Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Why it’s good to cry

The British are said to have a stiff upper lip. We are conditioned from a young age – boys especially – that maintaining an emotional balance is the key to a happy, healthy life and that even the most trying of situations can be addressed with a cup of tea!

While culturally, this may be the way to do things, keeping our emotions bottled up can actually cause more issues than it solves. And sometimes the best way to deal with a negative or upsetting situation is to ‘let it all out’ and have a good cry.

According to this article in Psychology Today, crying helps us communicate how we’re feeling at times when language fails us – it’s a way of soliciting help and comfort from others to help us process and make sense of things that are happening to us.

There are a few reasons why we cry – it’s a natural reflex that keeps our eyes healthy by flushing out irritants, for example, or a natural response to physical pain – but what we’re looking at in this blog though are emotional tears, caused by sad or stressful situations.

So, what are the benefits of a good cry?

  • First and foremost, crying has a soothing effect on the body and calms us down so that we are better able to regulate our emotions and think about things more rationally. After a cry, we can physically feel our body relax – this is because our parasympathetic nervous system has been triggered. So, it makes sense that if you find yourself in a particularly stressful situation, a bit of a sob will do you good. It will help you relax and reduce the physical effects that exposure to stress can have on your body – such as tension headaches, high blood pressure and perhaps even digestive issues. Have you heard the saying ‘Cry it Out’? You’re literally flushing the negative emotions out of your body, which can only be a good thing.
  • As well as activating the nervous system, the act of crying releases oxytocin and endorphins, both hormones that help us manage our physical and emotional pain, which release feelings of general well-being. It also helps us break down the buildup of manganese in our body, which can lead to stress and anxiety if we have too much of it. After we’ve had a cry, we are often better able to find the clarity of thought we need to navigate through stressful situations. This is because we are not dealing with the situation emotionally, only with the facts. This leads us to make better choices and makes it easier for us to make decisions.
  • Some people may choose to cry in private, but for those of us whose emotions may get the better of them in front of others, crying also rallies support and emotional care from the people around us. We are conditioned to reach out to people when we see them crying – it’s an interpersonal cue that helps us get the personal interaction we need from others in order to feel better. It helps us find the support we need, but often don't seek – due to a fear of showing weakness, or not wanting to bother others with our own problems and issues.

So next time you’re faced with a difficult situation, don’t keep your emotions suppressed. Grab some tissues, find a quiet place and let it all out – you may be surprised by how much better you feel afterwards.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Keeping your children safe online

Encouraging our children to be independent is one of our primary tasks as parents and there is no escaping the fact that the internet is part and parcel of how the children and young people of today communicate and connect with each other. However, increasing use of the internet does not come without its pitfalls. It's our job to keep our children safe. When they're online we need to ensure they get the most out of the tools that are available to them while also helping prevent any negative impact on their lives.

Online safety is a common concern among parents, this article from Psychology Today outlines  the top 5 tips for keeping online safety – it’s a good starting point but there is more that we can do as parents without it taking too much time and effort.

The best way to approach online safety is through having a series of conversations with your kids. The purpose of these talks is to learn from each other and help your kids to understand the internet – and its potential dangers – better, from your perspective as a parent. Take some time to scope out what you’re going to say beforehand and try and cover the following areas:

  1. Internet safety 101 is to teach your children that they should not share identifying information such as their name, location, age or school and help them make sure that their user names are not identifying. Help them understand the importance of not sharing photographs and the permanence of any online activity.
  2. Help your children understand the potential online dangers. There’s no need to scare them, but they do have to be aware that not everyone is who they seem online. Reassure them that you are a safe haven and they will not be in trouble even if they tell you something that you don’t approve of. Keep the lines of communication open.
  3. Set the expectation from the outset that you must know all your children’s passwords. Reserve the right to check their texts, browser history and social media accounts periodically or whenever you feel that something is up. It’s easier to set this rule upfront than try and establish this practice some time later.
  4. Night-time is for sleeping so make the bedrooms a no device zone overnight. Have your kids return their phones and devices to a common area before they retire for the night. This helps to instil healthy sleeping habits and also makes sure that they are not exposed to any unnecessary dangers while you are not around to monitor the situation.

