Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Eating your way to sound health

Although it’s well known that our diet can greatly affect our physical health by strengthening our immune system and reducing the risk of diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, it’s equally as important for keeping our mental health, wellbeing and mood in good shape too.

Studies have shown that a poor diet can increase our risk of depression and anxiety. The Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine looked at trials that were undertaken to discover the effects of dietary improvement on symptoms of depression and anxiety and found evidence that mood disorders and depression may be impacted by diet.

Without a nutritious, balanced diet, the body is not only prone to disease, it can also lead to fatigue, lethargy and low mood. What we eat can also determine our weight and if we find ourselves either underweight or overweight, this can in turn affect our self-worth, confidence and social interactions - thus increasing our chances of becoming anxious or depressed.

Foods that can help improve our mental wellbeing

'Five-a-day' has become a much-used phrase in the modern world and encourages us to eat the correct portions of fruit and vegetables every day. But there’s also a wide range of other foods that can be beneficial to our physical and mental health.

Berries

All types of berries are full of fibre and antioxidants that can improve our memory and reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Dark chocolate

Although it should be eaten in moderation, dark chocolate has antioxidants and stimulants that are extremely powerful and help focus our minds, raise concentration levels and lift our mood.

Fish

There’s a reason why fish is known as 'brain food'; it's rich in the fatty acid omega 3, EPA and DHA, which all play an important part in our diet and are fantastic for the brain. DHA produces serotonin in the brain and can help us cope with stress but if our levels of DHA are too low, it can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia and memory loss.

Wholegrains

These wonderful little grains are packed with complex carbohydrates that slowly release glucose into the blood, keeping the brain alert and helping us to concentrate and focus.

Eggs

Not only are eggs high in protein, which helps repair the tissue in our body, they contain choline and B vitamins, which are great for brain development and improving our memory.

Water

By drinking adequate amounts of water daily, we can prevent fatigue, regulate our moods and improve our cognitive skills.

Pumpkin seeds

Rich in zinc, magnesium and vitamin B, pumpkin seeds are great stress busters and can also improve our memory.


When our brains and bodies are in shape, we find that we sleep better and have more energy, our overall mood is lifted and we feel more alert, so it’s vital that we try to enjoy a healthy, balanced diet that will assist both our physical health and mental wellbeing.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Using creativity to help fight depression

When we lead hectic lives and feel the need to live up to the increasing demands of society, it can be easy to neglect our mental wellbeing. Daily pressures and responsibilities can be a major cause for stress, anxiety and depression - but what can we do to step off the metaphorical hamster wheel, re-evaluate and put ourselves first?

We should try and listen to what our inner voice is telling us and recognise the signs that our spirit and mind is longing for enrichment. Often, we put ourselves last and forget that we too need care and attention.

The effects of creativity

Research suggests that creative activities not only improve brain function, but they can reduce anxiety, boost our mood, slow our heart rate and, ultimately, make us feel happier too. When we immerse ourselves in creative exercises, the feel-good chemical, dopamine, is released into the brain, which can greatly improve our sense of wellbeing. Back in 2001, researcher Eric Jensen wrote a book called “Arts with Brain in Mind” which examined the effects of the creative arts on our brain.

As well as helping to improve our wellbeing, creativity can also be used as an outlet to release repressed feelings and thoughts. It can give us the strength to break down personal barriers and take us on a wonderful journey of self-discovery.

Creative activities

There are lots of creative activities that allow us the freedom to express ourselves, taking our mind off our present troubles and building us back up as individuals so that we can re-balance and refocus our mind.

Music

There are several aspects of music that can act as a powerful tool in improving our wellbeing. Not only can the melodies and rhythms alter or compliment our mood, very often the lyrics resonate with us on a level that makes us feel less alone in the world. Sometimes, just knowing that other people have similar feelings or thoughts to us can make us feel more connected.

Be Brain Fit has some interesting information on how music can affect the brain, reduce stress and improve your mood.

Writing

Whether it’s writing poetry, a story or song lyrics, this creative exercise can be extremely therapeutic. By putting our inner thoughts down on paper, we can express ourselves with less vulnerability. We don’t have to create a masterpiece or even show anyone what we have created, but writing can help us feel more liberated and at peace with ourselves.

