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!

Counselling for LGBT People in Stockholm: 5 Reasons to Choose a Gay Therapist

Rainbow Illustration

Rainbow IllustrationWhen expats move to their new country, it can be an opportunity to make a new start. Sweden, with its relatively inclusive attitudes to lesbians and gay men, would seem like a natural choice for gay expats hoping to live their identity more openly. But coming out is often more of an ongoing process than a point in time.

 

LGBT expats in Sweden experience the same difficulties as other immigrants with adjusting to Swedish culture, climate and maintaining relationships. But some aspects of the transition to Nordic life are often unexpected. It’s been suggested that the ‘Law of Jante‘ has Swedes downplaying differences in favour of viewing everyone as equals. And living in a city such as Stockholm where being gay or lesbian is generally not regarded as anything unusual might also mean that it is less likely previous difficult experiences will be acknowledged. One way of getting recognition of what you have endured is to speak to a counselling therapist who is understanding and supportive of gay identity.

Coming Out

Coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is often discussed as if it were an event. But it is more likely to be a series of events or an ongoing process that continues through life. Some would say we never stop coming out. Even in Sweden, we have a society where the heterosexuality is still the considered the norm and the assumption that a person is straight often goes unquestioned. This assumption is part of what has been called ‘Heteronormativity’, a way of thinking that also suggests people fall into distinct genders (man and woman) associated with specific gender roles. The reality of life is, of course, quite different. Humans are as diverse as other species so biologically, sexually, gender-wise and in terms of identity, there can be much individual variation.

Making the decision to share your identity with others is a personal choice and needs to be treated as such. At the same time, the relief that comes with inviting others into your life can reduce anxiety and free up creativity. Talking about who you are and having an audience for your experiences is personally validating. Being able to be yourself around others is one of the rewarding aspects of living in Sweden that might be less possible in certain other places in the world.

Coming Out Later in Life / Gay and Married

For people who are older, coming out can be particularly challenging. I have spoken with many men who have decided, after years of marriage to a woman or having raised children in a traditional family, to explore other aspects of their sexuality and identity. Starting to identify as gay, bisexual or trans in your 40s, 50s or later can seem like entering a new world and an unknown world at that. If you are in this situation, it can be important to remember that you already know a lot about life even if the ‘world’ you are entering seems to have its own set of rules or conventions. Coming out after a straight relationship or later in life is a journey in itself. It can be helpful to have a gay counsellor to assist you to navigate the way forward.

Gay Relationship issues

Many of the individuals who consult with me at my practice at Hornstull or online are going through couples counselling, recently ended a relationship or are dealing with the aftermath of a break-up. It’s quite usual to have a difficult time when a relationship ends, and upset feelings can continue, especially when the end was unexpected or if you had been with your partner for a long time. If you are gay, lesbian or transgender, it can be therapeutic to talk about the feelings and to find a way forward with the help of a professional.

For gay people, finding a partner in a ‘heteronormative’ world is not always easy. Gay Internet dating has become one of the most common ways to look for and find love but some argue that it has turned people into commodities that are marketed. Not everyone finds it easy to ‘sell’ themselves to others over the net. In Stockholm there are a few gay venues, social groups and sports organisations. And many people meet their partners through work or friendship networks. Taking the first step or returning to dating after a break might involve some effort and motivation, not to mention support.

Family Relationships

Lesbian and gay expats in Stockholm and elsewhere in Sweden, even those who have settled into life here, sometimes have unresolved family issues that may or may not be related to their sexuality. In terms of sexuality, it can help to know as much as possible about being gay and gay life in case the time comes when questions are asked. Family members can take time to adjust to a new understanding about their loved ones and people tend to learn acceptance at their own pace anyway. For those who are struggling with particular relatives, geographic distance can be both a blessing as well as a barrier to resolution. Having the ‘sounding board’ of a gay therapist might make a difference when exploring options.

Dealing with Workplace Homophobia

I’ve just attended the Nordic LGBT Business Leadership Forum, an event organised in Stockholm by IBM to promote discussion about how organisations can maximise the power of diversity in the workplace and translate it to success in the market. Companies based in Sweden are generally much more inclusive of transgender, lesbian and gay employees than in other countries but that doesn’t mean homophobia and transphobia in the workplace does not exist here. Workplace equality and inclusion also means being able to talk freely about what you did on your weekends (if you choose to). Dealing with workplace harassment or simply feeling at ease with your colleagues can be dependent on a number of factors and it is important not to blame yourself if you feel uncomfortable. If your job is stressing you out, make an appointment to talk about it and get it off your chest so that you can work out what to do.

Finally, it is common for people to wait to come to see me until the point comes that they feel really bad about things. My advice is to act now instead of waiting. Often when you start discussing problems with a therapist, difficulties do start resolving themselves.

Counselling in English in Stockholm has advantages and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are always welcome at Forward Therapy Stockholm. Just contact me by email or leave a clear message on 08-559 22 636 if you are interested in meeting at my office, walking talk-therapy or online counselling.