We’ve drafted up seven golden rules for staying safe online for you to share with your children – discuss them and make them your own…

  1. Immediately tell your parents or another adult you can trust if you feel uncomfortable or worried while you’re online. 
  2. Be prepared to keep your computer in a common area of the house, use your headphones if necessary but try not to hide away from everyone else while you are on your devices.
  3. Let your parents know where you go online, just as you would in real life. Sit down with them and show them the sites you like, this will help them understand what you are doing when you have your screen time.
  4. Never ever – ever - share any personal details with anyone online – this includes things like your full name, your address or home town or school, your date of birth and your telephone numbers.
  5. Realise that an ‘online friend’ that you don’t know in real life is a stranger. We don’t like that it happens but not everyone is who they say they are. It’s fine to have friends but accept that you’ll never really know them.
  6. Remember never to share passwords with anyone, no matter how many times they ask. Some of your family accounts might be linked to your parent’s bank accounts so don’t tell anyone.
  7. Understand that your parents need to check your email and social networking lists from time to time – it’s not to check up on you, but to make sure you’re safe.

And while we’re on the subject of keeping our kids safe online, there are some things we can do as parents to make sure that we’re setting a good example:

  • When responding to posts and comments, only use those words that you would use when responding face to face. The internet is a permanent depository, don’t use words that can come back to bite you later – and remember not to respond to nasty or rude comments made by others, and they’re not worth it so rise above it.
  • Review all your user names and logins to make sure that they can’t be misinterpreted or have double meanings. Lots of words which were fine when we were younger could now be construed as suggestive or flirty, so just double check.
  • Spend time together with your kids online together. Learn and explore together – the internet is part and parcel of their childhood so showing an interest and getting to understand more about how it all works and why our kids are so engaged with it will also help to strengthen your relationship too.

You’ll find lots of additional resources to help you navigate your way round this tricky subject:

Resource about online safety on th NSPCC's website >

Resources on Kidsmart website >

Resources on the BBC website >

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

How to be happy with what you have

It’s an old adage that money can’t buy you happiness, but how true is this? Money worries are often cited as one of the major driving factors in couples experiencing relationship difficulties, however an article in the Financial Times found that the ‘happiest’ occupations were florists and gardeners – hardly the highest paid of professions.

We all need a certain amount of money to meet our basic needs, but the truth is that money above and beyond this amount doesn’t necessarily make us happier. Often, it is the sad fact that we compare ourselves to other people and their standards of living that makes us dissatisfied with what we have. This is not helpful, as we all have different levels of aspiration, ability and outgoings.

If we're working in a low-paid job or surviving on benefits, the challenge of paying bills and putting food on the table is enough to cause significant stress. In this case, an increase in income would reduce the stress, which would leave you feeling happier. Getting a better paid job could mean you were able to afford to buy nicer things, but that in itself wouldn’t necessarily make you any happier. Plus, we’ve got to remember that as income increases, so too do our outgoings which might only serve to add to the stress of maintaining your lifestyle. It’s a double-edged sword.

When we talk about happiness, often we're really talking about pleasure. We can ‘buy’ lots of activities that cause us momentary pleasure – but what impact do they really have on our underlying happiness and sense of wellbeing? True happiness comes from those things we cannot buy: helping others, the relationships we build with family and friends, having a job that gives us a sense of achievement and purpose.

We’ve developed some ideas to help you live within your means and manage your money without feeling as though you're missing out on the small pleasures in life that will contribute towards your happiness.

Rethink your personal reward systems

Often we incentivise our performance or progress with treats, e.g. a shopping spree when we’ve completed a difficult task at work; a meal out for good behaviour at school; a trip to the hairdresser after a tough week. Often, these treats become more frequent than we realise and this can have an impact on our finances. There are two ways of addressing this: reduce the frequency of these rewards, or swap out the rewards that cost money for those experiences which are free – like a long bath or some family time together.

Change your finance focus

Often when faced with financial stresses, we talk about the need to ‘cut back’ or ‘trim the budget’. This automatically puts us in the mindset that we are losing something or missing out on things that we had before. We’re challenging you to change your focus and look at your finances from the bottom up. Take some time to work out a budget, starting from a zero base. Think about what you really need – like a place to live, food to eat, heating - and those items that are non-essential, like mobile phones and TV subscriptions. By looking at things differently, we can start to appreciate the real difference between want and need.

Be thankful

Whatever our income, there are often things we can be thankful for, even though they can sometimes be forgotten in our aspirations for ‘more’. Recognising and giving thanks for every expense you can already afford is a habit that should extend far beyond your monthly budgeting. And recognising the enormous value of everything you already enjoy – experiences, relationships, opportunities – can go a long way in combating feelings of limitation, even when your means are limited.