Drama

Drama is a great way to release and express our emotions. By pretending to be someone else, we can step outside of ourselves and escape niggling thoughts that can lead to us feeling lonely, frustrated or depressed. Through using acting techniques, we can rid ourselves of negative emotions that we might not otherwise release.

Art

There are many forms of art such as painting, drawing, photography or sculpture and each can be restorative on our mental wellbeing. As well as giving us the opportunity to express our creative side and delve into our subconscious minds, art can be a calming pastime that can help us to relax.

The BBC runs an annual event called The Get Creative Festival which encourages wellbeing through creative activities. The nine-day event is a wonderful celebration of the arts, crafts and creativity.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

How to keep the spark alive in your relationship

It’s almost inevitable in long-term relationships that the elusive spark you once had will start to flicker at some point. That initial excitement, feeling of butterflies and insatiable passion you felt in the beginning will begin to fade, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

In order to keep the spark alive in your relationship, it takes a conscious effort from both sides. The pressures of work, money and children can all be contributing factors and we may have fallen into familiar habits that can lead to a lack of romance and intimacy in a relationship.

The good news is, there are many ways we can re-ignite that spark and fall in love all over again. And what better day than National Kissing Day to explore them.

Communication is key


Talking with your partner on a regular basis creates a strong bond and emotional connection. It’s important to express our thoughts and feelings to break down barriers and prevent any resentment from building up over time. Communication also encourages a level of trust that is vital to make a successful relationship.

Personal space


Before we can give all of ourselves emotionally and physically, we must feel confident in ourselves. By allowing each other personal space to enjoy individual activities and social time with friends, we feel more fulfilled and able to give more of ourselves to our partner. When enjoying time apart, it’s important to not check up on each other every five minutes as this can cause feelings of mistrust.

Dress to impress


Living hectic lives can sometimes lead to neglecting our appearance and especially when we’ve been in a long-term relationship, we tend not make as much of an effort as we might have done at the start. Not only will you feel great about yourself when you put on your favourite clothes and pay a visit to the hairdressers or beauty salon, it will likely remind your partner why they were attracted to you in the first place.

Plan surprises


Part of the reason you could find the spark in your relationship fizzling out is because you’ve forgotten how to have fun together. An element of surprise not only shows that your partner is thinking about you and wants to do something special for you, it also opens up an opportunity to enjoy some excitement together. Perhaps book a surprise trip to the theatre or a picnic on the beach – it doesn’t have to be expensive but the time you spend together should be fun and enjoyable.

Appreciate the positives


Over time, especially when we live with our partner, it’s easy to fall into the trap of criticising their bad habits and focusing on their negative traits. Try to be mindful of all the positive traits they have too and those small gestures that often get overlooked. More importantly, remember to compliment them when they’ve achieved something good, tell them you love them regularly and appreciate even the smallest of kind deeds.

Make time for romance


Without romance and love, there is less likely to be much sexual activity between the sheets. Most of us need to feel loved before we jump into bed. Simple acts such as holding hands, kissing, cuddling and just telling your partner that you love them can all help to keep the spark alive.

Share your fantasies


Sex in a long-term relationship can become like everything else: routine and lacking in passion. One way to spice up your sex life is by talking about your fantasies and perhaps trying new things in the bedroom.

Switch off the media


Make sure when you’re spending quality time with your partner, you hide the mobile phones and turn off the computer. You’ll never be able to enjoy your time together if one or both of you are constantly checking your messages and emails. It can also seem disrespectful to the other person and you should want to make them feel that they have your undivided attention.

John Hopkins Medicine looks at various factors that can lead to a stagnant relationship and offers more ways to keep the spark alive.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Fathers feel too

While the mental health problems experienced by mothers tend to be widely recognised and documented, in comparison, little attention has been shown to new fathers. However, since a recent 'radical initiative' introduced at the end of last year by NHS England, men are now being offered support with their mental health if their partners are struggling with their own wellbeing.

