Health & Beauty


in Features

Hypnotherapy is a type of mind-body intervention in which hypnosis is used to create a state of focused attention and increased suggestibility in the treatment of a medical or psychological disorder or concern.

Clinical Hypnotherapist Helen Brooks aka ‘the Tummy Whisperer’ is a clinical hypnotherapist with a Degree in Applied Psychology who focuses her expertise on helping and treating sufferers of IBS. She helps clients where dietary changes and medication have failed to reduce symptoms. 

Helen states that ‘hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis as a therapeutic technique. It is a form of therapy that utilises the subconscious mind to bring about change. In a relaxed but focused state of awareness, the hypnotherapist can use positive suggestions which are accepted by the subconscious mind to help bring about changes in thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

There are many different therapeutic techniques within the field of hypnotherapy ranging from post-hypnotic suggestion through to more analytical methods, regression or the use of metaphors and visualisations to help solve problems. If you have a deep-seated emotional problem or bad habit you just can’t break it is likely influenced by the subconscious mind. It is therefore important to engage the subconscious mind to bring about change. Hypnotherapy can help you take back control and access your own inner strengths and resources.

Hypnotherapy can help with a wide variety of emotional issues and is really effective in helping to relieve anxiety, fears and phobias. It is helpful for working with habits such as stopping smoking and nail-biting and can help with creating healthier habits like healthy eating. 

Hypnotherapy is often misunderstood because of stage hypnosis and stuff on TV. It’s wrongly associated with power, control and belief.  You are not under someone’s control, powerless or unconscious, you don’t have to believe in it to work and you most certainly won’t be made to cluck like a chicken, in fact, hypnotherapy is used in a variety of medical and professional settings. It can be used in operations instead of anaesthesia, it’s used for dental work to slow the flow of blood from tooth extractions, it can be used to reduce blood pressure, ease the side effects of chemotherapy and speeds the healing of wounds and recovery from surgery. It’s also used by Olympic athletes to improve performance and so much more. 

There are certain physical issues it has been shown to be particularly helpful for. I specialise in a specific type of hypnotherapy called gut-directed hypnotherapy which is a well researched and clinically proven way to make long term changes to Irritable bowel syndrome. Gut directed hypnotherapy is using hypnotherapy

to change the function of the gut. It works by restoring the communication between the gut and brain, reducing the hypersensitivity of the nerve cells and relieving IBS. Hypnotherapy also 

teaches the mind to control the gut, rather than the gut controlling you.

Stress and anxiety exacerbates IBS symptoms and hypnotherapy can counteract this by activating the parasympathetic nervous system which stimulates the body’s rest and digest phase. Hypnosis can also help change subconscious responses to situations such as the fear of needing the toilet when away from home or the fear of eating certain foods. Alleviating these fears helps to keep the mind and body working together in harmony and stops the fight or flight response adding to digestive disturbance.

In gut-directed hypnotherapy, the suggestions are focused on creating physical changes such as; your digestion works smoothly and comfortably, you are free from bloating and discomfort, you are in control of your bowels. They would also be focused on improving emotional wellbeing; you feel more relaxed each day, you are calmer and much more self-confident. 

Imagery is a powerful way to communicate with the subconscious mind and various metaphors and visualisations are used in sessions. You may imagine you are drinking a soothing healing liquid that coats your entire digestive system and soothes discomfort, restores regular bowel movements and eases bloating. Your subconscious then uses these images to create physical changes so you experience relief.’

What Are the Benefits of Hypnosis?

The hypnotic state allows a person to be more open to discussion and suggestion. It can improve the success of other treatments for many conditions, including:

• Phobias fears, and anxiety

• Sleep disorders

• Depression

• Stress

• Post-trauma anxiety 

• Grief and loss

Hypnosis also might be used to help with pain control and to overcome habits, such as smoking or overeating. It also might be helpful for people whose symptoms are severe or who need crisis management.


During a hypnotherapy session, people are guided through a process to induce a trance-like state that helps them focus their minds, respond more readily to suggestions and become deeply relaxed. Hypnotherapy utilizes the heightened awareness of the hypnotic state to help you focus on a problem more deeply.  3 Hypnotherapy utilizes techniques including:

Relaxation: You will be guided by the hypnotherapist to visualize yourself in a state of peacefulness and relaxation, even when confronting a problematic behaviour or the object of your fears.

