Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Preparing your child for school

The start back to school comes around far too quickly after the summer holidays. For many children, going back to school – or starting school – is something they take in their stride; for others, it may be a source of anxiety or confusion, especially if they’ll be starting a new school or moving up from primary to secondary.

Unlike many anxieties our children experience, preparing for school is unique in that we know what they are going through. This can be a blessing; we are able to offer an understanding ear and some empathy for what our children are experiencing. However, in some cases, we as adults, pass on our own anxieties to our children, which can make it harder for them to navigate the changes they’re going through.

The good news is that there are a number of things we can do as parents to prepare our children for the return to school.

Talk to them

Chat with your child about starting school. What do they think it will be like? What are they most looking forward to? Is there anything they’re unsure or worried about? Look through the school website or the brochure together and talk about what that means to them.

Show them that we’ve all been there before

Dig out old photos of you when you were at school – the happy ones, of school plays and end of term discos. Talk to your child about all the happy memories you have from school and the friends you made along the way.

Take away any unknowns

Visit the school before your child is due to start and make sure the journey feels familiar to them, that will take away some of the anxiety on the first morning of the new term. Encourage your child to try on their new shoes, so they’re comfortable for the first day. Try and find some children that are already at the school and invite them over to play, that way your child can get answers to their questions from one of their peers.

Find similarities between school and home life

Fear of starting school is very often due to an unfamiliarity of something new. By creating positive associations with the start of the new term, we can reduce the anxiety our children feel. For younger children, this might be as simple as keeping exciting stuff like colouring pencils in a school bag and taking them out when we want to colour at home. That way, they can start to associate school with interesting activities that they enjoy.

Prepare them for routines

School is all about routines. The more familiar your child is with routines at home, the easier it will be for them to get used to how the school works.

Secondary school

The step up to secondary school brings additional challenges. Our children will be expected to take responsibility for themselves in a way they never have before at school – and probably at home. However big the desire to pander to them for one last summer, now’s the time to help them on their way by increasing their responsibilities at home too. Some simple ideas would be setting their alarm clock; packing their own bags for trips and outings; polishing their shoes and ironing their clothes. The more they can do for themselves before the new term starts, the better they’ll be able to cope.

Starting, or going back, to school is not the big unknown it used to be. The Internet helps us connect with each other and places in ways we couldn’t years ago. Of course it’s a nerve-racking time – for you and your child – but try and stay positive so they don’t pick up on your anxiety!

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

De-clutter your life – focus your mind

We’re all guilty of keeping hold of things we really don’t need. We live in a consumerist world and often feel defined by what we have. A large number of us openly admit to having too much ‘clutter’ and will set certain time aside each year to have a good clear out – January, spring and the summer holidays are popular times for a sort out.

According to Roberta Lee’s book – the super stress solution – the practice of decluttering is as much about emotional cleansing as it is about becoming more organised. Just as our emotions change, so too does the need to keep certain items. A good example might be the box of art supplies you bought after making a New Year’s resolution – at the time, it was a box of excitement, a box of potential… If unused all year, however, it becomes a box of failure, of pressure, of a lack of time to fulfil your dreams. This shows it’s time to dispose of the box!

We’ve come up with six simple steps to help you declutter your closets and focus your mind.

1. A bit at a time

Decluttering can often feel like an onerous task – overwhelming even. This is easily solved by breaking the task down into bite sized chunks. Professional organiser Regina Leeds suggests setting a timer for 10-20 minutes at a time to spark a ‘speed elimination’. Start with smaller spaces – like a drawer or a cupboard. These simple successes will spur us on for the bigger areas to come.

2. Finish the job

If you’ve set time aside to declutter an area of your home, make sure you finish the job. The task is not complete until the rubbish bags have been disposed of, the unwanted items dropped off at the charity shop and any other items listed on eBay for sale. Sorting into piles is a great start, but if you break off the task, there’s a chance when you return, items you had deemed to be clutter will find their way back onto your ‘must keep’ pile again!

