Emotional Self Help Books for Expats and English Speakers in Sweden

I need help with Anger Management / Distraction / ADD / Overwhelming Emotions…(strike out what does not apply) …can you recommend something to read? 

Clients are often asking me for book recommendations. While self-help books aren’t the same as therapy or coaching sessions, they have their place and can sometimes be useful if reading is your thing. If you aren’t quite ready to attend counselling or want to try some things for yourself first, take a look at the categories below and try some of these titles. That’s also an inexpensive alternative. But don’t leave it too late to ask for human help. Often it is easier to recover when frustration or other emotions are not so overwhelming.

Here I’ve collected a few of the titles I’ve found to be useful and effective for dealing with anger, distraction, anxiety and out-of-control emotions. Some of these books were recommended to me by English-speakers who have come to live in Sweden. Others I discovered myself in the course of professional development.

Anxiety, Concentration, ADD and Mindlessness

Researching your condition on the Internet can hazardous! On many occasions I’ve been contacted by expats or other English-speakers who, after surfing around the net, fear they have ‘Adult ADD‘ (aka Attention Deficit Disorder). They talk of being easily distracted, having difficulty staying on task or constant forgetfulness. But neither ADD nor ADHD suddenly begin in adulthood. Unless you had serious problems with your schooling as a child, it’s more likely you are suffering from something associated with anxious states of mind or you just need to tone up your mindfulness.

Books for Improving Concentration and Attention (especially if you are worried about ADD or ADHD)

your brain at work coverYour Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock.

This book provides, in simple terms, an in depth understanding of how the brain works and how to optimize use of your brain. Rock also discusses how and why the brain gets overwhelmed. If you are interested in getting a scientific understanding that can help you get back in control of your brain, this book could be helpful to you.
We live in a world with ever increasing distractions thanks to the Internet and technological revolution it has brought. This is no less true in Sweden than elsewhere. Modern communication seems to demand we are more accessible. Increasingly we find our attention divided between tasks. Rock exposes the effect of these demands on the brain. This is cognitive neuroscience, fairly detailed stuff, but explained in conjunction with practical tips.

Regaining Focus and Balance through the Strategy of Mindfulness

mindful path to self compassion coverThe Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions by Christopher Germer.

Many of us are in jobs that require us to use our intellect all day long. For some, the best way to tackle an overwhelmed mind is not by using our intellect to understand the science of the brain but to live more in the present. That starts with being kind to ourselves and also means listening to the body and allowing it to tell us what it is experiencing and what it needs. When we spend most of the day in our heads, we can lose touch with the rest of our body. Mindfulness involves strategies that can be learned. This book will assist you get back to the present and find a new balance.

Germer’s book is an easier read than Rock’s, and his approach is different. It’s less about understanding neuroscience and more about connecting with and awareness of sensations and emotions. If you see yourself more as a ‘feeling’ type of person than a ‘thinking’ type of person, this is probably the better book for you.

The Chimp ParadoxThe Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme for Confidence, Success and Happiness by Dr Steve Peters.

The Chimp Paradox is really about managing emotions (a product of our inner ‘chimp’) and using reasoning (our ‘human’ quality). Peters is a psychiatrist who specialises in sports performance and he is concerned with helping people to understand and manage their emotions and thoughts. This is quite a quirky book that lies somewhere between the drier science of Your Brain at Work and the warm, feel-good The Mindful-Path. Peters teaching skills are clear: the book is full of diagrams and metaphors. His models are easy to understand and fun to read.

If you like the idea of being coached, and you are ready to take up a new perspective on your performance, The Chimp Paradox might be the best book for you. It has been described as a ‘mind programme’, so be prepared to start reprogramming the way you respond to your emotions!

Books for Developing Calmness and Responding to Anger

WildmindWildmind: A Step by Step Guide to Meditation by Bodhipaksa

People often ask me if I do ‘Anger Management’. Well the first step in managing Anger is awareness of it and the emotions which precede it. Meditation provides one of the best ways to develop awareness of emotions. Despite what some people say, anyone can learn to meditate. It doesn’t involve ‘blocking out thoughts’ as such but the practice of focussing. If you are willing to try focussing according to a set procedure, you will find that you are meditating.

