Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Taking care of yourself when you’re caring for others

Being a carer for someone who suffers from a mental or physical illness comes with both advantages and disadvantages. Although care giving is generally an act of love and can be extremely rewarding, it can, over time, have a negative impact on your own wellbeing if you don’t take care of yourself.

  • Juggling a full-time job with caring can be physically and mentally exhausting.
  • It can also put a strain on your personal relationships.
  • Caregiving can be a cause of financial concern as you might have to contribute to any costs, especially when it’s a close family member.
  • You neglect your own wellbeing as you have less time to spend doing the things you enjoy. 

Because you are spending the majority of your time thinking about others, it becomes difficult to make self care a priority. Over time, this can cause stress and anxiety which can result in total burnout or symptoms of depression. But before we can take care of others, it’s vital to ensure you are looking after yourself first. You might believe that this is selfish but it’s critical for you to be the best carer that you can be.

Tips for self-care

  1. Spend at least 30 minutes each day doing something for yourself, whether that’s meditation, taking a relaxing bath, watching your favourite programme. or going for a walk.
  2. Accept help from others whenever you can. This doesn’t mean that you have to rely on people all of the time but now and again accepting help can really take some of the load off and let you recharge.
  3. Break your routine sometimes. Routine can be really positive but too much of a strict routine can also be stressful and tiring.
  4. Often carers shut off from their own feelings and emotions because they believe that they have to be strong at all times, but this can cause a build up of stress and can result in exhaustion. Speak with a close friend, family member or health professional if you’re feeling overwhelmed and tired as this can be a great outlet that will relieve some of your stresses and worries.
  5. Make time for family and friends so that you can laugh together and enjoy fun activities – after all it is said that laughter is the best medicine.
  6.  Practise deep breathing and relaxation whenever you have a moment. When we are so busy and stressed out, we often forget to breathe properly and release the tension in our shoulders. It’s been proven in lots of studies that deep breathing techniques can help us manage stress and reduce feelings of anxiety. 

An article published by Harvard Business Review, looked at research into breathing exercises and the effect on reducing stress. Following a stressful task, a group who had performed breathing exercises prior to the task were “not only in a more positive emotional state, but were also more able to think clearly and effectively perform the task at hand.” This just goes to show the importance of taking care of yourself before taking care of others.

Further information

For more tips on looking after yourself and giving yourself the compassion and care you deserve, check out our our FREE pdf booklet Understanding and Learning How to Be Self-Compassionate – A Workbook and Guide

Monday, 16 May 2022

Managing parents' expectations

Trying to find a compromise between our parents’ expectations and our own life goals when we’re growing up, particularly during our teenage years, can sometimes be a struggle. Perhaps they have certain ideas of the route you should go down, whether that’s college, university or a specific job path, but your ideas don’t match up to theirs. Having a difference of opinion certainly isn’t uncommon but when you feel as though you’re underachieving or you’re a disappointment to your parents, it can have a serious impact on your mental wellbeing. In an article published by the Journal of Adolescent Health, it was found that “high parental expectations, emphasis on academic achievement, or feelings of not meeting parents’ expectations are associated with worse mental health.”

While we all want to please our parents and live up to their expectations, it shouldn’t come at a cost of negatively impacting our self-confidence or trying to be something we’re not. There are many different types of expectations you might be faced with, and not all of them will necessarily relate to your career or education. Maybe your parents expect you to dress or act a certain way, or maybe they have religious beliefs they want you to follow. Whatever the expectations are, if they are making you unhappy, anxious, stressed or even depressed, you should try to find a way of addressing the issue.

Ways to manage expectations

Firstly, it’s important to remind yourself that just because you don’t have the same views or expectations as your parents, this doesn’t make you a bad person.

  1. Make a note of all your strengths and practise positive self-talk or positive affirmations. By doing this regularly, it can increase your self-confidence and reduce any feelings of not being good enough.
  2. Try to understand your parent’s expectations from their perspective, after all they do have many years’ experience and often only want the best for you. Perhaps they are more aware of any pitfalls ahead and want to prevent you from making similar mistakes that they made when they were younger. 
  3. Write down the things that make you truly happy and the kind of expectations you have for yourself. Find some time to sit down and talk to your parents about their expectations and how they are making you feel. Try to stay calm and tell them about your own expectations. By having a calm discussion, listening and letting each other air your thoughts, you might find that you come to a better understanding.
  4. If you are still struggling to agree and it is impacting your mental health, remember that, ultimately, it’s your own happiness that is important. Once your parents see that you are happy within yourself, they might begin to ease off and respect you more as an individual.