Suggestion: Your hypnotherapist may make gentle suggestions for behaviour changes that can help you conquer your issue. For example, you may be taught to see yourself as a supportive advisor during a phobic reaction, thus learning to trust yourself and your ability to get through the situation.

Coping skills: You may be taught certain cognitive-behavioral coping skills, such as guided imagery and the STOP! technique that you can use when confronting fears or anxieties.

Caitlin Thorpe is one of Helen’s clients. ‘I had tried different things before working with Helen (e.g. dietary changes, probiotics, lifestyle changes etc), and was despairing wondering if I could ever find something that would help. I am so grateful that I got to work with Helen. I have experienced improvements in my IBS I didn’t previously think were possible. Working with Helen has been a life-changing experience.’

Hypnotherapy is a gentle yet powerful way of working and is suitable for pretty much everyone from children to the elderly. It’s a natural holistic approach that can be used in many ways. 

Helen Brooks website

World Vegetarian day – 1st October 2021

in Features

This annual event, which began in 1977, encourages everyone to try a meat
free meal – even for a day. The benefits of having meat free days in the week are numerous, which is why our local Conscious Eating initiative supports and encourages such events.

Stay healthy 

Opting for mostly plant-based foods, limiting red meat and processed meat, can have a big impact on your health. The World Cancer Research Fund highlight that diets lower in meat intake boast lower risks of strokes, heart disease, cancers, type 2 diabetes and premature death.

Save Money  

Most of the staples of a meat-free diet (i.e. beans, lentils, rice and corn) are comparatively cheaper, and longer lasting, than meat. 

Eating less meat + more veg = saving money

Save Lives

Billions of animals farmed and killed for meat each year are raised in intensive factory farms. These animals are often diseased, injured and dying, due to the unnatural conditions they are kept in. 

Eating less meat does reduce the number of animal lives lost (if you are curious about your impact try a Vegetarian Calculator online).

Alleviate world hunger

We produce more grain to feed animals than humans. It can take up to 12 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of beef, which is an inefficient use of energy. Currently, around 900 million people suffer from hunger and undernourishment, yet an amount of cereal which could feed three times this number of people is fed to cattle, pigs and chickens.

Save our environment 

Continued agricultural intensification, expansion, and overfishing, will continue to contribute to loss of species and biodiversity. Greenhouse gases, such as methane, CO², and nitrous oxide, produced by livestock, decaying manure and the destruction of forest ecosystems, also contribute to climate change .

Shared successes! 

Please get in touch with one of your favourite meat free recipes- tasty  and kind to the wallet- so we can share them for others to try:

The Gibraltar Hearing Issues & Tinnitus Association

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The Gibraltar Hearing Issues & Tinnitus Association is a small fully
volunteer driven organisation financed by private donations and fundraising initiatives. Since 2008 they have provided guidance and support to the community and HMGoG, plus act as a pressure group.

Its mission is to raise awareness on the needs and defend the rights for the Deaf and the Hard or Hearing (Deaf Community) in Gibraltar. It has been a true challenge because, surprisingly, Gibraltar legislation does not fully protect the rights of the local Deaf Community. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has not been fully transposed in Gibraltar law, unlike in the United Kingdom. This situation already raised eyebrows internationally when the UK was actually reprimanded by the United Nations in 2017 for not doing enough amongst other things to “strengthen its efforts to extend the Convention and support its implementation in the Overseas Territories”. 

Gibraltar Governments past and present have introduced improvements in legislation and policy, but these remain limited and continue to allow for institutional discrimination against the Deaf Community to exist. For example, during the COVID pandemic there was no British Sign Language Interpreter used during the broadcast press conferences. This is made even more challenging by a lack of subtitles. During that period the Deaf Community found it very hard to glean the latest public health advice in real time.

