Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Being happy by yourself

Autumn is fast approaching… It’s the time of year when the nights get darker and we all – introvert and extraverts alike - tend to lock ourselves away much earlier than we would during the summer months. Spending time by ourselves is something many of us will need to be more comfortable with over the autumn and winter, so we’ve developed some top tips to help you embrace the solitude and be your own BFF!

Learn how to talk to yourself – and listen

It doesn’t have to be out loud, it’s about getting used to the voices in your head. In the absence of other people and their opinions, we have only our inner voice. We should listen to it, more. It is only by searching within ourselves that we can truly establish what we want and need. Yours is the only advice you need follow. The key is to keep it positive. Everyone has their inner demons, it’s time to nurture positivity and negate your own negative vibes. You count, your opinion matters. You are enough.

Celebrate your solitude

Place value on the time you spend by yourself. Plan out how you will spend the time, just as you would when spending it with others. Rather than see the evening as sprawling out before you, chunk out the time into activities – have a bath, read a book, get creative. If you ever feel bored or lonely, pay more attention to your surroundings. Practice mindfulness and gratitude and cherish the time you have alone.

Change your surroundings

Over the autumn and winter there’s a tendency to hibernate – this can quickly fall into stagnation as when we’re alone, it’s easy to fall into routines and patterns. The truth is, when you’re by yourself things will never change unless you instigate it! Why not use the dark nights as the time to breathe new life into your indoor space. We’re not talking decorating and new furnishings, just the simple act of moving your existing furniture around will be enough to spark a new interest in your surroundings and make your time alone feel fresh and exciting.

Avoid mindless consumption

Can you hear that? Silence… In a world that never switches off, alone-time is a gift you’ve been given to switch off and take in the peace and quiet. Now, silence isn’t for everyone - some people simply can’t bear a life without background noise, but time alone is a valuable opportunity to think and reflect and it would be time wasted if we didn’t take advantage of this – at least some of the time. TV, radio and technology are distractions from the important questions we should all address from time to time – are you happy? Are you satisfied? Is your life on the right track / do certain elements need to change? These searching questions can only be truly tackled in the quiet – not an environment filled with noise.

Plan for the future

Do you have a plan for the future? Do you know which path you’d like to follow and have any idea how you will get there? The purpose for your life needn’t be big or grand. It just needs to be acknowledged. The only person who can decide if you’re heading in the right direction, is you! Alone time helps you focus and there’s no better time for you to make plans. Be brave and go beyond dreaming – write your plans down, give them legs, make them real. And then set out a timescale within which you will achieve them.

Time spent alone can be beautiful – and it’s certainly something to cherish. This is the time to build confidence in the fact that you are responsible for your own happiness and that you have everything at your disposal to live your life, your way. Relationships with others are valuable – but the one you have with yourself should always come first.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Psychological First Aid: be prepared

Every year on the 10th October, the World Health Organisation asks us all to turn our attention to mental health - to learn more about it and the ways we can support those who are suffering.

Mental health is a term used to describe a person’s psychological and emotional well-being. It impacts how we think and feel, as well as the way we interact and engage with those around us.

There are many reasons why a person’s mental health may become imbalanced and many factors that contribute to mental health problems, including biological factors, life experiences and even family history. Mental health problems are more common than we think and that’s why World Mental Health Day is so important – to raise awareness and make sure people know where to get support.

This year’s World Mental Health Day centres on the topic of psychological first aid. It’s a complex area, designed to support people who have experienced a tragedy or trauma. On a global scale, this is about assisting children and adults following a disaster or terrorism. But closer to home, there are things we can all do to help our friends, neighbours and colleagues when terrible things happen, be it a sudden death of a loved one or the loss of a job or home, for example.

Often the terms emergency or disaster are used to describe disruptive and destructive events that cause loss of life, property and livelihoods. When this happens, people often lose confidence in the networks that are there to protect them. By learning the basic principles of psychological first aid, we can all be better prepared and able to support people in distress.

