Friday, 15 December 2017

Take a minute to mull over your wine this Christmas

With the darker nights coming earlier accompanied by colder temperatures, treating yourself to a glass of alcohol in the evening to heat yourself up and unwind might be the obvious choice. However, daily tipples combined with those wild Christmas nights on the town could cause more problems than a bad hangover...

Despite it being a popular way to de-stress around family, relax around awkward moments with colleagues, and experiment with that new dance move, alcohol can become a more serious issue when we fail to recognise that we're drinking much more than we should. This can result in bad decisions being made, jobs being threatened, relationships tested, or even a dependence on alcohol developing that will be hard to kick come the new year.

Write it down

The best way to work out if you're exceeding your limit this year, is to take pen to paper and jot down some facts. What have you had to drink this week and how much of it? Is there a pattern in who you're drinking with? How would the past week have panned out differently had you been sober? These are important questions to ask if you're drinking more than usual and you may notice things you might not have picked up on otherwise.

Have a little less and feel a whole lot better

Sometimes we end up drinking more simply because we want something to hold. Try ordering half measures or top up your small wine with some soda water, lemonade or ginger ale. That way you save some money, make it last longer and still have something pretty to hold.

Alternative de-stressors

If you're still finding yourself overindulging in the alcohol department, why not try finding something else to indulge in? You may find yourself sinking into old habits, but before you crack open that second crate of beer to unwind after a hectic shopping trip, replace this activity with something more forgiving – maybe a warm bath with a good book or a family card game followed by a hot chocolate.


Anxiety and depression can develop in those who are dependent on alcohol as well as other health problems, If you are still struggling to get on top of drinking habits and would like to speak to a professional, contact your GP or book a session with First Psychology on 0845 872 1780.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

How to have a stress-free soirée

Whether you’ve been chosen by your boss to plan a Christmas event or volunteered to host a New Year's party after a few too many mulled wines, we’ve got you covered. This time of year, it’s important not to get weighed down by your responsibilities and impossible expectations. Try to remember that these events are meant to be enjoyable for everyone, even you!

One of the main stressors around the Christmas period comes from our tendency to set unrealistic goals for ourselves. When we don’t achieve these goals, it can leave us feeling disheartened or as if we have failed at something. So how do we set realistic goals?

Well, it can be helpful to split larger goals, down into more manageable sections. For example, instead of ‘Organise party’ which is very difficult to monitor and delegate, try something like this,
  • Look into event venues suitable for a party 
  • Decide on venue and book date (Have a Plan B, just in case!) 
  • Put together a guest list in consultation with interested parties 
  • Write out/design invitations and deliver 
  • Chase up invitees to get final numbers 
  • Put your feet up and relax! 
As you move through these actions, tick them off as you go. This will ensure that nothing slips through the cracks and will also remind you of the achievements you’ve made so far!

Setting your goals

Don’t sit on your work break, scribbling down ideas, while simultaneously trying to eat a sandwich and sip your coffee. Choose a time and a place where you can feel relaxed and ready to embrace your role. Maybe put on your favourite album or grab your most festive candle to get you in the party mood!

Time

Another important stress-free factor is to ensure you allow yourself enough time for each task. Rushing through your list in one sitting means you're more likely to look back on it critically at a later date and are not taking the time to enjoy your role as party planner. Create a timeline and make sure you allow plenty of leeway in your schedule to stay away from your stress zone.

Stay organised

As much as it might not be your style to keep the different areas of your social life in colour co-ordinated files, a certain level of organisation when planning a social event can make your life easier. Create an ‘event’ folder (online or paper) that you can easily access whenever a new idea springs to mind, or you need to confirm numbers.


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Dealing with disruption – tips to ease the stress this festive season

A house full of trimmings, more social engagements than you’ve managed to pack in all year and an abundance of changes to your usual routines and patterns all serve to make Christmas a busy, chaotic time. Yes, it’s only once a year, and yes it’s only for four weeks or so but for some people dealing with these disruptions to normality – on top of our jobs and home life - can be extremely stressful which takes the shine off the festivities.

According to this article "there is something about Christmas that sends even balanced people, the types who do meditation or mindfulness classes, slightly out of whack.”

It suggests dealing with Christmas in a more modest way to ease some of the stress and often unrealistic expectations that we place upon ourselves and our families to be ‘perfect’.

So what can we do to make sure that Christmas is a cheery season, rather than a time when our stress levels soar?

Have a calendar of events

Even if you're not a write it down kind of person, we can all benefit from a Christmas schedule. Use the calendar to make a note of all your planned events, activities and chores that need to be done before ‘the big day’ – include all of your work and social events on the same calendar to give you a full picture. Once it’s written down, it becomes more manageable, – you should be able to visualise what needs to be done and when. Rather than take the spontaneity out of Christmas, you can manage your commitments and prevent yourself from agreeing to things you can't manage.

Don’t be afraid to schedule time into your calendar for family stuff too and be mindful of your ‘pressure points’ like bedtimes and mealtimes, as well as some downtime at home to recharge your batteries. If you have children, this downtime is especially important as they often need time to recover from over-stimulation and too many additives!

Have a timetable – and stick to it!


We know that the spontaneity of Christmas can be overwhelming for those of us who thrive with routines – especially children. Yes, writing all your festive activities on a timetable may seem over the top, but creating a structure at a time when everything around us is chaotic can make things less stressful. By providing a comfortable pace with intentional structure you can feel in control of the festive season, which will make it more enjoyable for you and your family – making sure that you continue to deliver at work and at home.

Some tips for maintaining a timetable during the holidays include sticking to regular mealtimes as much as you can and being clear about arrival and departure times when attending parties and other social occasions. Share your timetable with colleagues, friends and family, so that they are aware of your commitments – this will help to manage expectations if you need to leave an event early.

Have a plan


Over the Christmas period, more than any other time of the year, an action plan is your friend! Do whatever you can to prepare for events ahead of time – pick out your outfits, prepare party food, select and wrap gifts – all of this helps to keep you on top of things and enjoy the season’s festivities. If your Christmas period involves a lot of travel, make sure that you have enough to keep you and any travel companions occupied in case of traffic jams and ensure that your car is in good repair and ready to embark on the additional mileage.

Be sure that you have stocked up on enough essentials to see you through the holidays – yes, the shops may only be closed for a day or so, but shopping in itself can be quite a challenge during December. Order as much as you can in advance, so that any shopping you do is a pleasure rather than a necessity. It’s always worth making sure you have enough toilet paper, kitchen roll, batteries, light bulbs and dishwasher tablets to see you through the holidays.


Rather than take the excitement and spontaneity out of Christmas, we hope that by getting organised we can help you get the most out of the festive season. Making practical plans can help alleviate holiday stress and, more importantly, keep your main focus on enjoying the time spent with family and friends.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

How to make the most of Christmas alone

Christmas Day is often described as the perfect opportunity to spend time with others. Be it family, friends or a partner, there is often the assumption that the best way to enjoy the festive period is with other people.

But what if this isn't your idea of a perfect Christmas? Or maybe it is but it's not possible for your to be with other people this year. Or, what if you hate this time of year and can't think of anything worse than being around people? Whichever it is, it's OK. If you want to spend the day in bed alone with a hot water bottle and a box of chocolates then why not? However, if you're looking for ideas on how to make the most of your Christmas Day by yourself this year, we have some suggestions you might want to try.

Get outdoors

The local pub and the shops might be closed, but nature is wide open. A cold, crisp walk on Christmas Day can be just as enjoyable by yourself, if not more enjoyable! Choose somewhere quiet where you can enjoy the peace and quiet while taking in your surroundings without any distractions or demands from other people. It can be a great time to practise some mindfulness techniques too.

Listen to whatever you want

Sick of hearing Mariah Carey on repeat? Ready to smash the radio next time you hear a bell jingle? Make the most of this day by yourself and blow the dust off your old favourite albums. Be it the Beatles or the Backstreet Boys, nobody's there to judge. And research suggests that music can be beneficial to our wellbeing in so many different ways.

Volunteer

Don't want to spend the day with people you know but like the idea of bringing a little Christmas joy to someone else? There are usually plenty of local opportunities to get involved with like food kitchens and nearby charities. If not, maybe there's a neighbour alone this year who would appreciate an hour of your company? There have been many studies looking at the benefits of giving on wellbeing, so it's a win win situation - give to others and you're giving to yourself too!