GHITA’s perception has always been that the Deaf Community size has been larger than local services plan and cater for. This year the World Health Organisation released The Hearing Report where it stated that globally 5% of the world population suffers from deafness. HMGoG’s own Lifestyle (Pandemic) Survey confirmed that 7% of the Gibraltar population suffers from deafness. Gibraltar is 2% higher than global figures which is concerning given the current lack of resources for prompt diagnosis and treatment e.g., no Tinnitus Clinic in the Gibraltar Health Authority. 

The 20th of September is the International Day for the Deaf and marks the start of Gibraltar’s Hearing Loss Week. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up to date with their news.

Gibraltar Dyslexia Support Group (Dyslexia Gibraltar)

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Dyslexia Awareness Week – 4th to 10th October 2021

We know that Dyslexia is still often misunderstood and can go unrecognised for many years.  That’s why, during Dyslexia Awareness Week, Dyslexia Gibraltar will continue to promote a greater understanding of dyslexia.  We are asking you to join and support us to create a dyslexia friendly society where everyone is enabled to succeed.  

Dyslexia Gibraltar hoped and plans for the week will include; 

Monday 4th October – Visiting schools

During the week we hope to visit as many schools as possible and give a short talk about dyslexia to the students and staff present.

Tuesday 5th October – Open Coffee Morning

Our Coffee Morning will be an informal opportunity for the parents to meet with our team and learn more about dyslexia whilst relaxing over a cup and some biscuits. 

Teachers Evening

We are here to not only support parents and children but the teachers too. So we hope to have as many as possible join us for a fun evening where they will find out first-hand what dyslexia is all about.

Wednesday 6th October – SENCO’s Evening

Our support extends to all those working with people with dyslexia and on Wednesday we will invite those who deal with them on a daily basis to an exciting evening on dyslexia.

Thursday 7th October – Parents Evening 

For those who couldn’t make the Coffee Morning or just want to come and find out more, we will hold a Parents Evening with specific specialists giving advice parents so desperately need.

Friday 8th October – DYSLEXIA DAY 

#GoRedForDyslexia is a global community of passionate individuals, companies, schools and organisations. We want schools and businesses to encourage everyone to go red to raise awareness of dyslexia. Whether you’re GoRed in class, at home, or out and about in the world, we want to see. Please tag us on social media at our different handles.

Get your very own Dyslexia t-shirt

To help you support us we have designed a special red and white t-shirt which you can use for Gibraltar National Day on Sept 10th or/and on World Dyslexia Awareness Day on the Friday 8th of October 2021. The t-shirt can be purchased at Cotton Leisure.

Bookmark Competition

Friday the 8th is the closing date for entries, with this year’s theme being; “Teachers are Superheroes”. The Annual Bookmark Competition is organised on behalf of the Ministry of Culture by Gibraltar Cultural Services and Gibraltar Dyslexia. 

Saturday 9th October 

We will join forces with Gibraltar Rugby Mini and Youth at their pitch during the morning/afternoon so that we can promote the inspiring work that we do in the local community.

More details on all our plans for the week will be emailed to our members and posted on our social media platform closer to the date. If you want to be kept informed please become a member and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

For further details please contact the Dyslexia Gibraltar on the details M: +350 5400 7924 / E:  / W: dyslexia.GI

Doula support, or ‘mothering the mother’

in Health & Beauty

Doulas provide emotional and practical support during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period. According to Doula UK. While doulas are not there to change outcomes, there is growing evidence that having a birth or postnatal doula brings a number of tangible benefits, from reducing intervention rates to shortening labour and improving the condition of babies at birth. Other benefits include an increased likelihood of successful breastfeeding and lower rates of postnatal depression.

Doula support, or ‘mothering the mother’, can be vital in today’s society.  Women have supported women having babies since the beginning of time. The community surrounding a woman, their “village”, would come together to give hands-on help and emotional support. Today, we are living differently; often working longer hours, having children later and with more opportunity to live in different places. A result may be a loss of that “village”. The doula community helps women find it again.

Throughout history, women have been supported by other women during childbearing. Yet, as families begin living farther apart and as birth becomes increasingly medicalized, fewer women receive this kind of support. Because they have many other responsibilities and are usually attending more than one woman, doctors, maternity nurses — and sometimes even midwives can rarely be with a woman continuously. Fathers and partners offer support, but they too are experiencing the birth of their baby and coping with their new and evolving identities. serves.

