Managing the effects of social media

Could the theory about your choice of social media revealing your age and demographic hold any water? Some people have suggested that it is easy to make any initial assumptions about the target market merely by examining the social media platform used by social media users. While this could be an unproven generalisation, with clear examples that do not fit the mould, we can often assume that the users of Facebook are slightly older, and the Instagram users are of a younger generation. (There will of course be older Instagram users of course, and vice versa, younger Facebook users.)
Your preferred social media platform may not also be a matter of age, but your preferred medium of communication. For example, if you prefer writing short posts, you may opt for Twitter. If you prefer posting images, then Instagram may be your chosen platform. Whatever your choice of social media platform, there is no denying that social media offers possibilities of side income. If you have an original product to sell, you may find buyers among your followers. For example, popular singers have thousands of fans that but their records. If you have no original product to push, you can earn commission by affiliate marketing, where you promote a product and get a percentage of sales. You can also be a social media influencer, where you don’t actively push a product. Many influencers simply project an image that followers try to emulate and induce them to purchase a product. Think models, make up artists and the like.

Social media may be beneficial in some ways, but keeping up with lots of followers can be quite demanding. If you reply to your early fans individually at the outset, you may find it more difficult as your numbers of followers grow, and feeling the need to continue that level of communication but not having the time to do so can exert a toll on your mental health. Imagine the boxer Rocky Balboa – had he had legions of fans on Facebook (of course, what else), it would have interfered with his training, and perhaps some unkind comment might have affected his progress. (As an aside, you can find out about the music in Rocky from the Piano Teacher N8 blog.)
If Rocky had used social media, he might have relied on a media team to manage his account so he could focus on his training. So while social media is useful, be mindful of its effects on you!

Uneasy about something? Don’t keep it bottled up

Should you take a person’s word at face value? If a person has promised something verbally, and later seemingly reneges on the promise, what sort of ways can you go about to address the situation?

This is the situation facing an author in Canada. Shubnum Khan, the person in question, had signed up for a photo shoot as part of what had been billed as a 100 Photos Shoot. She went to it, signed a disclaimer, and then had a free professional image for a photo shoot given to her, on the condition that the photographer could use her image as part of an art project. She recalls hearing the words art project being used for the purpose of this shoot.

Yet years later she would be shocked to find her image used for a variety of purposes. These include an advertisement for immigration, dermatological cream, website services such as child minding, among others. Did she agree for her image to be used this way? No, but the contract she had signed had essentially made her give away the rights to that image, and she would have no further control about how it was used.

There is a certain danger in agreeing for your image to be used in a way you do not agree with. Imagine if you had your photograph taken, and then had it used as a picture for a cause you did not agree with. What recourse would you have in addressing the situation? There is the threat of litigation you can bring to the offender, but unfortunately, the cost for most individuals would likely outweigh the benefit, and most people would probably leave well alone, unless they were public individuals whose reputation might be harmed – and if they had enough money to sue.

Perhaps a lesson to take away might have been at the outset – get things down in writing, so that is some recourse for action. And if you are uncomfortable with anything, don’t just go along with it. It might have serious repercussions for the future if you don’t speak up.

Taking an example from the world of film, when what you see doesn’t connect with what you hear, there is a sense of unease because something doesn’t match. (You can read more about this from the Piano Teachers N15 blog. If you feel the same sort of unease in social situations, don’t mask it!

Meaning brings information to life

Brexit. Are we in or out? Should we be in or out? It is likely when you put the question to teenagers, many of them will be of the opinion, “Who cares? Why I should care?”

It is a sad state of things that many grow up to be ambivalent about the things that should matter most. Now I don’t mean to say Brexit is most important, but the awareness of how it should be, and its relevance on one’s life, is unfortunately not the thing thought in schools.

Schools disseminate information. But perhaps on the school curriculum, more focus should be placed on the context in which it takes place in.