I’ve had the pleasure and good fortune to have met Bodhipaksa (a Scotsman and veterinary science graduate formerly named Graeme Stephen) and can vouch he is a very decent chap! He has been practising Buddhist meditation for over 20 years and teaching for over 10 years. This is one of the simplest and easiest to follow step-by-step guides to meditation by an excellent teacher. It will tell you how to do the fundamental practices that help develop calmness and positive mental states towards others. These are proven techniques to respond to and reduce the influence of Anger and other emotions.

Guided Meditations coverGuided Meditations for Stress Reduction also by Bodhipaksa

This isn’t actually a book but a set of guided meditations on CD. There is also an audio-book version if you prefer that. So if you aren’t much into reading and prefer listening to a voice guiding you, you can use these audio tracks to help reduce your stress response.

Our thoughts affect our bodies both in terms of the sensations we feel and the emotions we experience. And what we feel in turn affects our thoughts. This cycling can leave us in a state of hyper-arousal or acute stress response (aka ‘fight-flight-freeze’). Focussed awareness can reverse this and bring us back to the present-moment experience. If you are struggling with stress, guided meditation could be a way forward for you. Try the CD and consult myself or a meditation teacher if you continue to experience difficulties.

CBT Books For Expats

Cover of change your life with CBTChange Your Life with CBT by Corinne Sweet

CBT means Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and it is ‘flavour of the month’ in Sweden right now. It’s not particularly new, having it’s roots in the 1950s and rising to prominence in the 80s and 90s, and is regarded as a ‘2nd wave’ therapy (we’ve experienced 2 more ‘waves’ since!). But psychoanalysis used to be the only talk therapy with credibility in Sweden and CBT is quite easy to justify through research evidence so more people have heard of CBT than Narrative Therapy. That’s not to say Cognitive Behaviour Therapy isn’t effective, because for many people it is. To an extent, CBT is also very favourable to self-help so there are a lot of books on the market to choose from.

I picked up Corinne Sweet’s book a few years ago on my way back to Sweden at the bookstore at Gatwick Airport. It is basic but I think it is one of the most accessible and easy to read texts on CBT. If you are suffering from mild anxiety, ‘catastrophising’ or various negative thoughts, this is a great starter for you to find out how to reduce fear and develop more happiness.

cover of Think Good Feel GoodThink Good – Feel Good: A Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Workbook for Children and Young People by Paul Stallard.

I don’t work with children these days but a colleague showed me her copy of this book and I’m not surprised that it is a best-seller. There’s not much around in terms of CBT workbooks for children and this book also provides very helpful guidance to parents and clinicians. I’ve had parents contact me to ask if I will work in English with their kids. I usually send them to a child specialist because I am an adult specialist. If the CBT model interests you, I’d recommend getting a copy of this workbook, reading it yourself and then using it with your children. Sure it costs a bit more than the average book, but it is packed full of helpful activities and will provide you with an excellent grounding in CBT if you decide to see a therapist or counsellor in person. Obviously, if the difficulties are very serious or urgent, it is always best to seek help from a practitioner as soon as possible. In that case, get in touch with a ‘BUP’ (child and youth psychiatry) clinic directly or through a GP at Vårdcentalen.

One last suggestion… This summer, get yourself an Amazon Kindle. Okay, I admit it I am biased. I am a Kindle convert! But it is so much easier than travelling with a stack of books. You can read all of these books on Kindle plus novels or other non-fiction books as well and the latest version even works in bed with the lights out! If you don’t have one already you can buy a Kindle at this link.

Amazon Kindle pic

I hope to post again with some more book recommendations for inspiration, motivation and commencing a new life in Sweden. Just send me an email if you would like to be informed of new articles. I’m also available for consultations online over Skype webcam, by phone or email exchange. In the meantime, happy summer reading!

Relationship Counselling: Ending the Blame Game for Better Communication

How often have you been in a situation where your partner has blamed you unfairly or found fault with everything you say? Constant put-downs and negativity mean criticism is thriving in your relationship. Here are some ideas about how to nip them in the bud and start having better communication with your partner.

