Reading and Wellness Q and A with Emma Palmer

Emma is a relational psychotherpist, ecopsychotherapist, BACP accredited counsellor, supervisor, author and facilitator.  She has worked in private practice for 16 years and is also a qualified supervisor.  Thank you Emma for your contribution and sharing your books!

Q.  We all have mental health or ill-health, and we all have a being, well or not. What are, or have been, your biggest challenges in mental health well-being?

A.  There was quite a bit of trauma in my early life, so the biggest ongoing challenges have been learning to be with hypervigilance, for example, the challenges in ‘switching off’, dealing with insomnia, that sort of thing. To be honest I’m not a big fan of the term ‘mental health’, it always sounds clinical and feels like it overlooks the importance of learning to be at home in our own skins, which has been so significant in my healing.


Q.  When you’re feeling down, what are the things that help you through?  What are your top three tips that might help others?

A.  Weeding our lovely allotment, talking to my beloved partner and close family and friends, and walking – feeling the sun/rain/wind on my face (preferably in a forest or by the ocean – and city parks are great, too). Engaging with things that feel useful beyond me and my life also feel extra helpful when I’m feeling down. I don’t have top tips for others, given that we’re so similar, and yet so unique…


Q.  What do you do for day-to-day self-care?

A. I make sure I move enough, sit still enough – meditation and/or quiet reflection – and eat my greens!


Q. I work with a lot of young adults experiencing difficulty.  If you had one piece of advice for teenagers and young adults what would it be?

A. I’m wary of giving advice, especially to teenagers and young people, cos they’re starting out in a world which is so different to the world of the mid 1980s, when I was in my mid-teens. In fact, perhaps I need their advice more than they need mine, given that their eyes will see things mine won’t, from what can be the sometimes clouded-ness of middle-age. ‘May you live every day of your life’ – I loved these words of Jonathan Swift when I was in my mid-teens, so I’m happy to share those, in case they resonate. Finding out what living is for each and every one of us seems to be one of life’s central koans (which are sort of unanswerable paradoxes, in Zen speak).


Q. Do you think reading is important, and why?

A. Yes! Reading has been a refuge and a safe place for me since the moment I could read and write. I can travel in other lands, re-live historical events, and better understand myself and what makes others tick. Fiction allows me to visit someone else’s reality for a few days. And I just loved being bathed in words, part way through a book – words intrigue me.


Q. What are you currently reading?overstory

A.  I’ve got a couple of books on the go, as I’m inclined to do. I’m part way through ‘The Overstory’ by Richard Powers and ‘Red Thread Zen: humanely entangled in emptiness’ by Susan Murphy, both excellent books.


Q. Are there any books you go back to time after time?

A. Yes, in this current phase of life it’s the ‘Shobogenzo – the treasury of the Dharma eye’ the teachings of Zen master Dogen. He has so many wise things to say and his teachings still feel contemporary, even shobogenzothough he was writing in the 13th century. I’ve been a practising Buddhist for the past 25 years and there are quite a few Buddhist books I revisit. Therapy-wise I often revisit books by my body psychotherapist friend, colleague, and former teacher, Nick Totton.


Q. What book has had the biggest impact on you?

A. It’s just too hard to choose one book, when so many have been impactful. I’m quite a fan of ‘The Little Prince’ by Saint Expury, it helped me not to worry about feeling different at a tender phase in my life.little prince


Q. Where and how do you do most of your reading?

A. I read before I drop off to sleep most nights – generally a cookery book, because it’s so undemanding and useful for the next food shop! I rarely read a whole novel unless I’m away on holiday – I’ve been reading ‘The Overstory’ for months now. That’s good in that it’s given me the chance to really relish it. I dip in and out of therapy and Buddhist books frequently, for work and pleasure. I’m most disciplined in reading non-fiction from start to finish when I’m reviewing a book for a journal or magazine, or when I’m reading proofs of my own books, when they are close to being published. Writing and preparing a book from start to finish gives me so much appreciation and gratitude for other authors, and authors yet to be. Keep reading and writing, everyone!

Reading and Wellness Q and A with presenter Michaela Strachan

Another Q& A, this time with wildlife presenter Michaela Strachan.  Michaela has kindly been very open about her health struggles and how various things including therapy and reading has helped her.

Q. We all have mental health or ill-health, and we all have a being, well or not.  What are, or have been, your biggest challenges in mental health well-being?

A. I had anorexia when I was 17. I was a classic text book case. I came from a very middle class, sheltered family life which fell apart when my Dad lost his job. I couldn’t control my situation so controlled myself.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 48.

Q. When you’re feeling down, what are the things that help you through?  What are your top three tips that might help others?

A. I connect with nature. I go for a walk in the mountain with my dog Rio. It definitely help my stress levels and my well being.

I talk to friends and share what I’m going through.

I have in the past had Trauma Therapy release which helped.

