Article published in Sherborne Times February 2015

February Blues

We’re well into 2015 now and February can be a difficult month for some.  It’s after the hype, excitement, busyness and challenges of Christmas and New Year, still short days and not yet spring.  Students have gone back to school, college and university, leaving a space in our lives and as a result we may feel a bit low and fed up. The return to study and work may also leave us feeling stressed.  How do we balance the things that give us pleasure with the tasks that have to be done? 

Constantly the media tell us that we should exercise more and watch our diets but how else can we help ourselves to manage the feelings we experience?  It can be helpful to have someone who you trust to discuss this with, maybe a close friend or family member but sometimes it is useful to have a space outside your usual circle where you feel safe enough to explore these thoughts and feelings.  In counselling you can have this confidential space, a time for you to explore what it is you are feeling and thinking, how it is impacting on you and what changes you might want to make.  It can be easier to have these conversations with someone you don’t meet in any other area of your life and don’t have to look after!

Your low feelings may not be due to stress but perhaps a loss, a change in your life, challenges in a relationship or many other things.  In these cases some sessions of counselling can help you to get a clearer perspective and perhaps a better understanding of yourself.  If feelings of low mood continue it can be a good idea to discuss this with your doctor.


If you are feeling under stress, it can be useful to identify causes, the effect it has on you emotionally and physically and what you do to try to manage those effects what works and what doesn’t!  A small group workshop or an individual session gives you the opportunity to gain several different perspectives on your situation and hence find a new way forward.  What works for one may be of no use to another, so it’s important to find your own solutions so you can live your life in a more fulfilling way.

Jill Cook MBACP Snr Acc

Article Published in Sherborne Times March 2015

Pressures of Life

During my professional life I have always been drawn to helping individuals make the most of themselves and get as much out of life as they can.  This began with my career as a teacher in state and independent schools and working with age groups from 8 to 18 years.  From a beginning teaching Physics and Chemistry later changing to Design and Technology, I have tried to share my passion for learning and have balanced that with work in a pastoral care team.  In both situations, building relationships with young people and colleagues was vital.

It was this desire to build and develop nurturing relationships that lead me to retrain as a counsellor and my first job on qualifying was as a counsellor in a university.  Twenty years later I have just retired from a post in a different university with posts in a secondary school and the NHS as well as running my independent practice along the way. For the first time in my life I can take a holiday in term time!

It is this broad range of experience that I bring to my work with individuals today and as a result I have some understanding of the demands and rigours of the educational system on both young people and their parents and staff.  The cycles of the school year bring differing demands, as students heave a sigh of relief at the end of exams, staff are under pressure to be marking and reporting results as fast as they can.  Once students have their results there can be anxiety to either maintain the standard they have achieved or improve on their performance.  Either way, individuals are under pressure.

These pressures might manifest in many different ways - anxiety, poor concentration and sleep, digestive upsets, change in mood are a few.  As a parent or guardian it can be useful to observe these changes and perhaps have a gentle conversation about what you have noticed, giving the young person the opportunity to talk about how he or she is feeling.  The school or university may have a counselling service and it might be useful to take advantage of that space.  In my experience, young people often feel that they can’t tell parents how worried they are or how bad they feel for fear of worrying them.  A neutral person who they don’t have to see in any other area of their lives can make a real difference.

Whether they are 6 or 16 years old, young people will bring challenges.  As we adults help them negotiate the ups and downs of life, sharing their joys and sorrows, a good support network for ourselves can help us to manage that.  A balanced lifestyle of work and relaxation, healthy food and fresh air can make a real difference to how we deal with both our own anxieties and those of the others around us.

Jill Cook MBACP Snr Acc

Article for Sherborne Times April 2015

New beginnings!

 Spring!  The clocks have changed and we have lighter evenings and longer days.  We can see new growth everywhere, lambs, blossom and leaves on the trees and hedgerows.  It is a time of change and it is going on all around us.