Make your own holiday

More of a sun worshipper than a snowball maker? Turn up the heating, get out your brightest t-shirt, make your favourite fruity cocktail and put on a film about summer. Alternatively if you're not a fan of Christmas cheer in general, why not try a gory horror film, dim the lights and make a nice batch of fresh popcorn.


Christmas Day without friends and family doesn't have to be a bad experience and there are various different ways that you can make the most of the time to yourself. However, if you're alone over the Christmas period and feeling overwhelmed, don't be afraid to talk to someone about it.

Contact First Psychology to book an appointment or you can visit your GP surgery and speak to them about how you're feeling. You can also call the Samaritans 24 hours a day on 116 123 for a chat.




Saturday, 2 December 2017

How to avoid an angry Christmas

Learning to deal with anger is a challenge for everyone at times. Stress can be a huge influence on our anger levels and for many, Christmas is the most stressful time of the year. The British Association of Anger Management found that the average family has their first argument at 9.58am on Christmas morning!

The aim of Anger Awareness week is to identify and bring awareness to anger as a social issue that needs to be addressed. Have a read through our top tips for innovative ways to keep your cool this week and throughout the festive period.

Breathe…

The Christmas period can be a busy one. Many of us will be spending more time with close and extended family than we would usually choose to! This can result in louder arguments and messy meals which can cause stress anger levels to rise. If this happens to you, take a step outside the room and find a quieter place to just breathe. Never underestimate the benefits of allowing yourself this time to yourself, to gather your thoughts and think more rationally.

Express yourself…

When we feel that our voices have not been heard, there can be a sense of injustice, which can result in feelings of anger. Once you have taken the time to breathe and are thinking more rationally, try expressing your feelings in a calm and non-accusatory way that avoids any further friction. This can allow them to understand your feelings better and will also provide you with an insight into another person’s perspective, which can sometimes be helpful.

Laugh…

It may seem like the last thing you want to do, but a humorous distraction can work wonders for diffusing your anger levels. Try thinking back to a particularly funny experience or find an online video you can immerse yourself in for a moment to help dig yourself out of the angry hole you’re sitting in.

Listen…

Arguments can often arise as a result of miscommunication. You both might be trying to make the same point but in different ways, but without listening to each other, you’ll struggle to realise this. Try to take in and process what the other person is saying before jumping in with your own point.

Learn…

Christmas is not a one off. Therefore, you have the advantage of knowing what set you off last time. If there seems to be a recurring conversation that has led to an argument before, take action and change the subject. They may not be your mistakes, but it is still worth learning from them.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Tips to help kids focus on a task – why batman can help

Imagine the scene... The kids come home from school, dump their school bags and make a run for the TV / iPads. Meanwhile, you spend the next hour persuading them to complete the homework / tasks / chores that are expected of them – as well completing your own! Moreover, once assigned a task it takes only moments before the kids become distracted and eager to return to their preferred activities.

However tempting it is just to roll with it, as parents one of the most important jobs we have is to teach our kids about responsibility and a big part of that is completing the tasks they have been set, when they are asked.

A recent study found an innovative way of helping children get the job done – and it involves roleplay! They found that when children are primed to take on tasks as someone else – Batman, say, or their favourite TV star, for example – and given a prop appropriate to that role (think cape or wand, etc) they were more likely to stay engaged for longer and see the activity through to its conclusion. It’s a simple concept, yet surprisingly effective. They found that children in the ‘Batman’ role spent the most time on task (about 55 per cent for the six year olds; about 32 per cent for the four year olds), while the ‘control’ children spent the least time on task (about 35 per cent of the time for the six year olds; just over 20 per cent for the four year olds).

While this is a great life hack, parents still have a job to do in building up perseverance and increasing the capacity that our children have to concentrate and stay on task. Here are a few tips, for when Batman is not available or his cape loses its magic!

Involve children in the goal setting

It really helps when children know why we have asked them to do something. By taking the time to explain to our kids what they are contributing towards we can help them see the benefits of the task in hand and appreciate how what we ask them to do fits into our wider family goals.

Have clear instructions

It’s easy to get distracted – as adults we do it all the time, but we then have the self-control to rein ourselves in and get back on task. Once a child’s concentration is lost, however, all thoughts of the previous task is gone. It’s a fantastically marvellous skill that children have – it’s our job to help them to concentrate. That means giving clear instructions that are simple enough for them to understand and being realistic about the amount of time that we expect our kids to stay engaged for.

Build self-confidence

Kids thrive on praise, when we ‘big them up’ it builds their self-belief and this helps them to focus on the task we want them to do. When a child believes they have the skills and knows that we believe in their abilities, they often want to show themselves that they can do it and that’s motivating. When their confidence is wavering, support them through the task and share clear and specific actions they need to take to deliver.

Provide reminders 

Children have short memories. By breaking big projects into small steps, they can work little by little and day by day. Providing regular reminders about what they have been asked to do, and the great progress they’re making, helps to sustain the energy they need to stay on task or engage in longer-term projects.

Set up rewards

In much the same way as we reward ourselves when we complete a project, task or goal – with a cup of tea, hot bath, or other small treat – make sure that you have a clear reward system in place to motivate and encourage your kids to complete the tasks they have been set. The treats needn’t be expensive or elaborate, more a token gesture that demonstrates that when they work hard, they are rewarded for that effort. This could be as simple as allowing them to choose what they have for tea, to select a shared activity, or a movie / TV show to watch.

Friday, 17 November 2017

The benefits of team sport for men’s wellbeing

There’s a reason why men often hang up their football or rugby boots when they approach middle age – the toll of competitive sports on the body can be significant and often men feel the need to step aside in favour of their younger, more agile counterparts.

However, men the length and breadth of the UK – and further afield – are realising they needn’t be so hasty in giving up team sports altogether – it’s more a case of taking down the intensity a notch or two! Peter Reddy, a researcher and reader in psychology at Aston University has been studying the benefits of walking football on players aged 50 and over.

It seems that the latest sports craze – walking football –  is having a beneficial impact not just on men’s physical health, but their mental well-being too. Men who have played football all their lives reported higher levels of flow (a feeling of satisfaction) and lower levels of stress when playing.

There are a number of reasons why retrieving your footy boots is definitely a good idea – even if your pace and core strength isn’t what it once was. The benefits of team sports extend far beyond the exercise you’re getting. They include:

  • Building confidence. When playing a team sport, we are able to gain a greater self-awareness, and appreciate what it takes to work well within a group. Being part of an effective team helps develop our self-confidence and this translates into our working and personal lives too.
  • Developing relationships. The friendships we build within our teams – with our team mates and coaching staff - helps us create stronger relationships outside too. We learn how to give and take instruction, how to collaborate and how to work together towards a common goal. Team sports are a great way of expanding our social circle and nurturing positive friendships that extend beyond our chosen team sport. 
  • Better transferable skills. When we play sport, what we’re actually doing – as well as exercising – is following a precise set of rules and fulfilling a specific role. Through team sports, we learn the importance of time management and discipline, as well as appreciating what we have to do to win for the team - these skills can only help us in other areas of our lives too. 
  • Putting winning into perspective. Sometimes as adults we focus too much on achievement. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best we can be, but team sports help us be less selfish and enable us to focus on shared successes and failures. Losing as a team can still pack a punch, but somehow dealing with disappointment is less painful when shared with others. Team sports help us to enjoy winning and endure losing better than we could do alone.

In summary, team sports – whatever our age – can help us not only maintain our physical well-being but also develop more mental resilience, which can only be good news. So, if you feel like you’re living life on a treadmill or are doing the minimum needed to keep going, maybe it’s time to dig out your kit and get back to a team sport?



Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Men and money – why not earning can take an extra toll on men

Losing your job or taking time out of a career to return to studies / undertake parental duties has massive financial implications for us all. However for men – who are still often perceived as the main breadwinner and provider – the stress can be considerable and really take its toll on an individual’s mental health.

A study in 2016 found that men are twice as likely to feel responsible for the finances in their family or relationship as women. Nearly a third of all men, feel the financial burden in a relationship and believe they are responsible for financial matters, compared to just 14% of women.

