Friday, 11 August 2017

Smiling - why is it good for us?

Have you ever heard the saying that smiling is infectious? It’s true. When we see someone smile, it takes a lot of effort not to replicate the behaviour and when we do smile, it makes us feel so good that we want to do it more!

This article suggests that when we smile, our brain actually creates a log of when we smile and what makes us smile. This activity log helps overrides the brain’s natural tendency to think negatively and if you smile often enough, it can actually rewire your brain into more positive thought patterns.

So what is it about smiling that makes us feel so good?


Each time we smile it releases tiny ‘feel good’ molecules – endorphins and serotonin - that help fight off stress. Endorphins relax the body, lower our heart rate and blood pressure. They also act as a natural pain reliever. Serotonin acts as a natural anti-depressant and mood lifter. And when we feel good, our productivity increases and our confidence grows.

The three studies below looked at the way smiling can benefit us and our minds/bodies:

A 2012 study in Kansas saw participants move their mouths into forced smiles with chopsticks! Sounds crazy, but the experiment found that the people with the biggest forced smiles experienced a substantial reduction in heart rate and quicker stress recovery after completing a stressful task, compared to those who kept a neutral facial expression.

In 2004, a study at Penn State University found that happiness spreads, smiley employees working within the service industry left a more positive impression on customers than those who did not smile. Customers were left feeling happier and more inclined to smile at others too. These smiles cannot be forced however, they must be authentic!

A Pittsburgh University study discovered that a smiling person is regarded as more trustworthy than someone who frowns or holds a neutral expression. Their study asked people to rank photos of models based on their perceived trustworthiness. The bigger the smile, the more trustworthy they were perceived as being.

To find out why smiling is perceived as infectious we really have to look back to Darwin’s 'Science of Smiling'. He theorised that smiling was a universal behaviour. Other nonverbal body language traits are more likely learnt, as they are different depending on which culture you are observing. Darwin also found that we are ‘prewired’ to connect with others via smiling, which means that people who are physically unable to smile find it more difficult to develop social relationships.

So there you have it. Smiling is scientifically proven to help us connect with people. What could you do today that would make you smile? The people around you will thank you for it!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

How to be happier

It’s 2017, we have more than we've ever had before and technology continues to make our lives easier in ways we could never have imagined when we were younger. However, research suggests that adults over the age of 30 are no happier.

In the 1970s, adults were considerably happier than today. Why is that? What has changed?

This feature looks at what being happy means and suggests that happiness lies mostly within our control. According to this article, even the smallest of actions, such as a warm bath or a long-anticipated cup of tea, can contribute to our overall happiness.

So, what can we do to inject some more happiness into our lives?

There is no secret formula to happiness. Indeed it means different things to different people. If you’re on a mission to become happier, there's a lot of advice to be gleaned from the habits and routines of happy people. It may sound too simplistic to say that they just choose to be happy, but attitude to life is a large part of it.

This article asks people to share their thoughts and tips on how to be happier and is an interesting read.

Make a list


A good way to start your journey to happiness is to write a list of the things you like to do in life – the things that make you smile and that speak to your soul. This can be anything from painting your toenails to playing with pets – or random acts of kindness to strangers. This article is a great starting point. Once you become happier, you won’t need the list, you will intuitively be drawn towards – and make time for – the things that make you happier, but it definitely helps to have a framework to start off with.

Healthy body / happy mind-set


The NHS suggests that in order to gain greater happiness, we need to give our bodies the respect they deserve. Cutting down on the booze, eating a healthy diet and taking more exercise, all help us manage stress, which contributes to our overall happiness. Check out this NHS webpage for more information.

Sleep makes us smile


Getting enough sleep also helps, giving our mental wellness a boost. When we sleep, our body continues to work, hard. It resets and balances our brain function and fights off anything that threatens our physical health, after a good night’s sleep, we wake up happier and ready to take on the day ahead.