We can all be coping with our own internal and external changes in our lives, some welcomed and planned, some unexpected and some hard and challenging.  Events like a new baby or job may be a welcomed change but even these good changes may mean that we have to give up something that we have valued in the past.  A new baby may mean we have reduced free time and a new job may mean we have to say goodbye to old colleagues.  Sometimes it can be hard to acknowledge a sadness when the rest of the world can only see the positives.

For those with children this can be a time of finding out where school will be next year, dealing with excitement and disappointment and the forthcoming challenge of leaving the security of a known environment for a new one.  University places may have been offered subject to examination results ……… a possible change but as yet uncertain.  For those at university, examinations loom too, maybe finals with the connection to a potential career or postgraduate course or end of year exams impacting on progression to the next year. 

In all these situations individuals are dealing with change, much of it tinged with uncertainty and this can lead to an emotional roller-coaster.  It is important that we acknowledge the feelings that we experience and make space for them.  A parent, guardian, close friend, trusted teacher or tutor may be just the right person to share this with but if not then the school, college or university may have a counsellor who could help in making sense of these sometimes confusing feelings.

Many changes are occurring in the workplace at present.  The economic climate impacts on business in many ways with job cuts and job changes over which we have no control.  These may create new opportunities, a change in direction or learning new skills but it can remove us from the comfort zone of the familiar.  Here too, it can be helpful to discuss how we feel, rather than bottling it up inside and perhaps resulting in an impact on our health.  Many organisations have access to workplace counselling which will be confidential and can be helpful at these difficult times.

We all manage change differently but having a space where we can explore the feelings we experience can be very valuable.  We also have to manage the change cognitively, thinking carefully about its impact.   Our emotional, mental and physical health are all linked, so looking after our emotional world at times of change can benefit us all round.

Jill Cook MBACP Snr Acc

Article for Sherborne Times May 2015

Improving our Communication

I recently came across the following quotation by William Deresiewicz who is an American author and lecturer amongst other things:

‘The true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers’.  This set me thinking about how we ‘make minds’ of our young people.  What does this involve? What do we mean and how do we do it?

Alongside this I read a news item which reported that more pupils have mental health issues and that schools are facing a huge burden.  In these last few weeks when emphasis has been placed on these issues in the media, I was thinking about how best to facilitate the growth of a whole rounded person.  What do we need to do in order to support and educate in intellectual, physical, mental and emotional health?

So at this particular time when large numbers of school, college and university students are gearing themselves up to sit exams where does the focus lie?  How can we best support them to be healthy in body, mind and emotions?

Schools and colleges  work very hard to prepare their students for exams …they want individuals to do the best they can but at times of stress we can often increase our own anxiety by the things we tell ourselves.  For example: ‘Other people are better than I am’, ‘My parents will be devastated if I fail’, ‘If I fail people will think I am stupid’ are common anxiety producing thoughts and only serve to increase panic and ability to perform.  It can be easy to slip into this downward spiral but we can work together to try to see it through. 

We can support ourselves or others by talking in an affirming way and challenging these negative thoughts.   Creating your own, or helping your child to create their own affirming statements can be of help: ‘I’ll do better in my revision and in the exams and if I allow myself some short breaks’, ‘I’m not the only one who finds exams stressful’, ‘It’s OK to ask for help when I’m worried or confused’, ‘I can only do my best’. 

In order to help in this way we need to listen to what we are being told.  Give time to really hearing what your young person is saying, trying to see it through their eyes and then working together to find these affirming statements.  When you’ve found them it can be helpful to write them down, sticky notes put in prominent places, perhaps in the workspace or on the lap top, can be very helpful in serving as a reminder about a different way of thinking.  Challenging these negative beliefs is not easy but with effort and support can be of help in reducing the anxiety.

This process doesn’t just apply to exams.  In our workplace we will be facing challenges and these disabling thoughts can get in the way of making the progress we desire.  If you find it difficult to work at this alone you could enlist the help of a trusted friend or professional.

