Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Addressing money worries at Christmas

Although it should be a happy time of the year, the festive season can be a worrying time where finances are concerned.

In the run-up to Christmas, when we're expected to be preparing for a season of fun and festivity, many of us become more anxious and stressed as the Big Day approaches. Undoubtedly, it’s an expensive time of year when money worries become even more concerning.

Debtpression

We’ve all the heard the phrase ‘money is power’, and a study in the Journal of Consumer Research saw participants actually salivating at the concept of money when primed to feel they lacked power. So what then of debt? How does it effect how we feel about ourselves and what is debtpression?

Many people equate money with power and success, believing it to make them appear more attractive, popular and successful to others. Conversely, not feeling able to spend can create a strong sense of powerlessness and failure, which can be highly disturbing. Debt equates to emotional pain. Indeed, debt and mental health problems often go hand in hand.

When we feel low, we spend money to make ourselves feel better. We’re bombarded by adverts telling us certain products will lead to positive emotional experiences. Spending therefore becomes habitual as it meets our deep-rooted psychological needs.

When we're in debt we often feel stressed, anxious and depressed. To cope with these feelings, many people ignore the debt and continue to spend money to make themselves feel better. In the long term this leads to more debt and the feelings of guilt and anxiety return. This becomes a vicious circle, which harms mental wellbeing and has been dubbed ‘debtpression’.

It all sounds so gloomy, but debt can have positive outcomes too, driving people to be resourceful. Many small businesses have been started in recessions as individuals become more creative in their attempts to make money. Debt can also force our hand, making us face our fears and try new things. Whatever our approach, acknowledging debt and taking action are crucial steps to avoiding debtpression.

Tips for budgeting at Christmas

It can be difficult to get to grips with our finances, especially if we already struggle to pay the bills or have the burden of debt. Even though you might prefer to stick your head in the sand and not think about your financial issues, this can lead to further stress in the long run.

Scrutinise your money situation – This will enable you to set realistic budgets that can prevent you from becoming ill with worry. Firstly, make sure the most important aspects such as paying bills are your priority. Work out how much you can afford to spend and look for ways you can cut back on costs. Most of us have things that we waste money on, for example, an unused gym membership, too many takeaway coffees, buying lunch on work days, buying books when we can borrow them from the library, etc.

Shop around – If the thought of not buying presents leaves you feeling uneasy, shop around for offers. With online shopping so easily available, you’ll find plenty of bargains. Ok, so it might be more time consuming, but it will consume less of your budget. Scour comparison sites to get the best deals as they will do a lot of the legwork for you. Money Saving Expert is another great place to find money saving tips at Christmas.

Don’t rely on credit – Tempting as it may be, unless you know that you're able to pay off your credit in full, resist borrowing as it can be a disastrous trap that could send your debt spiralling out of control.

Make a pact – Most adults, particularly those with children, will understand if you’re unable to spend a fortune on gifts. So, suggest that you only buy presents for the children – they’ll likely feel relieved themselves!

Spread the cost – There are two ways of doing this; put a set amount of money away each month throughout the year so that come December, you have a nice little pot of cash to spend. Alternatively, buy a present each month so it’s less of a shock on your purse strings.

Finally, remember that the festive season isn’t as important as your mental and physical wellbeing. Make sure you put yourself first (no matter how much of a Scrooge you feel). If you're in a situation where you can’t afford to spend any money at all, so be it. How about writing out some time tokens instead - you could wash their car, take their dog for a walk, make them a cup of tea, do a session of babysitting, get them a bunch of wild flowers - these things are free or cost next to nothing and sometimes the smallest acts of kindness are the things that matter most to people. And don’t forget, Christmas is one day of the year and it will be round again soon enough.

If issues with debt are causing you serious cause for concern and are having an impact on your health, National Debtline has lots of useful information and offers free debt advice.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Ways to help your child cope with mental health issues

There are many different mental health disorders that young children might have to deal with in their lives and, although each might need addressing slightly differently, there are some common ways to help your child cope.

Communication

One of the best ways to help your child cope with mental health issues is by communicating openly with them at all times. By showing your child respect and by being able to communicate honestly, you are allowing them the opportunity to discuss their feelings in a safe environment where they feel loved and unjudged.