What do I mean? Imagine this – students learn about history and the World Wars, but the scale of this is hard to internalise from a textbook. But take them on a school trip to Flanders, see the rows of poppies laid out, and you get an idea of the sacrifices that people paid with their lives.

Away from the classroom, away from the pure dissemination of information, the things they learn have more relevance.

One can say the same of physics. Rather than trying to teach about moments through a point, for example, a teacher can ask students to balance a tray of different objects with a finger. Where is the place they are going to put their finger? It depends on the varying weights of the objects, and their mass and their weight from the point. But rather than teaching these concepts purely from a textbook, information takes on more relevance and meaning if it is seen to be part of everyday life.

We can do the same with finance. Instead of discussing Brexit and what it means in terms of jobs and business agreements, give students a small sum of money with the task of increasing it. They can trade with other groups of students, or not. But they have to increase the sum of money they have, and not just hold on to it, as it loses value. In the interaction of these forms of games, students have an idea of whether Brexit matters – not from the textbook.

In the arts, learning piano music is sometimes viewed as the depressing of piano keys in the rhythm and speed indicated of the sheet, with fingers assigned to the keys. A piano teacher in N8 once mentioned to me how a parent viewed piano playing as mere muscle memory, dependent on repetition. But this only breeds the idea that the approach to the music is merely information to be assessed and acted on. For the piano player, greater meaning can be achieved by understanding the compositional process, the background and motivation of the composer, and by experimenting around with the music – to change its expression – to see the effects.

The problems that teachers have is in making the information relevant. But they are tasked with teaching the information first, and ensuring it is kept in the minds of students. What is necessary is more a reduction in content knowledge, so teachers can bring the information to life, and students can learn and retain.

How has this impacted me as a counsellor? In explaining choices and courses of action to my clients, I don’t just tell them what they do, but why they should do it and how it will it make them feel. In short it is not just about purely the information, but the meaning behind it. When the recommended courses of action have more relevance, the counselling suggestions are more likely to be adhered to.

Notice: Professional Courtesy

Switching jobs is all part and parcel of life. Very few people remain in the one job for their entire career. While job hopping may have once been viewed as displaying a lack of loyalty, staying in one job is seen as being stagnant, lacking in exploration, and being narrow-minded. Most employers now realise that interviewees will have had past jobs before, and that need not necessarily count against them, unless they have made a career of not staying long in their old jobs. Switching jobs is a good thing to do; it gives you a wealth of experience, different working environments and allows you to build up skills which will eventually lead you to landing that one key job.

But when you switch jobs, often you have to give what is a notice period. This is the time frame you allow your employer – the current one – to find a replacement for you. Depending on how important your job is, you may have a notice period of a month, two months or even half a year. There are some jobs whose notice period is a year! Respecting the notice period is a sign of professionalism. If you merely changed jobs without notice, you’d be dropping your employers into a situation where they are rushed to find a replacement for you under time pressures. And it demonstrates also that you have not properly handed over to your successor.

But what are the procedures when you are in your current job and thinking over moving on? Sometimes it would be polite to inform your current employer, because they may wish to retain your services and might move you to a new department for a change or increase your wages. But it is difficult because you run the risk of being viewed negatively if they decide you can interview for another position, but in the interim you are reduced of responsibility gradually until your existence at the company seems futile. Sometimes it is better to interview first, get a secure job lined up, then serve notice.

But what happens if you secure a new job, fail to inform your existing employer and respect the notice period, AND your old boss finds out from your new one?

This is the position the Spanish national football team manager found himself in. Julen Lopetegui was named Real Madrid manager while contracted to be the national team manager, and the announcement two days before the World Cup begins was not taken well by the latter, partly because he was still contracted to them, they had no part in the discussions, and the discovery was broken to them only five minutes before the media knew.

You cannot fault Lopetegui’s desire to be manager of a great football team. Madrid are in the news all the time. The Spanish team only play once every two years and in friendly matches. This would be a career step up for him, and from the unsatisfactory position of being a manager who sees a group of random players every now and then.