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

How gardening can help improve mental health

As well as spending time outdoors soaking up the vitamin D and fresh air, gardening has a whole heap of benefits and natural healing powers that can significantly improve your mental health and wellbeing. All your green-fingered hard work will be rewarded with so much more than a pretty garden.

It improves mood

Connecting with nature, from listening to birdsong to inhaling the sweet scent of flowers, can make you feel calm and relaxed, and it’s also a good way to distract your mind from overthinking and negative thoughts. By practising mindfulness and savouring every moment of being in the garden, whether that’s weeding or watering the plants, you’ll feel more in tune with nature. Simply being outside also comes with its health benefits as the Vitamin D gained from exposure to sunlight can lower blood pressure and strengthen the immune system.

It boosts self-esteem

As humans, it’s not only in our nature to want to be cared for but also for us to nurture others. To be relatively successful in your gardening efforts, you need to take good care of the plants and flowers that you grow in order for them to flourish. By nurturing them and seeing the results of your labour, you’ll start to feel a wonderful sense of achievement, which in turn will boost your self-esteem and confidence.

It reduces feelings of stress and anxiety

Combined with enjoying the peace and natural beauty of any garden, gardening is a great stress buster. As well as the physical act of gardening, being among nature and the great outdoors can make you feel calmer, which will ultimately lessen your symptoms of anxiety and stress.

It improves attention span

If you struggle with concentration, by regularly paying attention to one activity at a time, such as gardening, without any distractions, you can gradually improve your attention span. Because of this, gardening can offer fantastic natural therapy for anyone with ADHD of other conditions that make it difficult to focus.

It provides exercise

Garden activities such as mowing the lawn, weeding, raking or digging are great forms of physical exercise and are often more enjoyable than going to the gym. A study undertaken by the John W. Brick Foundation found that regular physical activity could improve symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.

It reduces feelings of loneliness

Often when we’re pottering around in our own garden, at a community garden or at an allotment, we’re introduced to like-minded people who share a love for gardening. This is a great way to meet other people and get chatting about your hobby. Alternatively, you could join online gardening communities to help you feel connected and prevent feelings of loneliness.

Monday, 25 April 2022

Coping with test anxiety / mind blanks

As exam season gets underway in Scotland, there will be many young people feeling under immense pressure and fearing that they are not good enough or that they may mess things up. 

Most of us have experienced the chilling feeling of going into an exam and our mind going blank. This is what we call a 'freeze' response which is part of our body's system to protect us when we feel threatened. "We may feel anxious, pumped up, unable to relax and struggle to focus and the freeze response kicks in," says Professor Ewan Gillon, counselling psychologist and clinical director of First Psychology. Here are some of Ewan's tips for coping with mind blanks and exam/test anxiety. 

Leading up to the exam

Prepare by doing practice questions and plans. This will make the exam situation feel more familiar and less anxiety provoking. Learn how to recognise what the question is asking for and how to formulate a plan to tackle the question. It's amazing how many people fail exams because they waffled about something insignificant rather than answering the question. Give yourself 5 minutes' planning time for each question so that you can plan what you are going to cover in your answer. 

Before the exam – on the day

Give yourself plenty of time to get organised. Ensure you have everything you need, get to bed on time the night before so you have a good sleep, have a good breakfast, hydrate and get there on time! Don't stress yourself out by being late. It does not give you a good start to your exam and can lead you to panic. 

During the exam

Get settled and organised and listen to any instructions you are given before the exam. Turn over the paper when you are instructed to do so. You may feel anxious and think that you can't answer any of the questions. This is not unusual and it won't be true. Take 15-20 deep breaths while thinking about something that makes you feel happy and relaxed. You could think of your favourite calm place, a programme you like to watch, some of your favourite music, etc. Then return to the paper and read the questions carefully. Decide what you are going to answer and in what order. It's always best to get started with the easiest questions first to get your mind into gear and feeling a bit less stressed. Leave the hardest to last, but ensure you leave enough time to attempt them.

Once you have decided what you're going to do first, write down some of the words that you remember about the topic. Then read the question again and use the words and anything else that springs to mind to write a plan. Then get writing!

