Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The benefits of keeping a journal

With so much reliance on social media these days, it’s easy to lose sight of the benefits of the written word. And while blogging is growing in popularity – enabling people to share their deepest thoughts and ideas with the public at large – the self-awareness benefits of journaling could be in danger of being lost.

Keeping a journal has long been recognised as a way of building a greater self-awareness and provides an excellent tool to help us practise gratitude, both of which contribute to us leading happy, fulfilling lives.

The daily ritual of keeping a journal helps us maintain a mindful focus on the things we experience every day and encourages us to see our own lives through a different lens – enabling us to gain perspective in our otherwise hectic, busy lives.

Daily writing in a journal – even just for a few minutes – really helps us concentrate on what’s important to us. It’s therapeutic, enabling us to appreciate the positives in the everyday and supporting us as we analyse and make sense of the negative issues and events that we all encounter from time to time.

In much the same way that blogging has been shown to have positive benefits for teenagers, journaling has been found to be a great tool for improving our self-esteem and easing social anxiety. They key is to use your journal as a way of gaining a deeper understanding of your emotions and to develop a greater self-awareness. You can find out more about how negative thought patterns can cause us to feel ‘stuck’ – and what journaling can do to help us in this Psychology Today article.

When it comes to keeping a journal, there really is no right or wrong way or a one size fits all, but you may find the following guidelines helpful:

Keep your journal for yourself – just like your secret diary when you were a teenager!

If you suspect that you will be sharing what you write with others somewhere down the line, your writing won’t reflect your true self, just those aspects that you feel able to share with others. Feel free to discuss the topics that you write about with your family and friends, as you wish, but keep the written journal for your eyes only

Place some value on your journal

Set regular time aside for your writing and find yourself a private space, away from everyday distractions, so you can give it your full attention. Lots of people choose to write at the start or end of the day, but whatever works best for you, so long as it’s regular enough to become part of your daily routine.

Set some time aside to reflect on what you have written

Look beyond the words to identify your thought patterns – especially where you have a tendency to be overly negative – as this will help you put things into perspective in future. Only by reflecting on what we have written, can we shift our negative mindsets to a more positive outlook.

Friday, 5 October 2018

How to overcome loneliness

A recent study found that young people (age 16-24) feel loneliness more intensely and more often than any other age group. This might be surprising to many, as we often think of loneliness happening to us in old age. However, it has been suggested that the reason why this age group feels loneliness so intensely is because they are still finding out who they are.

More generally loneliness can come about for a number of reasons – the death of somebody significant; moving to a new location and being separated from friends and family; divorce; or it can be a symptom of an underlying issue such as depression or low self-esteem. 

Loneliness is a feeling of being alone in the world, irrespective of who’s around you. You may feel sad, misunderstood, out of the loop, and disconnected from the world. It is a state of mind which often leads people to crave company. The problem is that the mindset of loneliness often makes it harder to engage with others.

Loneliness has been linked to a number of negative mental effects including depression, increased stress levels, poor decision making, alcohol and drug use, and antisocial behaviour as well as a range of physical health issues.

However there are some things you can do to prevent loneliness.

The feeling of loneliness can be seen as an important indicator that we need to change something. Look at your life and think about what doesn’t work. Are you spending too much time indoors, do you belong to any groups, do you have a regular routine, do you make time for friends and family, do you spend too much time working, etc.

The next step is to make some changes. Often getting involved in a group with a common goal can be a great way to bond with others without being too daunting. It’s important to create some meaningful relationships in your life because ultimately, sharing meaningful experiences with others helps us feel more connected to the world, less lonely, happier and more positive about life.

How to ‘re-find’ yourself once your children leave home

It’s October. The frivolity of Fresher’s week is over and college students all across Scotland are knuckling down to their studies. If you’re the parent of a young person who has just set off on their university adventure you may well be feeling a range of emotions, as the reality of their departure sets in.

It’s common to feel at a bit of a loss when you eventually get the house back to yourself. Your home – once a noisy hub of activity – can seem very quiet and still once your children have moved on; and the relief and excitement of getting your space back can soon be replaced with boredom, loneliness and sadness if you don’t find meaningful ways of occupying your time.