Remember, there is a world of difference between unhappiness and depression. Unhappiness is a sense of dissatisfaction, of being unfulfilled or missing out on enjoyable activities and pastimes. Depression brings with it a sense of despair, that no amount of activity or distraction can fix. If you feel that your unhappiness is more deep rooted, a trip to your GP to discuss your situation may be advisable.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Surviving summer holidays on a budget

The thought of keeping the kids occupied during the summer holidays can be quite daunting and can be a great source of anxiety for many parents, especially if you’re on a budget. When school’s out and the sun is shining, children are more likely to be happy entertaining themselves – or at the very least you can grab a bat and a ball and visit the nearest park. However, the chances of a few weeks of great weather are slim, so we’ve pulled together some ideas that will help the summer holidays go swimmingly – without breaking the bank!

Plan ahead


The first thing to do is to plan ahead. If you know what time you have to fill and how you plan to fill it, you are less likely to succumb to impulsive activities that will cost more money. Develop a planner to cover you just for the summer break and work with your children to plot out how you will spend your time.

You don’t need to feel bound by the plan. If the weather is great one day and you fancy a trip to the river, feel free to swap activities around. Get the children involved in the plan, so that everyone has a say in what you’ve scheduled.

Scour the local papers and Facebook groups are full of free activities to fill your summer break. Lots of shops, leisure centres and libraries have a range of free and low cost activities throughout the summer break – and don’t forget the museums and art galleries that are often free to enter. Remember, most free activities need booking in advance, so get organised and plan ahead.

Stick to your budget


There’s no denying that the summer break can be an expensive time. Look carefully at your finances and be clear about the money you have available over the holidays. Make a promise to yourself not to go above and beyond the funds you have available. Break down your budget week by week, so that you don’t spend all your allowance in the first couple of weeks. Think about sharing your budget with the children (if they are old enough) so that they can understand the choices that have to be made.

Make money to spend money


The summer holidays is a great opportunity to teach your children about enterprise and the value of money. There are lots of activities that the kids can get involved in that will result in some revenue for their hard earned cash – which can also then go towards additional summertime treats.

Instead of asking them to tidy their room, ask them to find some old toys to sell on eBay, Shpock or Facebook selling groups. The money raised can be put towards the cinema, brunch or swimming trips that fall outside of your summer budget. Rather than doing arts and crafts that will later decorate your fridge door, suggest activities that the children can sell on to friends and family. Friendship bracelets, door hangers and baked goods are all relatively simple to do and attractive enough to sell.

If you’re feeling adventurous, consider a family Bargain Hunt-type event, where each child is given a small sum of money and tasked with increasing this sum by the end of the week/holiday. They can choose to buy and sell, or spend the money on materials that they will transform into crafts.

When is a chore not a chore?


Even the most mundane of household chores can be turned into an activity for children, with a bit of thought and preparation. Rather than going food shopping, suggest that the children come up with a menu for a family meal. Their job is to assess the ingredients they need, find them in the shop, prepare them and cook the meal. If gardening is your thing, consider setting aside a small corner of the garden so that the children can plant and tend to their own plants and flowers – vegetables and herbs are a good ideas, as they have a purpose and can be used by the children in cooking activities.

The best thing about these ideas is that they help build confidence in children too - so it's a win, win!
Here’s wishing us all a summer filled with sunshine – and remember to plan, just in case it isn’t!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Relaxation tips for getting the most out of your summer break

The summer is finally here – what are your plans? Lazing on the beach, relaxing by the poolside, chilling out reading the latest thriller? Well, that may be what we hope will happen but in reality, the summer break can be a much more hectic affair, as we struggle to juggle the work/life balance - often with kids in tow, while covering for work colleagues as they grab their fortnight in the sun…

As this article highlights, when it comes to relaxation our minds and bodies are linked. This means that relaxation is often beyond our reach while we are stressed and busy trying to survive the holidays.

Learning relaxation techniques can help you to restore calm when you’re feeling stressed, and make you more resilient to the stresses you’ll undoubtedly face over the summer break.

Practising relaxation techniques can have many physical, as well as mental benefits, including slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure. It also improves the quality of your sleep and improves your mood - helping you to get the most out of the summer.

In our busy lives, people can create negative associations with relaxing – claiming that it’s wasting time, or a luxury that we can’t afford. How wrong they are. Regular relaxation and stress-busting techniques are actually time well spent and vital for your physical and emotional health.

