Sunday, 4 December 2016

Relaxation quiz and competition

Learning ways to relax your mind and body is vital to good mental and physical health and wellbeing. While short-term stress is a natural process designed to protect us from harm, longer-term stress can have a negative impact on our mental and physical wellbeing and lead to conditions such as anxiety and depression as well as physical conditions too.

Why not have a go at our relaxation quiz and see if you know how to relax. All the answers to these questions can be found in the advice and resources section of our website >

Relaxation quiz and competition

1. Which of the following is an example of immobile relaxation?

  • A  Sleeping  
  • B  Meditation

2. How do physical relaxation methods work?

  • A  They occupy the mind so that it is temporarily relieved from stressors.
  • B  They tire us out so that we're too tired to think about our worries.

3.  Which of the following is an example of physical relaxation?

  • A  Tai chi  
  • B  Competitive sport

4. Which of following statements is based on mindfulness practices?

  • A  Happiness lies in the present.
  • B  It is is important to reflect on past experiences to become more mindful.

5. Mindfulness is a practice that can help you feel less stressed. Where does mindfulness stem from?

  • A  It was developed by psychologists a decade ago as an antidote to modern day life.
  • B  It stems from ancient Budhist practices.

Enter our competition!

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of the 224 page book 'Practical Mindfulness - A Step-by-step Guide' visit and like our First Psychology Scotland Facebook page and comment with your answers, e.g. A, A, B, B, B.  Good luck!

The winner will be chosen at random from all the correct entries received by 11 December 2016. A copy of the book will be posted out to the lucky winner at a UK address provided by them during week commencing 12 December 2016. 

Saturday, 3 December 2016

How to find the perfect gift

So you've got Black Friday and Cyber Monday out of the way and still scratching your head about what to buy for your nearest and dearest? If you need some pointers on how to obtain the perfect gift, then read on...

According to recent research carried out on behalf of the department store Debenhams by Professor Karen Pine, we can get it right every time if we apply some basic principles to the gift buying process.


The first step to getting a gift that fits the bill is to really listen to the messages the recipient is giving you. People often give out information about their likes and dislikes without realising, for example, they may often say how cold they feel, or that a band is playing nearby, or they may be talking about the great gift they are going to buy for someone else and why. These are all clues (some more subtle than others) about what they may like themselves.


In addition to listening, really watch what makes the recipient happy. Which websites do they browse, which tv programmes to they enjoy, what do they gravitate towards when you're out shopping, which shop windows do they stop at and what are they looking at and which shops do they go inside? These are big clues about what they like - particularly if they return to something several times.


Putting some effort into obtaining the perfect gift often goes a long way. If you have searched high and low to get the perfect jumper in their favourite colour it will be obvious to them. If you picked up a box of chocolates while doing the supermarket shopping that will also be obvious.

The more effort you put in to obtaining a gift that reflects the person you're buying for, the greater the likelihood that it will be loved! And remember, sometimes quite simple gifts can be customised with a bit of effort. So for example, a photo frame in itself is unlikely to go down well, however taking the time to print out their favourite photo or taking a photo they would like to fit the frame shows that you've put some real thought and effort into the gift and is likely to be a real winner!


Think about the receiver and what they might feel when opening your gift. Try not to get too caught up in the cost of the gift as research suggests that while givers worry about this, receivers tend to think more about the effort and thought that has gone into a gift.

A word of caution: don't simply buy your loved one something that YOU like. This is actually very common because we like to think that our friends and family like the same things as us. This is not always the case, so make sure that you've taken the time to properly listen and observe to ensure you don't fall down this trap!

Generosity is good for you!

Remember -  generosity in all forms (be it volunteering time, giving gifts, donating money, etc) strengthens our bonds with others and makes us feel more connected socially - both of these are really important for our mental and physical health.

Many rules about giving and receiving and the appropriateness of gifts exist in our culture and both giving and receiving gifts can surprisingly create anxiety in others. Applying the simple principles above can really help make giving and receiving a joyous experience for all.

And being generous has been shown to bring health and happiness to the giver - perhaps something to remember when you're pounding the streets looking for the perfect gifts this Christmas!

Friday, 2 December 2016

Why we spend so much - the emotional side to spending money and how we can get trapped

Now we're into December, we start to field the barrage of advertisements in readiness for Christmas. The sharing of gifts is a great way to show those closest to you that you care about them and it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of glitzy presents and the latest must-have gadgets. However, according to the Citizen Advice Bureau, they helped an astonishing 350,000 people to get to grips with their debt last year alone. While excessive spending is not the only reason people end up in debt, it can be a contributory factor.

Psychologists have been studying the emotions that we feel when we buy things and have found that people tend to fit into two distinct groups. Those of us who like spending and those of us who don’t. It’s as simple as that. They then looked at the spending habits of those who spend more, to evaluate the effect that their spending habits had on their happiness.

For many, the act of buying things makes them feel good. It releases feelings of excitement, exhilaration – euphoria even. As with many other addictive behaviours, these feelings can be short-lived - especially if you can’t really afford what you’re spending money on - only to be replaced with a sense of guilt, shame or disappointment.

