Thanks to a grant from the Auckland Foundation, Redhill Community Centre was able to host a series of free emotional well-being seminars presented by Aaron Ironside.
Aaron has a Masters in Psychology and has been working in private practice as a counsellor for eight years. His name and voice may be familiar to many, as he previously spent 25 years in radio. He has also been a pastor and chaplain, and is a supervisor for those in similar caring professions.
Living on the Edge
The first seminar was held at Redhill Community Centre on Saturday 27 June 2020. In introducing the topic of anger, anxiety and depression, Aaron said, “One of the interesting things I have learned from now over 3,000 hours of counselling work, is that a lot of people seem to be living on the edge.”
He explained the difference between two autonomic nervous systems in the human body – the sympathetic (a physical threat response system, that triggers our bodies to adopt the well-recognised fight, flight or freeze modes) and the parasympathetic, which restores the body to a state of calm.
He said the brain, to save processing energy, creates shortcuts. It uses something called appraisal to ask this question: ‘Is there anything about what is happening right now that reminds me of something that has happened before?’
“If it concludes that the answer is yes, it reaches into the emotional part of our brain, called the limbic system, and brings up that feeling. And if that feeling is a fight, flight or freeze feeling, it will set off the alarm as it goes,” said Aaron.
“Appraisal takes one tenth of a second. The challenge for you and I will often mean…we think our bodies are responding to something that is in front of us when we might be responding to some other event from another time, because it has done this shortcut.”
He suggested we use our bodies as a kind of scanning tool, to determine whether our sympathetic system has been triggered. Such signals could include things like a fast heartbeat, a ‘knot’ in the stomach, dry mouth or brain ‘fogginess’.
“For many of us, if the alarm goes off a lot, we are not very conscious. It just feels like life; it just feels like what happens.”
The second of the emotional well-being seminars was held on Saturday 25 July 2020, and was titled ‘Compassionate Conflict’.
“Conflict is a part of life that many of us dislike,” said Aaron. “We would even describe ourselves as conflict-averse. Some of us run from conflict or the thought of saying anything that might increase the likelihood of a difficult or tense conversation. I don’t think anyone likes it but…at least we can work on feeling equipped for it.”
The COVID-19 Alert Level Three restrictions in Auckland, which were introduced on 12 August 2020, necessitated the postponement of of third seminar ‘Love for Life’ to 19 September. The final seminar, ‘Finding Freedom’, was held on 26 September, as originally planned.
All four of the seminars were taped and can be viewed on the Papakura Wesleyan Church’s YouTube channel, in the emotional well-being seminars playlist. When you click on each video, in the ‘show more’ part of the description, there is a link to the Powerpoint Aaron used for that particular seminar.