First up, let’s talk about language. I prefer not to use terms like ‘critical people’ or ‘blamers’. Anyone can fall into speaking critically of others. Criticism can take the form of always pointing out what is wrong, constant negative comments or picking fights. If it’s coming from your partner, it could be a sign of unhappiness of lack of fulfilment. But don’t take it personally: people who have been taken over by criticism are generally in a bad way!

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Criticism: You Can’t Fight Fire with Fire

When criticism and negativity becomes obvious, it’s time for action. But you can’t fight fire with fire. Imagine reacting to criticism with criticism… it doesn’t work does it? Most of the time when we are burning up with criticism we aren’t even aware of it. Pointing it out can just fan the flames. We need to be a little more strategic.

Start by checking your own reactions. To reduce the physical stress response, breathe deeply into your abdomen and relax your muscles as you listen to what your partner has to say. Accepting criticism is like receiving a gift that you don’t need. There’s no need to take offence. Just don’t catch the negativity being offered. If you react to criticism, you have basically engaged with it. And if you react critically, you have lobbed it back. Ever heard the expression ‘someone is going to lose an eye’? Once we are playing the blame-game, we have already lost perspective.

Non-Violent Communication


One way of changing your response to criticism is to indicate you have heard what the person has said and you need time to consider it. This way, you keep some distance between yourself and the remark. The idea comes from Non-Violent Communication or NVC, an approach developed in the 1960s that involves awareness, expressing feelings and asking for what you need. I recommend the above book ‘Non-Violent Communication: Practical Skills to Connect and Communicate Skilfully in Every Situation‘ that describes this approach in detail. With practice, anyone can improve their communication but it’s important to be assertive and have boundaries. If you are in a situation of physical danger or abuse, don’t stick around. Get out and get help.

There are a few simple things you can start doing now to change the existing patterns of your relationship. If this interests you, read on!

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A repeated scenario I have witnessed in relationships is one partner putting aside their own needs to try to meet the needs of the other. Which of course doesn’t work too well. It usually ends up with the self-sacrificing partner feeling resentful when their own needs aren’t met. But we can’t neglect our own needs!

Does this sound familiar to you?

The situation generally worsens when both partners suppress their feelings and ignore their own needs to try to make each other happy. Both can end up feeling trapped and not knowing what to do. At the same time, the solution isn’t just about looking after one’s own needs. When in a relationship, we have to find a way to be with the other person. We have to be aware of our own emotions and look after our own needs but remain conscious and sensitive to the other person’s feelings and needs as well. It’s not easy, but when both people are generous with each other, it tends to expand the sense of the relationship. If both partners are tight and mean towards each other, everything tends to get worse and worse.

From Blame-Game to Generosity

If you’ve ever found yourself ‘playing the Blame Game’ with someone, you will know the story. We can get caught in a cycle of blaming the other person or blaming ourselves for a silly mistake or the unpleasant emotions we are experiencing. Non-Violent Communication offers a way forward through taking responsibility for – and expressing – our emotions while empathetically listening to the other person’s feelings and needs. Partners can’t always meet our needs. We sometimes have find ways to meet them ourselves but still communicate them to our partners.

Finally, there is always the possibility your partner may be right, even if the way they are saying something is not ideal. Working out what to take on board isn’t always easy. I offer confidential appointments in English in Stockholm, online counselling over Skype and through email. Fill out my contact form to make a start on improving communication. To break the ‘blame game’ pattern in your relationship, contact me today through www.ForwardTherapy.se or call me on 08 559 22 636.

Anxiety Therapy in Stockholm: Walk and Talk or Talk and Tea… You Choose!

Stress Meter

Treatment for Anxiety is now attracting the same attention given to Depression over recent years. And it’s no wonder. Many people are unaware that Anxiety is affecting their lives and as a result become confused as to how to better approach their symptoms. Talk therapy can offer new ways of responding to Anxiety, and you don’t even have to do it sitting down!

Expat counselling brings me into contact with a wide range of people and personalities. I meet bankers and barmen, teachers and tradies, researchers, roadies and radio journalists. Some come to Sweden for relationships, some for money and some for recognition. It isn’t easy being an immigrant in Scandinavian culture regardless of how advanced Swedish society seems to be. Relocation, cultural differences and relationships are stressors and how we respond to stress affects how well we adjust and how happy we are.

