How Pop Culture Helped the Rise of Manufactured Self-Esteem


Ryan Marcovich September 2017

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”

Simply put, the establishment, its employees and those engrossed in the viewing spectacle are all in, playing one big game. To be frank, the view of the stage before me, is proving to be an awfully bland experience devoid of any real ‘culture’, as I understand it. Today, the players of pop culture present like narcissistic marionettes, more lifeless than life-like. They espouse a soulless Hollywood, airwaves playing monotonous sounds of talentless bands, demeaning rappers banging on about sex and money, galleries full of meaningless artists describing meaningless art or just everyday fake news, all on repeat. This is modern day detritus growing on society like a Renzo Piano’s dream of a London skyline punctuated with glass and steel competitions, throwing elegance off the top floor. (See the Whitney Museum for more wonderment of what tax payers money can be wasted on.)

Whilst researching for this blog, I have been reading articles bemoaning a decline in these once solid bastions of culture, from the news to blogs or YouTube content. All delivering indictment after indictment about ‘Arts’ regression into a state of pointless superficiality. This is of course just my humble perspective and you can choose to disagree with it completely.  But do let me entertain you, I’m sure you will find it’s worth the read!

So, what’s in it for you?

If you’re interested in maintaining a good psychological well being, then a part of that will involve motivation to work towards this. However, it also needs an understanding of yourself and how your thinking about yourself, can have a big impact on how you respond to life triggers. Whether that trigger is criticism in the workplace, expectations derived from academic pursuits, an advert for the latest iPhoneX or Chanel perfume held by Natalie Portman; each of these examples being potential triggers for some irrational meaning to be attached to one’s own self-worth.

This article continues on the theme of self-esteem, following on from Recognising Low Self-Esteem. In that, I offered a simple attempt to contextualise low self-esteem and its presenting issues. I trust this is going to be engaging as part of a wider analysis of pop culture’s role on society. More specifically, how pop culture’s influence has been playing an increasingly important role in the manufacturing of our self-worth systems.

What I’m sharing with you is the hope that if you find yourself struggling with self-esteem, this might be one of a number of helpful steps you can take to bringing about a change in your routine that may assist you review yourself in a healthier light.

Rational-Emotive Cognitive Behaviour Therapy proposes that self-depreciating values we hold, stem from our belief structures. These tend to manifest as unhealthy negative emotions, which then drive unhelpful behaviours. As trained psychotherapists, we understand how disruptive and distressing low self-esteem can be on one’s life. Understanding your self-depreciating beliefs and how they affect you is therefore very empowering and an important part of the therapy process!

In the Rise of Manufactured Self-Esteem, I want to point out how society is under increasing pressure to invest financially, but also personally in the latest, fastest, biggest, and best technological smart devices on offer. This consumerism is leading its users to an oblivious obsession with technology coupled by the unhealthy pop culture it is mounted on. More importantly, this has significant consequences to who we are and how we view that image of ourselves.

So even the playhouse’s architects get to carve a niche for themselves in the storybooks of history. Le Corbusier contributed to London’s concrete monuments of misery transforming beautiful landscapes into concrete shelves for people to live on. Buildings be they good or bad send out messages and the message from postmodern architecture is that aesthetic ugliness encourages ugly behaviour. Watch a Ted Talk by James Kunstler, on the Ghastly Tragedy of the Suburbs, to appreciate how buildings directly impact the quality of our lives.

Next is pop art; a 20th Century rise of rubbish sold off as culture like the Emperor’s New Clothes. Both Metzger’s ‘Auto-Destructive Art’ and Hirst’s ‘Ashtray Art’ removed by the cleaners who thought it leftover trash. A tasteless predating them, when pop art began defiling our common senses. See Piero Manzoni’s ninety cans of faeces – literally worth its weight in gold when they sold! Vulgarity being sold off for beauty.

Fashion magazines plastered with beauty ads, photoshopped images of the obscenely beautiful – marketing designed to tap into to one’s low self-esteem. In a poll conducted by People Magazine, 80 percent of women reported that they feel worse about themselves after looking through popular fashion magazines, something men also reported to experience.

Be it the makers or content providers, the worlds technology giants are helpfully overseeing this social transition. Smart devices facilitating a transformation of our daily lives which are being increasingly projected onto the digital playgrounds of augmented reality, A convenience that bombarded with what to think, where to go or what we are told we need. Advertisers covet young audiences because their taste in products are more pliable but equally, we are all just as prone to this conditioning.

Let’s review L’Oréal clever marketing which sums this up. ‘Because you’re worth it’ suggests that; either you must buy their brand, without which you are not worth it or, conversely you must spend your money on their brand to prove that you are worth it. As if your worth can be bought!


