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Assertiveness can be described as a communication skill where you can effectively communicate your feelings, preferences, beliefs and needs in a respectful manner. Assertiveness is not aggressive, passive, manipulative or demanding. Being able to be assertive reflects being confident and your self-worth. Being assertive can improve your relationships, work-life, friendships and daily interactions with people.

What Is It Like When You Are Not Assertive?

Sometimes people may find it hard to assert themselves especially if they have low self-esteem or lack confidence. Some may find asserting themselves very stressful and avoid doing so. However, there can be a cost to this avoidant behaviour. This can lead to:

• Saying ‘yes’ to things when you would have preferred to say ‘no’

• Feeling uncomfortable

• Being angry with yourself

• Not sticking up for yourself

• Being unable to say no without feeling guilty

• Putting others before you

• Wanting to be liked and looking for the approval of others

• Being unhappy as your true feelings aren’t being expressed

• Wanting to appear a nice person

• Feeling oppressed

• Feeling used/taken advantage of

I think we can all relate to these at some point in our lives. Becoming assertive is a skill that takes practice. Learning this skill can be incredibly positive as it reinforces your sense of self, creates boundaries and can promote self-care. Being assertive can boost your self-esteem and confidence.

Types Of Communication

There are four main types of communication they are:

Assertive communication – Being assertive is problem-solving, open and requires empathy, listening, negotiation and an ability to express your needs and wants through discussion.

Passive communication - People with low self-esteem often adopt this behaviour as it avoids conflict, it doesn’t require any decision making, it avoids expressing our needs or feelings and it allows others to make choices on our behalf.

Aggressive communication – This is a ‘fight’ response to assert power and control. This can be seen as defensive behaviour as it can push others away.

Manipulative communication – Sometimes both passive and aggressive behaviour combined can be used to manipulate others to get what you want. This expresses controlling behaviour often making others feel guilty.

Communication is part of everyday life and understanding and learning about how we communicate can have a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves and how we are perceived by others.

How To Become More Assertive

To become more assertive it is important to:

• Identify your wants and needs

• Using “I” statements when expressing how you feel e.g. “I felt hurt” not “You hurt me” This shows ownership of emotions and doesn’t blame others

• Not starting statements with “You”

• Speak directly to the person involved

• Avoiding name-calling

• Being willing to compromise

• Checking out the other persons understanding of what you are saying and asking for feedback “Do you understand what I am saying?”

• Not apologising for asserting yourself

• Assess whether you are being reasonable

• Remaining open to communication

• Remember that you are not always right and others have valuable opinions

• Believe that you deserve respect

• You have the right to express yourself

• Others deserve respect and to be treated fairly

• Be prepared to accept and receive criticism without getting upset or angry

• Say ‘No’ and know your limits

• Understand that you don’t have to win

How Can Counselling Help?

Counselling can help you to identify how you relate to others, how you behave and offer support in developing your self-awareness. If you feel that you lack assertiveness due to self-esteem issues our team of experienced counsellors are here to help. Counselling can offer a safe and confidential space for you to explore your thoughts, behaviours and feelings to help promote better relationships, confidence, self-esteem and personal growth. 

By Helen Rutherford MBACP Accred

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Red lilly in the water


Relaxation is defined as a relaxing pastime, activity or hobby which can help to refresh your body and mind. To be relaxed means you are free of tension, feeling restful and without stress or anxiety. Many of us enjoy different forms of relaxation including meditation, taking a break, listening to music, reading, warm baths, pilates, cooking, watching films, yoga, walking, painting, crafts and switching your phone off are just some examples. Knowing when you need some time out to relax is important as it can help you to look after your overall wellbeing. Relaxation is important for us all to factor into our busy lives.

During my time shielding, I have really enjoyed painting.   It has given me a sense of accomplishment as it is not easy with physical limitations, fatigue...oh plus a kitten helping!! Below are a couple of the projects I have finished. 

Helen Rutherford painting on her kitchen table. Her kitten is lying across her painting.
A painting of a witch holding a cat hanging on a wall.
A painting of a lady in a blue dress holding on to strings held up in the air over the city scape by butterflies.

