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Ask an Expert: How can psychological flexibility help with stress?

Psychological flexibility is increasingly seen as the superpower of mental health and well-being. 

Dr Melanie Rendall, our lead psychologist at Streamline, uses this approach to support people after weight loss surgery. It focuses on helping people develop 3 key strands:

 

1. Building awareness skills

We all have wandering minds that can spend a lot of time ruminating about past events or worrying about future ones. This is completely normal. We can’t avoid being pulled into our minds – our minds are master story tellers and always coming up with something to grab our attention and pull us away from what we are doing.

At times of prolonged and ongoing stress – we tend to start spending more time in our minds and this can create all sorts of difficulties for us, including worry, depression, anxiety and reduced satisfaction with our lives. 

We can find ourselves being pulled back into previous ways of coping that may interfere with the outcome from surgery, for example, using food as a way of temporarily getting rid of a feeling you don’t want, or a feeling you do. Or isolating and avoiding.

Awareness skills is about getting better at recognising when this is happening, bringing ourselves back to the present moment and thereby allowing us to be more able to freely choose what action we want to take. As bariatric surgery is a tool, and requires so many adjustments to most aspects of life, learning some awareness and mindfulness skills can make a real difference. 

Mindfulness is not the same as meditation. In some very popular types of meditation, the aim is to have a silent mind with no thoughts. This is the very opposite of mindfulness.  

Mindfulness is about paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, memories, urges and body sensations with openness, curiousity and flexibility. It is about allowing our feelings, positive and negative, to be there, letting them come and go without the need to fight with them or try and get rid of them. 

There are popular apps such as ‘Headspace’ and ‘Calm’ that can be useful for people. Alternatively, psychological therapists can support with this.

 

2. Building ‘openness’ skills

Under stress, we start to get easily tangled up in our minds, bodies and feelings and this can lead to problems with mood and doing the things in life that matter to us most. It can make it harder for people to make the changes they intended to make after bariatric surgery.

When under prolonged or ‘unhealthy’ stress, we can often find ourselves walking around in a smoky haze, lost in our thoughts, and missing out on life. 

Learning some ‘openness’ skills can help us relate more skilfully to our thoughts and feelings so they don’t bully or push us around so much. For example, psychologists can support people with ways of dealing with cravings or head hunger, or finding other ways of relating and responding to difficult thoughts and feeling that don’t stop you from making the changes you wanted to make after your surgery. 

 

3. Connecting with our values

As humans, we often base our decisions and actions on thoughts and feelings. This can be problematic when we are under stress, and this skill relates to being clear about our values and using these to guide our goals, behaviour and responses, particularly during challenging times. 

These don’t have to be massive gestures, it is often about small things we can do. This website link will explain a little more about what is meant by values and how they can be helpful: https://livingwell.org.au/well-being/mental-health/living-by-your-values/

 

Finding support:

There are lots of different options if you feel you need more support with managing how you are feeling, or if you would like to learn more about how to develop psychological flexibility skills, or general stress management strategies. 

Anyone living in England can self refer to their local talking therapy service, most of which often have stress management courses, or can offer individual support. You can self refer via this link: https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/mental-health/find-an-NHS-talking-therapies-service/

If living outside of England, you can discuss your local talking therapy options with your GP. 

Sometimes it can be helpful to have some support with a specialist therapist with knowledge and experience of working with those who have had bariatric surgery. Streamline psychology team can help.

If you would like more information please give us a call on 0333 016 2929 or fill in the online enquiry form below.

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