When Anxiety Attacks: 6 immediate solutions


As the expression suggests, living with anxiety feels as if you are inhabited by a monster constantly whispering about your fears, insecurities and your worthlessness, your inevitable failures and the catastrophes which you can’t avoid and are probably creating. It is estimated that 13-14% of people in Europe [1] live with anxiety. One symptom is anxiety attacks. Some people only realise that they have been suffering from anxiety when they experience such an attack.

An anxiety attack differs from a panic attack. It is usually a response to a stressor – often a thought or feeling or specific dread. People feel apprehensive and full of fear. Their hearts may race and they may feel short of breath. Often people feel out of control and may become extremely tearful. A panic attack may include some of these symptoms, but usually occurs without a clear stressor. Both can be terribly frightening. If you experience anxiety attacks it is important that you are prepared with an emergency response.

Here are my favourite techniques to respond when anxiety attacks:


Listen to the pattern of your breath when you are anxious. It can give you a clue as to how best to respond to your anxiety. If you are hyperventilating – taking fast, shallow breaths, feeling faint, and fearing that you can’t catch your breath, try to breath into a paper bag. Breathing in and out using a paper bag will recycle air, returning carbon dioxide to the body, which will naturally make the breath deeper and slower. Do this for a minute. If you don’t feel better, try again for another minute.

If you are not hyperventilating, you can use the calming breath technique. Breathing exercises such as those used in yoga classes are effective in reducing anxiety. One simple exercise I use with clients uses counting inward and outward breaths to calm the mind. Simply breathe slowly in through your nose for a count of 4, then breathe out of your mouth for a count of 4. Repeat. Then breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, and out of your mouth for a count of 6. Repeat. Then breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, then breathe out of your mouth for a count of 8. Repeat. Check to see if you feel better. If you don’t, repeat the exercise again, concentrating on the sensation of your breath.



Mediation, when practiced regularly, can help people reach a relaxed state more easily. Practice makes progress when it comes to mediation. If you are experiencing an anxiety attack, try to find somewhere to sit quietly or lie down. Then try progressive relaxation, also known as a body scan, which can be especially helpful. Progressive relaxation soothes as you tense and relax muscles – isolating and focusing exclusively on one group of muscles at a time. Begin with your toes, and work up through your muscles to your head, where you may focus on relaxing the muscles around your chin and eyes.  Guided progressive relaxations are available on Spotify, YouTube, and on CD [ 9 for ideas see reference 3 below]



In the throes of an anxiety attack use your active imagination to help your de-stress. First, isolate the location within your body where you feel the greatest sensation of anxiety. Use imagery to help unwind and relax that spot. Cute, warm, and amusing imagery will be of the greatest help. If you feel tension in your shoulders imagine a collective of kittens massaging the knots away. If you feel butterflies in your stomach – imagine yourself in your stomach with them, asking each to settle on your arms and flutter no more. One client recently expressed her fear of butterflies, so, using imagery, we collected the butterflies and they turned into Golden Retriever puppies, ready for a cuddle.



Anxiety attacks are created by dreadful thoughts running through your mind. One way to settle these thoughts is to repeat a mantra. While there are mantras on the internet, you may benefit from one that you write specifically for yourself. The mantra should be full of words of kindness, understanding and love. The words “should” or “must” cannot be part of any mantra.

For example, if you are caught in a cycle of catastrophic thoughts you might like to repeat a mantra such as:

I am imagining the worst that might happen. My worries are my own creation. I can give my worries power or I can withdraw that power. I may not be able to control everything, but I can control my thoughts. I can resist my worries day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute, and even second-by-second. I have faith and compassion for myself.

If you are filled with feelings of dread and self-worry:

I will accept myself as I am

I am proud of all that I am achieving

I will rejoice in my gifts and strengths

I will forgive myself if I stumble

I will give myself compassion and love

Every day is a new day for me to thrive.



While avoidance is not a long-term technique for managing anxiety, if you are ruminating or feeling a panic attack, distracting yourself with a change of scene or activity can help. Go for a walk, particularly in nature, to reset yourself. Try colouring, which I have detailed in a previous blog [link], which involves both sides of the brain, stimulates creativity, and can help to calm the mind.        Even listening to some upbeat tunes at this time, get up and dance, just break the pattern of your anxiety for a moment to reset your emotional clock.



The long-term cognitive approach to anxiety is to create an internal dispute. Disputing your anxiety helps you reframe situations, see hope, and utilise self-compassion. If you experience anxiety ask yourself to challenge your view of the stressful situation – have you been overgeneralising, personalising, or catastrophizing? Is there an alternative way of looking at this issue? Sarah Wilson[2] , in her compendium of suggestions to utilise in one’s challenge with anxiety suggests an ancient adage, “ First make the beast beautiful”, meaning accept that your anxiety – it is something that originally may have been created to help you, but overtime has started to inappropriately misfire. When you make the anxiety beast beautiful you may say to yourself, “Thank you brain for alerting me to potential danger, but I know I am safe right now, you can go back to your guarding post”.  Developing the process of dispute is an area of action where a therapist can be of significant help. If you cannot create this dispute for yourself, utilise the resources of a counsellor.


Prolonged anxiety is extremely challenging to your health. If you have been struggling with anxiety for a while please seek the help of a counsellor or a doctor. They may recommend a combination of therapy and even medication to help lessen your anxiety. There is no shame in needing help. Take charge of your future. Everyday is a new day for you to thrive. Start gently now.




