Friday, 6 November 2020

How to make guilt-free choices to improve your wellbeing


Many of our thoughts about ourselves are actually not our own at all. Outside influences can have a major impact on how we view our actions and even our physical appearance. You may compare your life with that of others and feel guilty that you aren’t perceived to have achieved as much. Sometimes family members or friends can make you feel inferior with their questions and observations about your life. It’s time to take a break from these negative influences and to reflect on what you want. Learn how to improve your mental and physical wellbeing while tearing off the shackles of guilt imposed by others.

What pressures can affect my wellbeing?

Family

Even the most well-meaning of family members can chip away at your confidence, merely by asking questions that highlight certain areas of your life. You could be of an age when family and even society expects you to have married, bought a house and and started a family. If these are all things you really want and you haven’t yet achieved them, being questioned about these subjects can cause negative feelings towards yourself and knock your self confidence.

Friends

As you grow older, you will undoubtedly discover that friendships change, as your friends, and you, make certain life decisions. Parents can often be made to feel that they need to keep up with the social lives of their child-free friends. Single and child-free people may feel the pressure of questions about when they intend to marry and start a family. The same pressures can be felt with regards to work as some friends may have already discovered their perfect career and be content climbing the corporate ladder. In contrast, you may not have found your career path, or may feel completely happy to have a low-pressure job with minimal commitment that allows you to concentrate on other aspects of your life that you deem more important. In all of these situations, you may feel that you aren’t living the life that is expected of you, especially if friends expect you to be just like them.

Yourself

The reality is, you can choose to ignore outside pressures, but this is easier said than done. For many of us, our hardest critic is ourselves. It’s particularly difficult if you had visions of where you would be at certain points in your life and these goals haven’t been achieved. Alternatively, you could have achieved these goals and still feel discontent or frazzled by the building pressure of maintaining what you thought you always wanted. For example, your dream of having the perfect family may be much less than perfect in reality. Your well-paid job for which you have strived so hard might not be what you envisioned at all.

How do these pressures affect our wellbeing?

  • Guilt – the feeling of guilt can be overwhelming for those who feel they haven’t achieved their potential or feel they should be much happier than they are.
  • Depression – being constantly bombarded by pressure from family, friends, and work colleagues can lead to bouts of depression. If your peers and loved ones don’t find you worthy as you are, the chances are, you won’t feel this positively about yourself either.
  • Low self-esteem – If you judge your success by certain goals and these goals haven’t been reached then you may experience feelings of failure, which can knock your self-esteem.
  • Low energy – depression and anxiety can render you inactive which may lead to a vicious cycle of doing nothing, feeling bad about this, and again, unable to do anything about it because your energy is depleted.
  • Regret – looking back you may question past choices and blame yourself for not making the right ones which has led you to an unhappy place in your life. You might begin to question relationship breakups and begin labelling an unworthy ex as the one that got away, just because you think you should be married by now. Or perhaps you regret turning down a previous promotion because you feel as though you would be financially better off if you had accepted it.

How do I pursue my own wellbeing and let go of the guilt?

  • The first step is to stop feeling guilty. This includes regret about how your life could have turned out differently if it wasn’t for certain choices you made at the time. The fact is, there is absolutely nothing you can do about past decisions; you can only learn from them and move forward.
  • If you're feeling guilty that you haven’t met your family’s expectations, realise that it isn’t your responsibility to live your life for them. This also means letting go of the guilt you may experience when you take time out for yourself.
  • Express your feelings to loved ones and explain that although you appreciate their concern, you would prefer to make your own life choices.
  • Parents often feel guilty for allocating any time or attention to their own wellbeing. However, self-care is essential for parents, because looking after your physical and mental health means you are better equipped to help your family. Talking to a close friend or a counsellor about your concerns and the causes of your stress is a great way to release any burdens and feel more confident about taking time to focus on improving your own wellbeing. 
  • Embrace nature – both exercise and being among nature have been proven to improve mental health. Combine the two and go for country walks or, if time is limited, spend your lunch hour strolling through a park or in the fresh air.

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, as it’s often known, is a type of depression that occurs at specific times of the year or during certain types of weather. Depression is a condition that differs very much from the occasional bouts of sadness we all may feel from time to time. When you experience depression, you can feel sad, worthless, and anxious for long periods of time. If your mood is severely affected by changes in weather, it can have a serious impact on all areas of your life. However, there are steps you can take to alleviate these symptoms. 

How do I know if I have SAD?