The concept of first aid is based on the fact that any of us may need to step in to assist when someone needs it. It’s a massive responsibility and can have a profound impact on those needing help.

The main aims of psychological first aid are to help people:

  • feel less distressed
  • understand the situation and its context
  • identify their own abilities to cope

Psychological first aid is delivered by trained professionals and we would not recommend attempting to deliver it yourself. However, there are a few general principles of psychological first aid that we can keep in mind when communicating with people who have been through a traumatic event, so that they know that support it available and people are listening to them.

Keep calm

  • People who are overwhelmed or disoriented respond best to people who themselves are stable, calm and composed.
  • Be friendly and compassionate even if people are being difficult, upset or demanding.
  • When people express fear or worry, remind them that more help and services are available and, if possible, how they can find them.

Encourage connections

  • Offer people, who wish to share their stories and emotions, the chance to talk without being forced and without too many questions.
  • Encourage people to contact their friends, loved ones and community leaders (as appropriate).
  • Offer practical help to people to address immediate needs and concerns, linking them with available services if you can.

Provide hope

  • Convey the expectancy that people will recover from what they have experienced.
  • Be there/be willing to help in the future if you feel able.
  • Reassure people that their feelings are normal.

More information on psychological first aid and World Mental Health Day > 

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Free yourself from social anxiety and enjoy Fresher’s Week

Up and down the country young adults are unpacking boxes, putting up posters on the newly-painted walls and developing budgets that will enable them to live on just a few pounds a week.

Starting university is an exciting time – a rite of passage - when teenagers cross the line from being regarded a children to becoming a fully-functioning adults. Many young people will embrace the change, but for others the transition from living at home to cohabiting with lots of strangers will be a daunting and formidable event; one that necessitates leaving behind the comfort of home and the familiarity of your current network of friends and family.

A study published by the American Psychological Association in 2013 looks at the importance of friends and social networks during adolescence and young adulthood. It explains about our need to gather knowledge and information from a diverse range of sources and relationships during this period of your life.

There is no getting away from it, we need friends. Ironically, the older we get, the harder it seems to be to make new ones!

Feeling anxious about this need to meet new people and establish new friendships is absolutely normal. This social anxiety may present itself in any or all of the following thought patterns:

A feeling that we are not perfect, which can leave us feeling self-conscious and awkward
Who is? Very often we are our own worst critics and our self-perception is skewed. We dislike things about ourselves that others would not even notice.

A fear that new people will realise we are not perfect, when our ‘old’ friends have learnt to accept us as we are
People are selfish and are much more interested in what you think of them than what they think of you. We all have an innate need to be liked and this means we often don’t notice as much about others as we should.

A realisation that we get nervous in new social situations and can ‘clam’ up
This is not uncommon and often can be managed with some simple visualisation techniques. Let’s be honest, this is probably the reason so many Fresher’s events take place in, or near, a bar. Alcohol takes the edge off people’s nervousness and everyone is in the same boat.

A trepidation that any lull in conversation will be interpreted as arrogance or disinterest
Making new friends is like dating, it’s only over time that silences are not deemed awkward. Think about making new friends as being on a discovery mission and stock yourself up with interesting discussion points before you set off.

A concern that other people are far more interesting
All social anxiety comes from an innate feeling of not being good enough – why would people want to talk to you? What value do you add to the situation? Why would people be friends with you when there are many more interesting people about? The reality is that 50% of the people in the room will be feeling exactly the same way!

There’s no escaping the fact that social anxiety can be tricky to deal with, as it often isn’t grounded in any truth. It is all about self-perception and how we feel about ourselves – and this becomes extremely distorted under stress. So, is there anything we can do to ease the situation? After all, no-one wants to be alone during Fresher’s Weeks, do they?

A recent study found that the reason it was more difficult to make friends as we get older is simply because we don’t find ourselves in the same consistent gatherings as we do when we’re younger. It’s easy to form new relationships when you have a ready-made supply of people to try and connect with, like your school classmates, for example.