Empty nest syndrome is often described as a feeling of grief that people experience once their children have left home. Parents who have spent every waking hour thinking about the needs of others can feel very vulnerable and worthless after that role is taken away from them and this can sometimes lead to relationship problems and confusion about what to do next – and who to do it with!

If you are in a relationship, the top priority once the kids have left home is to reconnect with your partner. It’s easy for our interests and goals to have shifted during the time it takes to raise a family, and relationship support organisation Relate suggests you start with a light-hearted quiz to confirm that you still have a good understanding of each other’s needs and to check if your hopes and dreams for the future remain aligned. Read more.

For more tips of how to keep the spark alive in your relationship, have a look at our previous blog post.

The next priority is to find something worthwhile to do with the time that you had previously dedicated to looking after your kids. It’s a great opportunity to embark on a journey of rediscovery and to seek new pastimes that speak to your soul and make you feel fulfilled.

Finding new things to occupy your time and energy is something you can do with or without your partner. Together, it’s about finding a new, shared interest; but new individual hobbies and activities will also have a positive effect on your home life and relationships. Learning new skills for yourself and uncovering new passions and interests will make you happier and give you a fresh topic of conversation within your relationship.

The good news is there is no shortage to the range of opportunities and activities that are out there for you can embark on, without it taking too much effort (or money). Here are just a few suggestions to get you thinking:

Give time

Volunteering your time to help others is a good way of recreating a sense of purpose and usefulness when your home circumstanes change. As well as sharing the experience you already have, volunteering also offers opportunities to learn new skills, many offer training too.

Health matters

Now is your time – and that means it’s the perfect opportunity to start that healthy eating plan you’ve been talking about for years, and look at an exercise plan to complement your current regime and living habits too.

Get out and about

If you've always dreamed of travelling the world – now is the time to do it. Take that trip. Visiting new places broadens the mind and gives you a sense of the wider universe which is great for your mental well-being. It's also great for re-bonding experiences with your partner.

Cook and eat

When you really think about it, cooking for a family – and kids in particular – is a great lesson in restraint. Picking meals that everyone likes and choosing the ingredients that everyone likes. Now is the time to expand your cooking skills and try new things.


When your kids are away at college or university, there’s a temptation to keep the house just as it was when they left it. This doesn’t help you to move forward though. Use this time to declutter your home – and your life. We’ve got some great tips on decluttering in our previous blog posts.

As with any new phase in life, it can take time to adjust when your kids leave home. Remember, after so long looking after other people, it’s time to focus on you and give yourself what you need to nourish your body and soul. That can only benefit the rest of your family too…

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Practising thankfulness - why it can help you achieve a more positive life

It’s all too easy to get bogged down in the hustle and bustle of daily life and lose sight of what’s important in our quest to get through each day. With World Gratitude Day just around the corner on 21st September, we take a look at how we can practise thankfulness and the benefits of doing do.

Every little helps

Being thankful is not just about celebrating the big successes. Gratitude is about recognising and appreciating even the smallest of things in life – like nature and changes in the weather. Throughout the day, take the time to acknowledge the little milestones and victories that you experience.

Find gratitude in your challenges

Thankfulness can also be found in the challenges we have faced; they have after all shaped who we are today. Even in the darkest of situations there is usually something we can be grateful for. Spending some time to review negative or difficult situations from the past can help us identify the elements of our lives that we are truly thankful for.

Be mindful

Spend just five minutes of each day living in the present. Find a quiet spot and think about the things in your day that you are grateful for. Consider each in turn and examine what it is about them that make you happy and why you are thankful to have them in your life. Getting into the habit of doing this every day, helps to 'rewire' the mind to focus on the small elements of life that make us fulfilled and whole, rather than constantly focusing on the big picture.

Give some of yourself to others

Many people find true gratitude in their own lives when they give their time freely to others. Volunteering in the local community can help keep us centred and make us more thankful for what we have ourselves. Helping others really does help us just as much.