Even without facing a mental health issue, growing up can often be difficult for children as they are learning about themselves and discovering their identity in the world. When we share our experiences with our children and discuss how we have dealt with similar issues, it can make them feel less alone and more comfortable to speak about their own feelings.

Ask for help

Because there are many different mental health issues, including bi-polar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), ADHD, depression and autism to contend with, sometimes we need to ask the experts for help as we are not always equipped with the knowledge and resources to deal with it on our own.

Encouraging your child to talk to the experts can give them and yourself a greater insight into the issue and you’ll learn about different strategies that can be put in place. Also, you’ll find support groups for children with similar mental health issues, which can make your child feel less alone and more accepted.

Provide a supportive environment

Once you've spoken with your doctor or social worker, you’ll be able to recognise symptoms and adjust your child’s environment accordingly. If you notice certain mood changes or specific symptoms that relate to their disorder, you’ll be more equipped to provide the right environment.

Perhaps you need to give them some space, or maybe they’ll benefit from an activity that will stimulate their mind, but you will be in a much better position to understand what your child needs.

Take care of their physical wellbeing

It’s equally as important to look after your child’s physical wellbeing in order for them to cope with their mental health issue. Spend time with them outside, whether that’s taking a walk in the countryside or going on a bike ride. Plenty of exercise, a well-balanced diet and a good sleep regime will all contribute towards improving their mental wellbeing.

Take care of yourself

Most importantly, remember to look after yourself, both mentally and physically so that you are able to provide the best possible care for your child. We are all human and no matter what age we are, we also need self-love. If you feel yourself becoming stressed, anxious or tired, take some time out and do something you enjoy or simply rest and clear your mind. Mindfulness and meditation are great ways to recharge your batteries and gain a clearer perspective on life.

Further information

It can be helpful to know what are ‘normal’ issues for a child to experience at a given stage of their life. Our booklet ‘Flourishing children – help your child to thrive’ looks at the different issues a child may experience and the sorts of things that may help. Download our families booklet here >

The NHS also has a wonderful online hub of information that provides children with advice and help on dealing with mental health issues.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Tips for preserving your energy

Have you ever felt that you’re being pulled in so many different directions that you can’t keep up? Work demands, family commitments, peer pressure and even the pressures of social media can all have a huge influence on your life without you even realising how much they’re draining you of your life energy.

When you’re being deprived of your inner strength and natural spark, it’s time to re-evaluate your life and flick the off switch. We have some much-needed tips for preserving your energy and reclaiming your life.

What drains you?

First and foremost, it’s important to take some time out to sit down and assess your current situation. What gives you the most beneficial return for the energy you spend and what do you need to eliminate from your life?

You might find that the most common stressor in your life is the demands of other people, or perhaps you get too caught up in 'keeping up with the Joneses', but whatever it is that’s draining you, you need to reverse the effects.

Avoid negative people

Often, one of the greatest drains on our energy reserves is people. Maybe they expect too much of us or pass their negativity on to us.

However, it's not possible to avoid all people all the time, but there are ways that we can reduce the impact they have on our lives. If a chat with a friend or colleague turns into gossip, make an excuse to leave the conversation and don’t get drawn in. Not only can negative talk of others cause an unwelcome atmosphere, it can also cause a lot of upset to the person being talked about.

You’ll also probably meet the types of people who are all too quick to point out your flaws or are critical of your lifestyle choices. Remember that how you conduct your life isn’t the business of anyone else. Try to avoid sharing any personal information with this type of person and don’t get into an argument with them.

How to say no

It can be easy to fall into the trap of being a people-pleaser, especially at work or with close friends and family, but if you are making too many sacrifices that ultimately leave you feeling unhappy, you need to learn to say no.

This can be quite difficult and can make us feel uncomfortable but once you realise that self-care is important to your wellbeing, the easier it becomes to say no.

  • Don’t feel the need to give reasons behind your decision
  • Remain polite yet assertive at the same time
  • Don’t give into pressure

If the person who is asking something of you has a negative response, all the more reason to stay firm. Do you really want to sacrifice your happiness for someone who doesn’t respect your decision?

Stop competing with everyone else

With social media playing such a huge part in many people's lives these days, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself and trying to live up to others’ ‘perfect lives’. Remember, what is portrayed on social media is often a false perception and people only let you see what they want you to see.

