Thursday, 13 June 2019

Coping with post-natal depression - dads get sad too

In order to look after your baby well, it's important to look after yourself too. If you feel that you're struggling with parenthood or feeling depressed, this becomes even more important as depression in fathers can negatively impact on your baby and your partner too. Here are some things you can do yourself to help alleviate the symptoms of post-natal depression in dads:

Talk to your partner, friends and family

Try to speak to the people closest to you and let them know how you are feeling and what they can do to support you.

Don't try to be 'superdad'

Accept offers of help from others and ask your loved ones if they can help look after the baby and do tasks such as housework, cooking and shopping.

Make time for yourself

Try to make time for activities that you find relaxing and enjoyable, such as going for a walk, listening to music or reading a book.

Rest when you can

Although it can be difficult when you're looking after a baby, try to sleep whenever you get the chance and follow good sleeping habits. Getting enough sleep can go a long way to improving your mood.

Exercise regularly

Exercise has been shown to help improve mood in people with mild depression. Try taking your baby out for a short walk in a carrier or pram. It will give your partner a break, get you moving, and help you strengthen your attachment with your baby.

Don't drink alcohol or take drugs

Often people resort to alcohol or drugs to help them cope, but it is more likely to make you feel worse.

Meet other dads

You're not alone. You could join a swimming class or other groups that are just for dads and their babies. Meeting up with other people can really help boost your mood and make your feel more connected.

Join a support group

It can be reassuring to meet other parents that are going through the same situation as you. Talk to your GP or health visitor to find a group near you.

Try creative activities

Express how you're feeling through activities such as writing or drawing. You don't have to show anyone, but it may help to improve your mood.

Bonding with your baby

It's difficult to feel connected to your baby when you're depressed, so engaging in simple activities together can help to build this relationship.





Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Coping with grief and loss

Losing a close family member or friend can be extremely upsetting and can stir a wealth of emotions that you may find difficult to deal with. There are, however, many strategies and supports available for coping with grief and loss that can help you to understand your emotions and make sense of your feelings.

Understanding your emotions

Although every one of us is different and we may deal with loss in different ways, there are lots of common signs and various stages of grief that most of us will experience. One of the first emotions we might experience when we lose someone close to us is shock, even if we were expecting the inevitable. Other emotions such as feeling overwhelmed, anger, confusion, loneliness, sadness, relief and guilt can all play a significant part in the grieving process.

You might also feel fearful of the future, afraid of how you will cope without your loved one. Remember that these kinds of feelings are normal and will diminish with time, and it’s okay to allow ourselves to feel these emotions.
Ways of coping with grief and loss

There are many ways of coping with your loss that can assist with the grieving process.

Talk to someone

Whether it’s a friend, family member or bereavement counsellor, there is always someone who you can talk to about your grief. Expressing and speaking about your feelings helps you come to terms with your loss and prevents you from internalising and burying our emotions. Speaking about the things you loved about the person can help rewire your thought process and create more positive emotions.

Take care of your physical health

Intense emotions caused by grief and loss can also have a negative impact on our physical wellbeing. Appetite and sleep patterns may be disrupted, which in turn, can affect your immune system and cause headaches, stomach ache and lethargy.

Even though you may not feel like eating initially, try to maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of rest. Gentle exercise can also help ease feelings of grief. Being outdoors is wonderful for lifting the mood and swimming can be a soothing activity that can help focus the mind.

Relaxation techniques

Emotions such as anger and fear can be overwhelming and can cause a great amount of stress both on the mind and body. There are lots of relaxation techniques that can reduce stress and anxiety, such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga and mindfulness.

The NHS's Moodzone offers several self-help techniques -

Stay connected to your loved one after death

Shutting out emotions or memories can be damaging if they reappear at a later date because we haven’t allowed ourselves to grieve properly. We can remain connected to our loved ones in different ways; you might want to speak to them or write a letter to them expressing your feelings. This can be extremely therapeutic in dealing with negative emotions. Alternatively, undertaking an activity to raise money for a charity that was close to their heart can give you focus and purpose.


Finally, be kind to yourself and remember that there is no set length of time for grief and what you are feeling is normal.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Keeping your kids healthy - in mind and body

As parents, we have a duty to our children not only to keep them healthy physically, but also mentally. With the rise of social media platforms and online activity, peer pressure and the stresses of school, there is more pressure than ever to ensure our kids are mentally prepared to deal with life’s challenges.