You’ll find many suggestions across the web about how to relax and the techniques you can use when you feel the stress starting to build. However, not all of these are compatible with the summer holidays.

The following ideas can be incorporated into your summer’s day, whether you’re at work or play – or trying to do both!

Mindful nature


Take a few minutes to really take in your surroundings. Pick a flower and really look at how it is made up. Take in its colour, the way in which the petals join together around the centre, think about the important job it has to do. Often we engage in activities without really thinking about what we are doing. Taking a mindful moment helps to re-centre us and remind us of our place in the broader scheme of life.

Listen to music


Have you ever wondered at the ability of music to transport us to a different time and place? Music taps into our subconscious and spark our emotions without much effort at all. Compile a couple of short playlists, with songs that contain positive associations, then take a few minutes out of your day to listen to a song or two that you know will either inspire, re-energise and calm you down.

Take a - tech - break


Set some time aside each day to switch off and have a tech break. No checking your emails, no responding to text messages or surfing the net. The fact that we’re constantly contactable and ‘on’ can be very draining, although we may not consciously acknowledge this to be true. By taking a short amount of time every day just to focus on ourselves – and our families – we can recharge our emotional batteries.

Summer is an enjoyable season, but can bring with it additional stresses and strains. For more ideas as to how to get the most out of your summer break, read this article.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Summer phobias and how to deal with them

The long-awaited British summertime is now upon us. It’s a time of light evenings, longer days and sun-drenched weekends eating ice cream and relaxing in our open spaces.

However, for some people the summertime brings with it unwelcome associations and phobias which can put a dampener on not only their enjoyment, but also that of their friends and family.

Summer phobias are more common than we think. A phobia is more intense than a dislike of something, or an unwillingness to do something. It will bring significant anxiety to the person when they see – or even think about – the source of their phobia.

Usually phobias arise as a result of a frightening or traumatic experience earlier in our lives – usually in childhood, but sometimes as an adult. A bee sting, a fall into the sea, or a bad case of sunburn are all enough to trigger a phobia. This article gives a full list of the ‘recognised’ summer phobias - there are more than we may think!

To many, your phobias may seem irrational – they may suggest you ‘get over it’ or advise you to ‘face your fears’, however phobias do not work like that. They are a real fear that manifests itself in physical symptoms – hyperventilating, cold sweats, palpitations... For this reason, most people tend to avoid the triggers relating to their phobia. The good news is there are recognised coping techniques that can help you manage your phobias and get the most out of the summertime.

Visualisation


Visualisation is a tried and tested practice for helping us manage our phobias by rewiring our thinking. When we think about the positive outcomes of our actions, we are more likely to take events in our stride and conquer our fears. Instead of thinking about the time you sat in the garden and were stung by a wasp, think about when you sat in the sunshine, without instance, enjoying your book with a cold drink in hand. If you think the best will happen, it can minimise the ways in which your phobia manifests itself.

Mindfulness


Find yourself a quiet space. Sit down, make yourself comfortable and breathe… That’s all - calm and steady. Take just a minute to be at one with your body and how it feels. The simple practice of mindful breathing helps to keep us focused and helps to manage our physical responses to phobias . If it helps, place your hands on your abdomen so you can feel your breathing motion.

Imagine the worst


Often our phobias are born out of an expectation that the worst is going to happen – when, most likely, it won’t. By thinking about the worst outcomes, we can put our phobia into perspective, which makes them easier to manage. For example, if you have a fear of open water and your friends are planning a riverside picnic, thinking about what would happen if you were to fall into the river (likely outcomes are that your friends would jump in after you; there would be lots of trees on the banks to break your fall and use as an anchor; or you could tread water until help came). The solutions that you have identified can be enough for you to keep your phobia in check and enjoy time with your friends.

Remember, being afraid is perfectly normal. Fear keeps us safe – it helps us properly assess situations and develop appropriate responses. Phobias however, can hinder our development and stop us from doing things that would otherwise be enjoyable – or beneficial to our lives.