A study by the Royal Society for Public Health examining the effects of social media, shows that in the last 25 years, anxiety and depression in children has increased by 70%. There is so much pressure to look or live life a certain way, that we forget to appreciate our positive qualities and instead, focus on the negative.

Try replacing scrolling with something more meaningful, such as a country walk among nature. The less time you spend online and the more time you spend outside or doing something that makes you feel good, the less you will feel drained. These ongoing negative feelings can leave us stressed, anxious and depressed so it’s vital to step away and remind ourselves of what’s really important.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Is your home getting you down?


From time to time, we might feel under the weather, but have you ever considered it could be your home that is getting you down?

There are several reasons why your home might be affecting your wellbeing – is there too much clutter? Is it in need of a serious spring clean? Does it lack organisation? Whatever it is that’s making you feel out of sorts and a little uneasy, we have some top tips for organising your home and how it can benefit your wellbeing.

Stop daydreaming, start decluttering!

Before you can even think about sprucing up your home and achieving some kind of organisation, first you’ll need to take the plunge and declutter. You might be surprised to learn that studies undertaken by UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families(CELF) showed that a cluttered home can, in fact, cause stress. Sometimes, without us even noticing until it’s too late, we accumulate a wealth of ‘things’ that we don’t ever actually use or need. Before we know it, our homes are jam packed to the rafters and there is barely any space left for us to relax.

The amount of clutter that we amass can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, anxiety, stress and depression. So, it makes sense that if we create a home where there is less clutter and more organisation, we are likely to feel more content, relaxed and happier.

  • Before you start, create a list of categories that any clutter might fall under, such as keep, throw away, recycle or sell. 
  • Start with the room that has the least clutter first as you are less likely to feel overwhelmed by the task at hand and you can make space for any items that you might want to keep. 
  • Try not to spend too much time reminiscing about anything that you come across or reading through old diaries as this will only make the task take longer, and you might also talk yourself out of decluttering at all!

As you start to make progress, you will begin to feel a weight lifted and you might even start to enjoy the process, which can be extremely therapeutic.

Declutter your home, declutter your mind

If you wake up surrounded by an unclean house, it can really play havoc with your mindset. Although you might not realise it, the state of your home can cause anxiety and stress, which can affect our levels of cortisol in the body. This can lead to lethargy, high blood pressure and disturbed sleep. By decluttering, we can help create a more relaxed environment which will reduce stress and regulate our cortisol levels, meaning we will feel uplifted and energised.

Once you have completed decluttering, pull out the sofa, empty the cupboards and have a good spring clean. It’s quite surprising how much dust and dirt can build up when we neglect to clean behind and under things. If left for too long, this can cause respiratory problems and have a harmful effect on our physical health as well as our mental wellbeing.

Initially, it might seem like an uphill struggle to organise your home but once you make a start, you’ll begin to see the benefits that it has on your wellbeing. As well as the immense satisfaction that it brings, you will feel less stressed and more motivated.

Hoarding

Of course, we're referring to general accumulation of 'things' in this article. If you or someone you know have hoarding issues and the clutter is getting out of control or dangerous, you would be advised to seek the help of a professional as there is usually a deeper cause to hoarding, which you may need to explore. 
















Friday, 4 October 2019

Mastering the art of positivity

Did you know that too much negative thinking can cause actual physical pain as well as affecting our mental wellbeing?

When we spend too much time focusing on the negative, as well as complaining, our brain and thought processes are telling our bodies to act accordingly. Worry is a huge cause of stress and anxiety and unless it is dealt with or we make changes to our thought patterns, it can ultimately create negative feelings such as fear and anger. In turn, these feelings can trigger various reactions in our body which can cause us to feel tired and withdrawn.

But we can do something about our thoughts, and by mastering the art of positivity, we can rewire our brain and change our body’s reactions. OK, so when you are in a constant mindset of negativity, it may seem much more difficult to just switch off your thoughts, but by practising these simple techniques, you will start to see a difference in your thought process and overall sense of positivity.

Although it won’t happen overnight, positive thinking can help you cope with stressful situations better, thus reducing the damaging effects that stress and anxiety can have on your physical wellbeing.