You might have surmised that Lopetegui was not entirely satisfied with his current job. What can you do if you found yourself in a similar position? The classical music composer Joseph Haydn renegotiated his contract with the court of Esterhazy to get more royalties. Modern day musicians have to be more creative musically in their work, or create more music opportunities within their current work both for financial and aesthetic pleasure. You may also find it possible to diversify your work so that you are using the content knowledge you have but in different areas. Taking another example from classical music, the composer Muzio Clementi became involved in various music fields as a composer, musician, publisher and conductor, to name just a few.

Lopetegui could have combined his national team career with a bit of punditry, youth coaching and other sidelines.

He currently has a lot of time for that. He was sacked.

Does technology exacerbate mental health decline?

According to news reports, media mogul Simon Cowell has ditched his phone for over ten months, and has been quoted to say the withdrawal from technology has been good for his mental health.

He says he was irritated with how often he was using his phone, and ever since he ditched it, he was more aware and paid more attention to the world and people around him.

“It’s a strange experience,” but he “is more aware of the things around me, and happier for it.”

Cowell is not alone. More than half of phone users check it within 15 minutes of waking up, and many believe that our partners use the phone too much too.

Being swarmed with technology creates many problems.

Technology is a good thing, but we haven’t quite learned to manage it yet. Unfortunately, workplace systems and processes demand that we embrace it, rather than ditch it.

It is easier for employers to demand their employees remain at their beck and call, and get them to do more work out of office hours by saying “I emailed you the documents over the weekend” and then expecting things have been dealt with, or demanding their response with a text message.

You can choose to filter out technology, but unfortunately many of us don’t have this choice, unless we work for ourselves, or – like Cowell – have executive assistants to deal with such matters on our behalf. We don’t want it intruding, but we can’t exactly do without it completely, and it is in navigating the disconnect that proves difficult.

Technology promotes a disconnect in many ways too. Musicians who rely on technology face having to alter their art form because the audience expectations have changed. Remember when being a music DJ meant spinning decks and records? Now it is about clicking touchscreens and select pre-edited tracks. Musician Bob Dylan faced accusations from the folk community when his music became electric with amplified guitars.

Disconnect is fun, don’t get me wrong. Listen to classical music crossed with disco. Or metal music is enjoyed because the dark lyrics are sung to major keys. But when you have a disconnect in daily life that widens each day, managing that contradiction is one of the things you need to do, or it will lead to a decline of your mental health.

Music and Silence are both underpinned by the same thing

What does the fact that many people are listening to headphones nowadays tell us?

Does it tell us the music industry is growing? Well, it is, but that is not the main thing.

Does it tell us music plays an important part in everyone’s life? Yes, it does, but only to a certain extent.

What it really tells us – and I might be ruffling a few feathers here – is that we don’t really want to know.

We don’t really want to know what goes on outside our immediate world.

We are not capable of helping those we see in need, such as the homeless under railway stations. We don’t really want to know we can’t help them, or we don’t want to invest the necessary time to address a social issue.

So we look down on the floor as we past them, or pretend to be scrolling our phones. And we plug in headphones so we have an excuse to say we didn’t hear their pleas of “Spare some change please…”

We travel on public transport. On a train or a bus, someone plays music loudly, talks loudly, or behaves in an anti-social manner. It used to be that we could busy ourselves in a book and pretend not to hear. But the plugging of ourselves into a world of music tells us we don’t need to bother trying to get angry, trying to waste time convincing them of their idiocy. We can just disconnect there and then.

A pair of headphones is the biggest tool in your arsenal.

It allows you to switch off from the world around you. Some of it might be in response to things you disagree with but cannot change. But disconnecting may be a way of finding your own space in a crazy world.

Some of us may listen to music with loud beats and driving rhythms. It may not necessarily be music that is modern, it may be Romantic piano music or loud choral music by Handel. We may blast out music loudly, or choose to plug headphones in as a barrier. Ultimately, it is our silence that speaks most.