If your phobias are threatening to dampen your summer and the above techniques haven’t helped, it could be time to call in the additional support, such as clinical hypnotherapy and talking therapies.




Sunday, 18 June 2017

The important role of being a father

With Men’s Health Awareness Week coming to an end, what better way to end it than with a tribute to our fathers on father's day. Whether it be a coffee in the morning or a fancy spa break, this is the day to treat your dad to something special. So, what is it we are celebrating? Are we simply saying thank you for putting up with us or is there more to it than that?

The role of the father figure has shifted significantly over time. Hundreds of years ago, the role of the father would be as both breadwinner and authoritative conveyer of rules and moral codes. More recently, the changing and expanding roles of women have allowed for men to shift more comfortably into the position of care-giver, providing more for their children than just financial stability. Despite this, statistics show that in recent years, UK shoppers spend an average of 75% more on Mother's Day than they do on their dads.

Research has shown that the involvement of fathers is critical to a child’s growth, health and well-being with reports showing that they are more likely to form stronger relationships, have confidence in new surroundings and be more emotionally secure. Not only can a positive male role-model encourage young boys to develop positive gender-based characteristics, daughters are also more likely to form a positive opinion of other men in their lives and subsequently stronger relationships.

Even in early childhood, playful activities that allow young children to interact and bond with their fathers can have an impact on and develop patterns for future relationships. A report by the NRFC shows that the presence of a responsible father can improve academic performance and minimise the need for disciplinary action for children.

Despite all the positive’s that can come from being a father, as with motherhood, there can be challenging aspects that men can struggle with such as post-natal depression including symptoms of overwhelming anxiety and stress.

First Psychology recognises that fathers deserve just as much time for themselves as all the mothers out there so this Father’s Day, read more here about how our experienced practitioners can provide a space for men to talk about and work through their struggles in this wonderfully important role.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Why men find it hard to seek help

As it's the start of Men's Health Awareness Week, we thought we'd take a look at how how gender affects our desire to seek psychological help and to recognise the need for change.

Do you need to change? Are you like Jim?

Jim comes home from work on Tuesday night - exhausted! He goes to the living room to find his wife already watching something on TV and feels annoyed. His wife asks: "What's wrong with you Jim? Why can't you cheer up?" This angers him so he snaps back at her trying to get her to understand why he's annoyed. She doesn't understand. how can she not understand? They argue for ten minutes before Jim storms out, slamming the door behind him. He goes to the fridge, pulls our a beer and some crisps but isn't in the mood to waste time cooking especially when he has an early meeting in the morning. Jim feels all his muscles ache so he decides he should lie down, the gym can wait. Jim's wife comes to bed and before he knows it, midnight has been and gone. Jim tosses and turns. he just bought a new mattress but why can't he get comfortable? What feels like five minutes passes and the alarm is screeching in Jim's ear. He puts it on snooze, breakfast can wait, Jim thinks, I'll have a good feed after the gym tonight.  
That same evening... 
Jim comes home from work on Wednesday night - exhausted!

Jim is showing many of the signs that things are not right and need to change. He is tired, unable to sleep and snappy. He seems caught in a daily routine that doesn't work for him. He is not happy and men in this situation often find it hard to recognise there is a problem or to know what to do to make things better.

Since the 19th century, men have been taught to follow an unwritten code for being masculine. This is an outdated code of assumptions, rules and beliefs that society has developed about boys and men. So society has a lot to answer for in terms of how men perceive themselves and cope with the world around them.

Young boys are taught that only certain colours are appropriate to them - this happens from the minute they are born when they are dressed in blue.

In adulthood men are taught to be strong, aggressive, always in control, unfeeling and capable of handling problems on their own without seeking help. This explains why men are less likely to seek help when things get on top of them. As a result of not feeling able to get the help they may need, man can feel alone and depressed and in more severe cases, suicidal. Did you know that three quarters of suicides in the UK are committed by men?

It's clear that we need to learn to understand the language of men better. Everyone no matter what gender or age should be encouraged to speak about their feelings - that's part of being human. Men are not weak by seeking help, but showing they can adapt to their situation. That demonstrates strength.