This is not my attempt at fear mongering, but as social media use rises, research shows how social media is actually isolating people who are less likely to rely on social interaction to develop a sense of self and more likely to succumb to some of these cultural pressures I’ve explored. In 2011, the APA reported on a worrying trend of social medias negative impact on the individual, something they wrote about again 6 years later, on how to get your life back after using too much social media. Both the BBC and the Guardian have published many articles on the negative impact of the internet on individuals personal characteristics. The BBC wrote about how disconnecting the internet could help our identity and The Guardian wrote about social media creating narcissistic characteristics. These are just two articles out of thousands, connecting social media to the downfall of our personalities.

In another article in the Guardian in 2016, a number of people interviewed, reported significant benefits of quitting social media, not only in their wellbeing but with connecting with friends after such a distressing social disconnection. One person who especially caught my attention was Daisy, 23, from Manchester. She reported that, ‘I feel less anxious and less like a failure’ after switching off from her time on Facebook. I actually found all the personal stories in that article very warming. I’d recommend you reading them to help you make an informed decision, if you think you could be spending too long plugged in to it all.

From my experience in assisting numerous clients over the years I will share some advice:

  • Take more time out from your devices,
  • be comfortable to switch them off at night without the frustration of not being instantly aware of the global issues taking place,
  • don’t sleep with them under your pillow or take them to bed with you
  • recognise that you don’t have to be like the people in the adverts or in the news to be worthwhile,
  • recognise that your worth does not stem from the number of likes on your Twitter feed or the number of friends on Facebook,
  • try hold conversations with people in ways that doesn’t involve a form of social media as your tool for communication; talk to people more,
  • Spend more time in nature, really connecting with it

Your worth is not contingent on your shoes, your watch, your job or your bank account, although Forbes 100 might persuade you to think differently, it’s not real. If you would like to break the cycle of low self-esteem and learn to view yourself in a healthier light, you can book an appointment to tackle your low self-esteem or give us a call. Do take some time to look over our website. You can check out our specialist London therapists and make a start to letting go of the conditioning of self-depreciation and learn to develop a healthy sense of self, with us helping you learn strategies and gain insights.

I’d like to end this part of the article on a happier note with a really funny skit on how to avoid the real world with social media which you can ironically watch on your device.

The importance of self-care after the recent terrorist attacks

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) treatment in London

The last few months have included horrendous attacks on Manchester and London and the below information is aimed at anyone who has been affected by these events. The emotional impact of the recent events will be widespread and may influence survivors, friends, bereaved families, health care workers, emergency staff and members of the general public. If you were present during one of the attacks, witnessed others getting hurt or lost someone then it is likely that this will trigger a reaction in you. Many people may experience emotional reactions after what has happened. People who were close to either of the attacks, witnessed the devastating aftermath or took part in the rescue and care of victims and survivors will most likely exhibit the strongest reaction.

Below you will find a list of common reactions that are normal and expected in the weeks after exposure to a traumatic event. These responses represent the mind’s way of dealing with and coming to terms with what it has experienced. They are a normal part of recovery, and should lessen with time.

Traumatic events may cause some or all of the following reactions:

  • Low mood or depression
  • Insomnia or disturbed sleep
  • Nightmares
  • Feelings of anger or anxiety
  • Emotional reactions that cause a sense of helplessness, confusion, disorientation, numbness, or feeling overwhelmed
  • Thoughts of a distressing nature that suddenly pop up unexpectedly
  • Difficulties trusting others and fear that others are out to cause harm
  • Avoidance of people or places

How to deal with traumatic events

There are a number of things that can help someone deal with a distressing or traumatic experience. When you have been through something traumatic, it may feel natural to withdraw and lock yourself away from others. However, seeking out contact with people who you feel close to and who you would usually spend time with is one of the most helpful ways of dealing with a traumatic event. This may include talking with friends, family members, or co-workers, and sharing how you are feeling. When sharing your experience, it can be helpful to talk at your own pace and share as much detail as you feel is necessary. Communicating with others is a two-way street, and it is important that you too are willing to listen to others who may need to talk and share their experiences and feelings. Allowing yourself to cry and taking time to grieve will help you to process what you have experienced. Bottling up feelings will prevent you from moving on and may cause further difficulties such as flashbacks later in life. Traumatic flashbacks can be understood as a re-experiencing of the traumatic event, where it feels like the event is happening again. Flashbacks could occur six months after experiencing the traumatic event itself if the traumatic event is not processed accurately at the time of the event.