3. Clear before you buy

For some, the purpose of decluttering can sometimes be overshadowed by the need to find appropriate storage solutions. We think too much about how to organise things and get caught up in the best way to store and display our clutter, rather than really sorting it out. Our advice – clear first, then you know exactly how much stuff you have to find new homes for.

4. Makes rules and stick to them

If you have too many clothes and have made a deal with yourself to only go shopping once a month, or adopt a ‘new thing in / old thing out’ practice – stick to it. It sounds simple, but clutter is often born out of a desire to collect things we don’t need. Find diversionary activities that will help you stick to your rules and make it easier to keep clear of clutter.

5. Change your habits

Hands up – who has a stash of plastic carrier bags in a kitchen cupboard? The 5p government charge was introduced so people would use fewer bags, but it hasn’t changed our habits. Making real changes to your daily routine is difficult, but it can be done – you just need to convince yourself of the benefits it will bring to your life.

6. Technology is your friend

Create online photo albums of all your favourite pictures; subscribe to Netflix and rehome all your old DVDs; transfer CDs onto an MP3 player; there are even apps that can help you manage your important paperwork. Make technology work for you and your home.

Of course decluttering your home is only half of the battle. Make sure you use the new-found positivity your tidy home will bring to set the stall for the future. Commit to the positive changes you’ve made by asking yourself some simple questions before bringing anything new into the house: Why do I need this? Do I have anything like this already? Where will I keep it? Only you know the right answers!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

From 9 to 5 to 24/7: relationship hacks to ensure the holidays bring you closer together

Did you know that the average couple spends only 150 minutes together each day? This can be roughly broken down into 55 minutes watching television, 30 minutes eating, 24 minutes carrying out housework and 16 minutes on a social life! It’s no surprise then, that relationships can become strained over the holidays when we spend much more time together than we’re used to.

We’ve developed some tips for keeping your relationships positive and productive during the summer, so that by the end of the holidays you’ll be stronger than ever.

Me time

Just because you’re on your holidays doesn’t mean you have to live in each other’s pockets. It’s not selfish to build a bit of ‘you time’ into your holidays – in fact, it’s necessary for us all to nourish our souls so that we can give our best to others. Make sure you give yourself time to be by yourself during your holidays – and encourage your partner to do the same. Take a bath, read a book, listen to some music… Just a short period of time each day doing something you love will be enough for you to really appreciate your time with others.

Mindful minutes

The move from spending a few hours a day together to 24/7 can at times feel a little draining. If this is the case for you, just take a minute to refocus. Bring yourself back into the present so you can appreciate your day and those around you. It’s a really simple exercise. Find yourself a quiet space. Sit down, make yourself comfortable and breathe… In and out, calm and steady. Use all your senses to take in what’s around you. Be aware of how your body feels and how it relaxes with the simple practice of breathing. When the minute is up, take a deep breath and continue on with the day.

Remember the old times

The first few months of a relationship is a special time. Everything is new and exciting – you’re finding out about each other and, quite frankly, you can’t get enough of each other! As relationships age, the excitement may dull a little but it’s replaced by a calmer, deeper appreciation of your partner. Remembering the days when your relationship was blossoming is a great way to inject a spark back and remind each other what brought you the place you’re at. It helps you realise just how lucky you both are to have found each other.

Try something new together

An unpublished study by the University of Chicago found that couples who had fun together, stayed together. So why not use the holidays as an opportunity to try something new: develop a hobby; visit somewhere you’ve never been before or take part in an activity that neither of you have tried before. As relationships develop we have a tendency to fall into routines and distinct roles. By trying something new we are starting from a level playing field – which is a great way to improve communication, support each other and have some fun.