Whether 7 years old or 70, we can use this as a possible way of supporting ourselves to help cope with anxiety and keeping ourselves as healthy as we can so that we are able to have the best life and career possible.

Jill Cook MBACP Snr Acc

Article for Sherborne Times June 2015

Saying 'No'

How good are you at saying ‘No’?  When asked to do something, many of us find it difficult to refuse, even though we might not feel right doing it or know that it might cause us more stress.  Whether it is at work, school, among friends or family, saying ‘No’ can be very difficult. 

Why might we find it so hard?  Look at the following statements and see whether any of them sound familiar:

  • I worry that I might hurt other people’s feelings
  • I worry what people will think of me
  • I fear saying ‘No’ in case people don’t like me
  • I don’t feel confident enough to stand up for myself
  • I agree to do things because I think it’s what people expect of me
  • I think people might get angry with me if I say ‘No’
  • If I say ‘No’ I will be rejected by my friends
  • If I say ‘No’ I might lose my job

If any of these feel familiar to you, this may be the time for you to identify why you feel that way and make some changes.  Saying ‘No’ in the right situation may help you feel less stressed and allow others to respect you.  Saying ‘No’ will stop you from doing things that you don’t wish to do or might cause you further stress.

In the workplace, with staff reductions, many of us are feeling that more and more is expected of us and that saying ‘No’ might compromise our job. Finding a way of saying ‘No’ assertively can be helpful in being taken seriously and ensuring that the demands of our work life don’t completely overtake our home and family life.

Some simple tips for saying ‘No’:

  • Breathe deeply and think first what you want to say (it’s important that you are clear about your reasons for saying ‘No’)
  • Try to speak firmly and be strong in your body language (good eye contact can be helpful here, staring at your hands or shoes doesn’t show you mean what you say)
  • Try using ‘No’ as your first word!
  • Be short and clear in what you say but avoid being rude or abrupt
  • Give the real reason for not wanting to do it (inventing a reason may only lead to difficulties later)
  • Avoid saying ‘I’m sorry’ more than once

At times of stress in families, individuals may find themselves under pressure to take on more tasks, e.g. caring for a sick or elderly relation or minding a grandchild, which they may initially be happy to do.  However, if demands increase they may find it difficult to draw the line.  Under these circumstances it is important that before you say ‘No’, the person who is asking you feels that you have understood their situation.  If we feel understood it makes it much easier for us to really hear what else is being said to us, so by showing you understand the situation, your ‘No’ will be more likely to be received rather than immediately disregarded.

If you have trouble saying No, then it can be useful to practice in situations which are not so emotional. Also try repeating to yourself “When I say ‘No’ I mean No’”  so you get used to the idea.

There are many more ways of developing your assertiveness and if you are interested there are books available, counselling may be helpful and look out for workshops that help you increase your skills.

Jill Cook

Article for Sherborne Times July 2015


It’s July and many of us will be thinking about holidays. 

Children are approaching the end of term, weary from a long year, exams and looking forward to something exciting.  Parents may be juggling demands of their work with the needs of child care for 6 to 8 weeks.  People without children may have planned their break to fall outside school holidays.  Young people may be having their first independent holiday, exciting for them but tinged with concern for parents.  Television programmes of parents ‘spying’ on their young people whilst they are away are frequently shown ……. leading me to wonder about how we learn to trust our children as they grow into adulthood. Young people may be setting off on the beginning of a Gap year, an exciting journey, an exploration of independence which also maybe tinged with anxieties about the unknown.

Whatever your situation, a holiday can bring challenges of its own.

I began to think about this as I packed my bag for a weekend away, just Friday evening until Sunday afternoon.  This was a weekend with people I know well, in a place that is familiar yet I still found a level of anxiety creeping in.  As I thought about it I realised that I was anxious about the clothes I’d take, what would the weather be? what would be doing? what else did I need to take?  My logical head told me that whatever I took would be fine but it didn’t stop that little niggle!  I was packing for myself but magnify this for parents with children or others to care for, whatever their age and the uncertainty increases. 