There are all different types and symptoms of depression and it’s important to ascertain the cause or causes in order to get the right treatment. Although symptoms can vary from person to person, these are just some of the signs that you could be suffering from SAD:

  • Low mood
  • Lack of energy
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Noticeable changes in appetite - eating more or eating less
  • Loss of libido
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts – if you feel suicidal you should contact your health practitioner immediately

There are other symptoms and feelings associated with SAD, and if you’re uncertain why you're feeling this way, speak with your GP or other health practitioner.

What causes SAD?

It's thought that lack of sunlight is a contributory factor of SAD and that people with this disorder are likely to suffer significantly during the winter months. There are, however, some people that experience SAD during the warmer months too. It is thought in these cases that SAD may be a hereditary disorder. For those that experience seasonal affective disorder during darker seasons, it is believed that the lack of sunlight affects the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is part of the brain that contributes to:

  • Melatonin production – a hormone that makes you feel tired. Those with SAD may produce more than normal.
  • Serotonin production – often thought of as the 'feel good' hormone. Lack of serotonin can occur with lack of exposure to sunlight and lead to feeling depressed.
  • Your body clock – people usual rely on sunlight to assist with things such as when to wake up and when to go to sleep. When nights become longer and days shorter during winter, the body clock can be disrupted.


How to cope with SAD


The good news for those experiencing SAD is that there are measures you can take to alleviate symptoms and to make life a lot easier.

Get as much natural light as you can

As discussed above, sunlight is a significant factor in maintaining mood levels and it therefore makes sense to spend as much time as possible in natural sunlight. Set aside time each day to either sit outside or take a stroll during daylight hours. If you spend a lot of time indoors, make a point of sitting near a window that allows in natural light.

Light therapy

Since many of the symptoms of SAD can be attributed to lack of sunlight, artificial measures can be extremely helpful when you can’t access the real thing. Although the efficacy of light boxes has not be definitively proven, there are those that insist they improve symptoms of SAD. Light boxes mimic natural light and emit a steady flow of light which can be set to various times throughout the day. It is thought that they can help people who have trouble waking on winter mornings by mimicking the rising sun of dawn. Some people prefer to have a lightbox by them throughout the day as they find it steadies their mood.

Exercise in daylight

As helpful as many find light boxes, they’re no substitute for the real thing. The combination of authentic daylight and exercise can help increase mood levels. Exercise is renowned for assisting with the release of serotonin, and daily exercise will also make you healthier when combined with a good diet. Being physically healthy can help with feelings of sluggishness, especially if you are exercising in the sun, which is known to help with the production of melatonin.

Therapy

Talking therapies, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling are known to help with symptoms of SAD. CBT assists by helping patients create ways to change habits that they have associated with SAD. This therapy concentrates on the connection between thoughts and feelings, and physical responses to this and how negativity can result in a harmful cycle. CBT can help you devise positive actions and habits by breaking your problems into easier to handle smaller sections.


First Psychology is hosting a free webinar on 27 November 2020 on 'Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder During Lockdown' as part of its winter webinar series. Find out more and book a place >

Thursday, 8 October 2020

How to find your sense of purpose in life

There have been numerous studies into the impact of having a clear direction in life and the conclusions are extremely interesting. Research has revealed that having a life purpose can lengthen your lifespan, improve your physical health, and even improve mental health issues.

The meaning of purpose can differ dramatically for each individual. For example, one person may view having a fulfilling career as entirely purposeful, whereas another could believe parenthood and bringing up a happy family will provide the ultimate fulfilment. However grand or simple a purpose may seem, it is evident that having a purpose can have a positive effect on your life. If you are struggling to determine what it is that would give you a sense of purpose, there are steps you can take to help you find it.

What does it mean to have a purpose in life?

Having a purpose in life means having an aim, whether it be a daily aim or a long-term goal. It could be as simple as having something to wake for each morning. Without such a goal your life may have no direction and you could find yourself feeling despondent and down. This, in turn, can lead to poor mental health, and bad physical health, especially if you fail to participate in any activities at all.

How having a life purpose can benefit others

Not only does being proactive have benefits for you as an individual, but your life purpose could also have a positive impact on others. Becoming a volunteer can help your community. Creating an organisation that helps people or animals can assist others in your immediate or wider communities. Even becoming more positive because you have found your life purpose can make you a more pleasant person to be around, which will affect the mood of others. It’s important to remember that a sense of purpose is unique to each of us, and you should not compare yours with anyone else’s.

How reflection can help you find your life’s purpose

There are questions that you can ask yourself that can help to find your purpose:
  • What am I passionate about?
  • For what would I like to be remembered?
  • What makes me happy?
  • What were my childhood ambitions?
  • What are my dreams now?
  • If I could spend one day doing anything, what would that be?
  • Who are my idols?
  • When were the happiest times in my life: who was I with and what was I doing?