This could be for a number of reasons, not least the gender stereotypes we are all exposed to from childhood, or the fact that many of the highest earning jobs are traditionally regarded as being male roles. Either way, when a man is no longer able to bring money into his household for whatever reason, it can impact on his mental wellbeing to a greater extent than for his female counterparts. 

There are lots of practicalities that need to be addressed when you’re not earning, such as going back to basics. Most of us spend what we earn. We earn more, our standard of living increases. Conversely, when our earnings dip, a quick and simple review of our outgoings often shows us that we don’t actually need to maintain our former standard of living and that we can in fact, live well for less. This realisation in itself can help to relieve the financial burden of not earning.

As can reflecting on why you’re finding it so hard to accept yourself as a non-earner. It can be helpful to explore why not earning plays so heavily on your psyche. Often, even if their partner is earning, some men still feel bereft when unable to provide for their family. This points to other issues, not merely a financial difficulty. Working with a counsellor can help you scratch beneath the surface and uncover the true reasons behind your need to be the breadwinner.

This Huffington Post article contains more practical advice about reviewing your finances, it also highlights the importance of spousal support and encouraging men to explore new hobbies and interests when out of work.

Finding something productive to do when you’re out of work serves three purposes. Firstly, it keeps your mind active and provides a constructive distraction from the job hunting/studying or care giving. Secondly, it helps you to learn new skills – or keep the skills that you already have sharp. Finally – and perhaps most importantly – it enables you to add a value to the contribution you make to society that does not relate to money. Often we judge our own success by the amount of money we earn when we are really much more than that. Often it takes a period of non-earning to help us re-evaluate our own sense of self-worth.



Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Are your daily habits and behaviours holding you back?

Not all of us can change the world, however, as human beings most of us want to achieve our full potential. This doesn’t always happen though and the reason for this often lies at our own door. As creatures of habit, it’s very easy to get locked in a pattern of behaviour that will stop us from doing what we are truly capable of.

The good news is that - with a bit off effort – we can change our destructive habits and replace them with a set of behaviours that set us up for success.

Remove distractions


To switch on your mind and creativity, you first need to switch off the many distractions that eat away at your time. Being connected to the world 24/7 has its advantages, but it also takes you away from focusing on what you need to develop yourself. Nothing ever got done well in front of the telly; nobody ever achieved anything of note watching their tablet. Appreciate the need to have some ‘switch off time’ every day and let your mind rest.

Get active


With many of us holding more sedentary jobs than we used to, it’s easy to see how exercise takes a back seat. However keeping active is key to keeping your mind and body in tip top condition. Without daily exercise you can quickly end up in a slump and it’s harder to motivate yourself. Just twenty minutes of activity a day is enough to keep minds clear and bodies healthy - and that’s what is needed to achieve your full potential.

Time out


Tell us, how much time each day do you put aside for yourself? It’s hard to pinpoint, isn’t it?

Do yourself a favour - set an alarm clock or timer for one minute every day. All you are to do for the entire time is focus on your breathing - nothing else. If your mind starts to wander, bring yourself back to your breathing, then simply stop when the timer tells you the minute is up. It’s a simple process but just taking a mindful minute every day is enough to focus your mind and step away from the clutter and chaos that can often hinder your productivity.

Complain less


There are times when venting your spleen can lighten you and make you feel better, however often we can all fall into the trap of complaining about that which we cannot change – and that can stop you from moving forward. Make yourself a promise not to complain about things that you personally cannot change – it’s a waste of energy. When you catch yourself complaining, stop, and then see how quickly not-complaining affects your overall mood and happiness.


Remember, we’re only here once and it’s up to us to make the most of the time we have - the power to achieve great things is in your hands.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Stoptober – tips to kicking the habit

We’re in October now – have you joined thousands of others to declare this as the month you'll give up smoking?

Stoptober is an NHS initiative designed to support people wanting to kick their smoking addiction. Their figures claim that if you can give up smoking for 28 days you’re five times more likely to stop for good.

In many ways, the growth in popularity of e-cigarettes is proof that you’re not alone in your desire to give up – they also provide an excellent tool to help you cut your nicotine intake. However, giving up the smoking habit for good is about more than swapping your cigarettes for another addiction. It’s about retraining your brain and body so that you no longer desire cigarettes in any form – or at least can refrain from smoking one, however much you crave it!

Dealing with any addictive behaviour is not easy – it’s a daily battle – so we’ve developed a few simple psychological tips to help you get through Stoptober – and beyond…

Identify your motivation

We all have a reason to want to give up something we enjoy - whether this be for health reasons; to lose weight / save money; or even just because friends and family have asked us to. We suggest writing out what is motivating you to do this and posting it somewhere you can see it easily. Then whenever you feel your cravings come to the fore, you can be reminded of the reason you’re quitting.

Go public

If you’re serious about quitting, tell as many people as you can. The more people who know, the more people available to help you through the difficult times, but more than this, you’ll also find that the more people who know about your efforts, the harder it will be to fall off the wagon and go back to your addiction because you’ll feel like you’ve let everyone down – not just yourself.

Keep busy

Very often the desire to light up stems from one of two reasons: habit and boredom. In order to keep on track, it’s really important to keep yourself busy – introduce a distraction that you can call upon whenever you feel the need to light up. This is often easier to do at work than it is at home, so take advantage. Make a cup of tea, do a few sit ups, run up and down stairs a couple of times, play a couple of rounds of a game on your phone – anything to take your mind off cigarettes, until the craving lessens. Many people find chewing gum, or sucking on a sweet, helps to keep their mouth occupied and reduces the need to smoke – it's worth a try - you've nothing to lose.

Visualise the best result

Visualisation is a tried and tested practice for helping to rewire thought processes. Brain studies reveal that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. In other words, when we think about positive outcomes, we are more likely to conquer our fears. Picture yourself in your mind as a non-smoker. How will you feel? Healthier, happier, richer? You need to picture your success, in order to be successful.

Turn it into a challenge

Why not have yourself a sponsored Stoptober and asks friends and family to sponsor you to succeed? You could even pledge the money you save from your first month of quitting to a charity or cause that’s close to your heart, then you can see just how much money your smoking habit was costing you. And again, by involving others in your journey, it’s much harder to fail.


All that remains for us to say is: good luck – you can do it!

More information and resources to help you through Stoptober >




Friday, 22 September 2017

Eat yourself happy

With the autumn now upon us, so too comes the temptation to switch from salads to carbs, and from fruits to fatty comfort foods. But did you know that what you put in your mouth not only impacts on your body, but on your mind too? We can literally eat ourselves happier!

We need food to fuel our bodies, but more often than not food is much more than that. It acts as a reflection of our mood. Feeling stressed or down? We might crave carbohydrates. Feeling happy or in need of celebration? There’s cake and chocolate for that! But have you noticed that the food items we choose when rewarding ourselves, are not actually what we need to boost our bodies?

Much like any other stimulant, the food items we choose when emotional, only provide a fleeting feeling of wellbeing. Chocolate or carbs – though fine for the body in moderation – are actually just a short term rush. They may make us feel good at the time, but this is often followed by a slump – and sometimes accompanying feelings of guilt or frustration too.

The reason we choose these sugar, fatty foods is no secret. These foods contain opioids – the same active ingredients that you’ll find in cocaine, heroin and many other narcotics! Is it any wonder that these emotional eating habits are so hard to break? We’re addicted to the feel-good high and put off by the feelings we experience when we try to stop.

But rather than seeking the quick fix route to make us fleetingly happy, we should actually be focussing on what we need to include in our daily diet to maximise our feelings of contentment and wellbeing. Indeed, it is a consistent, balanced diet that makes us happier because it makes us healthier and healthy body = healthy mind.

There are certain food types that we absolutely need within our diet. To ease the irritability and dissatisfaction that comes with constipation, we need fibrous foods. To ease depression, foods that are rich in Vitamin B12 – such as green vegetables – are a must.

Our five golden rules for choosing food that will heighten your happiness are:

  1. Eat regularly – this helps us avoid peaks and troughs in blood sugar, which can significantly impact on our outlook and mood. 
  2. Eat more carbohydrates – carbohydrates help your body produce serotonin which makes you feel ‘happy and healthy’. But make sure they are 'complex' carbohydrates from wholemeal foods rather than carbohydrates from refined foods, which will result in peaks and troughs in blood sugar (see point 1).
  3. Eat plenty of fish – this makes sure your levels of omega oils are topped up. A deficiency in these oils has been linked to low mood. 
  4. Eat plenty of iron – this makes sure our energy levels are up, which makes us feel positive. A lack of iron leads to fatigue and a preoccupied mind, that’s unable to focus properly. 
  5. Eat less fat – it quite literally weighs us down and leaves us feeling sluggish. 