This article by the British Psychological Society shares some sobering statistics about the extent of mental health difficulties experienced by children and young people today.

Share your experience

In order to guide our children the best we can, firstly we need to look after our own mental health so we can set a good example and lay down positive pathways for them to follow. As adults, we have experience on our side and, no doubt, we will have faced many challenges and stressful situations. It’s important to share our experiences with our children so they understand that even though it’s part of life to struggle sometimes, how we deal with difficult situations is what really matters. Let them know that it’s OK to be afraid, anxious or stressed as long as they acknowledge it and take positive measures to keep their mind healthy.

Build self esteem

Children often doubt their abilities and question themselves as individuals:

“Am I good enough?”

“Do people like me?”

“What if I fail?”

Although it’s natural to have doubts, we can take action to help build their self esteem and boost their confidence. It’s important to praise our children for their positive qualities rather than focusing on the negative. By helping them focus on their strengths and find solutions to problems, we can teach them to become comfortable in their own skin.

Give genuine praise and keep it real; there’s no point in telling our children they are the best at something if they’re not, as it will only give them false hope and set them up for a fall. Also remember to praise their efforts, not just their successes.

Build a trusting relationship

There are many ways we can build trust in our relationships with our children. By encouraging open conversations, we allow them to express their thoughts while also teaching them respect. If we give them the opportunity to discuss their feelings without passing judgement, our bond grows, along with their confidence.

At any age, it’s vital to allow our kids an appropriate amount of independence. Letting them do things for themselves can increase determination and self belief and teach them ways to overcome hurdles. Even though it can be tempting, we must try to refrain from doing everything for them as it will only lead to unhealthy dependency.

Tips for keeping your kids mentally healthy

When we keep our problems to ourselves and internalise our fears, it can lead to stress, anxiety and even depression. As well as encouraging our children to talk openly, suggest writing a diary to get their thoughts down on paper. This can help gain control over their emotions and improve their mental health.

Problem solving skills can be highly beneficial as they help our children gain perspective and find solutions, which in turn can build up their resilience. Once they realise there is a “way out” of a negative situation, it will reduce their anxiety and make any subsequent problems seem less intimidating.

Physical and mental health go hand in hand and the more physically active we are, the less likely we are to suffer from stress and anxiety. Any form of exercise releases endorphins and serotonin which give us that “feel good factor” a good diet helps too.

This previous blog post shares some good tips on how we can be kind to ourselves, which are just as applicable to our children.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

How to silence your inner critic and boost your self-esteem

In an age where media has a firm grip on society via the internet, glossy magazines, newspapers and reality TV shows, it’s no surprise we compare ourselves to others and want to be as beautiful, glamorous, successful or body perfect. But what we so often fail to recognise is that many of the images we see in the media aren’t real.

Images of celebrities, models or public figures are enhanced and smoothed out to make them appear more attractive. Take off the make-up, remove the filters and forget the airbrushing and you’ll find many of them are just like the rest of us: imperfect humans.

How to identify your inner critic

In order to silence our critical thoughts we must firstly become aware of them. Listen to your thoughts and be aware of what they’re saying. Is there any truth in it? Are they things that we can fix? These nagging voices can instil a sense of fear in us or make us believe that we’re not good enough. Maybe we’re afraid we’ll be judged on our appearance, fearful that we’ll be rejected, or we might have feelings of shame.

Be mindful and recognise when you’re mentally punishing yourself. Remember that your inner critic is not a voice of reason. Step outside of your head and try to be realistic. Imagine the voice as a character rather than yourself and when it starts with the negative chatter, respond with positive replies. By reacting positively, we counter balance the negativity. It’s easy to be swayed by what we tell ourselves so make sure you don’t let that critical talk linger.

How to overcome your fear of what people think

Often, self doubt stems from our fear of what other people will think of us. When we’re constantly telling ourselves that our boss or colleagues don’t like us, they’ve probably never even given it a thought and your inner conversations are totally fabricated. This kind of fear can be damaging and prevent us from taking chances in life or even just contributing to a conversation.