A doula should have no judgement, their role is simply to nurture unconditionally, through care, support and love, so that birthing people can focus their energies on loving and caring for their babies and themselves. 

Labor and postpartum doulas have stepped into this vacuum a space traditionally filled by the mothers, aunts, sisters, grandparents and neighbors in our communities and their use is becoming more popular in the United States and around the world.

There is, however, a lack of understanding of the doula role and a shortage of doula support available to disadvantaged families. 

There should definitely be more community-based doulas or doula programmes.

The services doulas offer depend on their training and skills, but include: 

• Birth education

• Creating a birth plan

• Discussing and healing from previous births

• Continuous labour support

• Partner support

• What to do if you go past your due date

• Massage and other comfort measures, such as pressure points

• Suggesting positions to help ease pain

• Discussing options for pain relief

• Emotional support for the pregnancy and birth 

• Assisting with your birth environment (lighting candles, playing music in the delivery room)

• Assisting you with negotiation of your birth choices

• Photography and/or video of the labor, birth, and golden hour

• Breastfeeding help when the baby is born.

A doctor is focused on keeping the baby safe and sound, but a doula is focused only on the mother. The biggest benefit of having a doula is that you have a woman trained and experienced with labour and birth, whose sole job is to support you. A doula doesn’t also have to do anything medical or check on other patients like a doctor might. She is there for you and your needs. You might be thinking, my partner will be by my side; he’ll tend to me but keep in mind that the birth experience can be extremely emotional and surreal for him, too. He might not even know how to help you. That’s where the doula steps in. The doula provides reassurance to the partner when everything is going smoothly, and helps facilitate communication between the mother and her partner when it’s not. Doulas can also tag team with the partner to provide labor support to the mum so that the partner gets to rest when he needs to. A doula understands the importance of the birth experience, so she aims to help make sure those memories are as positive as possible.

Alison Ogier has been a Birth and Post Natal Doula since 2011.

Here, Alison outlines what a doula does.

‘Doulas work with families throughout their pregnancy journey, birth and immediate post natal period. They provide a non judgemental, evidenced based approach to the specific needs and wants of that family which includes sign posting to information on birthing choices and all the options open to them along with an unbiased collection of stats for each family to decide for themselves what is applicable to them. They provide emotional and practical support during birth by bringing a calm presence, reminding each family of their options along the way as well as hands on support such as massage, pool filling and initiating breastfeeding. 

Post natally Doulas are there to provide support as the family adjusts to the new dynamic so this might include breastfeeding support, cooking, light house work and listening as we are there in a debriefing capacity too.’

I became a Doula due to the lack of continuity of care in maternity services and wanting to provide families with an unbiased approach to their journey as the health care professionals do not always present things as a choice. My goal is simply for people to not regret any choices made as well as feel heard and positive about their birthing experience. 

What I get from it is knowing that each family I support is more educated, empowered and in tune with each other to facilitate a healthy parenting journey. They will know their choices and have the conviction to follow their instincts regardless of race, religion or socio economic circumstance.’

There can be huge benefits to having a doula. First, because they will be with you all the way through your pregnancy and labour. That means you get to know them well, which can be very reassuring – especially if your maternity service can’t provide the same continuity.

Doulas can also provide continuous support during labour and birth. Research has found that continuous support during labour and birth is beneficial for women and for their babies.

Doulas have also been shown to yield good results for vulnerable women or women who need more culturally sensitive support. So if that’s relevant to you, it might be worth seriously considering a doula as an option.

Doula UK –

Alison Ogier – Birth and Post Natal Doula

The life of William

in Health & Beauty

Once there was a boy called William, who looked pretty ordinary, except for a cool scar on his forehead. 

William told us about a time when he was practicing a play at school. He was meant to play a solo part the following day for the parents. That afternoon, William went to his grandparents’ house for tea. Well, poor little William did not see what was coming. Do you want to know what happened next? I’ll tell you. 

He left his shoes lying around and he accidently tripped over one and then tripped over the other one. He fell and cracked his head open. There was blood everywhere. William’s grandfather called the ambulance to take him to the hospital. In the ambulance, William passed out and woke up at the entrance to the hospital. The doctors stitched his head up and he now has a permanent scar.