For more information: If you would like to regularly read our RED DOOR blogs – on a range of topics from mental health and wellbeing, relationships, parenting, anxiety, sadness, bereavement addiction, and so much more – please like our FB page:  https://www.facebook.com/REDDOORHongKong/


About the author: Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong. Her current clinical work focuses on parenting, family life, parenting SEN children, anxiety, OCD, career change, stress management and divorce.



1: Prevalence -

2004: The ESEMeD/MHEDEA 2000 Investigators,2004, Prevalence of mental disorders in Europe: results from the European Study of the Epidemiology of Mental Disorders (ESEMeD) project

2011: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/sep/05/third-europeans-mental-disorder

2: Sarah Wilson, 2018, First we make the beast beautiful: A new journal through anxiety. Dey Street Books

3: Spotify and You Tube links to try.

Try Deepak Chopra on Spotify https://open.spotify.com/user/sarahkonieczny5/playlist/5LJDLPj5vhzbrTwk5k07nV

Try Relax for a while on YouTube.






Death is nothing at all? Learning to grieve well.


The Western world has a lot to apologise for when it comes to bereavement. Our approach to dealing with death actually makes it more painful for some people. There is some societal expectation that we can just “get over it”, and that “closure” is our objective. We live in fear of our own deaths, as if death were an option and not a reality. We even fear the corpse – as if it were somehow separate from our once living body, not simply another step in the life cycle.  Is this healthy?

The seminal book, “On Death and Dying” was written by Dr Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. I had the pleasure of attending her workshop on the five stages of grief following death and was changed forever. Dr Kübler-Ross reminds us that since we never know when we or others will die, we should never leave a loved one unsure of our feelings for them, and never let your last words be those filled with malice.

In our counselling practice, clients come to us trapped in their grief over the passing of loved ones, angry at their own impatience that they just can’t get past these feelings.

Dr Kübler-Ross was one of the first researchers to analyse an individual’s response to death. Each person’s grief is unique and depends on their personality, the relationship with the deceased, the quality of death (sudden, long, quiet, violent), the emotional style of the bereaved, their mental health, and the social and cultural perspectives on death and the afterlife.

Your personal experience of grief might be some of the elements that you could address with a counsellor in therapy. In addition to your individual expectations, we would also explore how, as a product of  society and culture, you can experience  bereavement in different ways

The societal and cultural views of death and grief

There are three basic cultural beliefs about death. First, there are those cultures which death is to be defied. They  believing that death can be vanquished and is temporary, such as the beliefs held by ancient Egyptians. Second, there are cultures that accept death, including those of the Pacific region, such as the Fijians, believe that death is simply a stage of life. Death is a stage of life, and therefore discussed openly. Finally, we have a western view – the death denying. We behave as if death can be avoided and that grief should to lead to quick and convenient closure. This approach can exacerbate feelings of shock around the experience of death. Suddenly someone you love is gone, and society expects you to just move on. When we struggle we start to wonder if there is something is wrong with us, rather than the expectations of our society.


Rich in rituals

The use of rituals at the time of death may help or hinder the experience of grief. The formal funeral common in the western world is a far cry from the Maori Tangihanga – a three-day grieving ritual with gathering, storytelling, beer and tears a plenty. The same could be said of the Irish tradition of a merry wake. These highly emotive celebrations lament death and mourning as a rite of passage, normalising the expression of pain. It is not sombre, quiet and with restraint. All emotions are explored and experienced.


Connecting to the echo

Staying connected to those who have passed helps people to grieve. Celebrating a loved one’s birthday with their favourite food or wine, or enjoying one of their activities, continues to keep you connected to those who have died. In her wonderful book for children, “The Invisible String”, Patrice Karst reminds us that we remain connected to the dead through our shared love and remembrances. Rituals and celebrations are a great way to maintaining connectivity. The Mexican celebration, the Day of the Dead invites the departed to revisit the earth and join their families. The Chinese traditionally improve the afterlives for their loved ones by burning paper objects such as iPads, new clothes and even cars so that their ancestors are nice and comfortable. These rituals keep the departed loved, remembered and, most importantly connected to the living.

I close with the wonderful poem Death is Nothing At All by Henry Scott Holland, who speaks eloquently for the departed.

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
that we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference in your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without affect,
without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolutely unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you,
for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just around the corner.




If you would like to regularly read our RED DOOR blogs – on a range of topics from death, mental health and wellbeing, relationships, parenting, anxiety, sadness, addiction, and so much more – please like our FB page:  https://www.facebook.com/REDDOORHongKong/


Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong. Her current clinical work focuses on parenting, family life, parenting SEN children, anxiety, OCD, career change, stress management and divorce.

Dealing with the death of a pet – accepting and managing grief

pet death

Paws to make time for grief.

It is wonderful to have a pet. Unfortunately, like all living things, they die. Sometimes we need to end their suffering; sometimes they pass away from old age. Loss can be particularly traumatic if your pet dies suddenly in an accident.


The death of any pet – no matter how small – is painful. It is important that you acknowledge your loss– out of respect for yourself and your pet.


Here are 6 recommendations to help heal the hurt:


  1. Recognize and respect – the loss of a beloved animal companion is significant. Expect to feel sad. Cry as much as you need. Don’t try to rush through your grief. Ignore those who might say to you, “Get over it – it was just a dog/ cat’’. He or she was a much loved member of your family. Grief comes in waves, high and strong at first, and continues over time. Years later a wave of sadness may suddenly wash over you when you least expect it.