It may very well be that these people you're afraid of, have only positive things to say about you and actually have nothing but admiration for you.

How to boost your self-esteem

There are several techniques that can help boost your self-esteem.

Regularly practise positive affirmations
Maybe even write a few down on a piece of paper and keep it close to hand. You could try phrases such as “I am beautiful”, “I am loved” or “I love my body”.

Stop comparing yourself to others
Accept that everyone is different and there is no right or wrong way to look (as long as we are healthy). Bear in mind that the person you constantly compare yourself to might be wishing they were more like you!

Focus on what you like about yourself
If you like your smile, smile more. Others will only notice your radiant smile and not the parts of you that you dislike.

Dress how you want to dress
Don’t hide behind your clothes in the hope that you’ll blend into the background; dress in clothes that make you feel good about yourself or flatter the parts of your body that you love. If you feel confident, you will look confident.

Practise self care
Do whatever makes you feel good about yourself, whether that’s an activity such as playing an instrument, painting or writing. More importantly, spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself and try to avoid those who don’t!

Focus on what you can change

Stressing about things you can’t change, such as the colour of your eyes, is a pointless exercise. Focus on the parts of you that you can change and set a realistic goal in achieving the results you’d like. If you would like to improve your body weight, eat well and create a fitness regime that will help you achieve your goals. If you feel like your hair is dragging you down, arrange a trip to the hairdresser and try a new style. Small changes can go a long way to improving your self confidence.

You can read this article from Psychology Today for more advice on how to keep your inner critic under control.

If your inner critic goes unrecognised, it can sometimes lead to more serious issues, including eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Mind.org has some useful information on this subject, as well as help and advice on self care and treatment.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Ways to practise self care when you’re studying for exams

Sitting exams at any age can be an extremely daunting time, especially for those who aren’t very academic. People often feel their whole future depends on their exam results, not to mention having to live up to other peoples’ expectations.

Exam stress – as this article from The Psychologist demonstrates – is nothing new. For some people, it seems that everything comes naturally and they can remember facts and information with very little effort. We forget that every one of us is different and we all learn at different speeds and in different ways. While one person might have a spatial (visual) or auditory (aural) learning style, others might prefer to learn kinaesthetically (practically, hands on) or linguistically (verbally). It’s OK to be different and comparing ourselves to others only adds to the pressure we feel.

Plan and schedule

Revision is much easier if you prepare a schedule in advance. As well as putting things into perspective, it can be quite fun once you start to create your weekly plan. Consider the times of day when you feel like you’re more focused and slot in the trickier, more demanding subjects. Completing a revision timetable can help reduce anxiety and even motivate you to get started.

Take breaks

There’s no point in mentally exhausting yourself to the point where you have complete brain fog. If you’ve read ten pages and suddenly realise you have absolutely no idea what you’ve read, it’s time to take a break. Take breaks to suit your method of working. Whether you prefer to take a ten-minute break every hour or an hour-long break every couple of hours, there are no hard and fast rules.

Eat, drink and sleep

It’s quite surprising the number of people who actually forget their basic things when they’re consumed by revision. Drinking plenty of water and eating healthy protein snacks such as nuts and seeds, yoghurt, tuna and eggs can help focus the mind. A good night’s sleep is also essential for learning, so try to get to bed at a reasonable time and leave at least an hour for your night-time routine to declutter your mind.

Leisure time

Many of us feel that we can’t enjoy ourselves when there’s revision to be done. However, it’s vital to enjoy leisure time in between studying – it boosts the mood and leaves us more receptive to taking in new information. Try to build some of these simple activities into your revision schedule:

  • Get outside into the fresh air – a brisk walk or some form of physical exercise does wonders for both your mental and physical health.
  • Listen to your favourite music and completely relax. 
  • Simple mindfulness techniques such as yoga and meditation, or even just focusing on your breathing, can help you become more aware of your thoughts and boost concentration levels. 
  • Socialise with friends and remember that laughing and smiling can release endorphins and reduce stress hormones.

The BBC, in partnership with YoungMinds, has launched a coaching network called the Mind Set for people who want extra support. Although the network is aimed at GCSE students, there are some fantastic tips and advice for anyone sitting exams.