The benefits of relaxation

Relaxation has many health benefits and can reduce stress and anxiety. Exploring different ways to relax is important so that you can find what works best for you. Being able to find relaxing activities can cost nothing. Relaxation works best when used alongside a holistic approach to health and wellbeing which can include positive thinking, exercise, having the support of family and friends, getting enough rest, good time management and other positive coping strategies.

The benefits to your physical health from reducing stress may include:

• Lower blood pressure

• Reduction in stress hormones

• Slowing your heart rate

• Reduced chronic pain

• Improving mood

• Allowing you to focus

• Reducing tension in your muscles

• Feeling more confident

• Reduce fatigue

• Reduced levels of anger

• Feeling calm and better equipped to handle problems

• Improved concentration

• Reducing frustration

The use of relaxation promotes both your physical and emotional wellbeing. Relaxation can help you focus, problem solve and work through different issues in your life. It can be a space to process what is going on for you in the here and now.

Relaxation Techniques

There are many different forms of relaxation techniques including deep breathing, massage, yoga, tai chi, hypnosis, visualisation and progressive muscle relaxation. These are only some of the techniques available which can be taught. Overall relaxation techniques are about increasing your awareness of your body, focusing on where you may hold your tension and stress and slowly letting it go. Relaxation techniques refocus your attention promoting a calm and peaceful state allowing you to gently acknowledge your thoughts as they pop into your head and letting them go. Becoming more aware of your breathing and bodily sensations can help you to focus and manage your stress and anxiety levels. Knowing the signs of stress and anxiety and how they affect you can be a way of acknowledging when you need to look after yourself. Relaxation techniques can be useful tools in managing how you feel.

Relaxation may take some practice and it is important you find something you are comfortable doing. If you experience any emotional discomfort during a relaxation technique it is important to stop and seek the advice of a professional on other methods.

How talking therapy could help

Talking therapies are an effective platform for you to learn about basic relaxation techniques including deep breathing exercises, visualisations and relaxation exercises. A therapist can teach you different techniques and use these in your session to help you reconnect with yourself promoting your self-care. If you are experiencing difficulties with stress and anxiety talking therapies can offer you a safe and confidential space to explore your thoughts and feelings. This can help increase your awareness and support you to identify your stressors and how to deal with them. Talking therapy can help you to restore balance to your life.

By Helen Rutherford MBACP Accred

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There  is a hand on a window and it is raining outside

The Isolation of Living with a Disability or Illness

The Double-Edged Sword Of Social Isolation

As we now have a road map out of lockdown the anxieties of many people with disabilities or illnesses are being expressed on social media. Social isolation has been our protection for so long now that some of us have become institutionalised.  I find myself observing conversations around the fears of unlocking society, the social anxiety people feel, and the impact of the current risks we face.

According to Scope half of all disabled people of working age “always or often feel lonely”. The pandemic has exacerbated the loneliness people feel, none more so than people living with disabilities or illness. Many of us have had to shield for almost a year, had hospital appointments cancelled, treatments postponed, had difficulties with our care and been faced with the challenges of staying safe. We may have felt physical distance in our lives, but our social isolation has reached another level.

How Does Social Isolation Impact Your Mental Health?

Social isolation can be incredibly challenging and may result in feelings of depression, loneliness, helplessness, cognitive impairment, reduced immune system and poor cardiovascular function. It is another threat to our health. 

We are managing so many challenges right now. Being isolated is just one of those challenges. It can be overwhelming. It's a struggle I have recognised on a personal level. Navigating the emotions and feelings it can bring up isn't easy. It is important to give these feelings a voice, to process the difficulties and to work through the challenges. Anxiety is often based on the unknown and this can generate fears and stress. Counselling can help you develop your resilience by teaching you strategies to feel more empowered. 