According to mental health charity Mind, improvements in diet can lead to greater positivity, more energy, clearer thinking and calmer moods. They outline eight tips on how to improve your mood through food – including drinking more water and making healthy choices

Their suggestion to keep a food diary is a really useful tool for tracking particular food items and assessing the impact they have on your body – and your happiness levels.

They also advocate the practice of planning ahead and preparing foods in advance to freeze. This helps us make healthy food choices – it's easier to eat emotionally when you’re short on time and feeling under stress.

For more information about food and mood, you can access their information poster, here: https://www.mind.org.uk/media/2106853/foodandmood_web.pdf

Remember, there is no one rule fits all when it comes to ‘happy’ eating. We’re all different and as such, we will each react differently when we consume certain food and beverages. Get to know your own body, so you can make the right choices, for you and your happiness.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Can reading make you happier?

Finding it hard to fit reading into your day? Well as difficult as it may seem to find the time to read during the course of a busy day, a recent large-scale study shows that reading really is good for us – increasing self-esteem and reducing stress.

So, apart from the obvious educational benefits, what is it about reading that makes it so beneficial and how can we carve time out of our busy schedules to pick up a book or two?

An aid to anxiety


No matter how stressed out you feel, the act of reading will help you relax, regulate your breathing and reduce any tension in your muscles. And they’re just the physical benefits. Mentally, reading helps to focus our thinking, reduce the 'noise' and promote mindfulness. You have to be ‘present’ to read and often the very fact that you’ve removed yourself away from the source of your stress or anxiety through doing something else is enough to calm you down.

A way to expand your empathy for others


Reading fiction is a great way of escaping the everyday routine. It transports us to different situations and scenarios that we would not normally experience otherwise and in doing so, it helps us to appreciate things from a different viewpoint. Well-written fiction is designed to challenge our preconceived ideas, test our ideologies and encourage us to empathise with the situations and life-choices of others.

To pick you up when you are feeling down


Depending on the type of books you choose to read, books have the ability to make you feel happy. They help you put our own issues into perspective and, by reading about people in similar situations and facing the same challenges, they can help you feel less alone. Reading about people who have come out the other side can provide hope and make your own problems seem easier to manage. Books make us braver and help us believe that anything is possible.

To send you to sleep


Reading before bed can act as a signal to the brain that it’s time to wind down and go to sleep. Rather than busying your brain, reading actually helps to distract your train of thought. Reading helps to move your focus away from whatever has been happening during the day and onto the fictional story you’re reading. The faster you can switch off your mind, the quicker you can go to sleep. It’s as simple as that.


OK, so now we’re convinced about the benefits of reading, but how do we carve time out of our day to do it? Here are a couple of simple suggestions:


Buy the books


Rather than make a list of the books you want to read, actually buy the books instead. It’s a lot easier to find the time to do something when it’s physically there. Not just the one book either – buy a few – charity shops are full of them. If you're target driven, you can turn it into a reading challenge.

Before bed


As we’ve already mentioned, reading is a positive addition to any bedtime routine. So make yourself a promise to turn off the tv and devices twenty minutes before you retire to bed and pick up a book to read instead.

Digital reading during downtime


There are plenty of apps available that allow you to read through your digital devices. This makes it much easier to cram in a few chapters during your lunchbreak, when you’re in a queue or when you’re on the journey to/from work. However they are not so good for bedtime reading as the light they emit actually impacts on the quality of sleep you subsequently get, so remember to keep the devices for daytime reading only.

Schedule it in


If there's a particular time of the day when you get stressed or experience an energy slump, put some time in your diary then to have a read – you should feel the benefits in as little as 10-15 minutes. And once you have started to make reading part of your daily / weekly routine you soon won’t have to schedule it in at all, it will become second nature.

Read what you enjoy


This one sounds like common sense – and it is – but often we set aside the titles we really want to read, in favour of what we think we should be reading. Harry Potter, Stephen King, Jackie Collins – it really doesn’t matter what genre you’re into, the benefits will be the same and you’re more likely to make time for something that you really want to do.

For more reading inspiration and ideas on how to get started on your reading journey, why not have a look at www.goodreads.com .

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Making friends in a digital world

Meeting up is important for keeping friends
The school holidays have come to an end and many kids will have gone back to a class of new faces. Making friends is not always easy and in adulthood it can be trickier still. A recent study in the Metro found that adults have fewer friends today than in the 1980s. Social media could be a major player in this, as even those people who claim they have lots of friends say they do not feel they’re close enough with any of them to discuss important things in their lives.

We’ve developed some top tips for helping you build adult friendships that will last. Forget your Facebook friends – we’re talking about people who’ll be there for you when you need them and offer support and companionship beyond your digital devices.

Find people who like the same things you do

Most friendships are borne out of a common interest, belief or pastime. It helps to spark conversations and from there you can decide if you like each other enough for a true friendship to form. If you really want to make new friends, start by being in a place where likeminded people will congregate – join a club, pick up a new hobby or sign up to night classes.

You get out what you put in

In the early stages of a new friendship you have to make the time to nurture your new relationship. Once you've found someone you think has friend potential, set yourself the challenge to develop the connection. People can be shy, so if you get rebuffed the first time, make yourself a promise to try again. People will appreciate your early efforts. Of course, if after the second or third attempt there is still no connection made, accept that this friendship might not be going anywhere and turn your attentions elsewhere.

Digital friends can develop into more

Yes, this goes against what we’ve already said about Facebook and Twitter being two of the main reasons we have fewer ‘real’ friends these days, but when it comes to face-to-face friendships, social sites are excellent places to connect with likeminded people. Groups are cropping up all the time, filled with people who are also looking for new friends– just make sure you convert these virtual acquaintances into face-to-face meetings as this has been shown to be an important factor for retaining friends! If you do decide to meet up with an online friend, remember to tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back and always meet in a public place during the daytime until you get to know them better.

Revive faded friendships

There are many reasons why old friendships come to an end – we may move jobs, relocate or see our family situation change. However, if you find yourself in a friend famine, consider contacting some of your old friends to see if there is anything to rekindle there.


If you’re still unsure about how to create new friendships now you’re an adult, take a look at a technique called The Golden Rule of Friendship. This works on the theory that people will like you if you make them feel good about themselves. This Psychology Today blog explains all about it. It boasts a 100% success rate, so what have you got to lose? Those new friendships are closer than you think! 

Friday, 11 August 2017

Smiling - why is it good for us?

Have you ever heard the saying that smiling is infectious? It’s true. When we see someone smile, it takes a lot of effort not to replicate the behaviour and when we do smile, it makes us feel so good that we want to do it more!

This article suggests that when we smile, our brain actually creates a log of when we smile and what makes us smile. This activity log helps overrides the brain’s natural tendency to think negatively and if you smile often enough, it can actually rewire your brain into more positive thought patterns.

So what is it about smiling that makes us feel so good?


Each time we smile it releases tiny ‘feel good’ molecules – endorphins and serotonin - that help fight off stress. Endorphins relax the body, lower our heart rate and blood pressure. They also act as a natural pain reliever. Serotonin acts as a natural anti-depressant and mood lifter. And when we feel good, our productivity increases and our confidence grows.

The three studies below looked at the way smiling can benefit us and our minds/bodies:

A 2012 study in Kansas saw participants move their mouths into forced smiles with chopsticks! Sounds crazy, but the experiment found that the people with the biggest forced smiles experienced a substantial reduction in heart rate and quicker stress recovery after completing a stressful task, compared to those who kept a neutral facial expression.

In 2004, a study at Penn State University found that happiness spreads, smiley employees working within the service industry left a more positive impression on customers than those who did not smile. Customers were left feeling happier and more inclined to smile at others too. These smiles cannot be forced however, they must be authentic!

A Pittsburgh University study discovered that a smiling person is regarded as more trustworthy than someone who frowns or holds a neutral expression. Their study asked people to rank photos of models based on their perceived trustworthiness. The bigger the smile, the more trustworthy they were perceived as being.