  1. Talk about it – don’t keep your feelings to yourself or feel that you shouldn’t trouble others with your loss. This is a time when friends earn their keep. We all experience pain at different times, for different reasons, and we all deserve support. If your friend has lost a pet, even though you may not understand the depth of her or his sorrow, be empathetic.


  1. Memorialize – make a small memorial to your pet in the days following his or her passing. Acknowledge the loss and perhaps share your feeling with photos and stories. This will help keep you feel connected to your beloved pet, especially in the painful days that follow the passing.


  1. Write a letter – thank them for their love and companionship. I particularly recommend this bereavement technique for children. Writing helps children express their sadness in a creative way. It helps to remind children that, in some way, their pets continue to exist as long as they are remembered. You might also ask them to draw pictures of their pet that you can hang in your home or that they can share with friends. When my young child was struggling with the sudden accidental death of our dog, Milo, I even wrote a letter from Milo back to her, telling her about that his experience in doggie heaven and joking that God had said that he needed that he was a bit overweight and he had to go on a diet.


  1. Rituals – we live in Hong Kong and many of us have the chance to travel widely. As such, we have experienced how cultures other than our own commemorate a significant death. The Chinese have a tradition of burning paper objects to improve the afterlives of the departed. They “send” paper models of iPads, new clothes and even cars so that their ancestors are nice and comfortable. I encourage those grieving the death of a pet to do the same. Simply draw the items your pet loved – you don’t need fancy models. For example, in addition to a picture of a toy we knew Milo liked, we sent him a big juicy paper steak – so that he could avoid the diet suggested in the afterlife!  These little rituals help the bereaved stay connected to the departed.


  1. Give yourself and your family time to grieve. Rushing to replace your beloved companion with another pet will be tempting, and may confuse small children. Teaching children to get over pain with a replacement policy may inadvertently communicate that grief is a bad emotion that we should avoid. When you think you are ready, sit down and discuss getting a new pet with your family to ensure that everyone can deal with another deep emotional commitment.


Losing a pet can be devastating. Nurture yourself and your family during this sensitive time. You have lost a dear friend and an important member of your family. Respect your emotions and honour the love you had for your pet.




If you would like to regularly read our RED DOOR blogs – on a range of topics from mental health and wellbeing, the experience of bereavement, relationships, parenting, anxiety, sadness, addiction, and so much more – please like our FB page:  https://www.facebook.com/REDDOORHongKong/


Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong. Her current clinical work focuses on parenting, family life, parenting SEN children, anxiety, OCD, career change, stress management and divorce. 

Start me up – responding to career crisis


start me up It happens to almost all of us. One day you realise it’s time to leave your current job. Sometimes you want to, sometimes you are driven by forces beyond your control. When it comes to a career change, getting yourself mentally prepared will help you select a  job that helps address your current dissatisfaction and cover your expenses. You can respond more effectively when you better understand the impact of the catalysts of change (you vs them), and your readiness to respond (engine primed vs engine stalled), on your emotional wellbeing.


Responding to the catalysts of change

Change in your career driven by external forces is often beyond your control. This may initially leave you feeling powerless or in a state of disbelief. Your job may be marked for downsizing, your project may fall out of favour with management, or past allegiances may make you a target for future dismissal. Outside of the office, other external factors such as your marital status or health may impact your ability to work the way you have in the past. Change may be required so that you can take care of your child, go to the hospital for specific and timely treatments, or reduce your stress to save yourself from exhaustion.


Sometimes the catalyst for change is internal – such as a lack of fulfilment, boredom, or dislike of people or processes within your organisation. You will feel frustrated, demoralised and demotivated.  Do you think it’s time to move on?


Readiness to change – the primed vs the reluctant

How much you want to change jobs, and respond to that desire, will influence how successfully you change your career. You may not want that change to happen, but you must cope with change that is going to occur.  Those that are primed for change not only want it, but are looking for the nearest well-lit Exit and a door to something better. Those that are reluctant may be riddled with doubts about their worth and performance. In short, they are scared – right now.

If you get yourself ready for change – and respond to the right catalysts in an optimal fashion, you will gain a sense of control and tame your fear.


What to do when you are primed to respond to external catalysts:

If you face external forces and are primed for change you will need to shift from feeling resentful and out of control towards feeling empowered. This is an opportunity for excitement and optimism as you recharge in a new career. To make a positive change, find your passion and move forward with purpose. Identifying your passion sometimes seem quite complicated. Try asking yourself these three questions:

1.   What job would you do for no monetary payment at all?

2.   What role do you need to fulfil in life to feel complete? And, importantly for most;

3.   What can you do to be paid to do what you want to do?


What to do when you are reluctant to respond to external catalysts:

If you are reluctant to accept change you may engage in mental cycles, bargaining with yourself: “If I just do xxx, then management will see this situation differently”. Whilst there may be some possibility of accommodating change, this is a very stressful way to survive, with no guarantee of success or peace of mind. Denial and resistance in the workplace will not help you succeed. What can you do? Work on accepting what may be inevitable, protecting yourself and your self-esteem. In these situations, people often blame themselves. Be gentle. Take a kind look at yourself and a harsh look at your circumstances. Company decisions do not reflect on you personally.

