Psychology in Noosa: Troubled in Paradise

I moved to Noosa at the beginning of 2015 to set up a new Psychology Practice. I have been running a successful practice in Brisbane since 2008.

Some of my cynical city friends wondered out loud if Noosa needed a Psychology Practice. I could understand their hesitancy. Psychology Noosa; are they strange bedfellows? For those who live in the city, Noosa represents the idyllic lifestyle; beaches, sunshine, green space, easy paced life. It is, after all, the ultimate holiday or retirement destination for many people each year. People who live in such an environment surely don’t suffer anxiety, depression or performance pressure in their jobs or relationships; or do they?

Sometimes the idea of having everything together can transform into pressure that translates and extends to anxiety and depression. Let me explain how contextual psychology understands how this works…

The human mind is built for judgement and comparison. It’s essentially a device or tool that we, the human animal developed for our survival. The ability to discern one thing from another in an array of phenomena and decide which is better for us helped us decide which berries to pick and eat, where to seek shelter and with whom to form alliances. All very useful, until our societies became so complex that the judging and comparing became ceaseless and overused activities of the mind. When the only tool you have is a hammer, you keep seeing nails!
What’s worse is that we tend to compare what we see of others’ outsides; their presentation, to our own insides; what’s going on in our thoughts and feelings. My friend and colleague Dr Louise Hayes describes it like this. She says, it’s like we look at other people’s coats, notice the nice herringbone tweed, or the soft, conditioned leather and think “that looks great”; the judgement. And then the comparison comes. Part of the problem is that we make this comparison to our own coat as we see and notice what’s on the INSIDE; the torn lining, a ripped pocket, a little grime on the insides of the cuffs, thinking, “This is rubbish, I could never inhabit anything so wonderful or luxurious as tweed or leather; I don’t deserve such a nice thing…”. The Inside / Outside comparison wreaks havoc on our confidence and self esteem.

If we then add this lack of confidence or self esteem to our “insides” that we are comparing to everyone’s outsides, it can quickly spiral us into either 1) Anxiety and a furious attempt to “keep up” or 2) Depression, thinking we will never get there. This can actually be especially true when other’s outsides appear fabulous, as they do in Noosa! The picturesque and beautiful Noosa as “other” can actually cause a deeper internal struggle with emotions; further inner turmoil.

The wonderful Pixar animation, Inside Out, shows a similar story. Most of the action takes place inside 11 year old Riley’s mind, where her major emotions are personified with colourful characters. “Joy” is trying to stay happy and think positive, but the outside circumstances are bringing “Sadness” into the limelight. Their struggles have them both exiled from headquarters leaving Fear, Anger and Disgust to run the show… Not an uncommon experience moving into adolescence! The resolution comes when Joy sees the purpose of Sadness. Riley’s personality integrates and grows with acknowledgement and acceptance.

Russ Harris also talks about this phenomena in his best seller, “The Happiness Trap” The more we try to appear happy, the less likely it is that we are… The way forward is acceptance of what is arising in emotions, whilst committing to behaviour linked to our deepest values.
happiness trap

Of course we are waking up to the pain of inauthentic living promoted further by social media. “May your life be as awesome as you make it seem on Facebook” attests to our astute and growing awareness. Perhaps seeing a psychologist is the first step back to being real. I aim to provide a safe place for you to let it all out, see and feel all of what is happening on the inside. People often describe this as coming home to themselves. Then it’s possible to move into a life motivated by integrity, living by deeply held values. This is possible, even in Noosa!