To find out why smiling is perceived as infectious we really have to look back to Darwin’s 'Science of Smiling'. He theorised that smiling was a universal behaviour. Other nonverbal body language traits are more likely learnt, as they are different depending on which culture you are observing. Darwin also found that we are ‘prewired’ to connect with others via smiling, which means that people who are physically unable to smile find it more difficult to develop social relationships.

So there you have it. Smiling is scientifically proven to help us connect with people. What could you do today that would make you smile? The people around you will thank you for it!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

How to be happier

It’s 2017, we have more than we've ever had before and technology continues to make our lives easier in ways we could never have imagined when we were younger. However, research suggests that adults over the age of 30 are no happier.

In the 1970s, adults were considerably happier than today. Why is that? What has changed?

This feature looks at what being happy means and suggests that happiness lies mostly within our control. According to this article, even the smallest of actions, such as a warm bath or a long-anticipated cup of tea, can contribute to our overall happiness.

So, what can we do to inject some more happiness into our lives?

There is no secret formula to happiness. Indeed it means different things to different people. If you’re on a mission to become happier, there's a lot of advice to be gleaned from the habits and routines of happy people. It may sound too simplistic to say that they just choose to be happy, but attitude to life is a large part of it.

This article asks people to share their thoughts and tips on how to be happier and is an interesting read.

Make a list


A good way to start your journey to happiness is to write a list of the things you like to do in life – the things that make you smile and that speak to your soul. This can be anything from painting your toenails to playing with pets – or random acts of kindness to strangers. This article is a great starting point. Once you become happier, you won’t need the list, you will intuitively be drawn towards – and make time for – the things that make you happier, but it definitely helps to have a framework to start off with.

Healthy body / happy mind-set


The NHS suggests that in order to gain greater happiness, we need to give our bodies the respect they deserve. Cutting down on the booze, eating a healthy diet and taking more exercise, all help us manage stress, which contributes to our overall happiness. Check out this NHS webpage for more information.

Sleep makes us smile


Getting enough sleep also helps, giving our mental wellness a boost. When we sleep, our body continues to work, hard. It resets and balances our brain function and fights off anything that threatens our physical health, after a good night’s sleep, we wake up happier and ready to take on the day ahead.


Remember, there is a world of difference between unhappiness and depression. Unhappiness is a sense of dissatisfaction, of being unfulfilled or missing out on enjoyable activities and pastimes. Depression brings with it a sense of despair, that no amount of activity or distraction can fix. If you feel that your unhappiness is more deep rooted, a trip to your GP to discuss your situation may be advisable.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Surviving summer holidays on a budget

The thought of keeping the kids occupied during the summer holidays can be quite daunting and can be a great source of anxiety for many parents, especially if you’re on a budget. When school’s out and the sun is shining, children are more likely to be happy entertaining themselves – or at the very least you can grab a bat and a ball and visit the nearest park. However, the chances of a few weeks of great weather are slim, so we’ve pulled together some ideas that will help the summer holidays go swimmingly – without breaking the bank!

Plan ahead


The first thing to do is to plan ahead. If you know what time you have to fill and how you plan to fill it, you are less likely to succumb to impulsive activities that will cost more money. Develop a planner to cover you just for the summer break and work with your children to plot out how you will spend your time.

You don’t need to feel bound by the plan. If the weather is great one day and you fancy a trip to the river, feel free to swap activities around. Get the children involved in the plan, so that everyone has a say in what you’ve scheduled.

Scour the local papers and Facebook groups are full of free activities to fill your summer break. Lots of shops, leisure centres and libraries have a range of free and low cost activities throughout the summer break – and don’t forget the museums and art galleries that are often free to enter. Remember, most free activities need booking in advance, so get organised and plan ahead.

Stick to your budget


There’s no denying that the summer break can be an expensive time. Look carefully at your finances and be clear about the money you have available over the holidays. Make a promise to yourself not to go above and beyond the funds you have available. Break down your budget week by week, so that you don’t spend all your allowance in the first couple of weeks. Think about sharing your budget with the children (if they are old enough) so that they can understand the choices that have to be made.

Make money to spend money


The summer holidays is a great opportunity to teach your children about enterprise and the value of money. There are lots of activities that the kids can get involved in that will result in some revenue for their hard earned cash – which can also then go towards additional summertime treats.

Instead of asking them to tidy their room, ask them to find some old toys to sell on eBay, Shpock or Facebook selling groups. The money raised can be put towards the cinema, brunch or swimming trips that fall outside of your summer budget. Rather than doing arts and crafts that will later decorate your fridge door, suggest activities that the children can sell on to friends and family. Friendship bracelets, door hangers and baked goods are all relatively simple to do and attractive enough to sell.

If you’re feeling adventurous, consider a family Bargain Hunt-type event, where each child is given a small sum of money and tasked with increasing this sum by the end of the week/holiday. They can choose to buy and sell, or spend the money on materials that they will transform into crafts.

When is a chore not a chore?


Even the most mundane of household chores can be turned into an activity for children, with a bit of thought and preparation. Rather than going food shopping, suggest that the children come up with a menu for a family meal. Their job is to assess the ingredients they need, find them in the shop, prepare them and cook the meal. If gardening is your thing, consider setting aside a small corner of the garden so that the children can plant and tend to their own plants and flowers – vegetables and herbs are a good ideas, as they have a purpose and can be used by the children in cooking activities.

The best thing about these ideas is that they help build confidence in children too - so it's a win, win!
Here’s wishing us all a summer filled with sunshine – and remember to plan, just in case it isn’t!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Relaxation tips for getting the most out of your summer break

The summer is finally here – what are your plans? Lazing on the beach, relaxing by the poolside, chilling out reading the latest thriller? Well, that may be what we hope will happen but in reality, the summer break can be a much more hectic affair, as we struggle to juggle the work/life balance - often with kids in tow, while covering for work colleagues as they grab their fortnight in the sun…

As this article highlights, when it comes to relaxation our minds and bodies are linked. This means that relaxation is often beyond our reach while we are stressed and busy trying to survive the holidays.

Learning relaxation techniques can help you to restore calm when you’re feeling stressed, and make you more resilient to the stresses you’ll undoubtedly face over the summer break.

Practising relaxation techniques can have many physical, as well as mental benefits, including slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure. It also improves the quality of your sleep and improves your mood - helping you to get the most out of the summer.

In our busy lives, people can create negative associations with relaxing – claiming that it’s wasting time, or a luxury that we can’t afford. How wrong they are. Regular relaxation and stress-busting techniques are actually time well spent and vital for your physical and emotional health.

You’ll find many suggestions across the web about how to relax and the techniques you can use when you feel the stress starting to build. However, not all of these are compatible with the summer holidays.

The following ideas can be incorporated into your summer’s day, whether you’re at work or play – or trying to do both!

Mindful nature


Take a few minutes to really take in your surroundings. Pick a flower and really look at how it is made up. Take in its colour, the way in which the petals join together around the centre, think about the important job it has to do. Often we engage in activities without really thinking about what we are doing. Taking a mindful moment helps to re-centre us and remind us of our place in the broader scheme of life.

Listen to music


Have you ever wondered at the ability of music to transport us to a different time and place? Music taps into our subconscious and spark our emotions without much effort at all. Compile a couple of short playlists, with songs that contain positive associations, then take a few minutes out of your day to listen to a song or two that you know will either inspire, re-energise and calm you down.

Take a - tech - break


Set some time aside each day to switch off and have a tech break. No checking your emails, no responding to text messages or surfing the net. The fact that we’re constantly contactable and ‘on’ can be very draining, although we may not consciously acknowledge this to be true. By taking a short amount of time every day just to focus on ourselves – and our families – we can recharge our emotional batteries.

Summer is an enjoyable season, but can bring with it additional stresses and strains. For more ideas as to how to get the most out of your summer break, read this article.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Summer phobias and how to deal with them

The long-awaited British summertime is now upon us. It’s a time of light evenings, longer days and sun-drenched weekends eating ice cream and relaxing in our open spaces.

However, for some people the summertime brings with it unwelcome associations and phobias which can put a dampener on not only their enjoyment, but also that of their friends and family.

Summer phobias are more common than we think. A phobia is more intense than a dislike of something, or an unwillingness to do something. It will bring significant anxiety to the person when they see – or even think about – the source of their phobia.