Now that you know what he looks like on the outside, let me tell you about his inside, which is super and will blow your mind. 

One thing to tell you quickly, is that William is dyslexic. This means he finds school hard, but he knows it’s a huge advantage in proper life. There are seven types of dyslexics that he told us about. There are storytellers, makers, entertainers, movers, imaginers, questioners and ‘people’ people. Surprisingly, William is all of these, which makes him very special. Very few people are dyslexic and not many people are all these things in one. 

He loves to invent stories. William can create worlds in his mind in the blink of an eye. His imagination can run wild. He loves to build and he’s very good at creating. He makes people laugh and they enjoy being around him. He is always on the move and he loves making up games. He loves to ask questions like ‘Why not?’ and he is amazing at understanding how other people are feeling. 

William has left you some advice.

“Do not be afraid, dyslexics. I know how you feel and I know how you think. Don’t be scared of the world”

Good Gut Health

in Health & Beauty

Did you know that there are about 40 trillion bacteria in your body, most of which are in your intestines. Most of these bacteria are good for you, especially the ones found in your gut which not only help you digest food, but which can also be good for your physical and mental health.

Did you know that there are about 40 trillion bacteria in your body, most of which are in your intestines. Most of these bacteria are good for you, especially the ones found in your gut which not only help you digest food, but which can also be good for your physical and mental health.

The signs of an unhealthy gut can often show up as problematic digestive symptoms such as constipation, diarrhoea, stomach-ache, heartburn or indigestion. 

So just what should and shouldn’t you eat to keep your gut healthy? Eating a wide variety of whole, unprocessed foods, including fibre, probiotics and a range of fruit and vegetables, is an important baseline for good gut health. The three worst foods for your gut include alcohol, sugar and artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers. 

The good news is that eating certain fruits, nuts and seeds can offer health benefits for your gut. Some of these gut-friendly food products can even be eaten as snacks, which is great for when you’re feeling a little hungry between meals and want to munch on something tasty. Most of the fruits, nuts and seeds mentioned below supply healthy oils such as Omega 3 (walnuts) and are also high in protein plus essential minerals.

Walnuts are packed full of good fats, minerals and vitamins thought to support your mood and give you a glow and evidence also suggests these brain-shaped kernels are also good for your mental performance. One study found that eating a small number of walnuts every day can improve gut health. Holland & Barrett Organic Walnuts are noted for their soft, sweet, nutty taste and are a source of Biotin, Manganese and Copper. The light amber walnut pieces can be used in all kinds of cooking and baking recipes. Why not add some to salads and pasta dishes for a little crunch or put some ground walnuts in to your mincemeat when you are cooking chilli or Bolognese.

Holland & Barrett Roasted Pistachio Nuts are high in dietary fibre and perfect for on-the-go snacking. Eating pistachios may help the overall health of your gut health by keeping digestion moving. Dietary fibre usually moves through the digestive system undigested. However, some fibres work as prebiotics in the system as they’re digested by the good bacteria in your system.

Macadamia Nuts are rich in soluble fibre, which acts as a prebiotic in the gut, encouraging good bacteria to blossom there. Enjoy macadamia nuts on top of salads, sprinkled on soups or served with roast veggies, or if you want a healthy snack, try a pack of Holland & Barrett Almonds, Macadamia Nuts & Cranberry.   

Flaxseed is rich in fibre which can help prevent constipation and other digestive issues. Another bonus of flaxseed is that it keeps you feeling fuller for longer, stopping you from reaching for those unhealthy snacks. Flaxseed oil, also known as Linseed oil, is an excellent natural source of Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) which is an Omega-3 fatty acid. As the body is unable to produce them on its own, Omega-3 fatty acids are essential dietary additions. Take one or two Holland & Barrett Vegetarian Flaxseed Oil capsules daily or get into the habit of stirring two heaped dessert spoons of Linwoods Milled Flaxseed & Goji Berries into your morning bowl of porridge, cereal or muesli.

Unsalted seeds, including sunflower seeds, are also excellent sources of fibre, which aids digestion. Sunflower seeds also contain antioxidants like selenium and vitamin E to help protect cells and prevent chronic disease. Grab a bag of Holland & Barrett Stunning Sunflower Seeds and enjoy a daily handful. 