Q. What do you do for day-to-day self-care?

A. I keep fit. I do yoga, pilates, waking, running and dancing. I’m vegetarian and believe in eating in moderation. I love massage. I am very open and talk and share daily stresses and problems. I try to appreciate the little pleasures in life to balance the weight of the big issues I take on! I try and get 8hrs sleep a night.

Q. I work with a lot of young adults experiencing difficulty.  If you had one piece of advice for teenagers and young adults what would it be?

A. To connect with your natural environment. Take a break from the social media and the online gaming. Communicate stresses and concerns with friends and family in person, not just on line. Do something that keeps you fit and healthy.

Q. Do you think reading is important, and why?

A. Reading is vital. Reading fiction to escape, reading factual to learn and educate, reading things online to expand your mind and interests.

Q. What are you currently reading?

A. I’m half way through the new Ben Elton book called ‘Identity Crisis’. I’m a huge fan of his books.

Q. Are there any books you go back to time after time?

A. Not really. I don’t read as much as I would like to, so I like to read something new rather than something I’ve read before.

Q. What book has had the biggest impact on you?

A. Born Free which I read when I was about 10.

Q. Where and how do you do most of your reading?

A. I read in bed, on trains and planes. I’m very into my kindle. I love actual books but the ability to increase the font size and have a backlight is a huge plus once you get to over 50!

Are you getting enough sunlight?

Enjoying the long summer days? Do you feel better when there’s a bit of summer sun? Linda Geddes in the The New Scientist recently reported on new studies that investigate the effects of sunlight in terms of alertness, quality of sleep and mood.

IMG_0462.jpegThe studies found that there was a huge difference between sitting indoors in a bright day and actually being outside, even on a cloudy day.  We don’t generally get enough daylight this way. Add to this by putting our lights on in the evening, and we can find our  circadian rhythms (sleep patterns) disturbed, which often leads to low mood and decreased alertness.  As human beings, we need defined times of day in bright light and very dark light to properly stimulate the body clock clock hormones such as  melantonin which signals to the body that it’s time to sleep.

Increased light and modified lighting indoors to simulate daylight, and dark time in the evenings was found to greatly increase mood, alertness and quality of sleep, most noticeably in dementia sufferers.  However, we all know that getting out in the daylight is good for us.

What can we do? Even in winter, there are ways we can help our circadian rhythms by making  sure we get some quality daylight.  Get outside – the studies showed that even dim light outdoors is better than light that filters through windows.  At night, try and turn off devices and screens that are emitting blue light, because our eyes read this light as daytime.  The studies find that even night time modes on devices didn’t really help to keep the sleep patterns regular, although there was no mention of how much this is due to light levels and how much down to mental stimulation.

So, more reason to get outside and turn off the screen; it’s good for your mental health, your wellbeing and your sleep.

Reading and Wellness Q & A with Ian McMillan

Reading and wellbeing are two of the most important things available to us.  I asked Ian McMillan, the ‘Bard of Barnsley’ about how he keeps himself well as he tours around, and how his reading helps him in life.  Here is what he had to say:

Q  We all have mental health or ill-health, and we all have a being, well or not.  What are, or have been, your biggest challenges in mental health well-being?

A  I think that sometimes I allow myself to get too tired; I get up very early, which is fine, but I have to keep reminding myself to go to bed early too!

Q When you’re feeling down, what are the things that help you through?  What are your top three tips that might help others?

A  Exercise, sleep, talking to people you know as well as people you don’t know.

Q  What do you do for day-to-day self-care? 

A  I try to make time in the day to just meditate and contemplate and drift.

Q  I work with a lot of young adults experiencing difficulty.  If you had one piece of advice for teenagers and young adults what would it be?

A  Remember that you are not alone; the world can be a harsh place but you are not the only one to be feeling that harshness.

Q  Do you think reading is important, and why?

A  Reading takes you into the mind of the writer and into the centre of the things the writer is writing about. It’s a space where you can interact and it’s a space where you can be yourself.

Q  What are you currently reading?

A  All sorts but I’m enjoying rereading the poems of TS Eliot: I like trying to fathom the mystery of The Four Quartets!

Q  Are there any books you go back to time after time? 

A  Yes, the afoirementioned Four Quartets and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to remind me that we are all human and we can all help each other and the world.

Q  What book has had the biggest impact on you?

A  Maybe The Grapes of Wrath, I guess.

Q  Where and how do you do most of your reading?

A  Anywhere and everywhere; whenever I can grab a few moments


Thank you Ian!

Not living by living on social media – an experiment on cutting it out

Early this year I undertook a digital declutter.  What on earth is this?  It’s a deliberate removal, sort out, and general reassessing of your of social media, email, and other online information.  I did this as part of an international informal experiment, just to see what happened.

I’ve never been a big user of social media, but I was aware that my usage was creeping up and it wasn’t always helpful.  We all know that mindless use of social platforms eats away at our time like almost nothing else.  Social media is wonderful, it connects us, and makes communication easier in some cases, but as a therapist, I also know about increasing research that tells us social media is also making us actually feel more isolated, more lonely, and more anxious and depressed.

