then when I became a mother and ‘mommy’s special medicine’ became the norm in the evening to ‘relax’, matters deteriorated quickly.

The drinking, coupled with the fact my son was not a fan of sleeping, sent me over the edge.

By the time he was two years old, I was desperately sad and feeling like life was a relentless struggle. My body was inflamed and in constant pain with endometriosis, which was intensified by the drinking.

The relationship with his Dad was in tatters. Like all my previous relationships, our connection was fuelled by alcohol and parties so when our son was born, the already tenuous foundation collapsed.

“I realised at that point that I wanted a better life for us.”

After a particularly heavy night on the booze at my work Christmas party in 2018, I didn’t get long to recover before we set off on a family Christmas holiday, 5 hours drive up the coast of Australia.

It was sweltering in the car, 40 degrees, Christmas traffic was in full swing, my partner and I were arguing and the air con was struggling.

The situation was already stressful and with the hangover from hell, my brain couldn’t cope and I had a panic attack.

My heart was breaking as my beautiful son watched me hyperventilating and crying uncontrollably. He was smiling at me but looking very confused. It must have been so unnerving for him to see his mother so scattered.

I realised at that point that I wanted a better life for us. I wanted him to feel safe and grounded with me. I begged the universe to take the dread away, and in return, I would never drink again.

In an effort to support myself, I listened to quit lit audiobooks repeatedly, I joined closed Facebook support groups, I listened to Tara Brachs life-changing podcast, I went to therapy, I journalled.

I tried to meditate daily, as well as practice mindfulness (which is basically being conscious and aware of your thoughts, feelings and emotions so that you can be better at life!)

I am still on the road to shedding my old skin and discovering what it is to be present to the reality of life, but I have noticed a few shifts, here’s what I’ve found:

I notice stories that are coming up for me

Even as I write now, I can pay attention to my fearful ego saying ‘You’re alone, who are you to think you can do this….’ and on and on the fearful ego goes.

Stories regularly come up around alcohol too ‘I need a drink. It’s boring being sober’. I can notice these stories through awareness and respond by playing the scenario forward in my head. I’ll have one drink, which will turn to 5, I’ll wake up tomorrow and hate myself, I’ll have a hangover which will affect my mood for days, even weeks. I won’t have the energy or desire to play with my son. And I know then, it’s so not worth it.

I can separate from my self-limiting and destructive thoughts and ego

When I catch it in time, I can see the script that is running ‘you’re not good at stuff!’ and interrupt it with loving-kindness ‘you’re doing the best you can’

I procrastinate less

A handy by-product of less self-loathing. If I had written a list that Christmas 2018 of what I wanted to achieve in a year of sobriety, I would have been selling myself way short! Procrastination is fear in sheep’s clothing. I back myself more.

I allow myself to feel my feelings

I am more connected to what is going on in my body (through conscious awareness) so, when I feel the pull of anxiety, sadness, or a craving to drink, instead of swallowing it down and feeling it follow me around for days. I stop, sit, close my eyes, put my hand on my heart and inquire ‘what’s going on for you’ and answer with compassion ‘this is hard for you’ and let the tears (and snot) flow. I always feel better afterwards.

I know I don’t have to believe my thoughts

Understanding that thoughts and emotions are visitors helps let them come and go. I try to frame these thoughts as ‘Negative Protectors’. Our primitive ancestors owe their very existence to the ‘Be careful!’ thoughts, but these days the voices say things like ‘Have a drink, you don’t have to feel this’, when we all know it only delays and worsens the feeling.

Mindfulness practice helps you live with your thoughts without always reacting.

Today as I write this, I am in a much better place mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I attribute that to sobriety and mindfulness. I still struggle, as we all do, that is the human experience. But I have greater reserves to deal with the tough times and they don’t last nearly as long.

As one of my inspirations, Jill Stark puts it,

“Sometimes for the life we want, we have to sacrifice the short-term fix for the long-term rewards. We have to work out what we value the most and put that above the things that take us further away from everything we hold dear. It’s not always easy but jeez it’s worth it”

To learn more about Elaine’s struggle with alcohol and overcoming addiction for the sake of your family visit her website or contact her via email.

Website: soberhood.com.au
Email: elaine@soberhood.com.au

Declaring your goals for a healthier year ahead can be exciting and empowering. You may have accelerated into 2020 with enthusiasm for the high expectations of what you will accomplish in the months ahead. Why then, is the reality of maintaining a new habit, so much easier said than done?

What exactly is a habit?

 

A ‘habit’ is defined as a behaviour we do automatically, requiring either very little or no thinking at all.