Seeking out activities that provide a sense of pleasure and achievement will help improve your mood, alleviate symptoms of depression and allow you to reclaim your life. Don’t be afraid of asking friends, family members, religious or community centres for practical and emotional support. After experiencing something traumatic, it is not uncommon to have thoughts that other people are dangerous or out to hurt you. Spending time amongst other people and engaging in activities that make you feel good will help to address such negative thoughts. Returning to everyday routines and habits may help with reclaiming a state of normality in your life, and this can feel comforting and safe. Whether you are feeling depressed, angry or anxious, remember that it is important to look after yourself. You can do this by making sure you are eating and sleeping well, exercising regularly, scheduling time to relax, and practicing kindness and compassion towards yourself and others. Be patient with yourself, and accept that you will have days that are difficult and days that feel better. For many people the difficult days will reduce with time.

When to seek professional help for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Many people who have experienced something traumatic recover naturally and do not need to seek out further support. It is therefore not recommended to seek out psychological support shortly after exposure to a traumatic event. However, for some people the negative symptoms will persist, and they may therefore need professional support. People with previous mental health difficulties or individuals who have been exposed to multiple traumatic events may be more vulnerable and be in greater need of support. It is important to recognise that subjective differences exist between people. For instance, two people who experience the same event may process and deal with this event very differently, in part due to their mental resilience. If you, or someone you know, continue to experience the symptoms below a month after the incident happened, it may be time to seek out professional help. You can read more about post-traumatic stress disorder here but symptoms to look out for include:

•    Feeling unable to enjoy life (due to the event)
•    Feeling on edge and jumpy
•    Experiencing regular nightmares
•    Experiencing flashbacks from the event where it feels like the event is happening again
•    Finding it hard not to think about the event
•    Feeling upset and fearful a lot of the time
•    Relationships falling apart
•    Increased use of alcohol or drugs to cope
•    Acting differently than before the event
•    Finding it hard to work, or look after the family and home
•    An increase in sudden emotional outbursts or feeling overwhelmed

What treatment is there for PTSD?

Psychological interventions are recommended as the primary treatment approach for trauma. At present, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) are the two recommended treatment approach outlined in the national treatment guidelines. Although psychological interventions may vary in style and length, their primary aim is to help you deal with difficult emotions and strengthen your way of coping. Medications are not currently recommended as the first line of treatment, but some medications may help to alleviate some symptoms of depression and anxiety. Some medications can therefore be used alongside psychological support.

Treatment for PTSD in London

City and West Psychology have experienced professionals who are trained in both CBT and EMDR, and who regularly work with trauma. For further information you can read more about post-traumatic stress disorder on our site. If you would like to hear more about how we might be able to help, please get in contact by giving us a call or you can book an appointment to tackle your PTSD online.

Overcoming fear and dealing with panic attacks

Panic attack disorder

What causes panic attacks?

Most people will at some point in their life have experienced fear and many will describe this emotion as uncomfortable and unsettling. Dealing with the stressors of life can sometimes present a challenge and even trigger fear. Sometimes this fear can grow and cause further anxiety and panic attacks. Life can be both busy and complicated, and our mind is expected to deal with a vast number of details when orchestrating our lives. Our mind is a powerful tool and it has the ability to effortlessly shift our focus of attention from past incidents, to the present moment or to an imagined future. When thinking about our future the mind is able to project us into an imagined scenario or situation. If we hold a positive attitude this will often fill us with hope, determination and motivation to arrive at our imagined scenario some time in the future. Likewise, if we hold a negative attitude our projections for the future are likely to be of a negative nature, and might fill us with worry, fear, panic and hopelessness. Thus, fear, and subsequent anxiety and panic attacks arise when we predict that we are going to face an undesirable situation in the future.

Fear and panic attacks

Fear can present itself both physically and emotionally. It is not just an unpleasant experience that can be stoically accepted or ignored. Fear is tangible and a powerful force that if left unaddressed could continue to grow and eventually overshadow positive life experiences. The current literature on fear suggests that our mind holds an important role in activating and managing fear. Understanding how our mind works and how it influences our present situation will therefore help us reduce or deal with fear better. The thoughts we hold play a major part in increasing or decreasing our fear. Let’s take a look at an example of this together…

An example of how a panic attack can occur

Whilst waiting for the bus Mr Smith was alarmed to find himself feeling dizzy. He immediately focused inwardly to check if anything else felt off and noticed that his heart was pounding rapidly and that his legs felt like they were starting to give way. As these symptoms had seemingly come on out of the blue, Mr Smith became increasingly worried. He was terrified that he would faint, collapse, have a heart attack and die. This caused increased anxiety and a panic attack. Mr Smith continued to think in a catastrophic way whilst out and his fear therefore continued until he arrived home where he thought he would be safe. Following this experience Mr Smith became nervous when thinking about leaving his home, and he started to experience the physical symptoms of dizziness and rapid heart rate after just thinking about leaving his home.