Start a journal

Some people find it beneficial to start a gratitude journal, a place to jot down positive thoughts and images of the small things we hold dear in our lives. By writing things down or depicting them through imagery, we make them real and give them a value. Keeping a journal of all that we are thankful for helps us to focus our attention on the things that are important to us.

Practising gratitude is a way of reprogramming the brain to notice happiness in the everyday, rather than the constant quest for bigger and better. Studies show that it can take as little as eight weeks to change our habits to effect positive impact on our mindset. The brain is a wonderful tool and  deliberately changing its thought patterns can help us go through life with greater empathy and a deeper happiness.

Start now - think of one thing that you are grateful for and think about why this is. Does it make your life easier, make you feel a particular way, give you hope for the future, help you feel more in control? There are lots of reason why you may be grateful for something/someone in your life.

For five more ways to practice gratitude in your everyday life, have a look at this blog post from Psychology Today and this article from the Huffington Post.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

How to spot the signs of stress in children

Much as we don’t like to think about it, stress can affect all of us – young and old. In today’s modern society, the pressures that we place on our children can cause them to feel overwhelmed and stressed, even though they may not know the words to accurately label their emotions.

A little bit of stress is natural and can actually act as a driver to boost performance and help us build resilience. However, in young people stress can be a scary emotion to work through and the way they learn to deal with the stresses they face can affect the way they think, act and feel long into adulthood.

In younger children, learning to form relationships with others and becoming less reliant on our parents can cause anxiety; for school-aged children the constant hamster wheel of school work and extra-curricular activities leaves little time for relaxation, which can be tiring and stressful.

Alongside these pressures, we as parents are often under a fair amount of stress ourselves which, like it or not, our children can pick up on. Issues such as hearing us talk about troubles at work, worrying about a relative's illness, or financial matters can all weight heavy on young people's minds.

A child’s own ability to cope with stressful situations builds as they grow older, but it’s important that we're able to recognise the signs of stress when they're younger, so as to help them navigate through their feelings and work with them to develop appropriate coping mechanisms. Sometimes children may not realise that what they are feeling is stress. However, often they will present physical symptoms which may include some of the following.

Changes in eating habits

Eating more or less than usual, especially the wrong types of food.

Headache and stomach pains

The odd headache or tummy upset should not be cause for concern, but reoccurrence may be a sign of stress.

Nightmares or waking in the night 

Sleep disturbances are a sign that the brain is busy, children may also start to bed wet or require night-time toilet trips.

Stressed children may find it hard to control their emotions, may display aggressive or stubborn behaviour, or may even start to withdraw from family / school activities that they’ve previously enjoyed. You can find out more about the signs and symptoms of childhood stress in this article by the American Psychological Association.

As parents it can be upsetting to see our child going through a difficult period in their lives, especially when they’re finding it hard to engage with us about it. That said, there is much we can do to provide the safe and secure environment needed to help them process their stress and build the resilience they need to cope.

Keep to your usual routines

Young people under stress find routines comforting. Sticking to your usual routines can have a calming effect, even if the child chooses not to engage with the activities on offer.

Do as I do

Children will mimic the behaviour of the adults they see around them and your child will look to you to replicate how you yourself deal with stress. Try to set a positive role model and handle your own stress in positive, healthy ways.

Make them feel wanted

Positive self-esteem helps children to combat feelings of stress, so if you feel your child is struggling, do what you can to build them up and praise them. Encourage them to take part in activities that they enjoy and are good at to help build up positive emotions to combat the stress.

More info about how to spot and deal with stress and anxiety in children >

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

How to help your child develop resilience to overcome adversity

As adults we become well versed in dealing with the trials and tribulations that life throws our way. However, try as we might to shield them, as parents there is little we can do to protect our children from life’s ups and downs. We can however do a great deal to help prepare them and to aid their development of resilience - a quality they’ll need in order to lead a fulfilling and happy life.

Raising resilient children is about providing them with the tools they'll need to respond to the issues, problems and challenges they'll face throughout their childhood and into adolescence.

With news of mental health issues in children seemingly on the rise, anything we can do to help them deal with stress and promote a positive mental outlook – even when things don’t go their way – can only help them as they navigate their way into adulthood.