Tell-tale signs that you might be an emotional spender

  • Regularly buying the things you like, rather than what you need because of the buzz you get.
  • Often buying gifts for others, for no reason.
  • Basing your purchasing decisions on how you feel at that time, i.e. you’re in a good mood so treat yourself, or conversely, you feel fed up so buy something to heighten your mood.

If you can relate to these signs, getting a grip on your emotional spending needn’t be difficult, if you follow these three golden rules:

  1. Don’t buy on impulse (even if it’s in the sale)!
  2. If you didn’t set out to buy the item in question, chances are you really don’t need it. Make a deal with yourself to sleep on any impulse purchasing decisions. It’s not easy, but soon becomes second nature.
  3. Set yourself some thinking time for major purchases. Larger purchases (cars, TVs, technology) require more than an overnight review period. After a week or two of research, you can then analyse if the purchase is right for you and be able to ascertain the very best price.

Use cash as a rule – and debit cards as a fall back

The physical act of drawing money out from the bank is often enough for you to really consider your purchase. It makes the purchasing act ‘real’. For larger purchases, where you feel uncomfortable carrying cash, choose debit over credit so it leaves your account straight away.

Give yourself an impulse budget

Build some ‘me’ money into your household budget. That way if you see an absolute bargain that can’t be left on the shelf, you can make the purchase safe in the knowledge that it won’t be at the detriment of your finances. Pick an amount you feel comfortable with, then you’ll feel able to say ‘yes’ to spontaneous splurges – and the emotions it unleashes – without the associated guilt!

Remember, in some cases, emotional spending can become more than a bad habit and move onto a serious addiction. If you regularly choose shopping over spending time with your friends and family, or you feel irritable or agitated when unable to shop it could be time to review your habits and get some support

First Psychology Scotland has experienced practitioners who can work with you on understanding your reasons for spending and help you change your relationship to buying. 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Mindful breathing

December is without doubt a busy month for most people.  There are all those presents to buy, Christmas activities to do with the kids, events and parties to attend or host and the usual amount of work to squeeze into less days! It's no wonder we start to feel stressed the closer Christmas becomes. So why not aim to be more mindful this December?

Mindfulness stems from ancient practices and has become a popular antidote to modern life. It has its roots in ancient meditation practices and research has shown mindfulness to be effective for reducing stress and improving mental and physical wellbeing.

Mindful breathing is a good way to get started with mindfulness. Aim to practise the exercise below for at least five minutes each day and you should start to feel the benefits of a calmer mind.

Mindful breathing

  1. Find yourself a comfortable upright chair and sit down with your feet flat on the floor and your hands gently resting on your legs. Position yourself so that the base of your spine is gently touching the chair back.
  2. Close your eyes or direct your gaze to the floor area just in front of your feet.
  3. Sit still for a few moments and allow your body to relax and your mind to become calm.
  4. Focus on your breathing and how it feels. Think about the cool air entering your body and the warm air leaving your body and think about your abdomen rising and falling as the air enters and leaves.
  5. Breathe normally while focusing on these breathing sensations. If you find your mind wanders off, gently bring your focus back to your breathing. 
  6. After five minutes open your eyes and take in the world around you. 

Note: You may find this easier on some days than others. This is quite normal. What is important is that if your mind wanders, you gently bring it back to your breathing without judgement. You may find this happens quite a bit to begin with, but with practice you should find it easier.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Is your alcohol consumption really making you happy?

Yay! It’s WEDNESDAY afternoon – only a few more hours to go until that first glass of red wine that will help wash away all the stresses and strains of the day… Does this sound like you?

Surprisingly, according to a recent Scottish Health Survey, one in four people in Scotland drink at harmful levels (more than 14 units of alcohol a week). And other UK statistics suggest that the rest of the UK is also drinking too much. Are you are one of them! If you’re unsure, you can always check.

There are many reasons why people choose to drink alcohol and like most things, taken in moderation, it needn’t become a worry.

When asked why they drink, most people will cite one or all of the following:

"It relieves stress"

It’s true that alcohol is a sedative and as such can take the edge off any stress you are experiencing. However, it’s also a depressant and so, chances are, once the sedative effects have worn off, whatever was bothering you before will return – with knobs on!

"It makes me less shy / more confident"

Booze can act as a social enabler; lowering our inhibitions and making it easier for us to interact with other people. This is great for situations when we need to meet new people, or if we feel self-conscious in large groups. However, almost all of us can remember more than one occasion where our drinking tipped us over the edge from being the life and soul of the party, to not being able to remember how we behaved the following morning. It’s a fine line…

"It’s good for the heart"

A common fact shared by wine drinkers all over the world. There was some research that purported that drinking a small amount of red wine could have positive benefits for the heart. But – and here’s the thing – is a small amount of red wine ever really enough?

We want you to focus on just one question for a moment: do your drinking habits really make you happy? If you have to think before answering, it might be time to take a closer look at your alcohol consumption.