Reasons behind a panic attack

When reviewing the example above we can see that what activated Mr Smith’s fear and subsequent panic attack was a combination of worry, physical tension and inward focus of attention. Because the feelings did not seem to make sense, Mr Smith begun to worry about them. This in turn appears to have made the situation worse. He started focusing more on his physical symptoms, and he started worrying that he would face an undesirable situation (I.e. Fainting, collapsing, having a heart attack or dyeing) in the near future. Mr Smith subsequently experienced a panic attack. Research tells us that when individuals are afraid, they often misinterpret physical symptoms. This misinterpretation comes because the individual is holding catastrophic thoughts (I.e. I’m going to die) about the future. These thoughts are frightening and will reinforce the feeling of fear. The combination of physical sensations experienced during a panic attack are often misinterpreted as a heart attack.

What should we do to stop having panic attacks?

Although most people at some point hold thoughts of a catastrophic nature, it is not always clear to them at the time. That is because these thoughts are often just below the level of consciousness and can occur very quickly. It is however important to identify these thoughts and recognise the role they play in activating and managing fear and panic attacks. Living a healthy productive life whilst obsessed with fear is difficult. Therefore, treat fear as an uninvited guest, and address it whenever you find it. By paying attention to your thoughts, focusing externally and facing your fears you will be closer to a life where fear does not control you, but you it. For further information about how to address fear you can read more about panic disorder on our site or you can book an appointment to tackle your panic attacks or give us a call.

Author: Dr Torstein Stapley
Read more about the author here

Recognising low self-esteem

LSE blog 1

With my background in Rational-Emotive Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, my approach to treatment tends to focus on a client’s rigid and unrealistic beliefs system. As such I try to uncover the irrational quality of their thinking style and how this may lead to them developing and maintaining unhealthy negative emotions and self-defeating behaviours. As such, my articles reflect a RECBT perspective which are consistent with CBT in general, i.e. the link we find between our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

I believe that the topic Recognising Low Self-esteem is going to be beneficial to our readership as it can be used as a simple guide to gaining some understanding of the problem area. I will also show you how you can therefore take positive steps forward to addressing this, if you think low self-esteem is contributing to distressing experiences and problematic patterns of behaviour in your life. Overall, LSE can be a broad area to explore and so, I will break up the work into a number of digestible articles.

I have chosen to talk about low self-esteem as this debilitating monster can often be a powerful and unhealthy maintenance factor in perfectionism, anxiety disorders, depression, unhealthy anger, shame or guilt. Although for many of my clients, LSE generally stems from childhood and significant experiences whilst growing up, Dr David Mills points out in his article Overcoming Self Esteem, that “self-esteem can be a compulsive drive that is anxiety-provoking, socially inhibiting, and self-sabotaging.” Its presence in known to help maintain unhealthy relationships we have with others or encourage unhelpful behaviours that ultimately can reinforce our sense of rejection by others.

To start with, I’d like to offer our readers the idea that rather than working on improving your LSE or developing high self-esteem, that we learn to adopt a qualitatively different approach and use Albert Ellis’ notion of unconditional self-acceptance (USA). Simply put, trying to develop high self-esteem may actually be an illogical, unrealistic and unhelpful task. The difficulty we find in evaluating ourselves. Is that we tend to measure ourselves under particular conditions and thereby rate ourselves depending on how we believe we have performed under those conditions or how we may have failed to perform. Invariably, when we don’t achieve a desired expectation, this can have a detrimental impact on the self-evaluation processes and of course lead to further problems like anxieties, depression or shame.

Social scientists have been struggling for years to develop accurate, valid and reliable measures to help us understand just what it is and how we quantify it, so it’s no wonder if you too are struggling to get a handle on it. If you are wondering about whether LSE is impacting you then try answering the questions below. If you answer yes to any of the questions, your self-esteem might be impacting on your emotions and even your goals. How about giving us a call to explore how we could help you improve in these areas?

  1. Do you apologise a lot, or say sorry even when things are not your fault or you haven’t actually done anything ‘wrong’?
    2. Do you think negatively about yourself a lot, blame yourself unnecessarily or do you take things too personally?
    3. Are you dependent on others to help you make your own decisions or need them to help you to feel good about yourself?
    4. Are you always trying to do your best or be perfect at everything you do?
    5. Does the fear of taking risks stop you from interacting with others?
    6. Do you avoid eye contact while communicating with others or walk with your head down when you are out?
  2. Do you easily accept other people’s responsibilities or take on other people’s problems
  3. Do you have difficulty in saying NO?

If you think you are suffering from low self-esteem or would like to learn more about how we might be able to help you recover from low self-esteem, contact City and West Psychology for a free 15 minute consultation here.