Meditation and mindfulness

As you begin to become aware of your thoughts, meditation and mindfulness can help you reconnect with yourself on a deeper level. With so many external pressures impacting on our thought processes, these techniques help us recognise any negative thoughts - accept them and let them go. You only need to set aside 15 minutes each day to relax and empty your mind.

Be your own best friend

Many of us are fearful of rejection and failure so it’s understandable that we often expect the worst or feel the need to protect ourselves from the worst possible outcome.

“I’ll never be good enough”

“I don’t have the skills”

“Nobody likes me”

These might be some of the phrases you’re familiar with and tell yourself on a regular basis. But, guess what? The more you say these kinds of things to yourself, the more you will believe them, and this is also conveyed to the people around you.

Each day, when you wake up, try replacing this negative self-doubt with positive affirmations such as:

“I am a good and likeable person”

“I can achieve anything I put my mind to”

“I am good at my job”

After practising these affirmations on a daily basis, you will start to notice a shift in your confidence and self-respect, and you will actually start to believe that you are good enough.

Once you have mastered the art of positive self-talk, your mood will improve, and you’ll feel happier.

Stop complaining and be grateful

While many of us are guilty of complaining about trivial things from time to time, studies have shown that constant complaining can talk your brain into feeling anxious, which can then trigger negative emotions. But the good news is, these patterns can be reversed.

Try to pay attention to those moments when you find yourself complaining and instead, think of something that you are grateful for. When you start to change your thought patterns, you’ll begin to see a change in your mood and overall wellbeing.

Curious Mind Magazine looks more closely at how complaining rewires your brain.

Find out more about happiness

If you're interested in the topic of happiness, First Psychology is running workshops in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh, where you will learn about happiness and what really makes us happy. For more information and to book your FREE place, click here >







Thursday, 19 September 2019

Learning how to accept your emotions

Sometimes emotions can be extremely overwhelming, and we can become fearful of them if we don’t accept and learn from them. There are many different reasons why we might experience intense emotions that cause us to feel out of control and make irrational decisions. This can lead to anxiety which, in turn, triggers even more emotions. This process can be painful and sometimes quite frightening when we feel like our emotions are spiralling out of control.

The good news is, there are certain steps we can take to help us accept and deal with our emotions. Firstly, we need to understand that emotions are a natural part of being human; we all experience them from time to time.

Types of emotions

Whether you’ve had an argument with someone, lost a loved one or lost your job, there are many situations that can bring about negative emotions such as sadness, fear, shame or anger. Society often bullies us into believing that if we experience these negative kinds of emotions, we are a bad person, so we tend to shut them down and not deal with them properly. Although this can seem like the best thing to do in the short term (and to avoid judgement from others), in the long term, it can do more harm than good. Remember, it’s not just you that experiences negative emotions.

By accepting our emotions and dealing with them positively, we can start to feel better quicker and learn to resolve any issues that are so very often repeated. Humans have emotions for a reason, and they can provide us with vital information about situations we need to confront or deal with.

Learning how to accept our emotions

By accepting our emotions and recognising that they are a natural response to certain situations means that we can become less judgemental of ourselves. There’s a difference between resigning ourselves to emotional pain and wallowing in self-pity, and accepting our feelings. We must remind ourselves that emotions are only ever temporary. Regardless of whether we’re feeling joy or sadness, they happen for a reason: to help us make decisions about what we need to change in or lives. When we listen to what our emotions are trying to tell us, we can take important information from them and act upon them accordingly.

Recognising our emotions

Before we can truly accept our emotions, it’s important to recognise what they are and why we are feeling them in the first place. If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed by a particular emotion, try and pay attention to how you're feeling at that moment in time. Are you experiencing any physical feelings? What thoughts are going through your mind? Do you recognise the emotion, and can you identify it?

Separating from your emotions

Once you’ve recognised the emotion that you’re experiencing and taken it on board, try and distance yourself from it by visualising it outside of your body. What does it look like? How big is it? What does it sound like?

Once you have accepted the emotion, let it go from your sight.

What did you learn?

It’s important to take some time to reflect on your experience. How did you feel about the emotion once it was no longer inside of you? What do you think caused the emotion? What did you learn from it and did you come to any decisions about how you can avoid it in the future?

With practice, you’ll find it easier to accept your emotions and you’ll be able to take away some very useful information from them which will help you make more informed decisions about your present situation.