Writing down the answers to these questions can provide a great start to finding your purpose.

Expand your horizons

You may not have experienced anything that piques your interest yet, which is why you should try new things.

  • Join a club – this can be online or in your community. Think about joining a book club, hiking group, writing group, or debating team.
  • Volunteer in your community – not only will you be helping people or animals, but you will experience new situations that could prove inspiring.
  • Research religions or spirituality – some people find that their purpose in life is associated with religion or spirituality. Contact local religious leaders or attend their place of worship to find out more about specific beliefs. 
  • Learn an instrument – it's never too late to learn a musical instrument and there are instruments to suit every budget. You could even find them in charity shops or online. Can't get out? You can teach yourself via online learning or books if necessary or you prefer.
  • Learn a language – learning a new language can be extremely fulfilling and can be self-taught. If you choose to attend a class, you also open the door to meeting new people with the same goal and it can be more fun.

If at first you don’t succeed....

Be patient with yourself and if one hobby or interest doesn’t pan out, try something else. Finding a purpose in life can be an extremely fun and interesting path which doesn’t necessarily have to be reached via a direct route.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Getting the tech-life balance right


As essential as technology is to most people, it has its drawbacks. It’s all too easy to spend hours scrolling through social media posts, checking emails, or playing mobile games. This type of behaviour can result in mental and physical health problems as you become too dependent on technology. However, there are ways to get the balance right.

Understand how technology affects your life

Technology, when used as a distraction rather than a tool can impact your work and social life. The modern workplace often requires technology and so it is difficult to erase it from your life completely, or even for extended periods of time. However, if you actually record how often you spend online you will become more aware of how much time you are spending being distracted.

Do you:

  • Check emails and social media as soon as you wake up?
  • Remain logged into to online accounts all day?
  • Receive notifications and respond to them immediately?
  • Communicate with friends and family mostly via apps and social media?

Although this may seem entirely normal, it is important to realise how much time online is stopping you from interacting and socialising in person. Besides the practical implications of spending so much time online, there’s the impact it has on mental health to consider.

According to a report compiled by the Royal Society for Public Health, sites such as Instagram can have a negative effect on teenagers’ mental health. This investigation reveals that Instagram contributed to “anxiety, depression, loneliness, bullying, body image and 'fear of missing out'".

Consider changing your settings so you no longer receive non-essential notifications and log out of sites and social media when you are not purposely using them.

Limit time online

Once you've made a record of how much time you spend online, if you realise it’s quite considerable, make a conscious effort to change.

You can do this by:

  • Responding to work emails only during working hours and put your out of office response on as soon as you finish work 
  • Allowing yourself only set times when you can access social media and emails
  • Leaving your mobile at home when you don't need it
  • Not using your mobile or device while in bed

Once you’ve limited your time using devices, you may realise that it has been causing you to neglect hobbies, activities, and even other people in your life.

Fill the void

Although your fingers may be itching to message someone or to scroll through timelines and pages, give yourself something else to do instead. Be in the moment when enjoying family activities and relish in the feeling of being completely committed to a family day out, group activities, or even just listening to one another without being distracted by the ping of your ‘phone. Take up a new hobby or go back to an old one and rediscover the feeling of being connected to activities you enjoy.

It isn’t all or nothing

Although taking a day or more away from technology each week could be extremely beneficial, in reality, technology keeps us in touch with friends, family, and current events. There’s no need to shun technology completely, but finding a healthy balance is sensible. Set yourself realistic time limits and create a habit of technology-free time each day and you will soon realise how much more fulfilling your life can be.


Wednesday, 23 September 2020

How to manage covid stress and rebuild your life


To say that the past months have been stressful would be an understatement. For many, the normality we once knew has been replaced with long periods of solitude, apprehension, confusion, and fear. Covid-19 entered our lives as an uninvited guest and has yet to leave. It is therefore not surprising that so many children and adults are exhausted and stressed by it all. 

Although the virus is still very much present, the lockdown we once knew has changed. With restrictions having been lifted and then new measures imposed and people being encouraged to go about essential daily matters (including work where homeworking isn't possible) and to embrace the new normal, many are seeking ways to rebuild their lives.

Discover ways you can beat the stress caused by Covid-19 and learn to rebuild your life so you can live it to the fullest.

Establish a new routine

Whether you were aware of it or not, before Covid you would have had a routine which was interrupted when the virus arrived. Routines help both children and adults have a sense of stability and assist with focusing your mind. Make a list of things that are essential in your life – things you must do and things you want to do.