Author: Ryan Marcovich
Read more about the author here

Recovering from burnout

 Recover from burnout

Sometimes people are not aware that they are experiencing burnout before they have already past the breaking point, and at this point it is to late to attempt to prevent burnout. It is imperative that you start the journey of recovery as soon as possible if you are experiencing burnout. If you ignore it, your situation will deteriorate and this will cause further emotional and physical damage to you and the people around you. When embarking on the road to recovery from burnout, it is important to recognise that this is a slow journey. The recovery process cannot be rushed and you will need space to recuperate and time to look after yourself. We have written about steps to prevent burnout in the past and although these strategies will still be useful at this stage, a full recovery will require additional steps to be taken. Below we outline strategies that will help with your recovery from burnout. Each person’s recovery process will vary, and you will need to find a balance between practices and strategies that work for you. Don’t be afraid to try a new strategy if you feel that the old one is not working for you. Some of the strategies below might work very well for you, whilst others might not. Strategies to try include:

  • Identifying why – The first step in your recovery is to understand why you have experienced burnout in the first place. Our earlier article on understanding the cause of burnout might help you with this. Sometimes it might appear obvious why, whilst other times this process will require time, reflection, and self-examination. A good place to start is to identify whether you hold any resentment towards your work or others areas of your life. Feelings of resentment may help you to pinpoint if something important is missing in your life. When you discover the root cause of your burnout, explore what changes you can make to your life to improve your situation.
  • Change pace – If you are in the midst of burnout then looking after your health or changing your attitude will not offer sufficient adjustment for you to experience recovery. Instead you will need to change pace by forcing yourself to take a break or slowing down. This will include you setting aside time to reflect, rest and recuperate, and this can only be achieved if you cut back on activities and commitments that you have. See our earlier point on setting boundaries for more information about this.
  • Seek support – When you are experiencing burnout it is natural to withdraw from others and isolate yourself in an attempt to protect what little energy you might have left. Some people may also worry about being a burden on others. However, this strategy is not helpful and will only cause further deterioration in your symptoms. Instead, it would be better to seek support and guidance from your friends and family during this difficult time. Most people will be flattered by your request for support and feel honoured that you trusted them enough to share your difficulties. This could help strengthen your relationship with them in the future. Furthermore, by turning to others for support you will be provided with an opportunity to share your feelings and concerns, and this process could help alleviate some of the stress that you are experiencing. However, don’t expect the people around you to fix your problems, but instead encourage them to be a good listener.
  • Acknowledge what you have lost – With burnout comes loss, and sometimes these losses can go unrecognised. Failing to recognise what you have lost may mean that you are spending a lot of energy attempting to control your emotions to avoid the pain that comes with the losses. This is energy that could be better spent elsewhere, for instance as part of your recovery process. Losses may come in many shapes and sizes, and could include losing friends and a sense of community; your own identity at work or in your private life; physical and emotional energy, your sense of control or self-esteem; your sense of purpose or joy in life; and your dreams and aspirations in life. By acknowledging what you have lost and permitting yourself time to grieve these losses, you will gradually be on your way to recovery.
  • Review your priorities and goals – Transform your burnout into something good by viewing it has an opportunity for you to rediscover what is important to you. Burnout usually occurs when at least one part of your life is not working as well as it could. Taking time out to evaluate what your dreams, hopes and goals in life are will constitute an important step in your recovery from burnout. Spend time reflecting on your behaviour so far, and questions whether you are neglecting something that is truly important to you. Once you have a clear idea of what you want out of your life change your course accordingly.

If you think you are suffering from burnout or would like to learn more about how we might be able to help you recover from burnout, contact City and West Psychology for a free 15 minute consultation here.

Author: Dr Torstein Stapley
Read more about the author here




Preventing burnout

Prevent burnout

Research tells us that your symptoms of burnout will deteriorate if you do not address them, and the earlier you can identify the underlying cause, the better for you. Therefore, it is important to be able to recognise the symptoms of burnout, as well as be prepared to do something about them if you notice them in yourself. You can prevent burnout and a potential full-blown breakdown by taking steps that will help you get your balance in life back again. There are a number of preventative measures that may reduce the likelihood of you experiencing burnout including:

  • Set boundaries – Learning how to say “no” will ultimately allow you to say “yes” to activities that you truly would like to do. By setting boundaries, you will become in charge of your own time and this will help you to not overextend yourself.
  • Practice stress management – Learning how to manage your stress effectively will help you regain a sense of control over your own life. Stress management strategies can reduce your sense of helplessness, and instead bolster your confidence and help instil a belief that you can manage stress better than you think.
  • Implement helpful sleeping, eating and exercise habits – You can set yourself up for success by making sure you are getting enough rest each day, eating healthily, and regularly engaging in physical activity. By covering these three points you will find that you will have more energy and a stronger resilience to deal with most demands that life throws at you.
  • Practice relaxation in the morning – Adopting a relaxation ritual each morning before you face the world can significantly help reduce burnout. Set your alarm to go off fifteen minutes earlier than usual, and spend this time reading something inspiring, writing in a journal, meditating, or practicing gentle stretching exercises. We know getting up earlier than one has to can sometimes be hard, but we believe you will be surprised by the benefits of this step and hope that you will keep this practice up if you just give it a go.
  • Nurture the creative part in you – Creativity can act as a potent antidote to burnout, and you will take one more step away from burnout by nourishing this part of you. We suggest that you choose a creative activity that does not in any way link with your work, for instance by starting a fun project, trying something new that you have always wanted to try, or just resuming your favourite hobby that you may recently have neglected.
  • Give technology a daily break – In today’s society we are surrounded by technological devices that all draw on our attention and time. Although these devices sometimes make our life easier, they can also be a big contributor to stress and pressure. We suggest that you take a break from technology every day by setting a time where you purposefully completely disconnect. This will include you switching of your phone, shutting down your laptop, and not looking at emails, news, or social media.