Through experience, observation and research, Tracy Kennedy, a personal development expert for Lifehack, discusses her findings and musings on negative emotions and how to handle them.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Building bridges after an argument

Whether it’s with your partner, a family member, or friend, arguments are never a pleasant experience and can cause a great deal of negative emotions such as sadness, anger and stress, to both parties involved. From time to time, there will be occasions when we get caught up in disagreements and sometimes hurtful things get said in the heat of the moment.

So, one or both of you maybe lost your temper and walked away without resolving the argument. At some point in our lives, we’re all going to be faced with arguments and it’s only natural for this to happen. But it’s how we deal with the aftermath that's really significant and can determine our future relationship with the person.

Calm down!

Immediately following an argument, our emotions are likely to be running high and our heads are filled with what they said and what we said. Before we can even begin to build bridges, we need time to cool down and let our emotions settle. The best way we can do this is by spending some time alone, away from other people who might influence our thoughts or actions.

Perhaps go for a walk outside or find a quiet place at home where you can clear your mind, take some deep breaths and get some clarity on the situation before you start to chew over every detail of the argument.

Once you start to feel calmer and your emotions aren’t running high, then you can start to contemplate the cause of the disagreement. In order to move forwards and resolve the situation, it’s important to accept responsibility and your part in the argument.

Sometimes, rational thinking goes out of the window and we might say things we don’t really mean. So be honest with yourself and if you feel like you might have overreacted or been hurtful, take it on board.

Talk maturely

Now that you’ve had time to calm down and rationalise your thoughts, suggest a time when you can both talk in person. Texting is never a great way to build bridges as often words are misconstrued, and it’s much more difficult to portray true feelings.

When you meet, it’s often best to start with an apology for anything you think was hurtful or unnecessary. Be sincere and perhaps remind them of all the positive qualities that you love about them. This can be reassuring and will let the other person know that just because you have an argument, it doesn’t have to mean the end of a wonderful friendship or relationship.

It’s important to speak with a mature attitude and with respect as well as trying to understand from the other person’s perspective. Even more importantly, take time to listen properly to the other person. Not everyone is going to agree with each other all the time, so rather than going over the same ground again and again, try to suggest ways to fix the problem. Sometimes we must make compromises to find some middle ground and move on from an argument, so suggest ways that you can do this.

If you can find a way to resolve the argument, learn to forgive, put it behind you and try not to bring the same issues up again in the future.

If you find yourself getting into arguments on a more regular basis, you might want to take steps to reduce the chances of getting into an ugly argument. Psychology Today has some interesting tips. 

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

How to attract positive relationships

For some, building relationships isn’t always as easy as it may seem. We sometimes find ourselves surrounded by people who have a negative impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Without even realising it, through negative comments, gossip or exclusion, we are made to feel inadequate.

If you have started to recognise that some people in your life are draining your energy and happiness, it could be time to attract new and more positive relationships into your life.

Don’t let others dull your sparkle

When you're continually being criticised, it’s easy to start believing the negative comments. But it’s so important to remember who you are and all the great things about yourself. Unfortunately, we can’t always avoid negative people but by attracting positive relationships into our lives, we can outweigh the bad with the good. By reminding ourselves daily of our positive traits, we become less affected by comments aimed to put us down.

Project your best qualities

Do you ever feel that some people attract similar types of people as themselves? Perhaps this is because we 'reap what we sow', so to speak. If we're constantly complaining or criticising others, it’s most likely the types of people who are willing to listen are the ones who do the same themselves. If we want to attract positive relationships, we must first project positivity ourselves.

Let people hear about the things you love. By focusing your attention on what is going well in your life and by showing gratitude, not only will this rub off on others, it will rewire your own thought processes and improve your sense of wellbeing.

Avoid negativity

Although it can be difficult to walk away from negative talk, try to assess the situation and exit the conversation. For example, if you hear someone gossiping or name calling, don’t get involved and make your excuse to leave.

Bring out the best in others

Most people respond positively to compliments, which don’t always have to be based on appearances. When you admire a particular quality in someone, such as their humour, confidence or intelligence, let them know. Making someone feel good about themselves can have a positive, indirect consequence as they might, in turn, look for the positives in others too.

