Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Who needs the gym? Alternatives that will benefit both mind and body

Nearly two weeks into 2017 and it’s time to review how much headway we’re making with our resolutions…

Joining the gym is a popular resolve after the excesses of the festive period. It is a grand gesture – but one of the resolutions most likely to fall by the wayside by the end of January. There are a variety of reasons for this: going to the gym requires a change in behaviour that many of us just can’t maintain in the long term, plus we often don’t have the spare time to go once we’re back into the daily routine after the holidays. In fact, gym owners actually rely on us not maintaining our new exercise regime – that’s how they can keep prices low for everyone!

All resolutions are made with the best of intentions. Exercise keeps our bodies - and our minds - in tip-top condition, so anything we can do to increase the amount of exercise in our lives is to be applauded. However, rather than signing on the dotted line at the gym, the key to making this resolution stick is to keep things simple.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists believes that the mind can’t function properly if your body is not looked after – the reverse is also true. The state of your mind affects your body. So, if for whatever reason, you started the year with high hopes of exercising and it hasn’t quite materialised, don’t beat yourself up or you’ll end up in a vicious cycle of inactivity and low mood.

We’ve been looking at alternatives to the gym that will not only help keep your resolution alive, but also have a positive impact on your brain and your body!

The great outdoors

Outdoor exercising is not only free, but you’re more likely to stick at it. That’s because the preparation time is minimal and you’re less likely to get bored (indeed, your ‘gym’ can change according to your location and depending on your mood). You could also argue that you’ll burn more energy outside than in, due to the natural resistance provided by the wind and changing terrain.

Walking is a great way to kick start your outside exercising regime. It’s low risk and – research shows – can not only improve someone's daily positive emotions but also provide a non-pharmacological solution to serious conditions like depression.

Meditation in motion

There is evidence that shows that tai chi – the art of combining deep breathing and relaxation with slow and gentle movements – has value in treating and preventing many health problems. Originally developed as a martial art in 13th-century China, tai chi is today practised around the world as a health-promoting exercise. In fact Harvard described the practice as ‘medication in motion’.

If a formal class is not for you, it can be practised anywhere, at any time and you don’t need any equipment. This makes it an ideal addition to any exercise regime.

Say ‘yes’ to yoga

Yoga has its roots in Hindu spirituality. It involves breath control, simple meditation and the adoption of specific body postures and is widely practised for health and relaxation. Although it won’t count towards the 150 minutes of moderate activity recommended, it is an excellent way of strengthening your muscles which can help manage conditions such as arthritis and back pain.

If you’re new to yoga and would like to give it a try, do a bit of research on the type of class that would best suit your exercise needs and fitness abilities. For most beginners a hatha or vinyasa class will provide a good introduction.

Whatever activity you plump for, it’s important that you choose something you'll love – this is key to unlocking the mental benefits that exercise can deliver, alongside the physicsal benefits.

recent study from a university in the Netherlands found that the more absorbed individuals were in their chosen activity, the greater satisfaction they felt. It is this satisfaction that leads to us keeping up with our activities – or not!

So, if you’re finding your resolution to take more exercise hard to bear, maybe it’s time to review the activities you’re doing, rather than the resolution you made on the 1st January.

Best of luck – and keep up the good work!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

As one year closes, another one begins… Review your year and plan for the year ahead

As 2016 nears its end there’s a natural inclination to look back on the year to assess how it was. We very often hear people talking – in general terms - about what a great year it’s been, or saying that they’ll be glad to see the back of the year, hopeful that the new one will fare better.

Rather than a superficial assessment, have you thought about conducting a more comprehensive review of the year? As you would in a work situation, a review of your year can help you identify learning opportunities and set goals that will help keep your life moving in the direction you’ve planned.

There are many aspects to our lives that – when compounded together - make us feel happy and fulfilled:

  • Work
  • Play
  • Health
  • Growth
  • Spiritual

It’s unrealistic to expect every aspect of your life to perform in equilibrium and it’s natural to feel as though certain elements of your life are getting more attention at certain times. Problems tend to arise, however, if we neglect one aspect of our life in favour of another. Any major imbalance can leave us feeling off-kilter, which then impacts on the other aspects of our lives.