Dates have many nutritional benefits and they are high in fibre which may help prevent constipation and improve your digestive health. They are also a versatile ingredient that you can enjoy in both sweet and savoury dishes. For a refreshing dessert, peel 4 oranges and remove the white pith. Place the orange segments in a bowl along with any juices, then add some Holland & Barrett Chopped Dates, some rose syrup or rosewater and toss gently. Divide between 4 dessert bowls, scatter on mint leaves and serve – delicious!

Prunes have been part of our grandparents’ folklore where they were known as a good remedy to help with constipation. They are a source of both insoluble and soluble fibre: insoluble fibre helps keep your bowel movements regular, while soluble fibre helps to moderate digestion and absorb nutrients from your food. Aim to eat 5-6 Holland & Barrett Pitted Californian Prunes daily to boost your digestive health. 

Vegetarians and vegans sometimes experience digestive issues whey they start eating plants, but over time a new balance will become established. Cashews, pine nuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and macadamia nuts are all good for gut health but are also great sources of iron for vegetarians. To add more iron into your diet, take 10ml of Floradix Formula Herbal Iron available from Holland & Barrett twice a day, approximately 30 minutes before morning and evening meals.

Summer Allergies

in Health & Beauty

The summer season is associated with sun and fun. However, summer also brings with it a variety of allergy offenders; and summer allergies can be just as bad as those experienced during the spring and autumn. Common allergies during the summer include:

Insect Bites and Stings

The warm weather welcomes insects such as bees, hornets, wasps…

Most of us steer away from these buzzing creatures to avoid bites/stings. Some common symptoms that come along with an insect sting allergy are pain, swelling, redness, itching and itching at the site itself. Those who suffer from a severe reaction or anaphylaxis can also experience symptoms such as tummy upsets, tongue or throat swelling, difficulty breathing, dizziness or unconsciousness. Severe allergic reactions can occur within minutes after the sting and require immediate medical attention.  Taking precautionary measures can lessen your chances of getting stung – it is best to avoid:

• walking barefoot outdoors and wearing sweet smelling colognes, perfumes, and lotions

• eating food that has been exposed food 

• exposure to open bins where insects thrive.

Seasonal Fruits & Vegetables

Melons, peaches, nectarines, kiwi fruit, tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots are just some of the fresh produce we love to enjoy during the summer months. However, for some allergy sufferers, these fruits contain similar proteins to some grass and tree pollen they are allergic to, causing the body to react the same way it would to the pollen. This condition is referred to as oral allergy syndrome (OAS). Common symptoms of OAS include itching or burning of the lips, mouth, and throat and in some cases, hives. An allergy test can help determine what a person is allergic to; it is best to seek advice from a qualified allergy specialist.

To avoid having a reaction, try opting for a cooked version of the fruit or vegetable, which will degrade the protein causing the allergy.


Outdoor mould spores make their way through the air just as pollen does. Mould spores are ubiquitous (present everywhere) and often outnumber pollen grains in the air even when the pollen count is at its highest. Mould allergy symptoms are similar to those of pollen allergy and include coughing, sneezing, runny nose, congestion and itchy eyes. To reduce your exposure to outside moulds, keep doors and windows closed and remain indoors on days with high mould counts.


Warm, dry, and windy days are often when pollen counts tend to be the highest. Grass allergy symptoms present themselves in several ways: runny nose, sneezing, congestion, itchy and watery eyes and asthma are the most common. Skin rashes such as hives and welts may be present in people with more severe allergies or when in direct contact with the offending grass. Staying indoors on high pollen count days, showering and changing clothes after outside activities as well as keeping doors and windows shut are all ways you can avoid grass pollen. 


in Health & Beauty

Many people can say they have a large number of friends.  However,
the likelihood is that they do not enjoy true, sincere friendships with all those individuals.

True friendships take time and work to create.  Building true friendships requires a lot of emotional give and take from both people. When formed, sincere friendships are enduring. A friend will provide unconditional love and support.   Confiding in another person without fear of judgment is liberating.  It allows us to speak without feeling the need to self-vet everything we say. How often in social situations do we monitor what we say in case we expose too much of ourselves?  We live in a society where fragilities and emotional or mental vulnerability can be seen as some kind of weakness. Talking to others can feel like a vocal dance rather than an honest discussion about how we feel. 