Usually phobias arise as a result of a frightening or traumatic experience earlier in our lives – usually in childhood, but sometimes as an adult. A bee sting, a fall into the sea, or a bad case of sunburn are all enough to trigger a phobia. This article gives a full list of the ‘recognised’ summer phobias - there are more than we may think!

To many, your phobias may seem irrational – they may suggest you ‘get over it’ or advise you to ‘face your fears’, however phobias do not work like that. They are a real fear that manifests itself in physical symptoms – hyperventilating, cold sweats, palpitations... For this reason, most people tend to avoid the triggers relating to their phobia. The good news is there are recognised coping techniques that can help you manage your phobias and get the most out of the summertime.

Visualisation


Visualisation is a tried and tested practice for helping us manage our phobias by rewiring our thinking. When we think about the positive outcomes of our actions, we are more likely to take events in our stride and conquer our fears. Instead of thinking about the time you sat in the garden and were stung by a wasp, think about when you sat in the sunshine, without instance, enjoying your book with a cold drink in hand. If you think the best will happen, it can minimise the ways in which your phobia manifests itself.

Mindfulness


Find yourself a quiet space. Sit down, make yourself comfortable and breathe… That’s all - calm and steady. Take just a minute to be at one with your body and how it feels. The simple practice of mindful breathing helps to keep us focused and helps to manage our physical responses to phobias . If it helps, place your hands on your abdomen so you can feel your breathing motion.

Imagine the worst


Often our phobias are born out of an expectation that the worst is going to happen – when, most likely, it won’t. By thinking about the worst outcomes, we can put our phobia into perspective, which makes them easier to manage. For example, if you have a fear of open water and your friends are planning a riverside picnic, thinking about what would happen if you were to fall into the river (likely outcomes are that your friends would jump in after you; there would be lots of trees on the banks to break your fall and use as an anchor; or you could tread water until help came). The solutions that you have identified can be enough for you to keep your phobia in check and enjoy time with your friends.

Remember, being afraid is perfectly normal. Fear keeps us safe – it helps us properly assess situations and develop appropriate responses. Phobias however, can hinder our development and stop us from doing things that would otherwise be enjoyable – or beneficial to our lives.

If your phobias are threatening to dampen your summer and the above techniques haven’t helped, it could be time to call in the additional support, such as clinical hypnotherapy and talking therapies.




Sunday, 18 June 2017

The important role of being a father

With Men’s Health Awareness Week coming to an end, what better way to end it than with a tribute to our fathers on father's day. Whether it be a coffee in the morning or a fancy spa break, this is the day to treat your dad to something special. So, what is it we are celebrating? Are we simply saying thank you for putting up with us or is there more to it than that?

The role of the father figure has shifted significantly over time. Hundreds of years ago, the role of the father would be as both breadwinner and authoritative conveyer of rules and moral codes. More recently, the changing and expanding roles of women have allowed for men to shift more comfortably into the position of care-giver, providing more for their children than just financial stability. Despite this, statistics show that in recent years, UK shoppers spend an average of 75% more on Mother's Day than they do on their dads.

Research has shown that the involvement of fathers is critical to a child’s growth, health and well-being with reports showing that they are more likely to form stronger relationships, have confidence in new surroundings and be more emotionally secure. Not only can a positive male role-model encourage young boys to develop positive gender-based characteristics, daughters are also more likely to form a positive opinion of other men in their lives and subsequently stronger relationships.

Even in early childhood, playful activities that allow young children to interact and bond with their fathers can have an impact on and develop patterns for future relationships. A report by the NRFC shows that the presence of a responsible father can improve academic performance and minimise the need for disciplinary action for children.

Despite all the positive’s that can come from being a father, as with motherhood, there can be challenging aspects that men can struggle with such as post-natal depression including symptoms of overwhelming anxiety and stress.

First Psychology recognises that fathers deserve just as much time for themselves as all the mothers out there so this Father’s Day, read more here about how our experienced practitioners can provide a space for men to talk about and work through their struggles in this wonderfully important role.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Why men find it hard to seek help

As it's the start of Men's Health Awareness Week, we thought we'd take a look at how how gender affects our desire to seek psychological help and to recognise the need for change.

Do you need to change? Are you like Jim?

Jim comes home from work on Tuesday night - exhausted! He goes to the living room to find his wife already watching something on TV and feels annoyed. His wife asks: "What's wrong with you Jim? Why can't you cheer up?" This angers him so he snaps back at her trying to get her to understand why he's annoyed. She doesn't understand. how can she not understand? They argue for ten minutes before Jim storms out, slamming the door behind him. He goes to the fridge, pulls our a beer and some crisps but isn't in the mood to waste time cooking especially when he has an early meeting in the morning. Jim feels all his muscles ache so he decides he should lie down, the gym can wait. Jim's wife comes to bed and before he knows it, midnight has been and gone. Jim tosses and turns. he just bought a new mattress but why can't he get comfortable? What feels like five minutes passes and the alarm is screeching in Jim's ear. He puts it on snooze, breakfast can wait, Jim thinks, I'll have a good feed after the gym tonight.  
That same evening... 
Jim comes home from work on Wednesday night - exhausted!

Jim is showing many of the signs that things are not right and need to change. He is tired, unable to sleep and snappy. He seems caught in a daily routine that doesn't work for him. He is not happy and men in this situation often find it hard to recognise there is a problem or to know what to do to make things better.

Since the 19th century, men have been taught to follow an unwritten code for being masculine. This is an outdated code of assumptions, rules and beliefs that society has developed about boys and men. So society has a lot to answer for in terms of how men perceive themselves and cope with the world around them.

Young boys are taught that only certain colours are appropriate to them - this happens from the minute they are born when they are dressed in blue.

In adulthood men are taught to be strong, aggressive, always in control, unfeeling and capable of handling problems on their own without seeking help. This explains why men are less likely to seek help when things get on top of them. As a result of not feeling able to get the help they may need, man can feel alone and depressed and in more severe cases, suicidal. Did you know that three quarters of suicides in the UK are committed by men?

It's clear that we need to learn to understand the language of men better. Everyone no matter what gender or age should be encouraged to speak about their feelings - that's part of being human. Men are not weak by seeking help, but showing they can adapt to their situation. That demonstrates strength.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

How to spot and support a male midlife crisis

It’s often the subject of jokes when people reach their 40s, but evidence suggests that midlife crises are a real concern for many. Studies show that a modern day midlife crisis can hit men around the age of 43, while for women it’s usually a year or so later. 

While women can often talk through their concerns with their peers, for the majority of men this type of conversation can be difficult and as a result, they can often feel the effects of a midlife crisis more acutely.

According to this article, the male midlife crisis can be triggered by a number of events, such as unrealistic or unrealised ambitions, stresses and pressures of being a provider or an avoidance or reluctance to grow up. For some, there is a sense that time is running out and, although not a medical condition in its own right, these thoughts can often present themselves through physical and mental symptoms.

As well as anxiety and depression, when they reach their mid 40s to early 50s, some men experience loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, mood swings and other physical or emotional symptoms. Some people call it the male menopause and suggest that some men go through both a psychological crisis and a hormonal one.

The term 'male menopause' is used to describe the hormonal, physiological and chemical changes that occur in men. It's true that testosterone levels gradually decrease from the late 20s, reaching pre-puberty levels by the age of 80. However, this in itself should not trigger any symptoms or physical issues.

In most cases, the male mid-life crisis is primarily psychological in origin, which can be addressed in a number of ways:

  • Finding better ways of tackling stress, such as exercise or other physical activity, like gardening. 
  • Avoiding alcohol, nicotine or other stimulant drugs that actually add to the body's stress and can dampen your mental wellness.
  • Engaging with a range of complementary therapies, such as aromatherapy and yoga. These can have a powerful relaxing effect which helps promote a positive mood and relieve mild depression. 

The journey from youth to middle age and on into old age may seem daunting, but you can choose to see it as a ‘glass half full’ experience and use it as an opportunity to change the direction of your life: take up a new hobby, learn a new skill, travel, return to education, try something you've never tried before, commit to stretching yourself every day.

Mindfulness practices (which we explored in a previous post)– can really help to centre yourself in the moment and appreciate your adult life as a gift. Talking therapies can also prove helpful, and are a first step in assisting someone you suspect is suffering.