It also highlights the fact that many friendships stay limited within their ‘container’ - for example, a class or activity - until someone initiates a gathering outside of it. So, if friendships aren’t practised outside of the container, they simply perish when the activity or class ends. With this in mind, here are three top tips to making new friends as we get older.

Join groups and clubs that you’re really interested in

You’ll meet like-minded people which will help to keep the conversation flowing. You don’t need to worry about people turning up or having an off week, because the group is already established.

Be the one that dares to take the friendship ‘outside’

Many friendships never progress simply because they were kept contained within a specific environment, e.g. the fitness class. Be brave and ask new friends to join you for a coffee, to the library – whatever it takes to build the friendship

Hang on in there…

Your existing social network was built up over years, creating a new one will take time too.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

How to deal with anxiety in children

None of us wants to see a child unhappy, but the best way to help kids overcome anxiety isn’t to try to remove stressors that trigger it. It’s to help them learn to function as well as they can, even when they’re anxious. And as a bi-product of that, the anxiety will decrease or fall away over time.

Remember: the goal isn’t to eliminate anxiety, but to help a child manage it.

It is natural to feel anxious when dealing with changes to our usual routine – starting school is a good example of one of these changes. Often, your child won’t know the words to explain what they’re feeling, but if any of the following is becoming an issue, chances are your child is anxious about something:

  • Being clingy and having tantrums 
  • Not wanting to go out or spend time with their friends
  • Worrying about things that they’ve previously not mentioned
  • Complaining about ‘not feeling well’

We’ve developed six top tips to help guide your child through times of change and help manage their anxiety.

1. Don’t avoid things just because they make a child anxious

Helping children avoid the things they're afraid of may make them feel better in the short term, but in the long run it just reinforces the anxiety. It is normal for a child in an uncomfortable situation to get upset. They’re not being manipulative; they just need help to deal with the situation. If we shield them from their fears they will never build personal resilience, which can only lead to problems as they get older.

2. Create a soothing routine at home

Children seek comfort in what they know and understand to be true. During times of change, such as starting school, the most effective thing you can do at home, is keep your home routine as regular as possible. It provides a constant to the child and helps them understand that while some things may change in their lives, other things remain exactly the same. This helps them contain their anxiety and manage their feelings.

3. Help them to visualise success

Talk to your children about the positive outcomes relating to the changes they’re experiencing. Meeting new people means making new friends; additional homework is an opportunity to learn new information; every problem is just an opportunity when reframed and presented back to us.

4. Rest up

It can be hard dealing with a child who is going through an anxious phase in their life. Remember that the best thing you can do is keep things together. Get plenty of sleep and rest so that you are ‘present’ and able to deal with their questions, reservations and uncertainties. It can be draining – so you’ve got to be physically and mentally prepared to deal with it.

5. Get organised

Set time aside in the morning to address your ‘to do’ list and return emails. These are tasks that often get addressed at night and often take us away from spending time with our children, when they most need it. Keep them busy. Get them involved in your day to day routine too – have them empty the dishwasher, pair up the socks or make their own lunch – this helps them see that there’s more to life than what they’re anxious about.

6. Have Fun

It may not seem right to have fun when your child is in an anxious state, but it definitely is! Everyone needs to recharge their batteries. It’s okay to say to your child: “I need to take time out so I have lots more energy to help you.” This is good parenting. Your down time can include your child too – do the things that make you smile together; spend time doing activities you both enjoy – this will help you AND your child remember that anxiety is not the only thing going on.

Child anxiety is tricky to deal with, but we all go through it. Keep focused, keep grounded and you can weather the storm together, coming out stronger the other side.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Developing social skills in children

For many children going to school will be their first taste of independence. The first opportunity for them to communicate with others outside of the safety of the family circle. This is how their personality is shaped and they learn how to interact with the world around them.

It is for many children, an exciting time of self-discovery. However, for others, social skills may be harder to develop than any academic subject.

There are many ways that we as parents can prepare our children for the social interactions they will encounter once at school.

Do as I say – and as I do

It may appear that our children don’t listen to us – however, they hear more than we realise and they see everything. The way we treat others serves as a role model for our children and reinforces the other cues and tips that we share with our children.