How can this be? You only have to look at the average Facebook account. Everyone is living it up, all the time. Everyone has a loving family, lots of friends, perfect children, having parties.  And some of them are those people who look like they have everything.

It’s a lie.

And yet we compare ourselves to them, and we feel inadequate. And lonely.  Social media is something we do in isolation.  We are alone, even if we are surrounded by others.  The recipient of our interaction chooses whether to interact back. The human version of this would be to walk down the street randomly saying what is in our heads to no-one in particular.  Sounds strange? Yet we do this online constantly.

So I was interested to find out what would happen if I shut down even my limited social media to only work related email. Just that. No Facebook, no Instagram, no messaging, cancelling my unwanted email.  It was more difficult than I thought.  I had got used to just having a ‘quick look’ at whatever happened to be my favourite social media that week.  In spare moments, waiting for something, standing in a queue.

I was actually wasting time. I wasn’t as aware of my surroundings. Every mind-wandering moment when you just click on a notification means you are not focussing on here and now. I was surprised by how many times in a day I had got into a habit of ‘just checking Insta/FB/fill in blank’, that I didn’t even think about it. And are all so busy aren’t we? How do we have time to do this? Don’t we want that time back?  I did.

So I followed the rules of the digital declutter (there was some leeway to account for essential work use – and that means really essential).  Everything else had to go.  I did fail a couple of times.  I would urge everyone to try it just to see how difficult it is.  I’ll post later about some tips I discovered.

Fear of missing out?  Yes, that’s a big one.  But think about this – what life might we be missing out on whilst we’re too busy being on social media?

How to Choose a Therapist

It can be really daunting trying to choose a therapist. First, you’re getting over the challenge of deciding whether you really need to see one – and there is no rule about how “bad” or “deserving” you have to be.  Maybe you just need a couple of sessions to talk something over. Maybe you need more. Some people don’t really know until they arrive in the therapist’s room.

Whichever it is, it’s a difficult decision.  You may be with this person for some weeks.  You might be telling them things you’ve kept to yourself, and you might be talking about some really difficult things, so it’s important you feel comfortable.

How to choose?

Some people follow a recommendation from a friend or someone they know.   This is fine, but bear in mind, what may feel right for one person may not feel right for you.  One of the most common places to look for a therapist is online.

Many BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) registered counsellors are listed with the Counselling Directory: as this is one of the most popular places to find a therapist.  The BACP also has its own listing of BACP registered therapists: The other main registering accrediting body in the  is the UK Council for Psychotherapy which also has a listing of therapists:

There are other listings, but I would advise anyone looking for a therapist to start with one of these. The counselling and psychotherapy profession is becoming more regulated, and these listings make sure that its members are properly professionally trained (by accredited postgraduate training), and registered. A BACP or UKCP registered therapist ensures that they are actually professionally qualified, meet regulated standards, and are up to date with professional development in their professional area.

Other than this, read therapist profiles, look at the photos, and go with your gut feeling. Good luck!

Looking after your mental health

1 in 4 of us will experience mental health difficulties at some point in our lives (Mind), sometimes repeatedly.  This can range from mild depression or anxiety to more debilitating symptoms – not being able to cope with day to day life, everything seeming overwhelming, feelings of panic out of the blue, to name a few – and more serious disorders of various kinds.  Some people struggle with these things for years, sometimes without help or any relief.  And yet this is still such a difficult thing to talk about.

There is even today a perception that people suffering symptoms are weak, need to pull themselves together, or are simply seeking attention.  Men are sometimes told to ‘man up’.  And yet this is sad because in some cases those pointing the finger have perhaps not been able to ask for help themselves, and so can’t bear to see others asking for it.

Just talking about symptoms can help – feeling heard and understood instead of judged and told what to do can go a long way to helping a person feel less alone.  Poor mental health might be a perfectly normal reaction to life events or stress, yet we often feel we are not allowed to feel sad.

As our society becomes more uncertain, employment becomes less secure, and our communities more fractured, it doesn’t seem surprising that we might struggle more with sadness, anxiety, worry, low mood or mood swings, or anger. There is no shame in seeking help of whatever kind you might need – therapist, coach, or guide of some kind.  For some reason, seeing a therapist still appears less acceptable than other kinds of support.  But it is just as essential as a doctor or dentist for physical health or a business coach for guiding your business.

We think mental health takes care of itself.  It does not.  We all need a little help and support from time to time.  Valuing ourselves means valuing all parts of ourselves and attending to them – physical, mental and spiritual.  Looking after our mental health is sometimes about finding the time for some meditation or finding a quiet moment in the day, and sometimes it is about finding a therapist, and sometimes it is about all of these things.  Let’s start making looking after our mental health a priority this new year – giving ourselves space and above all, permission.