Often, just a conscious change in thought patterns and our own mental perspectives on middle age can start to bring about change. There are many positives within our adult lives that we can tend to overlook, if we focus only on the negatives. These include embarking on more challenging work and learning opportunities, investing time into long-standing friendships and pursuing the opportunity to gain deeper spiritual satisfaction and appreciation in what we do.

If all these suggestions fail to lift the spirits of men you suspect are suffering from a mid-life crisis, then a visit to their GP  to rule out any underlying issues may be advisable. Our Therapy for Men service may also be helpful.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The benefits of a good night’s sleep

It’s estimated that we spend around a third of our lives (around 25 years) sleeping -  that’s a long time - but entirely necessary, if we are to live a long and healthy life.

So, what’s so special about sleep anyway? Why is it important to us and our wellbeing?

While we sleep


Getting enough sleep – and specifically, deep sleep – is vital not only to our physical wellbeing, but to our mental wellness also. When we sleep, our body continues to work, hard. It resets and balances our brain function and fights off anything that threatens our physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development.

Sleep is the mind and body’s opportunity to refresh and restore itself. During periods of deep sleep, growth hormones are released and our immune system rebuilds itself. This doesn’t happen when we’re awake. There are four reported stages of sleep:

Light Sleep: this is the transition from being awake to being asleep. Your breathing slows, and you drift away from consciousness. This stage only occurs once when you first fall asleep.

Unconscious Sleep: during the second stage of sleep, your body temperature decreases and your heart rate slows down. At this stage, you are ready to enter deep sleep.

Deep Sleep: it will be difficult to wake you from a deep sleep. Not much is known about what actually happens to us during a deep sleep. But, given that we don’t dream during deep sleep, it could be the time when our brain refreshes and consolidates our memories.

REM sleep: this is when we dream. If we’re woken up during REM sleep, we can vividly remember what we were dreaming about. Scientists believe that we experience muscle paralysis during REM sleep, so that we don’t injure ourselves while trying to act out our dreams!

Once we’ve actually dropped off, an average sleep cycle averages between 100 to 120 minutes and we could go through up to five sleep cycles each night.

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

Accidents happen


Studies show that sleep loss and poor-quality sleep can lead to accidents and injuries. Indeed, drowsiness can slow reaction time to the same extent as alcohol can.

Memory loss


Sleep helps us to think clearly and a lack of sleep impairs our cognitive processes. We become less aware and find it more difficult to concentrate. When we’re asleep, our minds consolidate what we have learned that day, so a lack of sleep makes it difficult to recall what we have previously experienced.

Health hazards


Sleep disorders and general lack of sleep put us at risk of a number of other conditions, such as heart issues, blood pressure problems, diabetes and stroke. It is said that many people who suffer from insomnia also have another health condition too.

How can we get more sleep?


If you find falling asleep difficult or struggle to sleep when you would like, there are a number of things you can do to help:

Retire and rise at the same time – try and get your body into a routine with regular bedtimes and wake-up calls each morning. Aim for between six to nine hours each night. Use your alarm to wake you and try and stick to the routine – even at the weekends.

Take time to wind down – and that includes turning off the technology! Try a warm bath. Some people find that writing a to-do list for the next day helps to clear the mind, ready for sleep.

Exercise with caution – gentle stretches and yoga type exercises will encourage sleep, but while we may think that exercise leaves us exhausted, it actually reinvigorates us and makes sleep harder to achieve.

So, whatever else you have going on in your life, make sure that you take sleep seriously. Your mind and body will thank you for it!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Getting down with the kids – how to play with your children

It’s the International Day of Families on 15 May 2017.  There is no shortage of blogs detailing the trials and tribulations of being a parent – there is much joy to be had – however, there is no denying that the changes in our society have impacted the lives of our children. They spend more time indoors than previous generations and much less time ‘playing out’ than we may have done when we were young.

This puts pressure on adults to spend more time directing the activities of their children and playing with them. In the main, parents really enjoy playing with children. However,  there is confusion around how adults can best to do this constructively and in a way that fits everyone’s abilities and interests.

Play is a natural learning process for all children. It helps them build confidence and develop physical skills, it teaches them empathy and about caring for others and the environment. For younger children, it also plays a vital role in developing language and communication skills. When children play with their parents, this helps them to feel loved, valued and safe.

In order to play constructively with our children, we need to do two things.

Figure out why we are playing with them


Do we just want to spend more time getting to know them? Is it not safe for them to play outside with their peers? Are their certain social skills that are holding them back from making positive friendships with other children? By being honest about why you are engaging in play, you can develop an activity that will help your child.

Consider how they would play if they were with other children


In order to create a constructive play environment, we should first observe how children play with others. There is a tendency for adults to take control and direct the play, as they would any other interaction with their children (do the dishes, get ready for bed, etc.), but all that’s teaching your child is to be able to take orders! On the other hand, this is not an opportunity for children to boss us about either - parents should be willing to assert themselves as their peers would, or they are not helping them develop the negotiation skills they need in the future.

If we look at animal behaviour, the young will roughhouse and run, just for the sheer fun of it. But in doing so they are learning more about their bodies, what it can do and what their limitations are. It’s easy for us as adults to forget how to play – our bodies don’t work the same as when we were young and we can feel awkward and self-conscious.

An interesting study  (Gray and Feldman, 2004) looked into how teenagers play with younger children. They find it much easier to tap back into their inner child and have less reservations about standing up to a child’s unacceptable demands than we adults do, but they are less likely to offend when they do say no!

So, once we’ve decided we’re going to play, what are we to do? We’ve got a few ideas for you here:

Outdoor play


  1. Throw balls – catch is a good way to improve hand eye coordination, and communication skills.
  2. Go to the local park and push your kids on swings, catch them as they come down the slide – have a go yourself! 
  3. Make mud pies in your garden; if you have a sand pit make sandcastles and get another family to choose the best. 
  4. Go on a nature walk around your local area – make things with what you find.

Indoor play


  1. Play card games/ board games /party games – they teach children (and us) how to win, lose and follow instructions.
  2. Embark on a craft project together – paint, build, stick, sew, bake – kids get a real sense of satisfaction out of creating an ‘end product’.
  3. Listen to music together – sing, play percussion, dance, share stories of music that was popular when you were young.
  4. Read a book together – take it in turns, ask questions, write an alternative ending or make up a new story altogether.

Playing with your children should never replace the time that they spend with their peers, but it is an important opportunity for you both to learn more about each other – and this can only serve to strengthen your family relationships.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

How to give your kids more freedom this summer

With the light and unusually balmy evenings we're having, people generally share a desire to spend more time outside than during the autumn and winter. The same is true of our children too – it’s much more appealing to play outside with their friends than to stay home with us.

It’s a dilemma for parents though. Light and warm evenings provide the perfect distraction to get our children away from all the social media and technology gadgets that claim so much of their time indoors; however, it’s a big, bad world out there. How exactly do we assess whether our children possess the skills they’ll need to survive outside the safety of their home? This interesting article about 'helicopter parenting' looks at the challenges that parenting in today’s modern society brings.

What we need to remember is the fact that we’re trying to build a balance as they move from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. We need them to develop the skills they’ll need to be independent, while still appreciating the role their parents play in terms of advice, guidance and general safety.

As parents, we have a natural tendency to underestimate our children’s readiness to be more independent. We only need to look to our own childhoods to appreciate that the children today do not enjoy many of the freedoms afforded to us by our own parents and carers.

If you think your child may be ready for more freedom – or indeed they are requesting it - our advice is to take baby steps, start off small and build on it. This serves two purposes: it eases the transition for parents between them being visibly safe at home, to spending more time out of eyesight, with their friends; it also enables parents to assess their child’s ability to abide by the rules they are set. Gradually increase the time they’re able to play out by a half an hour at a time and see if they comply. Ask them to call at regular intervals – not just to ease your mind, but also so that they are clear about their responsibility to keep in touch when away from home.

Before making any decisions, it doesn’t hurt to do your research first. Don’t be pressured into agreeing to things just because your child says everyone else is ‘going there’ or ‘doing that’ – do your due diligence first. Ask around the other mums to find out what levels of freedom their peers have and couple this with some of your own online research, using parenting forums and education websites.

Don’t be afraid to build increased freedom rights into your home discipline routines too. Use increased independence as a reward for excellent behaviour and good choices made at home. This reinforces the concept that parents remain the guardians of their children’s time – and how they spend it, which helps to build a mutual respect.