Help yourself by recognizing and exploring some of the faulty thinking that may occur. Are you taking too much personal responsibility for events that are out of your control? Are you personalising a situation which really isn’t personal? Do you catastrophise – think that this is the end of the world, rather than the end of a job? Getting past the fear of “breaking up” will allow you to get your head back in the game and focus on finding a job where you will be fulfilled and appreciated. Start collecting yourself step-by-step. Each day remind yourself that life begins at the end of your comfort zone, not in the middle of it. Do one thing every day towards building a new tomorrow for yourself. For more information, read our blog – Career change with courage click here


What to do when you are primed and ready to answer internal unrest:

If the force of change is internal, then your thoughts or experiences have left feeling a need to change – whether it’s your responsibilities, management, pay or colleagues. A progressive step may be to conduct a “life audit”. What is working in your life right now, and, more importantly, what isn’t? Are you doing this job because you want to or because you feel you should?

As a counsellor I encounter clients with well-paid, high-powered jobs which they hate but feel obligated to continue. Expand your concept of what constitutes a reward – it takes courage to change a job that pays well in cash, but very little in terms of satisfaction, joy or meaning. Start to think about what you like to do.  A complete change of career is possible.  If you won’t retire for another 10-15 years, wouldn’t you prefer to do something that you love?  If you get stuck, work with a counsellor or executive coach to consider career opportunities. You don’t have to jump ship today, but having a timeline will buoy you through today’s annoyances until you are ready.


What to do when you face internal unrest, but are reluctant to change:

It’s hard to live with the pain created by internal unrest while you are reluctant or resistant to change. This echoes the route to insanity – doing the same thing again and again yet every time expecting a different outcome.  This stalemate can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and depression. In order to survive emotionally, if you determine that you will stay in your a job, you need to make peace with your situation. You may be able to create more balance between the elements of your life you like and those that you don’t. Take up a new sport or hobby. Volunteer in the community. If peace does not come easily avoid escapist traps of self-medication through drugs and alcohol, which will only add to your feelings of depression.  If you feel stuck, and are scared, you are not alone. Engage a coach or a counsellor to help you get ready to accept, or to move on.




If you would like to regularly read our RED DOOR blogs – on a range of topics from mental health and wellbeing, resilience, relationships, parenting, anxiety, sadness, addiction, and so much more – please like our FB page:  https://www.facebook.com/REDDOORHongKong/



Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong. Her current clinical work focuses on adults in the areas of career change, loss of direction, burnout, relationship, depression, OCD, anxiety, perfectionism, the experience of divorce, family challenges,  and parenting special needs children.




Break-Up books: Recommendations from the trenches.

divorce books

Here is some advice from the trenches –6 of the best books are recommended, from the participants of our surviving divorce therapeutic support group, and myself, as their counsellor.

No book can help you completely recover from heartbreak. Each of these books may contribute a step in your learning journey: surviving divorce and becoming a new you, especially when used in collaboration with therapy.


1.                 He’s history, you’re not. Erica Manfred

An honest guide to getting through the breakdown of a marriage without it costing you an arm and leg – financially and emotionally. This great book is written from first-hand experience. Recommended for women over 40 years old. hand experience good for women over 40 –especially those left by their partner.


2.                 Crazy time. Abigail Trafford

The break-up of a marriage heralds a year of break down inducing confusion. This book uses real life cases to describe the problems inherent in the marriage and challenges you’ll need to overcome. Recommended for anyone going through divorce.


3.                 You can heal your heart. Louise Hay and David Kessler.

Grief and loss experts blend affirmations and mindful observations to enable the reader to explore their soul and situation in order to grow and find solace. Recommended if you feel like you’ve lost hope


4.                 Leave cheater gain a life. Tracy Schorn

Tracy Schorn, aka the chump lady, provides a wealth of advice amidst heavy doses of humour, to help avoid rookie mistakes, disarm your fears and bounce back. Recommended if you have just recently been dumped.


5.                 Runaway husbands. Vicki Stark

This book explores wife abandonment syndrome, sharing the findings of surveys of 400 women worldwide. If you’ve been abandoned, find the way to turn your loss into an opportunity for empowerment with the information and strategies included in this guide. Recommended for those who have lost long term relationships.


6.                 The good divorce. Constance Ahrons.

Whilst any divorce is unlikely to be described as “good”, there are some smart decisions you can make, some myths you should abandon, and activities to plan to help your family heal. This book uses the results of longitudinal research and the wealth of knowledge gained as a therapist to help guide the reader through the divorce process. Recommended for parents exploring divorce.

If you are going through a painful break-up, one piece of advice I can share comes from the words of Winston Churchill, “When you are going through hell, keep going”.


If you would like to regularly read our RED DOOR blogs – on a range of topics from mental health and wellbeing, resilience, relationships, parenting, anxiety, sadness, addiction, and so much more – please like our FB page:  https://www.facebook.com/REDDOORHongKong/



Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong. Her current clinical work focuses on adults in the areas of, depression, the experience of divorce, anxiety, perfectionism, career change, loss of direction, burnout, relationship and family challenges, OCD, and parenting special needs children.

You will survive : staying strong during the crazy time created by divorce.



At the beginning of the divorce process it may seem like you are signing up for open heart surgery, under minimal anaesthetic, with seemingly no guarantee of a complete recovery. You may not have even been the person who “volunteered” for this procedure. Still many get through this troubling, and sometimes crazy time, and even go on to live better, happier, and healthier lives. It’s important to maximise those activities and processes that help you come out of the process with your heart and hopes intact. 

I work with women, and men, individually and in therapy groups, to help them face the challenges of divorce and to co-parent cooperatively and with the health of their children in mind. Here is some advice from the trenches, what I see frequently, and how you might better strengthen yourself during the divorce process. 

While much of the advice I offer here would also be helpful to men, it is written mainly with women in mind.

Recognising crazy time.