When it comes to young fathers, research has shown that they are sometimes more prone to issues with their mental health than older fathers, They are also exposed to negative assumptions and judgements, which can also exist around the idea of the 'young father' with depictions of them in the media as absent or irresponsible. In fact only 10% of non-resident fathers will lose contact with their children over time.

The stress and anxieties that come with being a new parent are not gender specific and it has been estimated that 25% of new fathers will experience depression in the first year. This is not to say that mothers' struggles with mental health are not important, but the level of support that is readily given to men is significantly less, despite an increase in men moving into the role of primary care-giver.

Scientifically speaking, bodily changes such as a decrease in testosterone and an increase in other hormones like prolactin, occur in men a few months before childbirth. These changes are intended to help equip the father with the skills crucial for caring for a newborn, but they can also lead to higher chances of developing clinical depression or mood disorders.

New research has shown that a fathers mental health has a powerful impact on child development, with evidence showing that sensitive and supportive men have children who will develop better social skills and language, regardless of socioeconomic status and other factors. Despite this, research has shown that even though a father's mental health is closely correlated with that of a mother's, only 16% of fathers in Scotland have been asked about it by NHS maternity staff.

Most of us will be aware, through evidence or education, of what biological, psychological, and relationship changes might look like for a new mother. However, less of us will feel knowledgable about what might be going on for new fathers.

This fathers Day, we encourage you to help us bridge this gap and to open your mind to a better understanding of mental health in men, to improve the wellbeing of the whole family by supporting every member.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Coping with post-natal depression - dads get sad too

In order to look after your baby well, it's important to look after yourself too. If you feel that you're struggling with parenthood or feeling depressed, this becomes even more important as depression in fathers can negatively impact on your baby and your partner too. Here are some things you can do yourself to help alleviate the symptoms of post-natal depression in dads:

Talk to your partner, friends and family

Try to speak to the people closest to you and let them know how you are feeling and what they can do to support you.

Don't try to be 'superdad'

Accept offers of help from others and ask your loved ones if they can help look after the baby and do tasks such as housework, cooking and shopping.

Make time for yourself

Try to make time for activities that you find relaxing and enjoyable, such as going for a walk, listening to music or reading a book.

Rest when you can

Although it can be difficult when you're looking after a baby, try to sleep whenever you get the chance and follow good sleeping habits. Getting enough sleep can go a long way to improving your mood.

Exercise regularly

Exercise has been shown to help improve mood in people with mild depression. Try taking your baby out for a short walk in a carrier or pram. It will give your partner a break, get you moving, and help you strengthen your attachment with your baby.

Don't drink alcohol or take drugs

Often people resort to alcohol or drugs to help them cope, but it is more likely to make you feel worse.

Meet other dads

You're not alone. You could join a swimming class or other groups that are just for dads and their babies. Meeting up with other people can really help boost your mood and make your feel more connected.

Join a support group

It can be reassuring to meet other parents that are going through the same situation as you. Talk to your GP or health visitor to find a group near you.

Try creative activities

Express how you're feeling through activities such as writing or drawing. You don't have to show anyone, but it may help to improve your mood.

Bonding with your baby

It's difficult to feel connected to your baby when you're depressed, so engaging in simple activities together can help to build this relationship.





Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Coping with grief and loss

Losing a close family member or friend can be extremely upsetting and can stir a wealth of emotions that you may find difficult to deal with. There are, however, many strategies and supports available for coping with grief and loss that can help you to understand your emotions and make sense of your feelings.

Understanding your emotions

Although every one of us is different and we may deal with loss in different ways, there are lots of common signs and various stages of grief that most of us will experience. One of the first emotions we might experience when we lose someone close to us is shock, even if we were expecting the inevitable. Other emotions such as feeling overwhelmed, anger, confusion, loneliness, sadness, relief and guilt can all play a significant part in the grieving process.

You might also feel fearful of the future, afraid of how you will cope without your loved one. Remember that these kinds of feelings are normal and will diminish with time, and it’s okay to allow ourselves to feel these emotions.
Ways of coping with grief and loss

There are many ways of coping with your loss that can assist with the grieving process.