Giving our children the independence they crave – and possibly need, in order to become well rounded, responsible adults – is one of the hardest jobs we have to do as parents. In some ways, the advances in mobile communication make it easier for us to keep tabs on our children in ways our own parents never could. However, our children still need to learn that independence is a privilege – we hold the key to their freedom, but they need to earn it first.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

It’s national humour month – what makes laughter the best medicine?

The saying goes that laughter is the best medicine and there’s no denying the fact that our spirits lift when we smile or laugh. But why exactly is it so therapeutic and what can we do to make sure humour remains a constant component of our everyday lives?

National Humour Month kicked off on 1st April, April Fool’s Day, a day when it’s culturally OK to laugh, joke and prank our friends and family. The sentiment behind National Humour Month is more serious – it’s about raising awareness of the therapeutic value of humour; what happens to our bodies, our mental wellbeing and our quality of life when we laugh and joke.

As good for you as exercise – and much more fun!


The fact that laughter is good for you is grounded in scientific research too. In this video link
we see how the blood sugar levels of diabetic patients rise less after eating a meal at a comedy show, because laughing improves digestion and speeds up respiration and blood circulation. It also claims that laughing 100 or more times a day may have the same health benefits as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise!

We laugh at people, more than we do actual jokes


In another study reviewed here, students observed more than 1000 people laughing spontaneously in their natural environments. They found that mostly we laugh at other people rather than actual jokes – the way they relay stories, observe everyday life and provide commentary on the ordinary and mundane. This goes to suggest that if we surround ourselves with happy people, it will rub off on us too. It's the act of laughing that makes people feel better – rather than what we laugh at – so a good sense of humour and a positive attitude play a role in the health benefits we experience, too.

It’s OK to fake it


The best news is that the benefits you get from laughing can be realised whether your laughter is real – or forced! It’s all about the physical act of laughing. While you may feel awkward at first, the people who attend the Laughter Club mentioned in this Huffington Post article say that you soon lose your inhibitions and natural laughter follows – along with the benefits to your wellbeing.

So, why exactly is laughing so good for us?


  • A good laugh relieves tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
  • Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies.
  • Laughter releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, which makes us feel happy and can help relieve pain.
  • Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow.

Remember, laughing is for life – not just April, but why not use National Humour Month as the catalyst to welcome more laughter into your life? It can only be good for you.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Exercising for health and wellbeing – making the most of the great outdoors

Do you have a spring in your step, now that the seasons have changed?

There is something about the lighter evenings and brighter weather that make us yearn to be outdoors. The great news is that this can be as good for your mind, as it can for your body.

The link between exercise and our physical wellbeing is well documented, however it is now becoming evident that exercise has benefits beyond our body. It can be good for our mental wellbeing too – and when we feel good on the inside, it shows on the outside. We’re not talking hours in the gym either, the NHS website outlines lots of ways that you can start to incorporate healthy activity into your busy daily schedule.



Now that Spring has sprung, we have no excuse not to be outside more. 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, and that a jog through the forest was much better for you than an hour of high impact activity in the gym! Just twenty minutes moderate exercise outside is enough to put a smile on your face and give you a feeling on inner wellbeing that will continue throughout the day.

So why does physical activity make us feel good?


When we exercise, our body releases endorphins which are the body’s natural sedative. These help us calm down, focus our thoughts and approach situations with greater clarity. Put simply, endorphins make us feel as though we can take on the world!

The hardest part is always getting started. So we’ve developed a round-up of some outdoors activities, that are good for you without you even realising it…

Gardening


Digging, planting, clearing leaves, moving pots, mowing the lawn are all more strenuous than we realise – and much more enjoyable than an hour on a treadmill. At this time of year, our gardens really could you with a bit of TLC, so why not?

Cleaning the windows


No-one wants to spend time and effort cleaning windows when the weather is lousy, so chances are your window’s really could do with a spruce up at this time of the year. All the bending and reaching really does give your body a workout.

Washing the car


Wax on, wax off… In the twenty-odd minutes it takes to give your car a really good clean, your heart will have started to pump more blood around your body than usual, producing the endorphins you need to raise your mood.

Buying groceries


Yes, buying groceries is a chore, but why not turn it into part of your exercise regime? Pick a shop 15 minutes' walk away and head there to buy the shopping you need. The return journey will provide even more of a workout, as you’ll be carrying the bags but remember to distribute your shopping load equally and don't overload yourself.

How long do I need to be outside for?


As little as 30 minutes is enough to release the serotonin and endorphins we need to feel better mentally – and this can be split into two shorter 15 minutes stints if it helps. For more information about how to get the most out of your outdoor walks, a professor at by the University of Exeter looks at the reasons why walking is such an effective form of exercise and the ways in which we can get the most out of walking in this article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-122898/Why-walking-workout-good-body.html 

Monday, 20 March 2017

International Day of Happiness - what would you write on your wall?

Today is international day of happiness, a day started by the United Nations in 2012. The first year that the day was celebrated, orange 'happiness walls' sprang up in many cities - places for people to share their ideas for achieving happiness.

So we thought we'd do our own happiness wall with some tips for achieving happiness in life.

What would you write on your own happiness wall? Visit Twitter and tell us what you'd put on your wall using #HappinessWall and we'll add our favourite tips to our own wall.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Nutrition and hydration week - how food can affect your mood

The saying goes that we are what we eat and what better time to look at whether there’s any truth in the saying than during Nutrition and Hydration week?

Drink


When it comes to drinking, people often choose alcohol to help change their mood. They may have a tipple to feel more relaxed, to help them engage more freely with others, or to give them that ‘happy’ vibe. However, evidence suggests that while alcohol does indeed change our mood, it’s not in the way we think. As a depressant, booze is likely to worsen symptoms of anxiety. So as we drink to alleviate feelings of stress, sadness or anxiety, in reality alcohol is exacerbating them.

The same can be said of caffeine. When taken in a drink, Caffeine quickly blocks the action of a brain chemical called adenosine. It’s a naturally occurring sedative so without it we feel more alert and sharp. That’s why coffee is a popular morning beverage However, for people pre-disposed to feelings of anxiety, it can actually leave you feeling more anxious.

Similar chemical changes occur in our body when we drink sugary drinks too. We get a rush and peak of energy as the sugar reaches our system – which can feel great and make us more productive – only to crash again soon after as our body over-produces insulin to absorb all the sugar. This leaves us feeling irritable and less able to focus. These highs and lows can be significant when it comes to managing our moods.

Food


There are a number of studies that have been done into the links between what we eat and how it impacts our mood. But the converse is also true – does our mood affect what we choose to eat, and in doing so does it create a vicious circle? We feel down so we make bad food choices that only serve to make us feel worse. This article in psychology week looks at the many ways in which our mood affects our food choices and the impact this then has on our body and brain.

There are a few golden rules to follow if you believe that your food choices could be impacting on your mood. It’s not rocket science, but it’s always best to look at the some of the most common contributory factors before we look at other ways of modifying our eating and drinking behaviours.

Five golden rules to boost your mood


  1. Eat regularly to avoid peaks and troughs in blood sugar – food fuels the body and without it we cannot function properly.
  2. Eat more carbohydrates – carbohydrates help your body produce serotonin which makes you feel ‘happy and healthy’. But make sure they are 'complex' carbohydrates from wholemeal foods rather than carbohydrates from refined foods, which will result in peaks and troughs in blood sugar (see point 1)
  3. Eat plenty of fish to make sure your levels of omega oils are topped up – a deficiency has been linked to low mood.
  4. Eat plenty of iron to keep energy levels up – without iron we can feel fatigued and preoccupied.
  5. Eat less fat – it quite literally weighs us down and leaves us feeling sluggish.

According to mental health charity Mind, improving our diet can lead to greater positivity, more energy, clearer thinking and calmer moods. They outline eight tips on how to improve your mood through food -  – including drinking more water and making healthy choices

Unfortunately, there is no one rule fits all when it comes to ‘clean’ eating and drinking habits that will improve our mood. Our bodies are all different and as such, we will each react differently when we consume certain food and beverages. What we can do, however, is get to know how our bodies react to what we put in our mouths and make more mindful decisions about what we consume in order to keep our spirits high.