Watching someone on our daily commute listen to music tells us something. It tells us human beings are trying to disconnect further and further from the fabric of society.

Therein lies a time bomb.

Knowledge

Knowledge is like underwear. It is useful to have it, but not necessary to show it off.

Have you ever encountered someone who is like a smart aleck? Someone who feels they always have something to say, to contribute, or feels that while everyone is entitled to an opinion, that they must also show it, and display it by saying something really witty.

Perhaps we know someone in this kind of a context. Perhaps we are that person ourselves. In fact, some people read trivia books or memorise witty one-liners, because they think that being socially witty counts for a lot and gives you a lot of social capita.

It is useful to know things, but we do not need to show it off to other people. We do not need to show people we are well read, or that we know a lot. Of course, when we’ve read a bit, we’ll remain under the spell of what we have read and will want to make sure others know about it, and that they know we know about it. But that is kind of showing off really.

Another problem with showing off is that we are likely to say things that we think are witty but may not necessarily be so. Often these may take the form of silly remarks, but unfortunately may be misinterpreted by others.

Take for example, the many cases of middle-aged men making inappropriate remarks, which in retrospect they define as a bit of “male banter”. “Banter” is a very careful way of deflecting fault, by saying that witty remarks – or those made with a view of being perceived as intelligent – had been misinterpreted.

The bottom line is, if you are not sure how your remarks may be perceived by others, then don’t show off by trying to say something clever. And even if you have an area of interest where you know more about the average person, there is no need to show off to the other people what you know.

Humility is often a good way to go.

 

Listen, then talk

How can you help a friend who needs someone to talk to? Often when we think of someone in need, we should realise that what they need is someone to listen without judgement. This “without judgement” may even extend to listening without dispensing advice. Because when someone has an awful lot of their chest and wants to talk about it, sometimes our “advice”, no matter how well meaning, only increases the tension because we are only giving them more thoughts to think about, when they are trying to get rid of all these thoughts in their head.

Sometimes people have problems because they are overwhelmed. They could be overwhelmed with work stresses or they may have too many things going on at home or in relationships that cause their mind to be filled with thoughts. Like it or not, every thought sends a trigger to your mind. Take for example this situation: You are travelling on public transport and someone plays their music loudly. Your mind recognises this bit of information. “The music is too loud.” And almost instantly it is also thinking, “should I say something about it?” Then after this step your mind is assessing whether or not the person you are about to speak to would be receptive towards what you would have to say or not. Your mind makes judgements about it. And then perhaps if you have assessed it would be safe to do so – you think the individual would be non-aggressive, perhaps unaware of the anti-social behaviour he or she is causing – then you think of the best way to phrase your words. Or if you don’t, your mind castigates you for not having the courage to stand up for yourself and you start evaluating your own life history for such previous instances. Your mind has gone into overdrive simply because someone has played loud music. Just that one trigger has become a stressor and caused you mental overload.

So when someone is stressed, they could have a lot of mental information to process. Let them talk it out. Don’t offer advice initially because they have then to process it, consider your words and their own thoughts. Only when you feel they have emptied themselves, should you then start to think about offering advice. Be a listener for your friend. Not a stressor. No matter how well-intentioned you are, you may inadvertently cause more problems for your friend if you are too keen to dispense advice!

Expressing gratitude

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

Have you noticed how people seemed to have forgotten how to say thank you properly these days? When you have a done a favour for someone, or gone out of your way, sometimes the only response you get is a curt “cool”.

This is not a rant at changing times or the slang of modern vernacular, or how the use of the words “thank you” are decreasing.

Rather, it is a look at how we have to be mindful of the way we express thanks.

Imagine this scenario. You have forgotten your phone and someone from your home has to bring it to you, knowing that perhaps it is an important element you cannot leave home without. If they make a big trek to your location, and all they get for the efforts is the phrase “cool” or “nice one”, how do you think they feel?