If you are sociable yourself, chances are your children will find it easier to interact with others. If manners are important in your home – it won’t come as a surprise to your child when they’re expected to display good manners out of the home environment.

Parents who are social themselves serve as positive reinforcement for their children. Children may be able to mimic their parents interactions with others when they attempt to make friends with other children, or when learning to cooperate and share with their peers.

Explaining to children why we act the way we do as adults helps them to understand social behaviour, which then helps them replicate it for themselves. Saying things like: “Ask nicely for things, rather than hurt your brother” or “Always say thank you when someone holds the door open for you” really helps to put social skills into context and help children understand.

It’s all a game

Of course, children all develop at their own pace but if you sense that your child could do with some extra support in developing their social skills, here are a number of simple games you can try:

  1. Have a staring contest: eye contact is really important, it’s how we judge non-verbal cues and conveys the emotion behind the words we hear. A staring competition is a quick and easy – not to mention very enjoyable – way of showing your child how to look others in the eye without feeling challenged or threatened. Bet you they’re better at it than you are!
  2. Play emotion charades: it’s important that our children understand how to process the emotions people display. Rather than act out books or movie titles, try and convey emotions – happy, sad, angry, embarrassed; helping your child to appreciate how people are feeling, helps them develop empathy and respect for others.
  3. Stick to the point: often it’s hard for children to keep to one topic. Holding a conversation is quite a skill and one that will set them in good stead for the future. A conversation is where two people talk about something, with each person building on what the other has said. The topic game is a great way of helping children stick to this. You pick a topic, and work through the alphabet with each player saying a different word relating to that topic e.g. fruit would be: A – apple; B – banana; C – carrot; countries would be A – America; B – Belgium; C – Canada; and so on…

If you have concerns…

Social skills take time to develop and school teachers are well equipped to help all children reach their full potential once they’re at school – both academically and socially. If there are any concerns as to your child’s development, chances are your school will be aware of them and will want to work with you to develop a plan to better support their needs.

However, as a parent, you know your child better than anyone and, if you have any concerns, there are three areas of difficulty that have been identified within the autism spectrum:

· difficulty with social relationships, for example appearing aloof and indifferent to other people

· difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication, for example not fully understanding the meaning of common gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice

· difficulty in the development of interpersonal play and imagination, for example having a limited range of imaginative activities, possibly copied and pursued rigidly and repetitively

More information about autism >

As with all other development milestones, we must give our children the time and space to develop, at their own pace. Social skills is something that we all have a role in shaping, but ultimately it is up to our children to find their own way, with our love, support and guidance.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Preparing your child for school

The start back to school comes around far too quickly after the summer holidays. For many children, going back to school – or starting school – is something they take in their stride; for others, it may be a source of anxiety or confusion, especially if they’ll be starting a new school or moving up from primary to secondary.

Unlike many anxieties our children experience, preparing for school is unique in that we know what they are going through. This can be a blessing; we are able to offer an understanding ear and some empathy for what our children are experiencing. However, in some cases, we as adults, pass on our own anxieties to our children, which can make it harder for them to navigate the changes they’re going through.

The good news is that there are a number of things we can do as parents to prepare our children for the return to school.

Talk to them

Chat with your child about starting school. What do they think it will be like? What are they most looking forward to? Is there anything they’re unsure or worried about? Look through the school website or the brochure together and talk about what that means to them.

Show them that we’ve all been there before

Dig out old photos of you when you were at school – the happy ones, of school plays and end of term discos. Talk to your child about all the happy memories you have from school and the friends you made along the way.

Take away any unknowns

Visit the school before your child is due to start and make sure the journey feels familiar to them, that will take away some of the anxiety on the first morning of the new term. Encourage your child to try on their new shoes, so they’re comfortable for the first day. Try and find some children that are already at the school and invite them over to play, that way your child can get answers to their questions from one of their peers.