For example, loading the dishwasher every night after dinner is automatic. Brushing our teeth before bed?  Automatic. Purchasing that perfectly brewed cup of coffee each morning? Automatic. We have completed these behaviours repeatedly; therefore our brain requires very little effort to put these into action. It is expected. It is routine.

If habits require little effort, why is it so difficult to establish new ones?

The key to maintaining a new habit is having the opportunity for repetition.

Using the coffee example, every morning for as long as you can remember, you’ve been stopping at your favourite café on the way to work to buy that lovely cup of joy to help get you through your day. Perhaps in the beginning, before this ritual became established, you may have found it a bit of a challenge to go out a little earlier each morning to ensure you had enough time to grab your caffeine fix before work. And yet, following months of repeating this behaviour five days a week, it soon became second nature and now easily fits into your daily routine.

 

 

The science tells us that when we repeat a new behaviour, the nerves in our brain and nervous system are stimulated; this strengthens our neural pathways, which means over time, this behaviour becomes automatic.

We need to have an opportunity to repeat our new healthy habit, and this needs to fit easily into our day.

So, what exactly can I do to make sure I stick to my new healthy habit?

There are three steps we can take to help that new habit become more automatic:

 

1) You need to identify a behaviour that you want to become a habit. Make the behaviour clear and measurable. For example, you identify that you want to practice Yoga more often. You decide you want to practice one hour of Yoga, three times a week. Write this behaviour in your journal, or on a calendar.

2) You need a cue, something that will prompt you to complete this behaviour. This cue could be environmental, situational, physical, visual or auditory. For example, you may identify that the best time for you to practice Yoga would be your days off, after the school drop off. So the situational cue here would be returning home after dropping your children at school. Perhaps, you could even wear your workout clothes for the school run so that you are ready to go.

3) You need an opportunity to repeat this behaviour. How many times can you realistically fit Yoga into your week? You may identify the best time would be on your days off, when the house is quiet. This gives you the opportunity to repeat this behaviour three times a week.

Visual tools are great to help keep you on track. Check off your sessions on the calendar as you go, check in at the end of each week to see how you went. Do you need to amend the schedule to make it fit easier into your life? Make it work for you!

What barriers do I need to watch out for?

Disruption to your usual routine can be a potential obstacle. We are human; we get ill; appointments will crop up unexpectedly; our days off from work may change. Our lives are changeable and so we have to create contingencies. If you have a really busy week coming up and scheduling in three one-hour yoga sessions is too much, could you reduce the duration of your practice to just 30 minutes? Could you change your days? Remember, some things occasionally may take priority over your Yoga practice. Do not beat yourself up if you have to cancel a session; practice compassion and kindness to yourself. Move on with your day, reflect and get back on track the following week.

Be aware of your inner critic. Some of us live with an inner mean voice that will try and sabotage our progress. It can be easy to listen to that inner voice that tells you to give up, and tells you that you will never be able to reach your goal, but it is important you are able to close off that inner voice. Offer yourself the positive encouragement you would offer a friend.

You may also want to watch out for when the ‘honeymoon phase’ ends. When we make resolutions, we are often taken by the ‘high’ of their anticipated success. Vivid images of what we believe our lives will look like when we achieve our goals can often distract us from the journey itself. When we initially start implementing these habits, we feel excited by how easy it all seems, only this can soon change to feelings of ambivalence; the initial drive to change can slow down. It is important to acknowledge the end result is not the goal here; what is important is that you are making small changes to enhance your health.

Every step, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. So please be kind to yourself and express gratitude at all times.

The take-away

Be realistic; plan feasible opportunities for you to practice this behaviour.

Keep it simple; do not try and introduce lots of new behaviours at one time. Take it one at a time and add in other challenges at a comfortable pace as you progress.

Have patience; developing and maintaining a new habit takes time. For some, it takes 21 days, for others, it can be 90 days, or even longer. Have patience and enjoy the journey.

 

Movenpick Resort and Spa in Phuket ticks all the boxes for a satisfying and enjoyable family holiday.

Set in the family-oriented precinct of Karon Beach, Movenpick Resort and Spa is a wonderful choice for families holidaying in Phuket and is one of my favourite resorts to go with children.

The location is ideal, with a beautiful beach, and many dining, shopping and entertainment options, all within close walking distance.

The hotel caters for all families’ needs with a Kids Club, four swimming pools and six fantastic restaurants offering a very high standard of food.

Additionally, the resort provides daily water activities and a complimentary Chocolate Hour – A Movenpick original feature – which includes a selection of chocolate sweets and treats.

 

The standard of accommodation is exceptional.