The problem with phrases such as “cool” or “nice one” is that they are sometimes uttered unthinkingly out of embarrassment, but they are so ungracious that it almost normalises the efforts of others, almost as if the extra mile they have gone was an expectation.

Be gracious for the things in your life and around you. And try expressing it fully to your fellow human beings.

Recognising trauma symptoms can help deal with trauma

To fully understand the impact of trauma and complex trauma, practitioners will need to familiarise themselves with the primary symptoms of trauma. While each survivor’s reactions to trauma are unique and will vary from person to person and depend on the type of trauma, age, the frequency and duration of the abuse, and the relationship to the abuser(s), there are a number of commonalities.

It is crucial that survivors are helped to recognise that the physical and psychological reactions to trauma are normal responses which serve to protect us, and are elicited outside of conscious awareness or control. These reactions are like an emotional immune system, which instead of fighting invading bacteria or viruses, fights to protect us from harm.

To help survivors understand their reactions to trauma, practitioners need to be able to convey the following information in a way that is easily understood by the client and that makes sense to them. This can be supported with directed reading or self-help books such as The Warrior Within (Sanderson, 2010c). Persistent re-experiencing of trauma can be triggered by both internal and external cues. This means that even if the survivor is currently not in actual external danger, inner feelings and sensations can trigger a range of PTSD reactions. Given that they may already be in an elevated state of anxiety, it is easy to set off an already highly sensitive alarm system on the basis of internal physiological arousal. This is potentially dangerous as it prevents the survivor from recognising actual external danger and makes it hard to assess objectively the degree of safety.

To help survivors understand the neurological and physiological responses to trauma it is helpful to explore their knowledge of how the body reacts to danger. When in the presence of danger primitive biological mechanisms such as the alarm system are activated to aid survival. As a result the brain releases a cascade of neuro-chemicals which start a complex chain of bodily reactions, all of which are designed to protect us from the harmful effects of trauma.

Although the alarm system does not stop the emotional pain, stress or trauma from happening, it does cushion the trauma and helps us to deal with it.

The alarm system acts as an emotional immune system, which like the physical immune system, is activated outside of conscious awareness and is therefore not under our control. It is vital that survivors understand that whatever their reactions during the trauma, these were outside of conscious control and therefore they are not to blame or at fault for how they responded. Recognising this can dramatically reduce any crippling feelings of shame, self-blame, or guilt.

When the body’s alarm system is tripped and goes on red alert it sends signals to the brain to prepare for fight, flight or freeze. This sets off two crucial biological defence systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system mobilises high level energy necessary for fight or flight, while the parasympathetic nervous system slows down the heart and metabolic rate which results in the freeze response.

The two structures in the brain that regulate the alarm system are both located in the limbic system, the amygdala and the hippocampus. The role of the amygdala is to detect threatening information through external senses such as touch, taste, sound, smell or vision. The amygdala is responsible for determining whether incoming stimuli are desirable, benign or dangerous.

To maximise survival, this evaluation is instantaneous but crude and primitive in that it does not use deeper analysis, reason or common sense. This is why it is often referred to as the ‘fast and dirty route’. If the stimulus is life threatening, stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released, which send messages through the nervous system to the muscles and internal organs to either attack, run or play dead.

The amygdala is highly sensitive to any danger and is easily activated to increase readiness to attack or defend (fight), run (flight) or submit (freeze). In contrast to the ‘fast and dirty’ route of the amygdala, the hippocampus is a much slower route in that it evaluates the external threat through deeper analysis using conscious thought, memory, prior knowledge, reason and logic. The hippocampus is also critical in laying down new memories and experiences. If the danger is truly life threatening, the hippocampus will send messages to continue with appropriate responses. If however the deeper analysis concludes that the stimuli are not dangerous it will send messages to deactivate the responses.

In most cases of threat these two structures work in harmony to balance appropriate responses to the situation. When the trauma is prolonged and repeated such as in complex trauma, the feedback loop that controls these two systems malfunctions and floods the body with high levels of stress hormones.