Talk to someone

Whether it’s a friend, family member or bereavement counsellor, there is always someone who you can talk to about your grief. Expressing and speaking about your feelings helps you come to terms with your loss and prevents you from internalising and burying our emotions. Speaking about the things you loved about the person can help rewire your thought process and create more positive emotions.

Take care of your physical health

Intense emotions caused by grief and loss can also have a negative impact on our physical wellbeing. Appetite and sleep patterns may be disrupted, which in turn, can affect your immune system and cause headaches, stomach ache and lethargy.

Even though you may not feel like eating initially, try to maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of rest. Gentle exercise can also help ease feelings of grief. Being outdoors is wonderful for lifting the mood and swimming can be a soothing activity that can help focus the mind.

Relaxation techniques

Emotions such as anger and fear can be overwhelming and can cause a great amount of stress both on the mind and body. There are lots of relaxation techniques that can reduce stress and anxiety, such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga and mindfulness.

The NHS's Moodzone offers several self-help techniques -

Stay connected to your loved one after death

Shutting out emotions or memories can be damaging if they reappear at a later date because we haven’t allowed ourselves to grieve properly. We can remain connected to our loved ones in different ways; you might want to speak to them or write a letter to them expressing your feelings. This can be extremely therapeutic in dealing with negative emotions. Alternatively, undertaking an activity to raise money for a charity that was close to their heart can give you focus and purpose.


Finally, be kind to yourself and remember that there is no set length of time for grief and what you are feeling is normal.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Keeping your kids healthy - in mind and body

As parents, we have a duty to our children not only to keep them healthy physically, but also mentally. With the rise of social media platforms and online activity, peer pressure and the stresses of school, there is more pressure than ever to ensure our kids are mentally prepared to deal with life’s challenges.

This article by the British Psychological Society shares some sobering statistics about the extent of mental health difficulties experienced by children and young people today.

Share your experience

In order to guide our children the best we can, firstly we need to look after our own mental health so we can set a good example and lay down positive pathways for them to follow. As adults, we have experience on our side and, no doubt, we will have faced many challenges and stressful situations. It’s important to share our experiences with our children so they understand that even though it’s part of life to struggle sometimes, how we deal with difficult situations is what really matters. Let them know that it’s OK to be afraid, anxious or stressed as long as they acknowledge it and take positive measures to keep their mind healthy.

Build self esteem

Children often doubt their abilities and question themselves as individuals:

“Am I good enough?”

“Do people like me?”

“What if I fail?”

Although it’s natural to have doubts, we can take action to help build their self esteem and boost their confidence. It’s important to praise our children for their positive qualities rather than focusing on the negative. By helping them focus on their strengths and find solutions to problems, we can teach them to become comfortable in their own skin.

Give genuine praise and keep it real; there’s no point in telling our children they are the best at something if they’re not, as it will only give them false hope and set them up for a fall. Also remember to praise their efforts, not just their successes.

Build a trusting relationship

There are many ways we can build trust in our relationships with our children. By encouraging open conversations, we allow them to express their thoughts while also teaching them respect. If we give them the opportunity to discuss their feelings without passing judgement, our bond grows, along with their confidence.

At any age, it’s vital to allow our kids an appropriate amount of independence. Letting them do things for themselves can increase determination and self belief and teach them ways to overcome hurdles. Even though it can be tempting, we must try to refrain from doing everything for them as it will only lead to unhealthy dependency.

Tips for keeping your kids mentally healthy

When we keep our problems to ourselves and internalise our fears, it can lead to stress, anxiety and even depression. As well as encouraging our children to talk openly, suggest writing a diary to get their thoughts down on paper. This can help gain control over their emotions and improve their mental health.

Problem solving skills can be highly beneficial as they help our children gain perspective and find solutions, which in turn can build up their resilience. Once they realise there is a “way out” of a negative situation, it will reduce their anxiety and make any subsequent problems seem less intimidating.

Physical and mental health go hand in hand and the more physically active we are, the less likely we are to suffer from stress and anxiety. Any form of exercise releases endorphins and serotonin which give us that “feel good factor” a good diet helps too.

This previous blog post shares some good tips on how we can be kind to ourselves, which are just as applicable to our children.