Treat every day as a new day

In life there will be good days and bad days. Holidays are not exempt from this. What we must do, for the sake of our relationships, is make a pact that every day is a new day. Whatever has happened the day before, any issues (as far as possible) should be dealt with then put to one side in order for us to enjoy the rest of our holidays. Carrying resentment, hurt and anger around weighs heavy and makes it difficult to enjoy time spent together.

Remember, holidays are only as good as we make them and with effort, determination and positivity they can be really good for our personal relationships, bringing us closer together than ever before.

Be kind; be tolerant; be flexible – and enjoy your summer, together.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Home for the holidays: getting the most out of your time during the summer break

Everyone loves the summer – long days, light nights, school holidays and the prospect of a week or two off work to spend with the family.

The reality, however, doesn’t always live up to our high expectations. Many find that spending extended periods of time with other people can be stressful – no matter how much we love them!

People want to be together and feel connected during the holidays, so much so that we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and others, to have a ‘perfect’ time. We are conditioned to feel that we should make the absolute most of our time off and feel obliged to spend 24/7 with our nearest and dearest during the holidays, which, not unsurprisingly, can lead to tensions and upset.

Balance and moderation are key to ensuring a successful summer break. If you’ve found yourself doing any of the following during previous holidays, chances are you are in danger of over-extending yourself – and that can lead to disappointment and disenchantment.

During the holidays, do you find yourself:

  • Agreeing to attend family gatherings out of obligation, rather than desire?
  • Buying gifts and treats for yourself, or children, that you can’t really afford?
  • Preparing elaborate meals or celebrations for friends and relatives?

If you do, here's how you can put some balance back into your summer holidays.

1. Set aside time for yourself, and encourage other members of your family to do the same

Spending all day and evening with your family can upset the equilibrium of family life. We all like routine and can often feel off kilter due to the change in our daily habits. A quick an easy way to reset the balance, is to build in some ‘me time’ for you and the other members of your family. Even a short period of time – fifteen minutes to half an hour – is enough to centre yourself and enjoy the rest of the day. Take a bath, read the paper, listen to your music – it doesn’t matter what you do, so long as it makes you feel good.

2.    Ensure everyone is given a ‘voice’ during the summe

Past surveys have suggested that parents find the pressure of keeping children entertained all day, every day very stressful – chances are it’ll be the same this year too. Parents often feel they spend the entire holiday on making their kids happy, keeping them entertained at all times and breaking up arguments. Aim to make a positive change this summer by giving everyone an opportunity to do what they want to do – not just the little ones. Why not encourage everyone to write down the things they’d like to do over the holidays, fold them up and then pick one out of a hat, anonymously, as and when you need them.

3.   Set a budget and stick to it

It can be tempting to try and keep up with the Jones over the holidays; to spend money we haven’t got, on things we don’t really need. Remember though, memories are built around people, not possessions – so make a promise to yourself to spend time, not money this holiday. Work up a budget you can afford and then stick to it. Deal in cash, not credit card, which makes you less likely to overspend and consider giving the kids their own daily allowance for holiday sundries, such as ice lollies, etc. Not only does this teach them about budgeting, it makes it fun for them too – and means you won’t have to keep saying ‘no’ to them.

4. Go back to basics

You may be surprised to hear that when asked what they are looking forward to about the summer holidays, the majority of children who are asked say they are looking forward to spending more time with their family and playing outdoors. Use the holidays as a time to reconnect with your nearest and dearest doing simple things, like walking in the woods, going to the park, tidying the garden or washing the car! Not only will your kids thank you for it, your purse will reap the benefits too. Plan ahead and do your research to find out all the local free activities in your area that you can take advantage on.

5.    Do what works for you and your family

Only you and your family know what works for you. Don’t worry about how things should be or what you should do, but do what you can do and more importantly what you want to do. Spend time doing things that are important to each of your family members – and involve them in the preparation. Compromise, negotiate and cooperate with each other to plan a summer break that is perfect for your family – not for others.

Above all else, try not to place unrealistic expectations on yourself or other family members this holiday. Remember, not one of us is perfect but if we accept our friends and family as they are, and embrace our differences even, we can achieve a stress-free summer.