Learn to say 'no'

Breaking the habit of saying 'yes' can be more beneficial than you’d imagine. Although it can feel nice to be needed and, in some cases, you might think that people will like you more, it can often have the opposite effect. People pleasing can come at a price: not only can it make you unhappy because you’re doing something that you don’t really want to do, it can attract the kind of person who will only use you for their own benefit. Sometimes by saying 'no', we gain more respect from others.

Judith Orloff MD is a New York Times best-selling author and provides powerful tools that can help improve emotional and mental wellbeing. Visit her website to discover more ways of attracting positive people into your life.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Ways to move forwards when you fail your exams

For many students, summer can be one of the most exciting times of the year, but for others it can also be the most daunting. Waiting for exam results can seem like an eternity because we tend to believe that the rest of our life depends on our grades. But what you must always remember is that failing your exams doesn’t have to be the end of your dreams.

With constant pressure from teachers, family members and society to gain qualifications, it’s understandable that there is a certain amount of fear connected to exams, whatever your age.

Try not to panic

If you don’t achieve the grades you were expecting in your exams, all is not lost so take some deep breaths and try not to panic. You won’t be the first or the last to fail your exams and there are always other options available.

Talk about how you’re feeling

If you have failed your exams, you'll probably experience lots of different emotions such as shame, anger, embarrassment and fear but remember there is nothing to feel embarrassed about. Don’t bottle up your feelings by hiding your results from the rest of the world, speak to someone you're close to who can comfort and reassure you. There is nothing worse than feeling hopeless and alone in this kind of situation. Hopefully your friend or family member will also be able to help you refocus your mind and guide you in taking the next steps.

Speak to your tutor

In this situation, it can be useful to discuss where you went wrong in your exams. By identifying your weaker areas, you’ll know where you need to spend more time studying. It might be that you just missed a pass grade by a couple of marks, which could give you reassurance that you are capable of passing next time around. Also, if you feel like you struggled on a particular section of the exam, request some extra guidance or tuition.

Explore your options

There will be several options available to you once you have received your exam results. Enquire about resitting the exam/s or even retaking the year again, depending on which exams you sat. If you've missed out on a university place, you could enter clearing to see if the college or university is willing to accept you onto the course with your current grades.

If you really can’t face the thought of resitting your exams, there are still alternative options on offer. Have you considered taking a gap year? Not only can this give you much-needed time for reflection, you’ll have the opportunity to do some relevant work experience to improve your knowledge and skills. You might want to take a different route altogether and apply for an apprenticeship in a different field.

Whichever direction you choose, try no to let your exam results hold you back mentally, and look forward to an exciting future.

BBC Bitesize is a fantastic online community where you can read articles and watch informational videos about a whole range of topics, including how to get into university, how to reduce anxiety and stress during exams, and which career path to take.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

How to reconnect with yourself using mindfulness exercises

Do you spend too much time worrying, planning or criticising yourself? It’s easy to become so wrapped up in our daily lives that negative thoughts take over our minds and leave little room for positivity. Negative thoughts can lead to negative emotions and this can also affect our physical wellbeing. Our bodies react to our emotions and this can create chemical imbalances resulting in stress, anxiety, fear and depression, which in turn can cause tiredness, headaches and stomach problems.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that can help us change our thoughts and think more positively. When we are kinder to ourselves and the world around us, we become more grateful and focus less on the negatives.

Mindfulness exercises help us to refocus our minds and become more aware of what’s happening in the moment so that we can connect on a greater level with the world around us.

Studies have shown that meditation can help with insomnia, high blood pressure, stress, pain, anxiety and depression, and the University of Oxford Mindfulness Research Centre aims to prevent depression through mindfulness.

Mindfulness exercises

There are lots of mindfulness exercises you can practise. Here are a few to get you started.

Mindful breathing

Begin by observing your breathing. Breathe in slowly through your nose for three seconds then breathe out slowly for another three seconds. Repeat this several times and focus your attention on each breath, letting go of any unwanted thoughts. You’ll soon notice that you begin to feel much calmer and less distracted by negative thinking.

Mindful observation

This is a great way to connect with nature and appreciate the beauty that is around you. Focus your thoughts on something that you can see, such as an insect, the rain on a window or the clouds. Observe these things in more detail and imagine that you are seeing them for the first time. You can also pay attention to the sounds around you, sensations and feelings within your body and the thoughts that come and go in your mind.