Individuals experiencing divorce are sometimes perplexed and surprized by the extent of disassociation they experience during the process – feeling detached from reality and floating between shock and vulnerability. I’ve had a number of clients who come to therapy and tell me how they would, ideally, like their divorce to proceed. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have the divorce we want – no conflict, no sadness, no fighting over kids or finances, everyone acting in a mature manner, with respect for each other? Unfortunately, it doesn’t normally happen that way. 

One minute you may feel completely numb, the next filled with rage, worry, fear, then hurt and pain so great you feel your heart may actually break. At the same time, the person that you would normally have shared these intense feelings of vulnerability has become a stranger to you, perhaps even the enemy. You lose your sense of self, wonder who you are and what you are worth. 

This time, feels insane, and typically lasts anywhere from two to five years. Don’t go into the shadows alone. Find yourself some good support and constantly remind yourself, it does not last. 

You need support to survive, and even more to thrive.

This is not a time to hide away from the world. It is normally to feel embarrassed. Unfortunately, stories of divorce provide juicy gossip for bystanders and you may live in fear of informing friends (and foes) of your new circumstances. 

Whilst this does happen, at the same time divorce also reveals champions to support you, if you let them. Friends, especially those who have experience of the divorce process, are essential support. You will need at least one “been there, done that” girlfriend that you can call when you feel completely lost. 

Consider a support group. As a counsellor I run therapeutic support groups. I am constantly delighted as to how uplifting, supportive, and reaffirming these groups can be to individuals in time of divorce. If you can join a support group then do, if you can find a therapeutic group (ie run with some form of therapeutic agenda), even better. These groups allow for reflection and sadness, but also focus on the key skills that will build your brighter future. 

Other members of your household also require support, especially your children. Children are harmed by divorce in a mirage of ways, particularly if there is a lot of parental conflict. My simply recommendation for this blog – give your child the opportunity to go to counselling, not just once. Like you, they will have good days and bad days, offer counselling again and again. If you can, work with a professional to build a personalised gold standard of co-parenting that will support your children. The question is never, “will this divorce effect our child”, but rather “how much will this divorce affect my child, and what can we do to minimise this?”

Have patience with yourself, you may grieve for a while. 

Many women want recovery to be fast, and why wouldn’t you?  The emotional journey does not end once final papers are signed, although this might bring some temporary relief. Many women report feeling deflated and sad when the divorce is all done. 

You may feel tempted to run away from the feelings of discomfort until this is “over”.  However, be wary of the pressure your feelings may create. Rushing sensitive negotiations just so they can end faster than you feel you can cope living in emotional discomfort, can be a mistake – take the time you need to get the terms you want. 

Grieving can continue, even when the deal is done and you are shipping your kids from your home, to that of your ex, for their turn. Its difficult to repeatedly review the cost of a “broken family”, when the children are sometimes yours, and feel like they are sometimes, not. This is normal, it is sad, be kind to yourself, and your kids. It will get easier.

What becomes of the broken hearted?

While many people use another relationship to give them the strength to finally leave a marriage, statistically the odds of that relationship being successful after three years are not favourable. Divorce does come with the opportunity to be “newly single”, and for some is extremely tempting to test the single waters again. Be mindful not to miss some of the valuable self-development opportunities that divorce provides

Others feel they may never trust another again. We lament, “what becomes of the broken hearted?” Divorce provides a valuable opportunity to us to explore, how did I get here? Learning to know and trust yourself again, is an important recovery step to help you thrive. 

Build your better tomorrow.

It might take two, three or, even ten years, but you will feel much better in time.

Divorce is unsettling for many because they don’t know how they will survive outside of their marriage. Finding a financial and personal future is important. Even if you have ample alimony to last the rest of your days (and I hope you do), you will still need to think about what you’ve learned about yourself, who you want to be and what do you want in the future. Women who start new careers during the divorce process often come out of divorce better than those who chose not to work again. 

Build an new you. List the things you would like to try, that you felt you were not able to explore inside your marriage – perhaps travel to a new country, take up a hobby or class. Start on a journey to a new you.

Learn to like yourself: Make a list of the attributes that you like about yourself. Have your friends contribute. Pull out that list whenever you have moments of self-doubt. 

If you lose your way, try something else: If you have trouble seeing beyond today, a counsellor or coach can help to determine and build your strengths and help you to see and realize a different tomorrow.

I hope you find these guidelines helpful. Divorce is hard, and it often gets harder before it gets easier. Be kind to yourself, and remember as the great Gloria Gaynor declared in song, “I will survive”.


Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong Her current clinical work focuses on adults in the areas of, depression, the experience of divorce, anxiety, perfectionism, career change, loss of direction, burnout, relationship and family challenges, OCD, and parenting special needs children. Angela is also training as a child consultant to better support families during custody discussions during mediation.  In therapy Angela uses a combination of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in collaboration with the strengths model, positive psychology, systemic techniques and art therapy techniques. Every client is unique and so is their journey, hence techniques are adapted to enhance each person’s level of confidence in facing challenges in your life.


What is RED DOOR? A red door holds several life-enhancing connotations.
A red door is the traditional sign of welcome and sanctuary for weary (life) travellers.  If you encounter  a red door in your dreams it  heralds the arrival of new opportunities. In traditional Chinese mythology the red door denotes power, energy and abundance of luck and happiness.  In the area of mental health facilities, colour coded doors can denote greater or more restrictive access to the real world, the red door is typically the exit, symbolising completed healing and renewed mental strength. 