You can also read our previous post, for more tips on how to cope with exam stress.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

How to get the family outside more

Over the last couple of decades, the growing world of electronic media has impacted greatly on the lives and social activities of families. Scenes of people huddled around a table all looking at their screens, rather than interacting have become a common sight. While parents sit scrolling through Facebook - with one eye on the TV - the children shut themselves in their bedrooms so nothing can interrupt their YouTube browsing or computer gaming.

These are sad scenes and yet many of us are growing to accept this as the norm. The outside world has become neglected. Countless studies have shown the negative impacts digital media can have on both our physical and mental health, not to mention our relationships. Isn’t it about time we ditched the digital and got back to nature?

Although these habits may seem hard to break, there are lots of ways we can encourage each other to revert back to the 'real world' and start venturing outdoors. There are lots of ideas for getting the family outside more on Activeforlife.com, and here are some of our ideas to get you started:

Call a meeting!

Start by talking to each other about which outdoor activities excite you. It might seem like a thankless task initially but once you start throwing some ideas around, you’ll find everyone will become more enthusiastic. Often it's the thought of being outside that we're most resistant too – usually once we've  broken the cycle of being attached to our devices, the joy of being outside quickly returns.

Back to basics

Who doesn’t love the enchantment of being among woodland? Once you’re outside, try and recreate the sense of competition with your children that they would usually getting from their games consoles at home, or give them an end goal that they can share on social media afterwards. Den building competitions or woodland art are great ways of doing this and there’s nothing like a bit of competition to get the adrenalin flowing.

Nature hunt

Part of the problem with tearing ourselves away from our technology is the fear of boredom and not having anything to occupy the mind. Why not make that countryside walk more fun by creating a nature hunt before you go? Make a list of various things to find on your walk, such as a certain kind of flower, tree or animal and provide prizes for the person who finds them all first?


The unfortunate reality is that if we want to spend more time outside, we must consciously plan for it to happen. For more ideas on how to do this, why not read this previous blog: http://firstpsychology.blogspot.com/search?q=outdoors

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Why having a pet is good for your mental health

For many years, scientists have been researching the effects of owning a pet and how it can impact on mental health. It has been well documented that pets can help with depression, bi-polar disorder, post-traumatic stress and schizophrenia. But even without the countless studies that have been undertaken, most pet owners would agree that caring for an animal has lots of obvious benefits. This month is National Pet Month, so we decided to take a look at the ways pets can improve our mental health.

Pets and depression

Owning a pet is one of the greatest distractions from our everyday problems. Depression can lead to lethargy, low self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness – all of which owning a pet can help to alleviate. All pets offer a non-judgemental ear and some animals are extremely sensitive to our moods. Just by our tone of voice or body language, they can understand when to give us attention or when to leave us alone. Having a pet allows us the opportunity to open up, knowing that we won’t be judged or questioned.

Pets and physical health

Owning a pet, in particular dogs or horses, encourages us to exercise on a regular basis. Even though we may not feel like exercising, our sense of responsibility often takes over and forces us to get moving, for the sake of our pets. As well as our physical wellbeing, even the smallest efforts to get outside for a quick stroll can boost our mood too. Walking increases oxygen levels, reduces blood pressure and releases endorphins. The fresh air and exercise can aid sleep and have a positive effect on the symptoms of depression as well as improving overall mental health. Walking among nature can make us feel calm and it’s a great way to practise mindfulness.

Pets and companionship

More often than not, mental health problems can leave us feeling lonely as we’re unable to communicate our thoughts. Owning a pet can prevent feelings of loneliness. Besides being great listeners, pets have a wonderful way of making us feel loved, wanted and needed. And they are also great at helping us form relationships and connections with other people too. Just by caring for our pets on a daily basis, we are inadvertently introduced to new people, who we may never meet otherwise. Positive interactions such as a brief chat with a stranger in the park, at the pet shop or in a training class, can really brighten our day and have a affirmative effect on our mood.

Anxiety

Having responsibility for a pet is a great way of causing distractions from our negative thoughts. Not only can it reduce our time spent online, absorbed in work or worrying about the next thing to go wrong, it gives our lives meaning and builds confidence. This study in Psychology Today, suggests that between 5-20 minutes of interaction with a dog is all it takes to help reduce blood pressure and enable us to feel calmer.