So what do resilient children look like?

They’re the ones who seem to bounce back when things don’t go to plan. They’re the children who appear to be able to manage their emotions when faced with challenges and don’t let it put them off reaching for their goals. As this article from Psychology Today points out though, resilience is more than outward appearances, it’s more to do with a mindset - an understanding that to fail, is to grow. It’s quite a sophisticated outlook, so what exactly can we do to ensure our own children build the resilience they need to succeed in life?

There are a number of things we can do as parents that demonstrate what resilience looks like and encourage the resilient behaviours in our children. We have to be resilient in order to build resilience in others.

Use positive self-talk

Resilient people talk positively. They use phrases such as ‘you can do this’ and ‘you’ve got this’, rather than focus on what went wrong or what you can’t do. Look at how you yourself deal with adversity and about the language you use when faced with unexpected issues. Children will mimic the behaviours seen at home, so use positive language and remain hopeful, rather than dwell on the negatives.

Know how to manage their emotions

Resilient people are not afraid of showing their feelings or articulating them to others. It is by owning our feelings that we can work through them and determine a positive course of action to address issues we face. It’s fine to be upset, or angry, or frustrated – but use these to propel you forward, rather than hold you back. Encourage your children to talk about how they feel so that they understand how to identify and manage their emotions.

Are not afraid of change

Resilient people are not afraid to work around their plans when faced with unexpected events or interruptions. They are eager to try new things and – while they may appear disorganised – they are just happy using a trial and error approach to their daily life. Schedules are great – especially in today’s busy world – but we do have a tendency to over plan our lives and this does nothing to prepare our children for what to do if the unexpected happens.

What we need to remind ourselves is that no one – child or adult – can be expected to be resilient all of the time. That’s unrealistic. So if your child breaks down when they don’t make the football team or a favourite toy breaks, that’s a natural reaction. What sets resilient children apart is their ability to process these events and successfully move forward.

You can find more ways to develop resilience to help beat stress by visiting Mind's website.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

How to manage the first week back at school

It seems to have gone flying by, but the summer holidays are drawing to a close and the kids are going back to school. Indeed some children have already gone back. So what can you do to make the transition easier for them?

Early to bed, early to rise

Late nights may have been the order of the day in the holidays, but getting back to routine again can come as a real shock to the system. While children may have had the opportunity to get up late in the holidays to make up for late nights, the school day demands an early start and a clear head. Lack of sleep leads to irritability, non-compliance and hyper-sensitivity so it's important to get them back into their usual sleep pattern and routine as soon as possible. If your kids are struggling to go to bed at night after going back to school, get them outside and using their energy so they're tired and more likely to sleep earlier. The sooner you are back into the routine the easier it will be for them.

Enable and empower your children to do things for themselves

Holidays are usually a highly organised affair. All we expect of our children is for them to turn up and have fun! Sometimes, getting back to school and taking more responsibility for themselves again can be quite a transition. Giving them back more control over their own lives before and during their first week back can really help them adjust. Ask them to choose their own clothes and sort out their own laundry as well as helping with other household chores so that they are prepared to take over responsibility for themselves at school too. Enablement and empowerment are two life skills that should be encouraged and reinforced even during the holidays.

Keep communicating

We appreciate that the last thing your child wants to talk about when they are away from school is school. However keeping the lines of communication open during the holidays and first few weeks back can really help to prepare your child mentally for the weeks ahead and gives them an opportunity to discuss any concerns or anxieties they may have. Try and support your children's friendships too by arranging meet ups with friends outside of school.

The end of the summer can be a stressful time for children - and their parents - but for different reasons. For parents it's the return to the daily juggle between school, home and work and sometimes, in our eagerness to 'get back to normal', we can fail to spot the signs of anxiety or nervousness in our kids. Make sure they retain some of the 'freedom' of the holidays and give them some space to readapt to their school routine while also supporting them to explore and express their feelings.

And if you're getting your child ready to start school for the first time, Pacey, the professional association for childhood and early years, has come up with some handy factsheets.