The Making of a Lioness – Hear her Roar!


go girls

Is any woman really surprised by the overwhelming response to the hashtag “me too” campaign? It appears that half the women in the US workforce may identify themselves as “me too”.  Who knows what would happen if the question was broadened to include experiencing sexual harassment, gender bias, and being negatively judged for simply “being a woman”.  Hashtag “me too” serves as a reminder that the women’s rights movement still has some way to go, and we can all play a role.

While I am delighted that my generation has experienced a broader remit of occupations they were allowed or encouraged to apply to  than our mothers, it begs the question, what attributes should we be encouraging in young girls to break the glass ceiling, end gender bias, and redefine what it means to be a woman.  With this in mind, our RED DOOR team has been redesigning our GO GIRL programme, identifying those key skills we believe should be developed in tweens and teens.


Go Girl – Essential Skill Developments for Young Women

These are the essential skills we develop in Go Girl:

Personal strengths – Identifying and celebrating what strengths you have, regularly, is investigated and encouraged. Believing you can face challenges is extremely important. Celebrating overcoming difficulties is particularly important. Young girls often to have an abundance of confidence, but by the time girls are 16-17 this confidence is harder to find. That loss of confidence can be undone.

Believe you CAN– As women we have a responsibility to expose our female teens to all kinds of achieving women so that they can better appreciate that women’s careers are being redefined, daily and hopefully, forever.

Teaching self-acceptance and healthy thinking patterns – Self acceptance is not only recognizing your strengths, it is accepting that you will make mistakes, you will experience failure, and that this is part of life. We need to teach girls to avoid thinking traps such as comparing, personalizing, labelling themselves negatively and catastrophizing. By adulthood many of us are limited by negative thinking patterns – building habitual thinking patterns that challenge these negative thoughts helps to raise teens who accept their mistakes, avoid self-punishing behaviours, and get themselves ready for the next big challenge.

Negotiating with confidence – We can teach girls confidence to negotiate in life, for job promotions, and for salaries. This starts from learning and using negotiation skills as early as the teen years. Negotiating for independence, pocket money, activities, and also performing chores as part of those negotiations, teaches girls that they can determine their future through their efforts, and that they have the right to challenge what is a fair wage for fair work.

You are not your body – You are not defined by your body, and loving your body will help you have a fuller life.  We need to teach girls that women come in all shapes and sizes, and none is better or worse than another. You are not your “fat thighs” or your “boring hair”. Speaking negatively about your body and yourself can be challenged, and need not be part of your self-talk dialogue.  You are more than your body, your healthy body gets you from A to B, and if you look after your body, it will look after you.

Relationships and boundaries – The teen years can include episodes of being bullied, feeling unpopular, wanting to be unique (while being just like everyone else), and wanting to please others for a multitude of reasons. We need to teach our teen girls to reflect on the decisions they make in friendships and if those decisions are to their benefit or cost in the long run. If teens fear being cut off from a group, we can teach them ways to stand their ground, be themselves, and be comfortable with the consequences. Having a broad range of friendships helps protects girls from this vulnerability.

Cyber security – With the proliferation of the internet, young children have access to a wealth of sites, information sources, and social media channels. A teenager can receive a thorough education (and miseducation) simply from spending a few hours a day on YouTube. Recently I discovered that our 15-year old girl had been talking to people overseas on the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) website forums! Some of the people were adults. She had sincere difficulty understanding why her parents responded to this with such horror. To her it seemed very innocent. We reiterated our cyber safety rules in the house:  Mum and Dad have access to your online profiles and may check them,  you can use your computer only in public areas of the house, never share personal information about yourself, and never agree to meet in real life (without adult supervision). This is a large topic and deserves a blog all of its own.

Physical safety – I believe that all girls should be prepared to protect themselves physically. This preparation may simply involve them being able to respond to unwanted physical attention in a manner beyond embarrassment. Helping girls become comfortable responding to negative attention may seem like shifting the blame for abuse onto them. This is quite the opposite. We want girls to know that they have the right to protect themselves, to be prepared to respond to a perceived threat, and, particularly, not to freeze in fear.

We rise, and fall together. Don’t harass other girls. – For example: girls who wear big hoop earrings or short skirts are not “hoes” or “sluts”. When girls degrade other girls in these superficial ways, they bring us all down. When we defend all girls, we all rise together.  We need to stop this gender depreciating madness.

The Safety Card – I am a keen proponent of the safety card – setting up a “what if” system to help teens imagine themselves in difficult situations and then determine an acceptable response. A safety card helps teens negotiate highly charged situations when they feel calm, helping prepare them for situations that may feel more out of control. For example, if you feel very depressed and even suicidal, what can you do?  If you found a friend was self-harming by cutting what could you do? If you found one of your friends had drunk too much alcohol at a concert, what could you do? Talking to teens when they are calm in hypothetical situations helps to acknowledge two important aspects of life in Hong Kong.  First, as adults we know that these behaviours do occur, we are not lecturing but helping them negotiate a potential situation. Second, we are enabling them when they are calm to set out set of steps that they can follow if they ever find themselves in difficult situations.


At RED DOOR we believe not only that Girls can do anything, but that they should be able to do everything. Go Girls!

The next 10-week RED DOOR GO GIRL programme will start in Feb 2018. IF you would like to enquire about this programme please contact Angela at angelaw@reddoor.hk


COMPARISON: a one-way ticket to Misery


Jane sat down next to Lucy at the school’s information meeting. Lucy started to recount details from her family’s latest holiday, “California is so wonderful in the summer and it was great to get out of town for a few weeks”. “I can’t wait until mid-term; we’ll be going to Bali again. How about you?” Jane didn’t want to tell Lucy that she and the kids were experiencing tough times financially, and there were no overseas trips on the horizon. “I don’t know yet”, she lied. To herself, she thought, “Lucy is so lucky; I am such a failure”.