It can be easy to get sidetracked when in the exam room. Seeing other people working away with apparently no worries can be daunting and anxiety provoking. Remember, you do not have any idea what is going on in their heads or the quality of their writing. Try to focus on your own experience and let other people get on with theirs.

If you have another mind blank, do the breathing trick again and try to identify four words that can help you start your plan. More will come to you as you start planning. 

After the exam

It's tempting when you're on exam leave, to hardly emerge from your room. Make a real effort to do something to get out and about from time to time. Plan short and long breaks and write them in your diary. Some examples are: take a walk or a cycle, go to the gym, get a coffee with a friend, meet up with a group of friends, get your hair cut, etc.

Your brain cannot work tirelessly for hours at a time. Break times not only allow your brain a chance to digest the information that you have been working on but they also provide a sense of perspective and help you keep in touch with your friends and other elements of your life too. These are all important for overall wellbeing!

Further information

If you're a parent or guardian of a young person who is currently preparing for exams, sign up for our free webinar 'Supporting Young People During Exam Season' taking place on Thursday 28 April from 12-12.45pm BST. Find out more and book your FREE place today!

Thursday, 14 April 2022

Ways to empty the stress bucket

If you’re not familiar with the term ‘stress bucket’, it’s a metaphorical bucket that fills up with different types of stresses that you carry around with you and was developed by Dr Douglas Turkington and Professor Alison Brabban in 2002. By identifying what our stressors are, we can create coping strategies and ways to empty the bucket.

There are many things in life that can create stress such as work, financial pressures, health concerns or relationship issues. Each person will have their own individual types of stress and there are different symptoms that can arise, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Feeling of overwhelm
  • Poor sleep
  • Change in diet
  • Headaches
  • Lack of concentration
  • Heart palpitations
  • Stomach problems
  • Poor memory
  • Anger

Ways we can empty our stress bucket

As more stress enters our lives, the bucket keeps on filling up, so we need to put strategies into place to reduce our stress levels.

Firstly, we need to identify our sources of stress. Make a list of everything that is causing you worry. This may seem difficult at first because we often push our troubles to the back of our mind, but it’s important to confront our fears so we can spot the triggers.

Think of ways in which you can reduce your stress. Imagine each coping strategy is a hole in your bucket and as you practice them, the levels in the bucket reduce. Some great exercises include:

  • Breathing exercises, particularly the box breathing method. As documented by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, studies show that “diaphragmatic breathing is an effective relaxation technique in complementary and alternative medicine, with beneficial effects on physical and mental health”.
  • Create healthy sleep patterns by going to bed and waking up at a reasonable time. By keeping the times consistent, our bodies are more likely to adapt to the routine.
  • By eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly our bodies are in a much better condition to enable us to deal with stress. 
  • Connect with close friends and family or a healthcare professional and talk about how you’re feeling. Just by opening up and speaking about our problems we can release some of the stress.
  • Enjoy some ‘me time’ so you can properly switch off from work and other sources of stress. Whether it’s a trip to the cinema, a long walk in the countryside or a hot bath listening to your favourite music, these activities that make you feel good will release endorphins into your brain and help you cope with stress.
  • Practise gratitude daily as this will train your brain to think more positively and be more mentally prepared to tackle the things that make you feel stressed.

Once you put your coping strategies into action, you’ll start to feel more equipped to deal with your sources of stress. For example, if your workload is causing you concern, don’t be afraid to speak with your manager to see if there is any way that they can help. Alternatively, if you have money worries, consider asking for a pay rise, apply for a higher paid job or find ways to cut back on your spending.

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

The best foods for managing stress

It goes without saying that we need food to survive but what we eat also plays a significant role in both our physical and mental health. Our bodies need a wide variety of vitamins and minerals found in nutritious foods to ensure our brain and body function properly.

Not only does the food that we eat impact our mood, which can also be a trigger for stress and other mental health issues, but when we’re suffering from stress it can also affect our food choices. It’s important that we make the correct food choices to relieve any symptoms of stress.

These are some of the reasons why we might not always opt for the best types of food:
  • Busy lifestyles mean we have less time to prepare and cook nutritious meals and the temptation to snack on unhealthy foods or buy takeaways and convenience foods becomes much greater.
  • A lack of understanding about nutritious food and its benefits means we might not always make the right meal choices.
  • Mental or physical illness can prevent us from prioritising our health.
  • When we’re feeling stressed, we tend to eat foods that are comforting and although they might give us a short-term boost, they can actually exacerbate our symptoms. 