We stayed in a Two Bedroom Family Suite which was perfect for a family, set amongst the lovely tropical gardens and very closely situated to the main family pool area. In fact, it was the best hotel accommodation in which I have experienced with my two children – so spacious, well facilitated and in a great position opposite the Little Birds Kids Club.

It has a large screen TV in the family area and in each of the bedrooms, which includes a good range of family-friendly channels, including Nickelodeon.

We were able to use the hotel’s X Box too which the kids enjoyed and suited me when I felt like an afternoon siesta.

This accommodation is massive with a large living space, adjoining bunkbed bedroom, a King and Twin bedroom, each with their own generous en-suites.

This space easily accommodates a family of six. It has three mini bars which all included complimentary tea and coffee facilities

The family style accommodation is positioned close to the The Little Birds Kids Club, for children aged 4 to 12, which offers many creative and stimulating activities for the children including soap making, candle making, tie dyed t-shirt creating.

 

We spent many hours relaxing around the fabulous main family pool area, which features a large free form swimming pool, swim up bar and water slide, as well as daily water activities.

There are an additional three public pools on site and some private accommodation offers its own plunge pools.

Movenpick Resort and Spa has six fantastic restaurants which serve amazing cuisine across a variety of International styles ranging from Thai to Brazilian.

We enjoyed a delicious buffet breakfast each morning which included a large variety of international cuisine at Pacifica, which also offered a-la-carte Thai and western lunch and dinner.

OrientAsia serves the most scrumptious Thai food, as well as an array of other Asian fare. It was fresh and delicious, and the décor was tasteful and authentically Thai, creating a delicious local experience.

The hotel’s Mint restaurant offers a cool, fun, evening vibe with lots of yummy share plates, oven baked pizzas and refreshing cocktails, in an alfresco balmy setting opposite the beach.

My favourite dining option I experienced while in Phuket, was at El Gaucho Restaurant – Movenpick’s Brazilian restaurant, which offers churrasco – where we were able to choose from a succulent selection of grilled prime cuts, served straight from a skewer at our table. It was a fun and special experience, and the meat was cooked perfectly.

Another unique feature offered at Movenpick is the Chocolate Fondue experience at Café Studio. I have never encountered an experience like it. It was creative and extensive, including a large range of fruits and baked treats with melted chocolate and Movenpick’s own signature ice-cream. It has to be tried to be believed!

The Spa at the resort is very special. Aromatic oils, gentle music and comfortable furnishings create a soothing ambience and my Thai massage was exquisite!

The staff at Movenpick are delightful – warm, friendly and helpful. Staying at this resort was a wonderful experience for me and my children.

JW Marriott in Phuket is a fantastic choice for a family holiday, offering a magnitude of activities and dining experiences, all to a five-star standard.

 

JW Marriott in Phuket is set on Mai Khao Beach, which provides a fresh, ocean breeze throughout the grounds of the hotel, and is ideal for walking along its long stretch of sand.

 

The resort is exceptionally well-facilitated with six restaurants, a large gym, spa, three swimming pools and a huge array of activities on offer.

A highlight for my children and myself was a personalised cooking class offered by a top Thai chef at the hotel’s Ginja Cook Cooking School.

We made juicy, delicious, prawn cakes, a fresh and spicy chicken noodle salad and warm, rich duck red curry. It was fun and a feast, while learning some useful culinary skills.

We also visited the local fresh food markets with the chef, which was novel and educational, as we learnt about local ingredients and cooking techniques

The kids club hosts many activities; my children’s favourite included tie dying t-shirts and a pirate treasure hunt in which they followed a map around the hotel locating lollies.

The hotel offers a large range of accommodation styles, with classy and attractive furnishings and décor throughout.

We stayed in a Deluxe Terrace room, which is one of the smaller accommodation options on offer, and it was ample for me and two children. I slept in the King bed and they slept on a Queen size futon which was converted from a sofa children’s sitting area.

 

The range of health and wellness activities on offer was particularly impressive. My 11-year-old daughter and I did a singing bowl meditation class which was a good way to de-stress, bond and nurture ourselves.

JW Marriott Phuket has created some appealing Wellness Packages, some of which are tailored specifically for families.

The food at all the restaurants was excellent. My personal favourite was Ginja Taste, at which I enjoyed the best Thai food I’ve ever had, with the soft-shell crab the best dish. The menu and range of flavours offered at this restaurant was expansive.

The Kabuki Japanese restaurant was a total hit with the kids! It offered an entertaining Japanese Cuisine Theatre experience – complete with a chef doing a personalised Teppanyaki-style – live cooking show for us, which was humorous and animated. The food was fresh, delicious and plentiful.