If you’re interested in finding out more about happiness and what we can do to be happier, why not read our previous blog posts:

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Getting the most out of every day when we ‘lose’ an hour

We’re all looking forward to spring-like weather – especially after the harsh weather of recent weeks. However one aspect about the onset of spring that we could do without is the clocks going forward. Yes, we love our lighter evenings, but who enjoys having to rise an hour earlier every morning?

The best way to make the daylight savings work for you, is by using it as an opportunity to reboot your morning routine. Starting the day as we mean to go on helps us approach each new day with the vigour and enthusiasm that is needed to really achieve our goals.

We’ve compiled a list of things to help make sure you get out of bed on the right side this spring and carry this new-found zest for life through the summer months too.

Get moving

Kick start your morning with some exercise and see how it positively impacts the rest of your day. Exercising in the morning serves two purposes: it catapults you out of your morning slump – especially prevalent in those first few days after the clocks go forward - and it boosts your metabolism which will leave you feeling positive and productive for the rest of the day. Not only that, by being active earlier we’re actually preparing our body to wind down earlier and that paves the way for a great night’s sleep.

Have a plan

A good morning routine helps to set us up for the day, but really we need to prepare for our constructive morning, the night before. Jot down a plan and a schedule of what you want to achieve the next day. Be realistic about what you can achieve in the time available and don’t put off the easy tasks – they’re the things that will keep your motivation levels high throughout the day. This blog post talks about the dangers of procrastination and outlines some top tips for getting things done.

A change is as good as a rest

Mornings are the best time to turn our minds to doing something new. Usually the mornings are when we run on autopilot, but our minds can be more receptive at this time – uncluttered by the thoughts and tasks we pick up throughout the day. To get your brain working as soon as you rise, take time to try something new. It’ll heighten your senses and get your mind working, rather than simply going through the motions. It can be something quite small – change your routine, step out of your usual comfort zone, put a few minutes aside to tackle a new task or skill. Once your brain is switched on, you’ll approach the rest of the day with a more ‘can do’ attitude.

Find time for 'me time'

We might lose an hour when the clocks go forward but that doesn’t mean we should lose those parts of the day that are most beneficial to our physical and mental well-being. Placing value on ‘you time’ benefits not just yourself but those around you too. Make sure you invest a short period of time into your schedule each day to do something you love – it’s time well spent. It’s up to you when you do this, but the morning is ideal as there is less time for you to postpone or find other things to do instead. Just five minutes is all you need to remind yourself that you are important – and be honest, if you don’t value your time, who will?

By trying even a couple of our suggestions we hope that you can embrace the daylight savings for what they are: the onset of spring and the opportunity to get more natural light into each waking day. And if you're looking for more ideas to fill your extra hour of daylight, read this blog post.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Using music to lift your mood

Have you ever noticed how your mood can change depending on what you’re listening to on the radio? The impact that music has on our mental wellbeing shouldn’t be underestimated.

Think about it! Soothing music helps us calm down, while upbeat music energises us, helps us to perform, and can distract us from over thinking. Not to mention what music can do for our memory. Hearing a song from way back when can quickly help us recover memories and relive happier times.

When we listen to music we enjoy, feel-good hormones are released into the brain that generate emotions such as happiness, excitement and pure joy. So what exactly does music do to us that’s so beneficial?

Music helps us relax

Soothing and classical music slows our pulse and heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and decreases the levels of stress hormones. That’s why it’s used in doctors’ surgeries or hospital waiting rooms. It’s also a tried and tested way of preparing our bodies for a restful night’s sleep – you can read more about that in one of our previous blog posts.

Music helps us perform

Have you ever wondered why gyms play loud music? It’s to make us work harder! Our body gets in-tune with the rhythm which makes us work harder and for longer. It makes us feel in control and more optimistic about achieving our goals.

Music reduces our perception of pain

There’s a reason why women are offered music while in labour. Music can significantly increase our tolerance to pain and gives us perceived control over it. It also reduces anxiety, which helps people manage their own pain threshold better.

The great news is that is it really easy to incorporate more music into our lives – and to use it to benefit our mental wellness and general outlook. As a starter, we suggest the following simple tips:

  • Download a music or radio app onto your phone or tablet so that you can listen to music at work (if allowed), during your breaks or while commuting, especially if you have a stressful or a particularly busy day ahead.
  • Incorporate music into your daily regime – build up different playlists for the activities you do, such as one for walking, one for cooking, one for tidying. You get the idea! Music is especially good for heightening productivity during those jobs you’d rather not face, such as the ironing.
  • Turn off the TV an hour earlier each evening and listen to some music instead. Not only will it help lift your mood – it’ll leave you more receptive to sleep.