For this year’s alcohol awareness week, the focus is on the health impacts that regular over-drinking can have on your health. Many people believe their drinking is under control if they can get through each day without needing a drink. However, if you regularly choose drinking over other pass times and activities, this could be a warning sign.

For some people, the answer is to stop drinking altogether, but that doesn’t work for everyone – in fact, here’s an interesting article about the way we justify our behaviours to ourselves, when we know our actions are potentially harmful.

We need to be really honest about the effects alcohol has on us – and those around us. Yes, alcohol can make you feel great, but have you thought about the following potential knock on effects of alcohol?


Alcohol alters the chemistry in our brain, which leaves us more susceptible to feeling depressed. The difficulty is deciphering whether you’re drinking because you’re depressed, or if your drinking is making you feel depressed. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has produced an interesting leaflet about this topic.


Feeling anxious after an evening on the booze is quite a common side effect. It’s caused as the body breaks down the chemicals and your blood sugar levels drop. It’s not normally a major problem, but if you are someone who is prone to feeling anxious (regardless of whether you’ve been drinking or not), the effects of the alcohol will heighten your anxiety – as will certain anti-depressant drugs.


Most people believe themselves to be happy drinkers. However, we’ve already talked about the ways in which we justify our behaviour to ourselves, so here’s the reality: alcohol can also make you short tempered, self-centred and strongminded. Most family issues caused by alcohol include money problems, arguments and the inability to be ‘present’ within your family and play an active role.


Some say that the fact alcohol lowers our inhibitions means we show our true selves when we’ve been drinking. In reality what alcohol does is heighten our feelings. If we’re in a good mood, alcohol can make us feel great and we want to share this feeling with those closest to us. When we’re feeling a bit grumpy, alcohol can act as an aggressor – unmasking negative emotions - and often we share this side of ourselves with our nearest and dearest too!

For more information about alcohol awareness week, click here >

PS: Know your limits…

In January 2016, the guidance around recommended limits of alcohol was updated. The advice is to not drink more than 14 units a week and to spread these units evenly over three or more days.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

National Stress Awareness Day – how to manage stress

Although it’s fair to say that people have a higher awareness level of stress and mental health issues today than many years ago, it remains a difficult subject to broach with friends and family. It’s National Stress Awareness day TODAY and the theme of this year’s campaign, by the mental health charity Mind, is to ‘do something different’. They’ve developed a range of free resources to encourage people to make it easier to bring up the subject of stress in the workplace.

When people talk about stress they often talk about things getting on top of them; of matters manifesting themselves that feel beyond their control. However, who or what causes the stress is largely immaterial – we all have to look within ourselves to understand what we need to do during stressful times to regain our equilibrium to be able to take things in our stride.

With just one in three adults suffering from stress, anxiety and depression accessing treatment (source NHS data for 2014), self-care plays a huge role in the management of various mental health issues.

We’ve pulled together seven steps to beat stress to help you effectively manage any symptoms you may be experiencing.

Get moving

During times of stress, often the last thing you want to be doing is exercise, but it’s a medically proven stress buster. It doesn’t matter what you do – walk, jog, swim – so long as you get your heart and lungs working faster. Exercise releases endorphins which are the body’s natural sedative, which help us calm down and approach situations with greater clarity.

Get present

Meditation and mindfulness are both tried and tested ways of managing stress levels, helping us to relax. A calm, clear mind helps us to put things into perspective and develop appropriate responses that help us cope with stressful situations. A relaxed, settled mind is less anxious and copes better with stress. Our previous post on mindfulness techniques will get you started >

Get more sleep

Stress can make sleep difficult and yet it is the very thing our body needs in order to process information and help us make sense of stressful situations. Ways to induce sleep include taking a warm bath, listening to relaxing music and writing down a list of all the things that are on your mind before taking to your bed to avoid them taking over your subconscious thoughts.

Steer clear of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine

To maximise your chances of getting sleep, it’s wise to cut out the coffee, cigarettes and alcohol. These are all stimulants, and although they might make us feel better initially, the ‘come down’ we experience as our body processes them only adds to our stress.

Get talking

A problem shared is a problem halved, but more than that, talking to other people often helps us develop an alternative viewpoint that is difficult to acknowledge when we’re under stress. Friends and family are often only too happy to listen as it helps them feel more connected to you during times when you need support. Or if the problem involves those closest to you, talking to people not involved, such as work colleagues, can also help. The main thing is that you talk to someone you can trust rather than keep it all bottled up inside.

Take control

During stressful times it is easy to internalise things and over-think about the situation we’re in. Taking control of what we’re facing breaks it down into manageable chunks. We can then develop action plans and coping strategies to deal with each piece of the jigsaw, which makes even the most insurmountable stressful situations easier to tackle head-on.

Get positive

Thinking about happy memories or times when you have been successful is a great way of reducing stress. Visualisation techniques are often used by sportspeople to help them battle their nerves and compete with confidence, they’re also a way of reminding us that difficult times do pass and that life is a tapestry of good and not-so-good times.

For more information about how to keep things in perspective, we recommend the following article

We will be posting tips and podcasts throughout today on the subject of stress and how to manage it. Join us on Twitter and Facebook.

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.