According to the NHS, and Leeds Children’s Hospital, this list could focus on:

  • Work/School/College
  • Family
  • Hobbies
  • Meals
  • Self-care
  • Engaging in activities that may include seeing other people. This can be anxiety-inducing because of covid-19, but there are ways to make sure you feel safe and can begin to enjoy socialising and working again.


Plan each outing

Preparation is key to feeling relaxed once you venture into the world. If you haven't ventured out much or at all for an extended period, plan what you need and what you will do. Make a list of what items you may need such as face coverings and hand sanitiser. If you have children continue to remind them what is expected of them including minimising the touching of anything if you’re going shopping, and that they must wash their hands before they leave and when they return to the home. If you’re meeting with friends at a permitted location, share any concerns you may have with them. Some anxiety is to be expected when you first go to parks, shops, or to see friends and so it may help to begin with very short trips until you get used to going out again.

Share your concerns with your employer or tutor 

It may be necessary to return to work or to a place of learning. Communicate with your employer or tutor and ask for information about what steps they are taking to make the spaces as safe as possible. If you have specific needs let your employer or tutor know before you return to work or college. Both workplaces and schools and colleges will be required to follow strict guidelines and so you should find some comfort in this if you are concerned about the virus and the impact it may have on you and your family.

Embrace the new normal

Instead of becoming frustrated that for now you can no longer have friends round or meet large groups of friends and family in restaurants or theatres in the same way as you did before, embrace the change. Doing things that bring you pleasure is so important for your mental health. Theatres are streaming recorded plays, so if going to the theatre is one of your passions, organise a “theatre at home” evening for yourself and your household. Get dressed up, enjoy your favourite tipple and snacks, and think about donating to the theatre company so they can still be up and running when covid restrictions are lifted. Take the opportunity to stay connected with friends and family in whatever way is permitted. It is important to know you have loved ones to talk to and to spend time with. 


Visit our covid-19 resources page for help with dealing with some of the issues that may arise from the current situation


For specific information on Covid-19 and what you can and can’t do, visit https://www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19

Monday, 31 August 2020

How to avoid burnout as a single parent

As any single parent is aware, parenting alone has both benefits and drawbacks. One of the benefits of being a single parent is that you’ll most likely be able to make all the parenting decisions independently on a daily basis, without having to compromise on parenting styles. However, this also means you’ll bear the brunt of parenting, both physically and mentally. This can be extremely exhausting, and if a single parent doesn’t prioritise their wellbeing, they could soon experience burnout.

Why is it so hard to be a single parent?

Being a single parent doesn’t always mean you aren’t co-parenting, but it can mean that as the majority care giver you have the bulk of the financial and practical parenting responsibilities. The financial side of single parenting is exhausting in itself and may mean you are working extra hard in order to fulfil your financial obligations and to give your child/children all the things they need. Pile onto this the physical strain of parenting such as domestic work, helping with homework, taking children to appointments and extracurricular activities, and it soon becomes apparent how burnout can occur.

Single parenting and mental health

There are many ways we can become a single parent: by choice, through separation, or from the death of a partner. Each situation presents individual emotional and practical stress, and all can lead to deteriorating mental health. The sudden change in circumstances can be stressful for you and your children and even if you were prepared to parent alone, it’s rarely easy. Single parents, especially single mothers, are still often stigmatised in society, which can result in feelings of guilt and anxiety.

Single parenting and physical health

According a piece of research discussed on the NHS website, there may be a connection between single motherhood and ill health later in life. Commenting on the research conducted in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2015, the NHS website suggests:

“Health status in later life is likely to be linked to a complex number of interrelated factors. Being a single mum may be one, social networks might be another.”

With this in mind, take care to not only ensure your children attend checkups, but make sure you keep on top of your own physical health and medical appointments too.

Taking care of yourself can include:
  • Eating a healthier diet to avoid feeling sluggish and to promote energy
  • Doing regular exercise to maintain health and energy
  • Asking your GP for a full medical so you can tackle any underlying health issues
  • Keeping on top of your oral health by attending routine dental checkups

Avoid burnout by seeking support

There aren’t many people that like to admit they need help, but as a single parent it is important to seek support from friends and family if possible. Speak with trusted family members about how you feel and see if they could look after your children for even just a few hours on a regular basis. Utilise your friendships with parents of children at your child’s school and organise sleepovers where parents take turns in hosting each other’s children. This kind of arrangement can give you an entire night to yourself, allowing you to relax, or socialise if that is what you need. Playdates at parks or play centres are fantastic for allowing you to socialise with adults and to relax (a little) as the kids go and play with their peers.