When people come to me, they have often already researched their symptoms on the Internet and tried to diagnose themselves. So what is actually a stress response has been interpreted as ADHD, or OCD, or Depression, or Aspergers Syndrome, or Bipolar. These are the most common diagnoses people are concerned about. It is quite common for Depression to be preceded by Anxiety. However misdiagnosing yourself with the help of the Internet can mean using an ineffective treatment for the condition or falling into a sense of hopelessness. Some even come to the conclusion they have a genetic fault or biological deficiency that cannot be fixed.

I reckon that most people have come to these understandings because we don’t hear enough about Anxiety and how we can respond more effectively to it. Hopefully that is about to change. However this brings another danger: the idea that there is a ‘quick fix’ to Anxiety. My experience is that those suffering from Anxiety are also susceptible to promises about ‘fast results’ or ‘cures’. Taking medication can sometimes help but some drugs are addictive and only worsen the problem. A promise of complete recovery can be much more appealing than the idea that we might have to work at reducing Anxiety or even learn ways to live with it.

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How Can I Reduce Anxiety?

Firstly, most people with Anxiety know that it can affect how their physiology works including changing the way they breathe, their heart rate and the feeling of control over their body. But not so many have learned that the reverse is true as well: you can lower physical and psychological Anxiety through consciously changing your breathing, using relaxation techniques and getting back in touch with your physical being. It is much easier to read about these methods than put them into practice. So getting the help of a therapist to try them out can make a huge difference. Let’s talk about the acute stress response of flight / fight / freeze and how important it is to drop out of that if your really want to get a handle on Anxiety.

Mindfulness Book
Secondly, the practice of Mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being right here, right now. Not in the fear of the future or the regret of the past, but physically present in the moment. It is about focussing attention, without judgement, in calmness and clarity. It is not new but at least 2500 years old and it has stood the test of time. Mindfulness offers you a way of observing your feelings and emotions (including Anxiety) without being pushed around by them. It is highly effective but requires work and practice. This is where the therapist or counsellor can support you by explaining the practices of Mindfulness and helping you monitor your progress. If you are interested in reading about Mindfulness and Stress reduction, I recommend A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook available here on Amazon.

Thirdly you can work with your thoughts. This is why Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT or KBT in Swedish) has become so popular. It can be effective but so much depends on how the therapy is undertaken, the relationship between you and the therapist and, most importantly, whether you are outside of the stress response enough for your cognitive capacities to function properly. There are other approaches to working with Thoughts as well. Deconstructing ideas and concepts and working out how the thoughts arose in the first place can be a significant aspect to talk therapy. Again it requires a degree of trust is established between you and your counsellor.

Walking Talk Therapy

I offer a unique approach to working with Anxiety which I call ‘Walking Talk Therapy‘. Of course, you are always welcome to take a comfortable armchair in my consultation room and chat over a cup of tea (including herbal tea), coffee or glass of water. But if you prefer to walk and talk, we can do that and get some exercise at the same time. It is generally well known that exercise helps alleviate many forms of Depression but it can also be effective for Anxiety. This is at least partly because we are using our whole body when we walk and we can work with the breath in different ways as we walk. These are the most effective means to reduce an acute stress response. It can help us to access a more relaxed sense of ourselves, feel more free and clear our thoughts so we have capacity to think differently.

We aren’t all the same and some of us respond better to some Anxiety treatments than others. So apart from face to face appointments in my consultation room and Walking Talk Therapy, I also offer therapy for Anxiety over the Internet through Skype webcam, Instant Message and Email Exchange. So it doesn’t matter where you are in Sweden or anywhere else in the world, through web technology we can communicate and work cooperatively to reduce Anxiety and change your response to stress.

If you are ready to make an appointment or if you want to know more about my availability and fees, contact me now and let’s make a start. There is more information about me and how I work in these pages but if you have any questions I would be happy to answer them directly.

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I look forward to hearing from you!

Ash Rehn.