Friends do not want us to hide what we are experiencing – they positively encourage us to take down barriers and show who we are. How else can you truly get to know someone else if they do not expose all of themselves to you – good and not so good. Everyone’s definition of a friend or friendship is different. Perhaps it is realistic to tweak our expectations depending on the level of friendship we want and the situation where the connection developed.

Some friends become just that in a work environment. Water cooler chats, after work drinks or weekend socialising.  All this sounds familiar in the working world. Some people stay in contact once they no longer work together. Others recognise that theirs was pretty much an office friendship for the duration they worked together. This does not make their bond any less important or valid, it’s just an understanding that friendship can take different forms.

Those of us who have developed friendships since we were young will probably have journeyed together through significant moments. A mix of elation and challenging moments will bond two people in a hugely significant way. Equally, it can also put a strain on the strongest friendships. Seeing people at their most fragile is an emotional honour and them sharing your most difficult experiences creates shared moments that are never forgotten. 

The pivotal fact is like many, if not all, truly important relationships, friendships can flourish and bend a little because the foundation of it is so strong. We allow ourselves the luxury of being entirely ourselves with all the emotional shades that come with it.  Is it possible to love and care for someone if they don’t actually know who you are? Our flaws are as much a part of us as the positive aspects of our personality. If we value a person then we want to witness who they are in good and difficult times, otherwise the bond is one dimensional. If we walk away when a friend needs us – there is no genuine  depth of emotion there. Sincere friends will be there for us whilst we navigate all our life experiences – and will absolutely want to be part of joy and perhaps difficult situations.

Michael Padraig Acton is a consultant, psychological therapist (clinical and counselling psychology) systemic life coach and author with over 30 years experience. 

Regarding friendship he says ‘As social creatures, we all need friends. Providing the relationship is healthy, we benefit in so many ways.

One of the most important gifts that our dearest friends bring us is their loyalty. We can trust them with our hopes, our fears and our pain. We can tell them what is going on in our lives and know that they will keep it in confidence.

With our friends, we can benefit from a different perspective on our problems. In return, we can experience life in their shoes, helping us to become more empathic.
Our true friendships help us to grow as a person. If they are to last, we have to learn to respect our friends’ opinions and attitudes, when they differ from our own. We are all unique souls and we will all need to accommodate our differences.

Friendships are an antidote to loneliness. As described in my article, Tackling Loneliness, The 21st Century’s Biggest Killer, the cauldron of thoughts and feelings that underlie that simple word, loneliness, is driving people to addiction, depression and even death. It is important that we reach out to others, especially as we emerge from the pandemic.

When we make that step, we turn our thoughts outwards. This helps us to escape our own brooding while giving us the opportunity to give to another human being. Friendships are about both give and take and we need to learn to do both graciously.

Social media encourages us to think about friends as numbers because it is the number of active users that drives investment. If we’re not careful we can fall into the same trap of basing our self-worth on how many friends we have. Quality of friendship is far more important to human souls than quantity. Build up friendships slowly over time because not all will last the distance.

Before you invest in a friendship, make sure it is a healthy friendship and not a toxic relationship that drains you. For more information on toxic relationships and how to escape them, see my book Learning How To Leave.

Apart from that one caveat, try to value your friends equally by not comparing them. Each of your friends plays a different role in your life, bringing out different aspects of your being. Some will pep you up when you’re feeling down. Some will encourage you to take on new challenges, overcoming anxiety and procrastination. Others will be there to listen to you with no expectations. Value all of them equally for who they are and what they bring to your life.’

Michael Padraig Acton’s next book, the first in the Power of You series, is Learning How To Leave: A Practical Guide To Stepping Away From Toxic Narcissistic Relationships (paperback out July 2021). 


in Health & Beauty

The pandemic and lockdown has been tough for many people but when it comes to individuals with mental illnesses such as OCD, it has been particularly challenging.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is when people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or obsessions that make them feel driven to do something over and over again.