Support for parents of children with complex needs

Being a single parent of a child with additional needs has its own set of considerations. However, there is assistance available for parents of children with complex needs such as day centres and respite care. Your local council will be able to provide the contact details of centres and carers specifically designed to support the needs of your child. You will also find there are numerous charities providing support for parents of children with complex needs such as Autism, Down’s Syndrome, and additional physical needs.

Reject the guilt

Single parents often feel guilty for taking time to themselves but if you want to avoid exhaustion, then you will need to reject those feelings of guilt and know that you are entitled to some time to yourself. If this means allowing your kids to watch more TV or play computer games for a little longer, then so be it. While they occupy themselves, exercise, read, facetime with friends or simply take a nap (if your children are old enough to self-supervise). Try to set aside time each day for a little alone time and extend that time once a week for you to enjoy your favourite activities or to catch up with friends.

Organise your time with the children

Although the best laid plans can often go awry, organising a specific activity to enjoy with the children can help to alleviate the guilt of having 'me time'. Let your children know that there will be specific family time, be it mealtimes, film night, or board games night, and try to stick to these arrangements as much as possible. Knowing that you will be spending quality time with your kids allows you to enjoy that precious time to yourself even more.

Start each day anew

Some days are just completely horrible. You’ll feel like the worst parent ever and may even be driven to tears as you feel like you have failed as a parent. Stop, breathe and start again. Learn from the mistakes of the previous day and forgive yourself if you’ve been a bit more shouty than normal. Parenting, be it as a single mother or father, or as part of a couple, is going to be filled with days where it feels like everything has gone wrong. Try not to carry that guilt into the next day and begin the day with a positive mindset. If appropriate, speak with your children about how their behaviour or your actions played out the previous day and talk about what your expectations are going forward. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge when you do something wrong too – apologising as a parent will show your children the importance of saying sorry and acknowledging when you’re wrong.

For more information about support for single parents in your area, visit One Parent Families Scotland, a charity specifically for single parents. You may also find the website of the charity Gingerbread, who operate in England and Wales, helpful. 





Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Ways to overcome shyness

Being shy can have a significant impact on your social and work life and can become a serious problem for many people. Shyness can lead to feeling alone and difficulty finding friends and can even result in missing out on job opportunities. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to overcome shyness and embrace your full potential.

What causes shyness?

In order to tackle shyness, you need to understand the cause. According to Steve Bressert PhD, shyness can begin at any age and can even occur in infancy. He also asserts that shyness isn’t a problem just for introverts. Extroverted people can also experience private shyness. Privately shy extroverts will portray a confident persona so much so that they appear confident in giving speeches, meeting new people and being overtly outgoing. Bressert states that there are many causes of shyness in those that are reluctant to socialise, which include:

  • Physical changes in adolescence and societal reaction to these changes - especially in girls
  • Modern technology and the restriction of the need for face-to-face socialising 
  • Social media and it minimising the need for the same spontaneous response required in real life social situations

Shyness can also be attributed to being fearful of what others think of you. This could stem from incidents in childhood or even as an adult. Yet according to Healthline.com, there is research that suggests that up to 15% of people are actual born with the propensity for shyness.

How to overcome shyness

Don’t avoid social situationsThere’s a lot of truth in the age-old advice “fake it until you make it”. Acting confidently despite feeling insecure helps you to practice how to act in social situations. Rather than avoiding social settings, engage with them and portray the person you want to be. Actually facing your fears can make you realise that they aren’t as frightening as you imagined them to be.

Try something new

Step outside of your comfort zone and try new things. This can be joining a new club or taking up a team sport. Acting classes can be fantastic for overcoming shyness as you are free to act as somebody else and doing embarrassing things soon becomes second nature!

Be mindful

Being mindful of your feelings and emotions can help get to the bottom of why you feel shy in certain situations. Be aware of the actions you take and the environment you’re in rather than worry about what could happen. Be in the moment and notice the things you do and say. This can be helpful when you’re conversing with others because rather than being distracted by your own worries, you’ll be paying attention to what the other person is saying. 

Acknowledge your fears

Being vulnerable is one of the most frightening things any person can do. It means allowing people to see who you truly are, and this is something shy people find difficult to accept. Shyness that stems from the fear of being judged can be released once you accept yourself and allow others to see who you are. Begin with people you know and trust by being more open with them. You could find that this deepens the relationships you already have. This is also great preparation for being vulnerable with new people in new situations.