Think about the big picture

This isn’t about focusing on the small things that went well or the events that didn’t quite go to plan, it’s about taking a look at how the year – generally - has helped you progress towards your life goals. Are you still going in the direction you’d hoped to be? Or have events happened that meant you’ve needed to change track? Are all aspects of your life being nurtured and getting enough attention? Or are some requiring more energy at the detriment of the others? By thinking first about the big picture, we can really focus on what we need for the year ahead.

Failures are opportunities to learn and grow

It’s important to change how you think about ‘failures’. Things are bound to go wrong from time to time, but if we think about each of these failures as an opportunity to learn and grow we will be better able to embrace the failures that will undoubtedly come our way in the New Year. Don’t just concentrate solely about what went wrong, take each failure in turn and think about what happened, how you dealt with it and the opportunity it has given you for growth.

Savour your successes

There is a human tendency to give just a cursory nod towards our successes and dissect the failures – so we can avoid them in future. It’s time to reverse this habit. Take some time to look into your successes too and really understand how they came to be. Most successful events are of our own doing and by focusing on how we achieved our goals, we can concentrate on replicating this behaviour over the coming year. Professional sports people really believe in the power of positive thinking, if you think about success, you will become successful.

Visualise your perfect year

Think about what would make next year perfect. How will you feel at the end of the year when you have achieved all that you set out to? Now break it down. Think about what a perfect month would look like… a perfect week… a perfect day – you get the idea... Now break this down into actions and behaviours that you would need to adopt in order to realise your perfect year. Now do it!

Every New Year we are given an opportunity to start afresh. Think of it as a clean sheet; a blank canvas. Your chance to become unstuck, to celebrate success and move on from failure. Make of it what you will, and remember that the future lies in your hands.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Build relaxation into your day

Most of us know that relaxation makes us feel better and more in control. It's like pressing a reset button and allowing our bodies to revert to a reduced stress state. That's why it's vital to build relaxation into every single day - not many of us can say, hand on heart, that we already do this. Life can seem to get in the way.

Here are some suggestions to help build relaxation time into your day.

  • Go for a walk - the more time you have the better, but five or ten minutes is beneficial too.
  • Listen to some music
  • Spend time outdoors - ideally somewhere peaceful, such as a park
  • Take up a hobby
  • Have a massage to relieve tension
  • Take a long hot bath
  • Focus only on your breathing for 5 minutes every day
  • Have an early night
  • Stretch your muscles
  • Call a friend
  • Take a proper lunch break away from work
  • Sweat out the tension with a good workout
  • Practise mindfulness
  • Plan to get off the bus a stop early and walk the last stop mindfully taking in the sounds, smells, how the air feels on your skin, etc.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The gift of giving and its positive impact on your own happiness

Only 12 days until Christmas. How do you feel? Is the stress beginning to set in and your credit card groaning from over-use?

Christmas is the season most associated with giving. But rather than this be an opportunity to show off to the neighbours or stock up on the latest gadgets and technology, there is actually a psychological benefit to giving – when it’s done with the heart, rather than the wallet.

There have been many studies on the act of gift giving over the years. This one by Yale University is about why sometimes our gifts miss the mark, even when we’ve put a lot of thought into them and is well worth a read before hitting the shops! It’s a complex subject and the giving/receiving of gifts is an important part of the relationships we have with other people.

It is often said that it’s the giver, rather than the recipient, who reaps the biggest psychological benefit from the sharing of gifts. This makes perfect sense when you think about the time and effort that goes into finding the perfect gift that our friends and families will love. It’s a big investment of our time and effort. Birthdays and other occasions are usually straightforward, as we have only one or two presents to think about. In contrast, at Christmas-time, we often have many people to think about and this can make it difficult to give gifts the individual attention they deserve – and that’s when the temptation to spend more than we need sets in.

We’ve come up with a few ideas to help you deliver thoughtful gifts this Christmas that will benefit you and the lucky recipient!

Giving time

In our busy, stressful daily life, we could all do with the luxury of more time. What better gift to give than offering to free up someone else’s time? This could be done through babysitting or dog walking tokens perhaps – or the promise of spending quality time with someone once the hustle and bustle of the festive season has passed.

Making memories

Rather than a gift, why not offer someone an experience? We’re not talking wing-walking or paragliding here, maybe an afternoon tea to spend with friends, or the promise of a cinema trip without the kids. When we are old and grey, we won’t remember what we had but will we remember those who we spent time with – and how that made us feel.

It’s the thought that counts

Finding and framing an old photograph; finding a first edition of someone’s favourite book; a packet of flower seeds that remind someone of a past holiday or special day all prove to someone that you understand them; that you will go above and beyond to make them happy. Luckily, recycling and upcycling are trendy again, which means it’s more than acceptable to make your own presents!