For many of us there is an expectation that a planned and longed for holiday will be great but for others the thought of two weeks with family or a certain group of people might be anxiety provoking.  Either way there can be anticipation which is tinged with worries and it can be helpful to talk about these, rather than storing them up and hoping that they will pass.

My dictionary defines holiday as ‘Day, period of cessation from work or of recreation’ and I wonder how many of us can view it like that.  Apart from the organisation needed to get away and for many the continuing need to be on top of things whilst away (especially if you have children or are a carer) and in this day of instant communication, how many of us are able to really have that complete break from work.  Texts, e-mails drop into our devices ……. How good are we at ignoring the ‘work’ ones?  Is there a temptation to just check to see what it is? Then work can invade our holiday space. How often do you hear your friend or partner say ‘you’re on holiday, leave it alone’?  I know I can usually justify checking my e-mails and texts but I also know that they can invade that precious space where I need to recharge, whether it be by doing something active or just chilling out. It’s about finding a balance.  One organisation recently suggested that if taking a work phone away that we discipline ourselves to check it only once a day!  Sounds like a good idea and I wonder how many of us are able to do that.  You might want to give it a try!

Holidays can be times when we cement our relationships, an opportunity to spend time with people we care about or a time to get to know someone better.  It can also be that break from our normal routine which enables us to take stock of our lives and perhaps think about new plans.

I love holidays!  They’re not always easy or what I expected but whatever your hopes and expectations are for your holiday I do hope that you will be able to enjoy yours fully and return feeling re-energised.

Jill Cook

Article for Sherborne Times August 2015

Those lazy days of summer?

I guess I’m giving my age away, but here we are at the beginning of August and the lyrics of this Nat King Cole song came into my head :

“Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer

Those days of soda and pretzels and beer …..”


Hotly followed by Ella Fitzgerald singing

“Summertime, and the living is easy ….”

This set me wondering just how lazy, crazy or easy this time of year is.

For farmers, life is certainly not lazy …… silage cutting, now harvesting not to mention all the day to day tasks that running a farm involves with livestock or arable crops, seems pretty frantic to me right now.  As a gardener myself, the heavy work of the garden is past for the moment but my vegetables and fruits need harvesting and keeping an eye on in case of pests, and regular watering when we have a dry spell. Yes, maybe the grass is slowing down and doesn’t need mowing quite so often and there is time for me to take a lazy break with a book in the sun when it shines but it’s not like that for everyone!


Spare a thought for those in the tourist industry ……… a really busy time, serving usual customers and also visitors.  Coping with other people’s expectations is rarely easy and when it involves a looked forward to holiday, extra pressures can be involved.  Hard work it is and the living is certainly not easy!!


By the time you read this, children may be three or four weeks into their longed for summer break and maybe the initial novelty of not going to school has worn off a bit.  A bright, active girl of nearly nine was heard last week, on waking in the family caravan to ask her dad ‘what are we doing today?’ even before saying good morning! There can be an expectation that entertainment will be provided for them and thinking about something that they can do to entertain themselves without adult organisation gets lost!  How many parents are frustrated by the ‘can I have …?’ or constant asking for something that involves money? Having said that, the same girl had a great day going on a Famous Five type adventure with her brothers which cost nothing!  The National Trust has its list of 50 things to do before you are 113/4, most of which cost nothing. And don’t let the 113/4 put you off, whatever your age there’s probably something on the list which would be fun or a new experience! Give it a try!

For parents balancing work with children on holiday it can feel like anything but a holiday! But a thought might be that even though you are weary at the end of the working day, you could perhaps take children for a walk, to a local park or further afield if you are not too tired to drive.  There they can be diverted by paddling or throwing pebbles into stream, climbing a tree or just having fun outside!  You may be energised by being outdoors rather than coping with bored children on the sofa! Children remember experiences, not what it costs! So collect pebbles and take them home to decorate with chalk pens, or stick on card to make a picture, keep a scrapbook of all the things, large and small that have been done. 