People often appraise their success, their status, and their personal worth by comparing themselves with others, even celebrities. Facebook and Instagram are full of images of beautiful smiling families, exclusive dinners, children’s awards, and personal achievements. Comparing ourselves with others, especially through social media channels, can rob us of joy and happiness.

Invariably, there are will always be someone who is a better academic, speaker, sportsperson, or is taller, thinner, richer, with more Facebook friends than ourselves. When we make these comparisons, we stimulate feelings of inadequacy and bitterness. These comparisons are especially harmful to teens as their sense of self is not as yet fully developed.


 Seven reasons to stop comparing  

1)    When you constantly look at the world through a lens of “winners and losers” you will always find others who have achieved more than you. This is disorienting, and artificially casts you in the role of loser. This is damaging to your sense of self-worth.

2)    Comparing people is usually driven by inaccurate information. In the situation described at the beginning of this blog, Jane feels inadequate because she is comparing the value of “holidays”, what that might signify to others and then applying her perceptions to her sense of success. She doesn’t know that Lucy has a troubled marriage, struggles with her children, and suffers with mental health issues. We often compare  snapshots and these are often superficial, incomplete and heavily filtered (not to mention photo shopped).

3)    Constantly comparing yourself to your friends, and others, robs you of the enjoyment in celebrating their successes with them, and can lead you to see friends as rivals rather than a valuable source of personal support and fun.

4)    Comparing yourself with others is a constant losing battle. It never ends.. Striving to compare doesn’t make you feel better and can create a learned compulsory cycle of discontent, feeling “less-than”, and self-hatred.

5)    Comparisons with others can distract you from your goals. The ruminations that comparing creates zaps your energy and wastes what energy you have focusing on a perceived deficit in yourself rather than on achieving your goals in life.

6)    Comparing yourself with others will only echo the feeling that life is unfair. Some people are born with more advantages such as social connections, wealth and looks. The world is an uneven playing field. When we focus on comparisons we brood on this unfairness rather than focusing on what we have the power to achieve.

7)    Comparisons focus your attention on the outside world, rather than your inner state. When you focus on how you look relative to others, you may lose sight of what values you want to represent and who you are as a person.


Break the cycle: compare no more

The first step to breaking the comparison mindset is to acknowledge the thoughts you are having and accept them as they occur. Remember that you have choices. Decide to challenge your thoughts and how you interpret the world. Confront your perceptions. Do you have full and accurate information about a person or a situation? Does it really matter to your life goals?

Be more aware of your own successes relative to your goals. Recognize your achievements and celebrate your success rather the comparing it with the (perceived) success of others.

Appreciate more, compare less. Practicing gratitude about what you have, without looking to see if it is more or less than what others have, will increase your sense of satisfaction.

Give yourself the occasional pep talk. Tell yourself “Nobody is perfect. I deserve kindness from myself.” Rather than focusing on others, explore what you can learn about yourself.

Stop yourself from falling back into the cesspit of comparisons. Celebrate your uniqueness, find yourself a mentor to help you focus on what you want to achieve, and act to make your personal contribution to your world.


You can make your life happier, simply by stopping activities which are associated with diminishing enjoyment of life. Stop comparing, and start celebrating who you are.If you continue to have problems breaking your compulsion to compare, you might like to consider counselling.





For more information: If you would like to regularly read our RED DOOR blogs – on a range of topics from mental health and wellbeing, relationships, parenting, anxiety, sadness, bereavement addiction, and so much more – please like our FB page:  https://www.facebook.com/REDDOORHongKong/


About the author: Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong. Her current clinical work focuses on parenting, family life, parenting SEN children, anxiety, OCD, career change, stress management and divorce.


What about me? Supporting the siblings of special needs children.


As the parent of a SEN (Special Educational Need) child and a typical child, I personally understand the complexity of supporting children who have extremely different needs. Having children with SEN kids, and supporting their siblings, is a common concern when I talk to families with special needs kids, either as a counsellor or as another special needs parent.

Every day I see our typical child struggling with her sister in a manner beyond the typical challenges between siblings. Our typical child often has playdates with friends interrupted by her sister who is less capable of making friends and is attracted to this group of younger girls. Our typical child is sometimes sent to her room (frightened) when my husband and I are dealing with one of my eldest’s  more extreme meltdowns. And like many siblings of SEN kids, our typical child feels jealous of the attention, and “double standards” she perceives about our parenting.
As parents of special needs children, with IEPs (individual Education Plans) to complete, therapies to attend, extra lessons to consider, and difficult to forecast futures to plan for our SEN kids, we can burn ourselves out providing SEN support, leaving our typical kids to wonder, “What about me?”
Let’s begin with some positive news. Studies suggest that siblings of special needs children are more likely to be extremely caring towards others, unselfish, and more willing to advocate for the disabled.
While these are wonderful benefits, there are many challenges that typical kids who have special needs siblings experience as well. Siblings of SEN kids often experience a range of emotions towards their sibling including pride, embarrassment, love, anger, jealousy, fear, worry, feelings of responsibility, and these intense emotions need an outlet.
For example, a younger sibling may quickly reach levels of independence less possible for their special needs sibling. Rather than feeling pride in their own accomplishments, they may feel guilt that their sibling may not be able to achieve such a milestone.
Or, as happens in our household, a typical sibling may witness her parents’ difficulty in managing their special needs child’s meltdown due to the child’s emotional regulation challenges. This can be scary. While our daughter has a lot of love for her sister, she also finds the anger of our autistic teen extremely frightening and worrying.
Sometimes siblings feel like they are an only child, when they are not. For example, they may feel that there are limited activities their sibling is willing or able to do with them in terms of play.
Outside of the home your typical child may feel fiercely protective of his or her sibling, while also feeling embarrassed when their brother, for example, makes loud noises in a quiet setting. They may experience their friends mocking children from learning support classes, and feel torn as to how they should respond.
Frequently, when interviewed, siblings of SEN kids, mention that they often feel jealous of the attention that Mum and Dad seem to pour into the SEN child, and, at the same time, feel guilty that they feel this way. As parents, we need to recognize that it is highly possible that our easier, typical kid may be missing out on attention, and consider how to redress the imbalance.