If you think you are suffering from burnout or would like to learn more about how we might be able to help you recover from burnout, contact City and West Psychology for a free 15 minute consultation here.

Author: Dr Torstein Stapley
Read more about the author here



The cause of burnout

What causes burnout

It is not unusual that people experience burnout as a result of their job. Anyone who is exposed to prolonged stress can develop a sense that they are being undervalued and overworked and this can ultimately result in burnout. Burnout can hit us all, from the stay-at-home single mum who is trying to balance the responsibility of looking after two children, caring for her ill mother and maintaining a pristine household, to the hardworking city office worker who has not received a raise in three years or taken more than five days of holiday. However, burnout is not caused exclusively by too much responsibility, demands at home or stress at work. Recent research tells us that burnout can be brought on by additional factors including your view of the world, personality traits and your lifestyle. How you spend your downtime, the pressure you put on yourself and your view of yourself in the world can all have an impact on whether you experience burnout or not.

As suggested above, a number of factors could ultimately be the cause of your burnout. We can split these into three primary groups; work-related causes; personality traits; and lifestyle causes. Work related causes that could result in burnout include: working in high-pressure or chaotic work environments; experiencing a lack of reward or recognition of your work; facing demanding or unclear job expectations; believing that you have little or no control over your own work; and completing unchallenging or monotonous work responsibilities.  Personality traits that could contribute to burnout include: you having what is called a Type A or high-achieving personality; adopting a pessimistic view of the world, your place within it, and your own abilities; having perfectionistic predispositions and believing that nothing you do is ever good enough; and seeking out a sense of complete control that prevents you from delegating responsibilities to others. Lifestyle causes that could result in burnout include: not getting sufficient sleep; a lack of supportive or close relationships with others; dedicating most of your time to work and limiting the time you spend socialising or relaxing; taking on too many responsibilities and not seeking out support from others; and adopting a position in life where you are expected to hold too many roles for too many people.

In my earlier blog article Identifying burnout, I highlighted how burnout happens gradually, and that it can creep up on you without you even noticing it. If you are not paying attention to the warning signs, then you might already be on the road to experiencing burnout. At first, the signs and symptoms of burnout may appear subtle and they are therefore often ignored, but with time they will get worse and worse until it eventually feels unbearable. Early signs and symptoms of burnout are your bodies way of telling you that something is wrong and it’s putting up a red flag to help you identify that a change needs to occur. If you ignore these early warning signs, then you will eventually burn out, whilst if you pay attention to them and make changes then you can get out ahead of it and prevent a breakdown.

Below you will find some physical, emotional and behavioural signs and symptoms to look out for to prevent burnout:

Behavioural signs and symptoms found in burnout

  • Excessive use of substances, alcohol, or food to deal with stress
  • Procrastinating by focusing on activities that do not need to be completed or spending a long time completing tasks
  • Withdrawing from others and living in increased isolation
  • Arriving late, leaving early or skipping work
  • Shying away from and removing yourself from responsibilities
  • Becoming easily annoyed and directing your frustration onto others

Emotional signs and symptoms found in burnout

  • Feeling alone and detached from others and the world
  • Reduced motivation
  • Loss of a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction
  • Increased self-doubt and sense of failure
  • Adopting a negative outlook of your life and becoming increasingly cynical
  • Feeling defeated, trapped and helpless

Physical signs and symptoms found in burnout

  • Impaired or increased appetite and a change in your sleep habits
  • Regularly feeling sick and a noticeable deterioration in your immune system
  • Recurrent muscle aches, back pain and headaches
  • Reduced energy levels causing you to feel drained and tired most of the time

If you think you are suffering from burnout or would like to learn more about how we might be able to help you recover from burnout, contact City and West Psychology for a free 15 minute consultation here.