For more tips about how to manage your mental wellbeing, you can read this blog.

Monday, 26 February 2018

How to be sleep wise

Getting enough sleep is vital not only to our physical wellbeing, but to our mental wellness also. Yet, according to research carried out by the Sleep Health Foundation close to half of all adults claims they’re not getting enough sleep – are you one of them?

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. Sleep is the way our mind and body’ refreshes and restores itself, so it’s easy to see why getting enough sleep is a big concern for many of us – and a major cause of anxiety and stress if we’re not getting enough.

We’ve taken this little quiz from the Guardian – you can see the original article here – to give you some indication of whether or not you are getting the sleep you need.

It’s not a sophisticated test by any means, but it will give you an idea about whether your sleep routines could be improved to give you the rest your body and mind needs.

In the last month have you had sleep trouble because of:

(a) taking more than half an hour to get to sleep

(b) waking up in the middle of the night, or too early in the morning

(c) not feeling well rested when you wake up

(d) feeling tired throughout the day

Score each of the following statements:

1 = not at all; 2 = once a week; 3 = twice a week; 4 = three or more times a week.

Take the average of your scores to find your total score. If you scored around the 2.5 mark, you are sleeping about as well as the average person.

But don’t despair if you find yourself getting less sleep than you’d like and that’s less than is optimal for physical and mental wellbeing, here are some simple tips to get you sleeping like a baby in no time…

Sleep at regular times

Your internal body clock gets used to a set routine, once it knows that 11pm is bedtime,  your body will be more receptive to sleep at that time. Most adults need between six and nine hours of sleep – so the best way to set your bedtime is to work backwards from the time you need to rise every morning.

Prepare to sleep

It’s unrealistic to think you can hop straight into bed and fall asleep. Your body needs to wind down first. Take a warm bath or shower; do some gentle breathing exercises; listen to some music – all great ways to help your body understand that it will soon be time to sleep.

Clear your mind

A busy mind is not conducive to sleep. Take a few minutes to write down your 'to do' lists for the next day so that your mind can be free of distractions. Some people find that writing a journal at night helps for the same reason.

And if these tried and tested method don’t work for you, have a read of this article from Psychology Today – written by an insomniac - and see if that helps.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Love is for life – not just for Valentine’s Day

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, many of us are thinking of ways to demonstrate our love and dedication to those closest to us. But what happens after Valentine’s Day? Will your loved ones have to wait another twelve months before your next declaration of affection and appreciation?

Don’t worry, help is at hand! We’ve come up with some simple guidance to help you show people you love them all year round – not just on 14 February. Relationships are important, they help us grow and contribute to our confidence and feelings of self-worth – so let’s take the time to nurture them.

Every little helps

Valentine’s Day may be the time for grand gestures, but throughout the year most couples find it’s the little things that matter. With busy schedules and lots of people juggling home and work life, couples can soon fall into bad habits and start to take each other for granted. As this article shows, it’s those small, thoughtful acts of love that will help you avoid this. Taking the time to remind your partner that you love them is often all your relationship will need to keep on track. An unexpected text message; a note in a workbag; a little something left under your partner’s pillow are simple acts that take very little time or effort, but that will makes your partner feel great.


As we get older – and particularly when we have been in a relationship for some time – we all fall into patterns and routines that take away the spontaneity that we once enjoyed when we were younger. In a long term relationship or marriage, we often have specific roles to play and jobs to do which define our relationships. One easy way to show someone you love them is by consciously shaking up the status quo and surprising them! Again, the smallest of gestures will go a long way – taking the bins out when it’s not ‘your job’ or getting the shopping in for tea are great ways of surprising your partner, while also acknowledging and appreciating the role that they play in the relationship.

Take time out, together

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that when you’re in a relationship every ounce of free time has to be spent doing something fabulous – meals out, theatre, cinema... These are all fun pastimes and you’re right, doing things together can only strengthen the relationship you’ve got. However, sometimes all it takes to show someone you love them is the gift of time. We’re all busy people, so the act of making time to spend together is incredibly powerful. It shows your partner they matter more than anything else in your life. It doesn’t matter if it’s just half an hour or a whole day – carving time out of your schedule really shows you’re serious about someone and value what you have together.

Remember, the main reason people leave a relationship is because they feel undervalued and unappreciated. So, whatever else is going on in your life, take the time to tell those closest to you that you love them - a little bit of effort goes a long, long way.