Activities to implement to better support your typical child in a SEN home
1) Open and honest: Helping your ‘typical’ child can be improved by open and honest communication about the condition, your feelings, the division of labour, and the situation at home. Simply telling your child that the situation is “all okay” and that they shouldn’t worry, won’t allay their fears and may accidently convey that their feelings are unwanted or not important. If this pattern continues, the child’s desire to express his or her feelings may become suppressed, inadvertently heightening their concerns.
2) Super-model: Model positive ways to interact with your child with disabilities, so he or she can learn how to have fun with this sibling. Also talk with your child regarding their options when challenging situations such as meltdowns occur.
3) Fair division of labour: Try to balance household chores so that each child needs to contribute to the household within their capabilities. Yes, do give your children chores, although you probably have a helper. One child may wash the dishes or fold laundry, while the other helps with more complicated tasks, such as cooking.
4) Do not delegate responsibility: Do not expect, or allow, your typical child to be a teacher or parent to their sibling. Discourage this if your typical child starts to try.
5) Special love: Don’t forget to give special attention to your typical kid. Support them with one-to-one time, and consider basing a family holiday around their interests.
6) Educate: Hep your typical child understand their brother/sister’s condition. They should know that it is not contagious, what to expect and, if they are old enough, talk about your plans for the future of your SEN child.
7) Listen: let them express their feelings to you. It may be difficult to listen to their complaints, and it may feel hard them to be fully expressive since they may fear offending you. Encourage them to be frank, even though their opinions may be hard to hear. If you and your child are struggling with this dialogue, consider counselling.
8) Find support: Where possible, help them join a support group. This is a neutral place where they will be with other children who can share experiences, vent, and talk constructively about their siblings.

The special role of support groups
Support groups allow siblings of special needs children to meet others who have similar experiences, to discuss their feelings outside of the family, to express their needs and, importantly, to express their uniqueness. These groups offer activities to help siblings express and process their feelings of anger, joy, pride, love, jealousy and fear in an environment of understanding and acceptance. It may the first time your child may have been in such an environment.





#Family Support

If you would like to regularly read our RED DOOR blogs – on a range of topics from mental health and wellbeing, resilience, relationships, parenting, SEN life,  anxiety, sadness, addiction, and so much more – please like our FB page:



About the Author – Angela Watkins is a counsellor and psychologist working out of the RED DOOR Counselling practice in Hong Kong. Angela helps SEN families build current and future plans in support of their SEN children, helps families learn to cope with the special circumstances that occur as the parent or the sibling of a child with special needs. Together with her SEN clients she builds customised plans that help them accentuate their positive traits, and overcome specific challenges.  Angela is a SEN parent herself, and understands both professionally and personally that different is NOT less, and we all benefit by identifying find our own version of awesome.

Please email Angela at RED DOOR if you are interested to learn more about our SEN- siblings-support programme at angelaw@reddoor.hk

Are your emotions turned off?

emotions off

People sometimes seek counselling for emotional numbness – stating they feel nothing, or feel detached from themselves, a sense of boredom about all that they are involved in, even feeling that they are watching their lives rather than living them.


What is going on? 

Emotional numbness can be a component of depression. The experience of depression varies from person to person. Our usual understanding of depression involves the feeling of sadness. Some other symptoms of depression include feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, emptiness and numbness.  Usually depression involves a person’s distortion of perception and loss of perspective . People may feel something is wrong, but cannot identify what it is, describing it as a general sense of pessimism.

When people experience depression-numbness they don’t feel much at all. They experience life without active engagement.  In my experience, clients who wish to break from this pattern are often men, perhaps because of the process of how the numbness is developed.


Why/ How does this happen?

Emotional numbing is not a deliberate or conscious choice by individuals. Sometime the reason for exists in your childhood. Children may have faced extreme situations and, as a consequence, believe that expressing emotions or sensitivity would be responded to negatively. This protective reflex continues longer than was originally necessary, even when danger or judgement has been removed. It can become a permanent way shielding to feel nothing.


What is a proposed treatment?

The path to numbness is complex, as is the path out. Part of the challenge is understanding personal and deeply seated motivations to avoid the experience of emotions due to a fear to being overwhelmed by feelings. While you may not like the numbness, the alternative may seem terrifying.

Therapists working with emotional numbness will help clients safely identify emotions, experiment with small (safe) doses of emotional identification, which help thaw through the protective shell that has been developed. Clients have to believe there is a benefit to learning to feel again. The benefits are recovering and accepting yourself, learning to love your life, and perchance, to experience true happiness.

If you feel you are struggling with emotional numbness please consider counselling. Be patient with yourself, it does take time to feel again.