English weather can be fickle as we all know and there may be disappointment if a planned outing is cancelled due to the weather but wellies and a waterproof may still enable an outing together, turning a small thing into an adventure!

Fingers crossed for sunshine though, for us all for the next weeks so that we can all enjoy some lovely experiences and build great memories.

Jill Cook

Article for Sherborne Times October 2015

Who am I?

Here we are at the beginning of October …….. where has the summer gone!

For those of us with children and young people there has probably been the annual chasing around before the beginning of term for new school uniform, sports kit and stationary bits and pieces with all the frustration and anxiety that this can generate in both adults and children.  The start of a new term can be tinged with excitement of perhaps a new school or getting back with old friends but also with the wondering of how next year will be, new teacher, different subjects and different responsibilities.  By now most schools will be back and the uncertainties will no longer be there but adjusting to new circumstances is not always easy.

Older students may be starting at college or university, perhaps leaving home for the first time and looking forward to the excitements of Freshers’ Week and independence but also uncertain about the new demands of their chosen life.

Whether it is 5 year olds going to school full time or 18 year olds going away from home, they leave a gap. Our role as parent or carer will change.  How does that affect us?  There may be an initial feeling of relief, new found time and space, a quieter house and more food in the fridge but some may find another feeling, a missing, an emptiness,  a questioning of one’s role and how it has changed. If you are working you may be used to juggling all the needs of different family members and this can give you breathing space.  It might sound a bit dramatic but at this time there may need for a period of grieving for the loss of the role in life that was, before it is possible to find a new way.

Historically, Adult Education classes started in September after the harvest was in and children were at school, so people had more time to explore new things.  This may be a time for you to consider what you would like to add to your life that might broaden your horizons, a class in painting or yoga, woodworking or a running club …… something that is just for you. Maybe there is something you have wanted to try for a long time but have been unable to do it due to all the other demands on your time ……. Maybe now is your time.

This can be a time for evaluating parts of your life and exploring the possibilities of something new.  A new hobby or interest may provide a way forward but it might be helpful to explore the feelings that go along with this new found time.  Talking to a close friend or trusted person may be useful in helping you find clarity about what you are feeling and a possible way forward. A friend staying with me recently was uncertain as to the way forward she wished to go in her career.  We had a large sheet of paper on the table and when she passed it or something popped into her head, she jotted it down, however outlandish or silly it seemed at the time.  A simple exercise like this can help us to get out of the rut in our thinking and broaden our horizons; it might help you!


When you read this the equinox will have passed and the days will be visibly shortening.  For some, this can be a difficult time as we contemplate the longer dark evenings.  Maybe now is a good time then to think about how you might cope with this.  The temptation is to shut yourself in in front of television and the fire, which can be lovely but again, it might be a time to try something new to prevent you from getting into that ‘winter rut’.

Feelings of low mood, desire to eat more and lethargy can often be around during these darker months, so think about what you can do differently this year. We can’t alter the shortening days but perhaps there is something you can do to help yourself to manage this in a better way. 

If you are finding any of these things difficult, talking about them can be helpful. Your friend, GP or a counsellor may be a good place to start so that you can move into this winter phase of the year with a different attitude and some new ideas.


Jill Cook

 Article for Sherborne Times November 2015

Holding on to happiness

As I look out of my window I see grey clouds and rain sheeting across the fields and although it’s not cold, I feel plunged into autumn with a vengeance! 

So what happened to those good feelings? We can have a great weekend, time spent doing things we enjoy with people we love and then on Monday it seems to disappear.  It appears that due to the way our brain works, when we unconsciously predict the future we are not always accurate and that can include predicting the things that make us happy! As we grow, we change and it can be difficult to acknowledge that things that made us happy in the past might not generate the same feelings in the future.

So what will the next few weeks be bringing?  We’ve just passed Halloween with all its weirdness and excitement and bonfire night with all it’s ooohs and aahs is nearly here.  Each year the firework displays seem to become more spectacular and the events bigger and more formalised.  The days when a few fireworks in the garden with a jacket potato cooked on the bonfire would suffice are few and far between.  Safety concerns have rightly made us more aware and careful, so sharing this experience is a larger and less intimate event but can bring us joy nonetheless.