Happy holidays!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

A problem shared is a problem halved: a focus on men’s mental health

Remember that book called Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus? It was designed to illustrate the differences between the way men and women approach personal relationships, but the sentiment behind the book is also true when it comes to mental health. 

The Centre for Studies on Human Stress in Canada conducted some research into stress triggers. It’s no surprise that they were different for men and women.

Women were found to get stressed when faced with social rejection – it made them upset. For men, the stress triggers were performance related. They were given difficult tasks to complete which caused their heart rate and frustration levels to rise.

Men are predisposed to outperform. This can put them under immense pressure. While a woman’s response to stress is often an outpouring of emotion, this practice in itself goes someway to easing their stress. For men, on the other hand, there is usually no outward response to the stress triggers. Frustration is internalised, which may then manifest itself as anger or avoidance behaviour – such as isolating themselves or creating additional problems that are easier to deal with. There may also be a tendency to blame others for problems, in an attempt to transfer the burden of stress.

It’s good to talk

While talking about problems is second nature to most women, men may need more encouragement to talk. Many stress-causing issues at work or home cannot be resolved easily, but talking can help. Sometimes it is as simple as changing perceptions about a situation, rather than changing the situation itself – and the best way to do this is by speaking to another person about what you’re going through.

Active body, healthy mind

Exercise is closely linked with better mental health and stress control. A study back in 2012 by the University of Glasgow found people who exercise outdoors experience half the mental health risks of those who exercise inside. An effective way for a man to improve his mental health, especially during times of stress, is to spend more time outdoors. It doesn’t matter what exercise, but 20 minutes of outdoor exertion does wonders for mental wellbeing.

Put a name to it

It’s always easier to cope with what’s happening around us when we can identify how it makes us feel. Some men find it beneficial to put a name to their emotions, so they become ‘real’ rather than abstract. This could be: "The important meeting is just two days away; I’m feeling anxious.” Or “My co-worker took credit for my proposal; I’m feeling angry.” By naming our emotions, we make it easier to park them and move on. We can free ourselves and concentrate on finding a solution to help us overcome the stress.

Mindfulness practices have been found to be beneficial when it comes to engendering positive mental health in men. You can read more about men’s mindfulness here >

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Only Men Allowed: your mindfulness matters

Do you ever feel like you’re living life on a treadmill or in a hamster wheel? You’re doing what you need to keep going, but things are happening around you – you’re just not really ‘present’ to enjoy them?

There’s no escaping the fact that we live in a busy society. Life is simply not as slow as it once was and we’re juggling more plates than perhaps we ever have before.

For men especially, it can be tricky to step back from daily responsibilities and take stock of where we are – and where we’re heading.

Mindfulness is a short, sharp intervention that brings you back to the present. It makes you aware of your surroundings by requiring you to pay attention to things you wouldn’t otherwise give a second thought to.

It can help to relieve stress; improve blood pressure; and stimulate rational judgement so that you can make better decisions. It can be done anytime, anywhere – and the only person who needs to know is you!

It works too... Mindfulness practices that have been tailored for use in male dominated settings, have been used successfully in a number of environments including the US marine corps. It has been found to help officers and service personnel better deal with anxiety, stress, depression and insomnia. Mindfulness programs have also been used in prisons with great success, to encourage compassion and reflection among the male inmates.

The good news is it’s really easy to incorporate mindfulness exercises into your everyday routine.

A mindful minute

Set an alarm clock or timer for one minute. All you are to do for the entire 60 seconds is focus on your breathing - nothing else. You can keep your eyes open, or closed. You can keep your hands by your side or lay them flat across your belly. If your mind starts to wander, bring yourself back to your breathing, then simply stop when the timer tells you the minute is up. What could be simpler?