If spending a certain amount of money on someone is important, a thoughtful token or gesture alongside your usual store card or gift voucher is a great way of showing someone they mean something to you.

Food, glorious food

Baked goods are always made with love. Taking the time to create culinary delights has a double benefit. Not only does it give you the satisfaction of completing a task from start to finish, the end result is a thoughtful gift that shows someone you care. It also means that the recipient can’t help but think of you every time they eat a cookie, or spread jam on their toast!

study from the Harvard Business School looked into the benefits of charitable behaviour and the happiness it creates. We hope that this blog inspires you to prepare the kind of gifts that will make you feel great about giving. It really is worth the effort.

Remember, the exchange of gifts should be a shared experience. Something that strengthens the bond between you and your friends/family. If you feel that you have to give extravagant gifts in order for people to like/love you, then you have crossed the line into over-giving and that’s not good for anyone. 

You can check if you’re an over-giver, by reading this article.

So, what are you waiting for? Go and give some gifts!

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Tips for a happy social season

Are you a party animal? Psychological research suggests that whether you're an introvert or an extravert your wellbeing may benefit from some socialising. If the idea of socialising has you running for the hills, we've put together some tips to make things run smoother during the party season.

  1. Ease the anxiety of having to enter a room full of people by turning up early. Usually at the beginning of a party or event, there are people on their own or in small groups waiting for others. It is a lot easier to get talking to people who are on their own or in small groups, but couples are best avoided.
  2. Remember to use your body. People often forget that their bodies give as much away about them as what they say and do. Try to keep your body language open - stand facing or side on to other people, avoid crossing your arms, and don't bury your head in your phone and risk cutting off the chance of interaction. When you do encounter people, try to smile and use appropriate eye contact to make a good impression. 
  3. Ask people about themselves. Everyone likes talking about themselves and it's a great way to find common ground. Do remember to keep the conversation light and avoid asking personal questions until you know them better.
  4. Eat well beforehand. This may sound strange but often when people are nervous they stop eating. Going to a party and drinking alcohol on an empty stomach is unlikely to create a good impression. Have something light to eat before you go.
  5. Try to relax. Remind yourself that you are just as good and likeable as everyone else and be yourself. Really make an effort to engage with others, but don't try to be the life and soul of the party if you're not that person. People value genuineness in others. 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Mindfulness: the next step

If you've been practising mindful breathing daily as described in our previous blog post, then you'll be ready to progress to a 'ten minutes a day' breathing exercise. The Body and Breathe Meditation described below is a commonly practised mindfulness exercise and is a great way to make progress in mastering mindful breathing techniques. Try to practise this exercise for 10-15 minutes each day leading up to Christmas and note how it makes you feel.

Body and Breathe Meditation

Find a quiet comfortable chair and sit in an upright, supported position with the base of your spine making contact with the chair back.

Allow your body to relax and your mind to rest. It may be difficult for you to do this. Don't fight your mind. Simply focus on your breathing for a few minutes, then go back and try to relax again.

Move your attention around you body and become aware of the places where your body meets something else, for example, the way your feet meet the floor and the sensation you feel there. Do this for your whole body taking a few brief moments on each.

Next bring your attention to one of your feet. Bring your attention briefly to each part of your foot, the toes, ball, heel, etc and the sensations you feel in each.

Slowly allow your attention to work its way up each leg individually until you reach your hips. Then take your attention from your hips, to tummy, to shoulders taking your awareness briefly to each part in turn.

Next bring your awareness to each arm in turn. Start with your fingers and slowly move up to your wrists, forearms, upper arms and shoulders, taking your attention to each part on the way.

Then move on to your neck and finally your head. Momentarily observe how each one feels.

Once your have moved your attention through your whole body, spend a few minutes simply breathing normally and allowing yourself to rest.

Finally take your attention to your breathing and how your body feels as you slowly breathe in and out. Observe the rise and fall or your tummy with each breath. After 5-10 minutes of mindful breathing, slowly bring your attention back to the room.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Relaxation quiz and competition

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

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

Relaxation quiz and competition

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

  • A  Sleeping  
  • B  Meditation

2. How do physical relaxation methods work?

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

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

  • A  Tai chi  
  • B  Competitive sport

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

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

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

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

Enter our competition!

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

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