Find similarities between school and home life

Fear of starting school is very often due to an unfamiliarity of something new. By creating positive associations with the start of the new term, we can reduce the anxiety our children feel. For younger children, this might be as simple as keeping exciting stuff like colouring pencils in a school bag and taking them out when we want to colour at home. That way, they can start to associate school with interesting activities that they enjoy.

Prepare them for routines

School is all about routines. The more familiar your child is with routines at home, the easier it will be for them to get used to how the school works.

Secondary school

The step up to secondary school brings additional challenges. Our children will be expected to take responsibility for themselves in a way they never have before at school – and probably at home. However big the desire to pander to them for one last summer, now’s the time to help them on their way by increasing their responsibilities at home too. Some simple ideas would be setting their alarm clock; packing their own bags for trips and outings; polishing their shoes and ironing their clothes. The more they can do for themselves before the new term starts, the better they’ll be able to cope.

Starting, or going back, to school is not the big unknown it used to be. The Internet helps us connect with each other and places in ways we couldn’t years ago. Of course it’s a nerve-racking time – for you and your child – but try and stay positive so they don’t pick up on your anxiety!

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

De-clutter your life – focus your mind

We’re all guilty of keeping hold of things we really don’t need. We live in a consumerist world and often feel defined by what we have. A large number of us openly admit to having too much ‘clutter’ and will set certain time aside each year to have a good clear out – January, spring and the summer holidays are popular times for a sort out.

According to Roberta Lee’s book – the super stress solution – the practice of decluttering is as much about emotional cleansing as it is about becoming more organised. Just as our emotions change, so too does the need to keep certain items. A good example might be the box of art supplies you bought after making a New Year’s resolution – at the time, it was a box of excitement, a box of potential… If unused all year, however, it becomes a box of failure, of pressure, of a lack of time to fulfil your dreams. This shows it’s time to dispose of the box!

We’ve come up with six simple steps to help you declutter your closets and focus your mind.

1. A bit at a time

Decluttering can often feel like an onerous task – overwhelming even. This is easily solved by breaking the task down into bite sized chunks. Professional organiser Regina Leeds suggests setting a timer for 10-20 minutes at a time to spark a ‘speed elimination’. Start with smaller spaces – like a drawer or a cupboard. These simple successes will spur us on for the bigger areas to come.

2. Finish the job

If you’ve set time aside to declutter an area of your home, make sure you finish the job. The task is not complete until the rubbish bags have been disposed of, the unwanted items dropped off at the charity shop and any other items listed on eBay for sale. Sorting into piles is a great start, but if you break off the task, there’s a chance when you return, items you had deemed to be clutter will find their way back onto your ‘must keep’ pile again!

3. Clear before you buy

For some, the purpose of decluttering can sometimes be overshadowed by the need to find appropriate storage solutions. We think too much about how to organise things and get caught up in the best way to store and display our clutter, rather than really sorting it out. Our advice – clear first, then you know exactly how much stuff you have to find new homes for.

4. Makes rules and stick to them

If you have too many clothes and have made a deal with yourself to only go shopping once a month, or adopt a ‘new thing in / old thing out’ practice – stick to it. It sounds simple, but clutter is often born out of a desire to collect things we don’t need. Find diversionary activities that will help you stick to your rules and make it easier to keep clear of clutter.

5. Change your habits

Hands up – who has a stash of plastic carrier bags in a kitchen cupboard? The 5p government charge was introduced so people would use fewer bags, but it hasn’t changed our habits. Making real changes to your daily routine is difficult, but it can be done – you just need to convince yourself of the benefits it will bring to your life.

6. Technology is your friend

Create online photo albums of all your favourite pictures; subscribe to Netflix and rehome all your old DVDs; transfer CDs onto an MP3 player; there are even apps that can help you manage your important paperwork. Make technology work for you and your home.

Of course decluttering your home is only half of the battle. Make sure you use the new-found positivity your tidy home will bring to set the stall for the future. Commit to the positive changes you’ve made by asking yourself some simple questions before bringing anything new into the house: Why do I need this? Do I have anything like this already? Where will I keep it? Only you know the right answers!