A mindful break

Take a break. No, we don’t mean take your work papers to the canteen and read them over a rushed sandwich; we’re talking about a proper five minute break. Doing nothing. Take a seat and just be. Take in your surroundings, look out of the window, or watch your colleagues as they go about their business. Again, if your mind wanders, bring yourself back to the room. Go about your business again, when your five minutes is up.

A mindful drive

  • Step 1: turn off the radio and drive in silence. 
  • Step 2: take notice of how your body feels while you are driving – do you grip the steering wheel? Is your stomach clenched? Is your jaw tight? By noticing how you hold yourself in the car, you can consciously relax your body. TIP: It is advisable to focus on these things before you start driving, then you can revisit them fleetingly while you drive without losing focus on the road and your safety.
  • Step 3: drive below the speed limit. It is a maximum after all. By shaving a couple of miles an hour off your speed, you start to ‘drive’, rather than race. This takes all the tension out of your journey.

It's so easy to stop noticing the world we live in – to lose touch with the sights, smells, sounds that surround us and get wrapped up only with the thoughts and emotions in our heads. By coming back to the present – if only for a few minutes each day – we can not only benefit the ‘now’, but also the future.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Mind over matters: how mindfulness can help

In today’s busy society, with an ever growing to-do list and 24-hour social media, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed from time to time. And when things do start to get on top of us, feelings can quickly escalate so that we lose sight of what’s really important to us.

We can’t slow society down, much as we’d like to, but what we can do is share two tried and tested mindfulness behaviours that will – in no time at all – retrain your brain to stay focused, so that you’ll be better able to gain perspective and regain control during stressful life-episodes.

So what exactly is mindfulness? Simply put, it’s about paying attention. Its basis lies in Buddhist meditation. Today’s mindfulness practice has been modified to reflect modern society and the need to build mindfulness techniques into our everyday routines.

The good news is, that with practice, mindfulness is a skill that anyone can learn. The even better news is that studies show that we can change our habits and behaviours in just eight weeks. 

If you answer yes to these questions, these two mindfulness techniques could benefit you:
  • Have you ever found your mind wondering?
  • Do you anticipate the end of conversations half way through? 
  • Are you worrying about ramifications before you really know what the problem is?
Mindfulness helps to bring you back to the present – in touch with yourself, other people and what’s going on around you. This process, in time, improves mental and emotional wellbeing, helping us to enjoy life more and understand ourselves better.

Technique one: present in sixty seconds

Pick a regular time in the day to spend just sixty sessions being totally aware of what’s going on around you. It could be before you set off on your way to work in the morning; after getting home from the school run; or while taking a short stroll at lunchtime. Sit – or stand – and breathe. That’s it. In and out, calm and steady. Use all your senses to take in what’s around you: What do you see? What can you smell? What can you hear? Be aware of how your body feels and how it relaxes with the simple practice of breathing. As you breathe out, let a smile form on your face. If it helps, place your hands on your abdomen so you can feel your breathing motion. When your sixty seconds are up, continue with your day as normal.

Technique two: something new

Although we don’t often realise it, our bodies work on autopilot for a good proportion of the day. Do you wander into a room and wonder how you got there? Do you grab three breakfast bowls without thinking? Brushing teeth, driving a car – all done without real thought or examination. To keep mindful, take time to try something new. Your senses will be heightened and you will be more aware of what’s around you. We’re not talking big stuff here – sit in a different seat, try something new for lunch, pick up your cup with your non-dominant hand. Go on, try it and see what a difference it can make to how you feel the rest of the day.

What difference does it make?

At this point, you may questioning the significance of these simple techniques. It sounds too easy, doesn’t it? The psychological benefits of mindfulness have been well noted for years - with techniques like these having been proven to help with stress, anxiety, depression and addictive behaviours. Now, the medical benefits are being noticed by health care professionals too, with mindful practices being seen to have a positive effect on physical problems like high blood pressure, heart disease and chronic pain.

So little to lose and lots to gain! What’s stopping you?