To maintain optimum mental wellbeing and ease any symptoms of stress, there are certain foods that you should keep to a minimum:
  • Sugars and carbohydrates that are found in chocolate, biscuits, sweets, cakes and sugary drinks can increase blood sugar levels and intensify stress and anxiety.
  • Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea and energy drinks are stimulants that can make you feel even more anxious or stressed.
  • Alcohol not only acts as a depressant, but it can also affect our sleep.
  • Processed foods are packed with sugar, fat and salt which can lead to heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure as well as impacting our mental health.

Foods to manage stress

Natural foods that are packed with minerals and vitamins are great for combatting symptoms of stress and boosting mood. Also, try and eat foods that will support your adrenal glands - these glands work extra hard when we're stressed so supporting them can help keep you balanced. 

  • Vitamin C which is found in most fresh fruit and vegetables is stored in the adrenal gland and used to make cortisol (a hormone produced by the body when we're stressed). 
  • Magnesium is an important mineral that metabolises cortisol and helps both the mind and body to relax. It can become depleted when we're stressed and this can lead to symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, and make us more susceptible to stress. Magnesium-rich foods include: bananas, spinach, avocados, broccoli, dark chocolate, and pumpkin seeds. 
  • Bvitamins can help support the adrenal cortex and hormone production. Good sources include dark leafy vegetables such as kale and Savoy cabbage, wholegrain, nuts and seeds. 
  • Protein is present in many foods and it helps keep us full for longer. It is therefore essential for controlling blood sugar levels and preventing mood swings which can stress and deplete our body. Protein rich foods include: eggs, lentils, almonds, chicken, peanuts, turkey, quinoa, tuna and salmon. 

Further reading

For more about stress and how to manage it, download our free pdf booklet >

Thursday, 10 March 2022

How to spot anxiety and ways to calm it

When anxiety rears its head, it can have a seriously damaging effect on your mental wellbeing and can seep into many aspects of your life. From being unable to perform simple daily tasks to heart palpitations and brain fog, the symptoms of anxiety can be really frightening.

Causes of anxiety

There are many causes of anxiety which can differ from person to person, and it can be triggered at any point in our lives.

  • Physical or emotional abuse
  • The death of someone close to you
  • Work issues
  • Money worries
  • Health concerns
  • Some types of food and drink such as caffeine and sugary foods
  • World events

Because anxiety can often creep up on us, it’s important to recognise the symptoms early on before it leads to more serious physical health problems.

Signs of anxiety

If you haven’t experienced anxiety before, there are several symptoms you can watch out for so that you’re able to recognise it and take action.

  • Feelings of dread
  • Lack of concentration or having ‘brain fog’
  • Feeling on edge and restless
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Muscle aches
  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Digestive problems
  • Irregular sleep

How to calm feelings of anxiety

The most notable symptoms of anxiety, and in particular anxiety attacks, include an increased heart rate and breathing. Because this causes the blood flow to your brain, your body reacts as it prepares you to cope with an extreme situation. But by putting healthy habits into place, it’s possible to reduce the symptoms of anxiety over time.

  • Avoid caffeine and sugary foods as these can trigger anxiety
  • Avoid alcohol as this is not only a depressant but it can also make you feel anxious once its effects wear off as it reduces the levels of serotonin in your brain.
  • Write down or speak to someone about what is making you feel anxious. A study published by Harvard Medical School shows that expressive writing can help deal with 'traumatic or stressful life experience'.
  • Use lavender oil or perfume to keep you feeling calm. Lavender’s sweet scent has relaxing properties and is often used in yoga and meditation. Other scents that people commonly find calming are ocean scents and cut grass, so if you live near the sea or a park, you may be able to indulge in a spot of aromatherapy and get outdoors at the same time.
  • Practise activities such as mindfulness, yoga and meditation to help you clear your mind, relax and switch off.
  • Turn off your phone and do something that gives you enjoyment. Keeping the mind occupied with something other than thoughts about your worries acts in the same way as meditation. It's like a mini-break for the mind.
  • Talk to someone who understands how you’re feeling as they can give you words of encouragement and positivity when you need it most.
  • Do some form of exercise as this can help burn off any of that nervous energy and restlessness caused by anxiety.
  • Take a break and go somewhere new. When we visit an unfamiliar place, our brain is so busy taking in all the new sights that it focuses less on our daily worries.

Further information