Hampstead psychotherapist’s survival strategies for a crisis
PUBLISHED: 12:30 17 March 2020 | UPDATED: 14:37 25 March 2020
Gael Lindenfield’s book How to Feel Good in Difficult Times couldn’t have come at a better moment
The publication of Gael Lindenfield’s “very personal” self-help book couldn’t have come at a better moment.
But there are no tips on Coronovirus between the pages of How To Feel Good In Difficult Times - rather her 21st book of survival strategies for a crisis is a collection of everything she has learned from decades of life experience, and as a therapist.
Not only is the 74-year-old Hampstead author a “role model for bouncing back from setbacks” but she’s also warm, practical and down to earth.
Surely the wit and wisdom of someone who has survived a difficult upbringing in children’s homes, depression, addiction, divorce and the death of a teenage daughter can help us through this outbreak?
“I didn’t write it about the Coronovirus, but everyone encounters things through life and none of us know what is around the corner,” she says. “While some people deal with the bumps in life, others get knocked for six. I hoped to help people going through a bereavement or job loss, but it could be any crisis. It’s for people to dip into when they need strategies for coping.”
As we’re learning from differing reactions to the global pandemic, people handle crises differently “some are liable to catastrophise,” agrees Lindenfield.
“Your brain automatically selects anything that matches your mindset, but you have to get a handle on your negative hard drive and stop falling back on default settings.”
In the midst of great stress, self doubt can creep back in - and so can knee jerk responses to punish ourselves or retreat into unhealthy behaviours from sleep problems to eating disorders and addictions.
She urges readers to embrace the crisis and look for the positive in change, however unwelcome. But as she knows from personal experience, some are “liable to get more depressed than others if they have a history of it.”
“I suffered with it in my 20s because of the background I come from, but it isn’t necessarily to do with background. It may be a series of things that have gone wrong. The book aims to give them tools, to stimulate ideas of what they can do to prepare and keep themselves in good mental health. The more positive and confident we are the more likely we are to see a positive outcome.”
Lindenfield’s chaotic childhood with an alcoholic mother led to addiction and a suicide bid - it was therapy that saved her - after which she trained as a psychotherapist and developed ideas about self-esteem that she has put into practice in her life.
Despite being dyslexic, a short book about personal development aimed at the British market kick started a writing career in her 30s and made a fixture on TV “sofa shows”.
“Most books were very American and standing in front of a mirror telling yourself how wonderful you are would never work for me or my clients. My little book was a translation of American ideas into ordinary English with everyday examples that people could manage.”
Lindenfield uses visualisation techniques and dramatherapy. One is to fill a box with photos “people they admire, heroes and heroines, a memento from a holiday that you loved, a reminder of places you have found peace in. It brings you back to the person you are or want to be.”
When her second husband was made redundant she bought him a small ivory tiger to keep in his pocket “so he could feel it as a reminder of his own strength”.
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“These things sound silly but they work.”
Another is to analyse a problem by writing it down, or to choose imaginary aspirational mentors in history or real life who have gone through similar trials and can make you feel positive.
“Have an imaginary conversation with them about what they would say back to you - you don’t have to play it out you can just imagine it.”
She’s strong on real friendships - the 16 types of friends for support from ‘cheerful chatterers’ to ‘inspirational survivors’ and the critics and saboteurs you need to protect yourself from.
“Some people belong to your past, you have moved on and they are ‘not me any more’. You can end a friendship even after 35 years or consign them to the Christmas card slot.
“People who challenge you can make you think, but may be unhelpful if you are going through a rough patch. There are people who exchange only bad news rather than good and that plays on our general sense of ability to cope. It’s ok if you are in good shape, if you are not it’s a downer.”
“If you have a tendency towards depression you will automatically veer towards those who have been through it themselves, but they may not be the best people to help.
“Spend time analysing who would be good before you pick up the phone to share things. Think what their special strengths are.”
When her 19-year-old daughter died in a car crash, inarticulate friends helped by baking a cake, while others crossed the street because they couldn’t cope.
She quarantined herself with several books including Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.
“When I lost Laura, the thing that kept flashing into my mind is ‘this is what your whole life has been about’. I knew what to do, I had developed my own theory of emotional healing, the different stages you go through. I’d worked all my life with people dealing with traumas big and small. It becomes a habit. I had to isolate myself, let myself grieve, be selective about who I saw and talked to, I had a strategy that helped tremendously.”
And this is the nub of Lindenfield’s advice on getting hrough tough times.
“You need a strategy to lock negative thoughts away by switching your brain from its emotional centre into its thinking centre. Examine them, ask is this true or false? If it’s true, where did it come from and what can I do about it? Instead of focusing on the negatives, focus on the uplift.
“The book is based on practical things I have done over the years that work. I am writing for a wide range of people so they won’t work for everybody but I say take what works for you.”
Gael Lindenfield is a psychotherapist and author of 21 personal development books. How To Feel Good In Difficult Times is published by Trigger Publishing price £9.99.