Author: Dr Torstein Stapley
Read more about the author here

Identifying burnout

Identifying burnout

You could be suffering from burnout if you feel helpless, completely worn out and disillusioned by stress. Recent government figures indicate that a total of 9.9 million working days were lost in 2014 due to stress and burnout, and that stress and burnout accounted for 35% of all work related ill health cases. Stress and burnout was also the cause of 43% of all working days lost due to ill health. When burnout hits, it can be challenging to gather up energy to care because everything looks bleak and your problems will appear insurmountable. Burnout will lead you to feel unhappy and detached from your own life, and this can often result in a negative impact on your health and your relationships with others. The good news is that burnout does not need to represent a permanent state, but can instead be healed. By seeking professional support, making time to yourself and reassessing your priorities you have the ability to regain a healthy work-life balance.

What is burnout?
Burnout can be described as a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. People experience burnout when they have been exposed to prolonged or excessive stress, for instance by working in an emotionally and physically draining job for a long period of time. Burnout can also occur if you work hard and then fail to achieve the results that you expected or if your efforts at work are not recognised despite all your hard work and effort. Such experiences might cause you to feel deeply disillusioned, overwhelmed and unable to meet future demands. You might have originally felt enthusiastic and motivated when you first begun your job, but as the stress continues, you may start to lose interest and your motivation to keep going is reduced. Burnout causes your energy levels to drop and with that your productivity reduces. This change can leave you feeling hopeless, helpless, resentful and cynical about your future, and you might eventually feel like you have given all that you can. In today’s society we are constantly under a lot of pressure, for instance by meeting work-related targets or juggling multiple roles as an employee, parent, partner, or multiple careers. It is not uncommon to have days when we feel overloaded or unappreciated, especially if the effort that we are putting in is not recognised, let alone rewarded. Understandably, on these days it can feel like a challenge to get out of bed and face our responsibilities. If you feel like this on most days you might, however, be suffering from burnout.

You might be facing burnout or be on the road to burnout if:

  • You feel that every day at work is a bad day
  • You feel hopeless about your work or your life at work
  •  You’re exhausted all the time
  • You find it hard to care about your home or work life and often feel hopeless
  • You think you spend most of your day completing tasks that feel completely overwhelming or mind-numbingly dull.
  • You lose your patience with others easily
  • Your responsibilities in life feel overwhelming and fill you with dread.
  • You have lost interest in activities that you used to enjoy
  • You experience physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, chest pain, sleeplessness or shortness of breath.
  • You engage more frequently in escapist behaviours, including excessive use of substances or other activities that provide a temporary relief.

Distinguishing between stress and burnout
Although burnout is often caused by experiencing relentless stress, it is important to understand that burnout is not the same as experiencing too much stress. When we are stressed it can often feel like there is too much of something, for instance by there being too many tasks, people or activities that are demanding too much of us psychologically and physically. However, when people are stressed they still have the ability to imagine their situation improving, for instance by regaining control of everything. In contrast to there being too much when people feel stressed, when people experience burnout it’s because there is not enough. Being burnt out brings with it a reduction in motivation, a sense of emptiness, and a lack of caring. People are usually aware that they are experiencing a lot of stress, whilst burnout can often sneak up on you without you noticing it. In contrast to stress, where people still can see the light at the end of the tunnel, people who face burnout are often devoid of hope, and they do not believe that positive changes can occur in relation to their situation.

Here are a few more points to help you identify whether you might be suffering from stress or burnout:


  • Results in reduced energy
  • Can result in anxiety disorders
  • Triggers hyperactivity and a sense of urgency
  • Causes overactive emotions
  • Can be defined by over-engagement
  • Severe physical symptoms and damage
  • Could result in premature death


  • Results in reduced motivation and hope
  • Can result in depression and detachment
  • Triggers hopelessness and helplessness
  • Causes blunted emotions
  • Can be defined by disengagement
  • Severe emotional symptoms and damage
  • Could result in in thoughts that life is not worth living

If you think you are suffering from burnout or would like to learn more about how we might be able to help you recover from burnout, contact City and West Psychology for a free 15 minute consultation here.

Author: Dr Torstein Stapley
Read more about the author here

Dancing with the demon of Anxiety

Anxiety Pic

Are you suffering from anxiety? Well, you are not alone. Recent research tells us that anxiety is increasingly common amongst the British population, and national figures suggest that as many as 30% of the population are likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder at any one time. These findings, alarming as they might be, are hardly surprising given the vast amount of literature on anxiety over the last 300 years. Anxiety is not a recent concept developed by psychiatry in the 21st century, but a sensation that people across the planet have experienced for a long time. If we look to the literature, then we will find that the Dutch philosopher Spinoza wrote about anxiety and dread already during the 17th century. Since then, prolific writers such as Kierkegaard and Freud have both dedicated whole books to the topic of anxiety.