This time also brings some young people into the middle of what may feel like a long first term.  Whether it is prep school or university, the first term away can take some adjustments.  Previously confident people can experience homesickness if they have not been away before.  It can be a painful and unsettling experience which can be helped and hopefully managed if they are willing to talk about it.  Often they can feel that they are the only person who feels like this and are ashamed of ‘not coping’.  Maybe life in university accommodation feels alien.  Sharing kitchens, not feeling that they fit in with the culture of other students and coping with the practicalities of looking after themselves and new ways of studying can all contribute to a feeling of homesickness.  If this is the case, most colleges and universities have a good counselling service which will have been through all this with many others in the past and will understand the difficulties.  The service will be confidential so rather than struggle alone, talking can help.  The Students Union can also often offer good support at times of difficulties.

Whether your child or young person is 7 or 17 years old, be ready to listen, hear the difficulties and struggles and if you feel that you are not able to help, talk to the school or encourage them to visit some other support.   As a parent or carer it can also be difficult for you.  Not only has your child gone away but feeling that you cannot help to make things alright can be hard too.  Talking this through with someone you trust can be helpful so that you can gain differing perspectives and hopefully all will be able to reconnect with the happiness that came with making the original decision.

Happiness can feel fleeting but allowing ourselves to enjoy each moment for what it is, rather than having an expectation of what it could be, can enable us to have more positive experiences.

Jill Cook

Article from Sherborne Times December 2015

Whilst shopping recently I was struck by the sense of wonder and excitement on the face of a small child in a shopping trolley as she was pushed past the Christmas decorations.  A small breathless voice said ‘Mummy, that’s beautiful!’  It was a short moment but put me in touch with the feelings I had as a child, before I was old enough to choose what I wanted as a gift, when Christmas meant exciting surprises and few expectations. It reconnected me with making paper chains, making lanterns out of paper and the moment the box of decorations was taken out of the roof and my sister and I got to hold the glass baubles (one or two of which I still have!). 

But his can be tricky time of year for some of us, for all sorts of reasons and we can end up feeling under pressure.  For those with children the pressure may well have started weeks ago.  The ‘can I have…’ and the ‘for Christmas I want ….’ may have been fuelled by television advertisements or access to the internet for shopping all setting up expectations which just may not be financially or physically possible.  Coping with this as a parent or carer can be challenging.  Balancing the desire to give a gift which is meaningful and requested with all the other demands that this time of year might generate is not always easy.

This may be a time of year where family get togethers are expected too.  With this may come the challenge of being with people with whom you do not usually have much contact as well as those whose company you enjoy.  Feeding and entertaining them can just add to the feelings of stress.  There will be those of us who love this and for them it is a time of great enjoyment, cooking and feeding the people you love and care for, in perhaps a more exciting way than usual can be fun for all concerned. If you don’t enjoy it and maybe if you have visitors you could suggest that everyone contributes something so that the burden is shared and falls less on you.

There are those of us too, who struggle with the time of year because of memories it generates, it can accentuate loneliness or the loss of someone special.  Being aware of the impact this time of year has on others can, perhaps remind us that giving is not just about presents but can also be about time. Absence of established rituals and habits can emphasise change.  People in new relationships may have the choice of which family they visit on Christmas Day and the impact that might have on other family members.   These plans benefit from open honest discussion beforehand so that each partner knows what the expectations are and then we are less likely to encounter an unexpected difficulty.

Alongside all this there can be much joy and pleasure and those with religious beliefs will have another element added to the period to enhance their experience. The moment when a loved one opens a carefully chosen gift and is delighted by it is a pleasure for giver and receiver.

Whether you are young, old or somewhere in between, I hope you have a relaxing and enjoyable festive period with people you love, doing things that give you all pleasure.

Jill Cook