Swedish Culture Shock: 5 Practical Ways to Deal with Stress

man with stress

Providing counselling services for expats in Stockholm, I’m often helping my clients to manage and find ways to relieve stress. This stress might be related to cultural factors including the difficulty many report in making friends with Swedes or it could be to do with a close relationship or marriage. It can be associated with a combination of factors, for example work pressure, unfulfilled hopes or plans, perceived expectations or the adjustment to a new life in Sweden. The impact of stress isn’t always obvious.

People come to me wanting new ways to think or ‘mental tools’ for dealing with their circumstances. But regularly I meet people who so stressed-up, they can’t think so easily, in new ways or old. This article is about some very basic things you can do to manage stress. If that interests you, read on.

Stressing out? Ask for a consultation now!

5 Ways to Manage Stress

Here are 5 fundamental steps you can take to start getting back in control of the stress in your life. These tips are recommended by doctors, psychologists and major organisations like the British NHS (National Health Service).

1. Eat well.

When we don’t refuel our bodies regularly, our physiology can go into a stressed state and our more subtle cognitive (thinking) capabilities can be adversely affected. It’s much harder to problem solve when hungry, for example. On the flipside, using food to numb emotions can lead to overeating and unintentional weight gain. Aim for a balanced diet and regular nourishment.

2. Ensure you get enough sleep.

Sleep is regenerative and gives us a chance to let go of tension. It’s the body’s passive way of regularly relieving the effects of stress and becoming refreshed by allowing the brain to go into ‘quiet mode’ so we regain physiological balance. Of course sometimes stress can also interfere with sleep, in which case we don’t get the regular physical and mental refreshment we need. If your sleep is affected, develop a routine to support sleeping (google ‘Sleep Hygiene’). Sleeping tablets are not an ongoing answer, but if you are severely sleep deprived, you might need to discuss this with a GP. There are also gentle herbal treatments that some people find helpful.

3. Take regular exercise.

Exercise is a great way to shake out the effects of stress. When we exercise, we are directly working on our physiology and we can reverse the automatic stress response that happens to us when we are under pressure. For those of us from warmer countries, in the winter it can be difficult to find the motivation to exercise in Sweden and not everyone lives in central Stockholm or has access to indoor gyms and fitness centres. But even a short walk can make a difference and is better than nothing.

4. Put some structure in your day.

We all need to offset work with rest and play. Again, this can be difficult for expats without strong social connections. When we are trying to do the same thing for too long each day, the consequences are usually boredom, frustration and irritability or depressed mood. Everyone has chores they have to do (things like shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing etc), but without the balance of imaginative activities, our stress reactions can take over. Planning some exercise, social activities and time for creative interests around your work and non-negotiable commitments will help to make sure you stay on top of stress.

5. Talk about your problems.

It might sound like a cliche, but sharing problems and feelings really is a release valve for stress. It works differently for different people. Writing in a journal or diary can be one way of expressing thoughts and feelings but it doesn’t necessarily give the sense of a listener being present. Talking with friends can provide an outlet for emotions. However many English speakers tell me they find it difficult to make friends in Sweden and you might not have been here long enough to establish trusting friendships. Or perhaps you want to discuss something you feel you can’t share with a friend and need someone who you can be sure will remain impartial and maintain your confidentiality. That is where a counsellor comes in.

Some people tell me they just want to ‘dump’ what is happening for them, to ‘get it off their chest’ or make a confession about something they have been thinking about or doing. Others want a sounding-board (boll-plank in Swedish). Others want to have a good cry and to express how they feel. Some expats ask for help with decision-making or problem-solving. All of these are fine with me. The most important thing is: Don’t keep the problems to yourself!

Vulnerability to Stress and Building Resilience

Our vulnerability to stress and our coping skills for dealing with it can change with our circumstances. For example, people who have experienced trauma or child abuse when young sometimes have a heightened stress response to day to day events. But moving to a country like Sweden and adjustment to a new culture can involve a lot of stress as well. Building resilience to stress takes time. Don’t leave it too late to get help. If you are struggling with stress, make an appointment to discuss ways forward. If you are not sure, but think that managing stress might be a problem for you, contact me to find out how we might work together.

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