As we can see, anxiety is not a new experience to us humans, but how do we understand it? The novelist and short story writer Franz Kafka has portrayed his own experience of anxiety in his literature saying: “the feeling of having in the middle of my body a ball of wool that quickly winds itself up, its innumerable threads pulling from the surface of my body to itself”. Reflecting on conversations with my own clients, they all in one way or the other seem to have described anxiety as a manifestation of inner turmoil. Freud has described anxiety as objectless and located in the future, and many of my own clients who present with anxiety regularly describe worries about future humiliation or ruination. My work has taught me that anxiety also has a tendency to surface when people already feel vulnerable. It’s almost like it is lurking and looking for a chink in their armour or an opening to attack their defences. Once it breaks through it’s like the floodgates have opened and the mind can start to race. My client’s often tell me that the voice in their head is exhausting, that they can’t stop it and that it is constant. They tell me that they feel out of control and that they worry about everything. The literature on anxiety teaches us that this experience might eventually die down for a period, however, unless the anxiety is dealt with through talking therapy, it often has a tendency to return.

Here are a few pointers on how therapy might be able to help:

  • Therapy provides a safe place to off-load your worries onto someone else who understands what you are going through
  • Therapy will teach you to challenge the voices in your head and help you develop tools to reduce your anxiety
  • Therapy offers a space where you can explore your anxiety objectively
  • Talking therapies can alter anxiety at its root by strengthening the neural pathways that counteract anxiety.
  • Therapy can be fun and it is scientifically proven that laughing is good for us
  • Therapy can provide a space to explore your dance with the demon of anxiety, as well as give you the confidence to send it packing.

If you think you are suffering from anxiety or would like to learn more about how we might be able to help you manage anxiety differently, contact City and West Psychology for a free 15 minute consultation here.

Author: Dr Torstein Stapley
Read more about the author here

Breaking out of the depression prison

Finding the lightIn today’s society, depression is a common issue but what is it really like to experience depression? People who have gone through depression will often tell me that their world turned grey and that they experienced a sense of loneliness so strong that it could be felt in the most inner parts of their bones. They describe being in a prison of gloom and suffering, a prison whose walls are invisible, but still quite impenetrable.

In the prison of depression, the mind often travels to a place of darkness, and it becomes preoccupied with our sins, our inadequacies and the futility of our existence. Each day starts to merge into the next, and the focus of our attention becomes more and more on the issues of life and death, more specifically – what we have done with our life, our place in the world, and our feelings of anger, guilt, shame, jealousy, revenge, fear, hate, courage, forgiveness and love. Sometimes we feel imprisoned for years.

What comes out of this period of painful turmoil will vary from person to person. For some it will be an ongoing sense of confusion and sorrow, whilst for others it can result in growth, compassion and ultimately a sense of peace.
During my time as a psychologist I have had many conversations with people who have gone through depression. Some of them have had treatment with other health care professionals on multiple occasions and yet their symptoms of depression have persisted. I have also had many conversations with individuals who have been through horrible and life changing situations, but who nevertheless have somehow coped. The current literature on depression suggests that despite our life circumstances, we ourselves build the prison of depression. This is good news! If we built the walls that keep us trapped, then we also have the ability to find the key that will allow us to unlock the door and let us out.

Breaking free from the prison of depression can sometimes happen in as little as five or six sessions if you follow a few simple steps. Firstly, adopting a position of curiosity and willingness to try something new will put you in a great position from the outset. When entering therapy, you will be faced with two paths. The first represents a path that you have been down before, it’s the path of no change, and it includes holding on to your old thoughts, feelings and behaviours. The second path will be unknown to you, and might therefore at first bring up a sense of fear. However, should you decided to take a leap of faith and chose this second path, then in return it may offer you the possibility of change and hope. When breaking out of the prison of depression, hope is important and nurturing hope in any way that works for you will be vital. This could for instance be done by seeking out support from others, reading inspirational stories about others who have broken out of the prison of depression, or acting as your own cheerleader.

Secondly, working towards meeting your emotional needs, will over time allow you to find enjoyment in life again. In the prison of depression, it is common to lose ones’ sense of meaning and purpose in life, and this often results in reduced experiences of pleasure and a sense of achievement. Identifying activities that may provide an increased sense of pleasure and achievement and then embarking on these activities usually has a positive impact on mood.

Thirdly, identifying what beliefs, opinions and assumptions maintain the depression can be key to understanding what changes to make in the future. Identifying unhelpful thinking patterns and considering alternatives views will put you one step closer to finding the key and unlocking that door.

Finally, learning to show compassion towards yourself. Being self-compassionate involves acting the same way towards yourself as you would towards a friend or loved one if they were going through a difficult time. It includes purposefully comforting yourself when life is hard, and focusing on how you can best take care of yourself in that moment.
Although the journey out of the prison of depression will be different for every individual who embarks on it, the four points above will put you in a good position to finally finding that key and living the life that you want and deserve.

Author: Dr Torstein Stapley
Read more about the author here