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Psychotherapist Zainah Khan offers life advice to reduce readers’ stress

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dear-bestfit-cover Psychotherapist Zainah KhanLife can be stressful at times. From finances to relationships, work to family, we all have our own personal battles. Psychotherapist Zainah Khan answers your questions and offers ways we can improve our mental health.

1. I’m struggling to finance Christmas this year. I’m already putting gifts on a credit card I can’t afford to pay off. Any advice?

Christmas is an expensive time for most of us. Many people rely on borrowed finance to see themselves through this time, which can ease the stress of stretched finances temporarily.

However, the pressures that come with repayment are inevitable and are likely to create further stresses in the New Year. I note you mention putting presents on a credit card, which you cannot afford to pay off.

I admire your honesty in admitting this and this tells me you are able to foresee financial difficulties post-Christmas. With reference to the honesty you have shown, my advice would be to remain honest with those you feel you should be buying for and explain that money is tight this year, which has meant you have not been able to spend as much as you would have liked.

There are many others in the same situation and I am confident that your loved ones will be able to empathise with your circumstances. I’m certain that they would prefer to know your reality than to learn you had been increasing your debts to give them more extravagant gifts. Feeling disappointed or guilty is natural in your situation but give yourself a break and remember that Christmas is not all about money! Use your time to create valuable memories with people who are meaningful in your life.

If there are children involved, perhaps involving them in making handmade decorations for the home and Christmas tree would be a good idea, as well as handmade Christmas cards, so you can share the experience together and have some fun and save money at the same time.

2. I’m recently single and struggling to adapt to life on my own. I generally feel a bit lost, like I’ve forgotten how to be on my own again. What can I do?

Relationships can both give and take a lot from us. We become familiar with having another person to share our lives with, someone who can share our happy experiences with us, and support us during the times we might not feel our strongest. Being in a relationship often involves negotiation, compromise, sacrifice and working towards mutual understandings. We learn to live our lives with constant awareness of another being that we see as part of us. When relationships end, we can experience a huge sense of loss, as you have mentioned in your question, and this is completely normal. In a sense, there *has been* a real loss; the detachment from a significant connection which gave meaning to our identity. It is completely natural that it takes time to adjust back to single life. There will be a wide range of emotions you will experience as you reflect on the ending of your relationship; these may include sadness, loneliness, and uncertainty and possibly even guilt, anger and regret.

It is important to allow yourself to feel these emotions, despite them being uncomfortable, as they form an important part of your healing process that follows the experience of loss. My advice would be for you to take time to reconnect with who you are, and who you were before the relationship. Often when one thing is missing from our lives, the feelings of emptiness and fulfilment cause us to believe that we have lost everything, when in fact, there is a greatness of hope and possibility for the future when we are one single force. Spend time with yourself to define all your positive attributes and qualities, all the things you are proud of, the things and people you really love and that give you energy. Draw upon these facts when you feel low and make time to spend time with those you care about, use your support network (trusted friends and family) to give you strength and make time to enjoy everything you have a passion for. Time will heal and aid you to feel better with a strong sense of who you are and what is most important to you.

3. I have two young kids and so sleep comes at a premium these days. You get used to the deprivation to some extent, but recently I’ve found I’ve been getting more stressed with things than usual? Any tips for coping with prolonged tiredness?

Sleep is very important for all of us. It rebalances our energy levels and allows our bodies to recover from the busy lives we lead. When we are deprived of sleep, we will naturally feel more irritable and low, as we do not have sufficient levels of emotional, mental or physical energy to keep up with the demands of the day. Children themselves demand a great deal of attention and care with the levels of dependency they have for us adults. If it is difficult to get enough sleep with your little ones around, use these quick tips to recharge your energy tank:

  1. Drink more water – dehydration can leave us feeling more tired than we actually are. Have a bottle handy and drink throughout the day to perk you your energy.
  2. Take 5 – having a power nap doesn’t make you a bad mum, even if you have to pop the kids in front of the telly for a short while. They will get a much happier and contented mum after you have recharged.
  3. Go outside – fresh air and exercise are brilliant for rebalancing our energy levels, and the best bit is you can take the children with you and let them have a run around, too.
  4. Avoid sugar – although a quick burst of energy can be achieved from a boost in sugar levels, the results are short lived. Regularly eating small snacks, such as fruit and natural yoghurt, can give us natural energy with better health benefits.
  5. Aromatherapy oils – natural oils are also brilliant for boosting energy and it’s as easy as just taking a few deep inhalations which immediately combat fatigue. Citrus oils such as lemon and neroli are great for stimulating energy, as are eucalyptus and orange; powerful scents for feeling instantly refreshed by boosting blood flow to the brain.

4. I find myself increasingly addicted to my Phone, and am finding it harder to switch off as a result. I’m checking Facebook and stuff in bed, on the loo… my brain has no downtime. Do I have a problem?

I hear your concerns about having an addiction. Sometimes applying such a label can be more damaging than accepting that there may be an issue to address. Addictions carry a lot of stigma and we become fixated on ‘having a problem’ rather than understanding what our experience is.

It may be useful to try and understand what is driving you to be with your phone an excessive amount. Often, it is that we seek distraction from our immediate surroundings such as daily activities, work and relationships. Ask yourself how happy you are in your present circumstances, in the here-and-now. If there are things you would like to be associated with, use the opportunity to indulge more in what is at-hand so you are able to enjoy and value the experience. Many of us are guilty of being on our phones a lot of the time and unfortunately, we miss out on a lot of the detail, colour and texture of life. I would check-in with the activities you use your phone for the most. I note you mention Facebook. If social media is a main culprit, make time to go out and meet people instead so you can chat in person rather than on the phone. If it is to keep up with what others are doing, use your time to enrich the quality of your life personally by doing what you enjoy. Focusing on others a lot of the time can detract us from our own aspirations and interests, which can reduce self-esteem and desire for personal growth.

Also, if you are concerned about your time on the phone, create no-phone-zones in your life such as the first 30 minutes of the day. Use this time to focus on the day ahead and visualise what you plan to achieve.

In contrast, use the last 30 minutes of the day to relax, meditate, read a book or even get an extra half-an-hour sleep! Using your phone before bed stimulates your brain meaning it will spoil the quality of your sleep. Take control and live a more meaningful and rich life, which is not dictated by your phone! I’m certain that relationships with others will improve when you have more of their attention, too.

Zainah Khan is the Lead Psychotherapist and Managing Director of Chakra Corporate Mental Strength Ltd and oversees training for a number of large corporate businesses in Leeds. The aim is to increase resilience to stress and mental health challenges in the workplace, as well as offering personal therapy. More information can be found at www.chakracorporate.co.uk

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