The number of people seeking help for OCD has risen sharply since the coronavirus outbreak, mental health charities have confirmed. 


10% Increase in demand for its helpline 

85%. Of people with the condition said it worsened in lockdown 

64%. Experienced new, intrusive thoughts due to the pandemic 

Fiona Robertson, 34, lives in West Sussex. Fiona is single and does not have any children. 

This is Fiona’s OCD story. ‘I currently live with my parents and my dog, Maisie. I don’t work at the moment, due to my mental health conditions, but I hope to be able to again in the future. I used to be a support worker in a mental health centre and I have also previously worked as a carer.  

I think I first experienced mental health problems at 11, but I was diagnosed with OCD, BDD, Anxiety and Depression in 2013, after I had a breakdown, tried to commit suicide and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. I didn’t know what OCD was at the time, but the doctor said I definitely had it as I was having severe intrusive thoughts all day every day, carrying out compulsions and sticking to strict routines. I received amazing one to one help whilst I was in the private hospital, however, as soon as I was transferred back to the NHS, I was only offered group therapy. For me personally, group therapy was no good. I felt ashamed and frightened due to the nature of my intrusive thoughts and the last thing I wanted to do was share them with a group of people. I was also assigned a psychiatrist, but I hardly ever got to see him and when I did, my appointments were always very brief. He also refused to let me try different medications.  

Things turned around for me during one trip to A&E, where I was seen by a fantastic mental health nurse. She actively listened to me and genuinely wanted to help. She put me in touch with a private therapy centre and I started seeing a wonderful CBT therapist. I also started seeing a private psychiatrist, who I still see now. Luckily my parents are able to pay for my treatment, but it makes me very sad that not everybody has this option as high-quality mental health care should be available to all.     

OCD has taken a huge toll on me and those around me. I go through periods of stability, but then something small can send me into a very dark place again. I am triggered by lots of things, I have to be careful what I watch on the TV and I don’t have the internet on my phone. I have strict routines and can’t do things spontaneously. I struggle just getting out of the house at times and I can’t cope in busy or noisy places. I don’t go to bars, clubs or similar places as I just feel too panicky. Around this time of year, I tend to stay in even more than usual, as I don’t like showing my body due to my BDD and the heat really raises my anxiety. I’ve had periods where I’ve been able to work and periods of being on disability benefits. 

During lockdown, my OCD got much worse. I was obsessed with cleaning everything and bleaching the shopping etc. I needed to know where my parents were going every time they went out. I was terrified they were going to die. I could only manage to leave the house once a week, to walk in the countryside, away from everybody. I then had a breakdown in August 2020 and also witnessed a crime, which sent me into meltdown. I started seeing the same private therapist again regularly and my medication was increased and since then, I have been in a more stable place luckily. 

I do worry about coming out of lockdown and things returning to ‘normal.’ Although some parts of lockdown were really challenging, such as not being able to see family and friends and lacking routine, I liked how quiet and peaceful it was everywhere and when I did have to use public transport, the trains were empty, which they never usually are! I also felt less alone in a way, as everyone was experiencing similar concerns to the ones I have, such as making sure their hands were always clean, staying indoors, etc. I really dislike how busy it is everywhere, now that lockdown is ending and during the summer months. It feels very overwhelming and when I’m outside, I quite often feel like running and hiding. It also seems like people aren’t adhering to the social distancing rules nearly as much now either, which concerns me. I also worry we will have to keep having lockdowns in the future.

Even though I believe I will always have these conditions, I am learning different techniques to help me to cope better, especially when I am triggered by something. I also think that having been to such low places, helps me to appreciate things more. I am very grateful for my family and friends and I practice mindfulness and enjoy the simple things in life. Despite my problems, I do feel quite positive about my future. I have quite a few projects on the go, which really keeps my mind distracted and gives me something to focus on. I thoroughly enjoy being a media volunteer for mental health charities, I find it very rewarding. I’m a singer in a band called OCNA and I also volunteer at a college for people with learning disabilities. When you are in a bad place, it’s impossible to believe that things will get better, but you just have to hang in there and you can get through it.’

The Samaritans: Free Tel number 116 123 

OCD Action charity / 0300 636 5478

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