Staying Connected 

It is more important than ever to try and remain connected in these challenging times but it's not always easy. It can sometimes be hard to admit when you are struggling. You may compare yourself to others and minimise your own experiences.  “I am fine” is quite possibly one of the most overused phrases in our language today. How many times do you catch yourself saying those words when beneath it all you are not fine? It is perfectly normal to go through difficult times and struggle from time to time. It is what makes us human. Life can throw up challenges that may test our resilience. It can be difficult to ask for help and it takes courage to be vulnerable. We may struggle with the limitations our lives impose on us, reflect on the choices that we feel are taken away or feel that we are on the outside looking in at the rest of the world. Sometimes it can be difficult not to compare yourself to others. We may observe what others have that we don’t and it can be difficult to acknowledge that some of these experiences we go through are painful and isolating. It might sometimes feel like no one understands. Often these feelings come from internalised ableism, exclusion or being in a constant state of grief and loss. Support is available to get you through your difficult days.

Talking Is Good For You

Talking is good for your mental health. Do you ever think about how much better you feel when you have a good chat with family or friends? Talking is an important part of feeling connected, to sustain good relationships and to feel supported. Sometimes it may not feel appropriate to talk about the things that are bothering you with a friend or loved one. Some issues are deeply personal and this is where counselling can help. It is important not to internalise and carry around your issues as this can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues and stress. Being listened to and heard are important elements of communication so that we feel cared for. It’s important to feel understood and that someone else “gets it” validating our experiences. Talking whether it is to a friend, loved one or counsellor can help you to maintain good mental health. Talking allows you to process your issues, to figure out what is bothering you and help you find solutions. Not talking can allow issues and worries to grow.

Emotional Respite Disability Counselling Service gives you the opportunity to work with highly qualified counsellors with lived experience of disability who are available online from the comfort of your own home. This service offers flexibility to you so you can access counselling when it suits you. If you are struggling right now get in touch and we will do our best to support you.

By Helen Rutherford MBACP Accred

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Hand Reaching for the sun

Finding Hope

Hope can be defined as a feeling that we have when we want something, an expectation or desire for something to happen. There are times in all of our lives when hope can be incredibly important to us. There are also times when we may lack hope and find it difficult to think positively when we feel like we are in hopeless situations. Hopelessness can be associated with many mental health problems including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is not uncommon for anyone to experience feelings of hopelessness throughout their lives.

When you find yourself struggling it can be hard to find meaning and purpose in your life. It can be difficult to experience hope at these low moments. It may feel like you lack control, direction and you may feel stuck. We can lose hope when we become overwhelmed by situations. Everyone experiences times like these. Having difficult experiences where we lose hope are incredibly emotionally challenging. It can lead to thoughts of giving up or not even trying. However, support is available to help you work through those difficult times, finding a new perspective and finding your motivation once more.

Experiencing hope

Finding hope is incredibly important as it can provide optimism, choice, goals and actions which can inform your beliefs. Hope is a positive emotion which can influence your decision making, outlook and focus. Therefore, when we lack hope the effects can be devastating.

Some may associate hope with future possibilities. We experience hope when we are excited to see what happens next. It is important to have realistic expectations when hopeful about what may lie ahead. Unrealistic expectations can lead to feelings of disappointment and hopelessness so it is important to reflect on how realistic your outlook is. Paying attention to how you think can be the first step in tackling feelings of hopelessness.

How to develop hope

Hope is an optimistic state of mind and in order to develop that it is important to promote positive self-talk, to be kind to yourself and not to judge and be critical of yourself. We all handle situations differently and if you are faced with something right now they makes you feel hopeless take some time to sit and reflect.

Here are a few ways in which you can develop hope:

• Find positive relationships which support you

• Acknowledge your accomplishments

• Acknowledge your strengths

• Do something meaningful with your time

• Make time to do things you enjoy

• Look after yourself

• Challenge yourself

• Reflect on how you are feeling by writing a journal to process where you are and where you would     like to be

• Set realistic goals

• Work on your attitude challenging negative thoughts

Counselling offers you a safe and confidential space to seek support when going through difficult times. If you feel you are lacking hope right now and need someone to talk to get in touch. Our team of highly trained counsellors can help you to process your thoughts, feelings and behaviours offering new insight to help promote positive change. Our counsellors can help teach you psychological tools and techniques to help you overcome the obstacles in your life and help you move forward.

By Helen Rutherford MBACP Accred

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