While these stress hormones are critical for survival, they are highly toxic and only designed to circulate for short periods of time so that the individual can get to a place of safety or remain safe until the threat is over. In the case of certain traumas such as CPA or CSA where the child cannot fight or run to safety, the only option is to freeze. This means that the stress hormones cannot be discharged and remain in the system, which can have a number of negative consequences, not least forcing the alarm system to remain on red alert, or ‘online’(Sanderson, 2010c).

Evidence shows that high levels of cortisol that are not discharged can lead to the destruction of brain cells which can affect the function and size of the amygdala and hippocampus (Gerhardt, 2004; Teicher, 2000). Such malfunction leads to increased arousal, fear and anger responses, as well as memory impairments. When the brain and body are flooded with chronic levels of stress hormones the hippocampus goes ‘offline’and is unable to accurately evaluate the degree of threat or danger. It is also not able to assess whether the danger is internal or external, or whether the traumatic incident is over or on-going, and cannot send the appropriate messages to the amygdala to deactivate the alarm system. This leads to the alarm system remaining on constant red alert and the continued release of stress hormones.

As a consequence the body responds as though the trauma is on-going, even after the threat is over. Over time the alarm system is reset on a default setting of ‘on’, with survivors feeling as though they are being repeatedly traumatised. This leads to a heightened or continuous state of danger, known as hyper-arousal.

This hyper-arousal forces stress hormones to continue to flood the body and brain, and the tyranny of post-traumatic stress responses. Since the hippocampus is not able to regulate the alarm setting, or halt the release of chronic levels of stress hormones, its ability to store new memories is reduced. This means that the trauma is not stored within context or time, making it seem as though it is continuous and never ending.

This in turn prevents the processing of the trauma keeping it ‘online’ with the same vividness and intensity as when the actual assault happened. Not being able to process the traumatic experience makes it harder for survivors to store it in memory or to recall it leading to amnesia, or incomplete or fragmented memories. A crucial goal in recovering from complex trauma is to bring the hippocampus back ‘online’ so that its function can be restored to regulate the alarm system to evaluate danger, and differentiate between internal and external threat.

Prolonged release of high levels of stress hormones impacts on physical well-being leading to a range of physical problems such as hypertension, physical exhaustion, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), sleep impairment, and digestive, respiratory and endocrine problems. In addition, chronic fear reactions and high levels of adrenaline evoke waves of overwhelming anger which survivors cannot release for fear of consequences, thereby creating even further stress. Hyper-arousal also affects concentration and the ability to reflect on or process experiences, preventing survivors from making sense of their experiences.

While the alarm system can activate three alternative reactions – fight, flight or freeze – in most cases of complex trauma, especially when it occurs in childhood, there is only one option: to freeze. The freeze response is designed to conserve energy so that the individual can escape when the danger is over. Young children are not able to outrun or fight an adult effectively, and are thus left with no option but to freeze.

While the freeze response protects the individual from the greater threat of the consequences of fighting back or running away, it is often experienced as passive submission. This can make survivors feel as though they were weak in not fighting back or running away, which can lead to shame, self-blame and guilt. It is important to convey to survivors that realistically children are not able to escape, especially if the abuser is a significant figure in the child’s life such as a parent, relative or priest. In that moment they are both powerless and helpless.

However, the sense of submission can often haunt them and leave them feeling ashamed that they did not do more to prevent the abuse. This is also true for adults who are in thrall to an abuser who has power and authority over them. The freeze response also protects individuals from the full impact of the pain of the abuse.

As the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, a sense of calmness descends on the brain, slowing everything down, and the body begins to feel numb in order to cushion the anticipated pain and the emotional terror of the trauma. Once the danger is over, these reactions fade and the stress hormones are discharged through movement.

Understanding the responses to trauma and conveying them to individuals suffering from them can help them recognise their own reactions and how to deal with them. This will empower them and give them the confidence to break free of the hold traumatic experiences have on them.