Mindful eating

Often we eat out of habit, stress or depression and we forget to enjoy the process. Eating too little or too much for the wrong reasons can lead to eating disorders, so it’s important to remember why we eat. Mindful eating reminds us to slow down with every mouthful, to taste and smell the food. Ask yourself how you feel when you eat. How is it affecting your emotions? Do you feel happy, guilty, hungry or full?

Mindful awareness

This exercise is a great way to slow down your actions and release negative thoughts from your mind. Throughout the day, pay attention to the everyday tasks that you would usually take for granted, for example, driving to work. Observe how the car door opens, feel the steering wheel in your hands and listen to the sound of the engine as you turn the key in the ignition. Rather than just going through the motions, mindful awareness lets you appreciate even the smallest of actions. Question how things work, how you would live without these things and imagine how different your life would be without them.


With practice, mindfulness exercises can help you minimise negative thoughts and you'll start to feel grateful for the little things in life. The above techniques will allow you to clear your mind, become calmer and more understanding with a positive outlook on life.

A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled is a book written by Ruby Wax, which explores how mindfulness can help us lead happier lives and improve our mental wellbeing. It offers a wonderful insight into mindfulness and is well worth a read.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Eating your way to sound health

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

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

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

Foods that can help improve our mental wellbeing

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

Berries

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

Dark chocolate

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

Fish

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

Wholegrains

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

Eggs

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

Water

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

Pumpkin seeds

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


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

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Using creativity to help fight depression

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

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

The effects of creativity

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

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

Creative activities

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

Music

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

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

Writing

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

Drama

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

Art

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

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

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

How to keep the spark alive in your relationship

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

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

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

Communication is key


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

Personal space


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

Dress to impress


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

Plan surprises


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

Appreciate the positives


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

Make time for romance


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

Share your fantasies


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

Switch off the media


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

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

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Fathers feel too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Coping with post-natal depression - dads get sad too

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

Talk to your partner, friends and family

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

Don't try to be 'superdad'

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

Make time for yourself

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

Rest when you can

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

Exercise regularly

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

Don't drink alcohol or take drugs

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

Meet other dads

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

Join a support group

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

Try creative activities

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

Bonding with your baby

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





Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Coping with grief and loss

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

Understanding your emotions

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

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

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

Talk to someone

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

Take care of your physical health

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

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

Relaxation techniques

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

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

Stay connected to your loved one after death

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


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

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Keeping your kids healthy - in mind and body

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

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

Share your experience

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

Build self esteem

Children often doubt their abilities and question themselves as individuals:

“Am I good enough?”

“Do people like me?”

“What if I fail?”

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

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

Build a trusting relationship

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

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

Tips for keeping your kids mentally healthy

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

How to silence your inner critic and boost your self-esteem

In an age where media has a firm grip on society via the internet, glossy magazines, newspapers and reality TV shows, it’s no surprise we compare ourselves to others and want to be as beautiful, glamorous, successful or body perfect. But what we so often fail to recognise is that many of the images we see in the media aren’t real.

Images of celebrities, models or public figures are enhanced and smoothed out to make them appear more attractive. Take off the make-up, remove the filters and forget the airbrushing and you’ll find many of them are just like the rest of us: imperfect humans.

How to identify your inner critic

In order to silence our critical thoughts we must firstly become aware of them. Listen to your thoughts and be aware of what they’re saying. Is there any truth in it? Are they things that we can fix? These nagging voices can instil a sense of fear in us or make us believe that we’re not good enough. Maybe we’re afraid we’ll be judged on our appearance, fearful that we’ll be rejected, or we might have feelings of shame.

Be mindful and recognise when you’re mentally punishing yourself. Remember that your inner critic is not a voice of reason. Step outside of your head and try to be realistic. Imagine the voice as a character rather than yourself and when it starts with the negative chatter, respond with positive replies. By reacting positively, we counter balance the negativity. It’s easy to be swayed by what we tell ourselves so make sure you don’t let that critical talk linger.

How to overcome your fear of what people think

Often, self doubt stems from our fear of what other people will think of us. When we’re constantly telling ourselves that our boss or colleagues don’t like us, they’ve probably never even given it a thought and your inner conversations are totally fabricated. This kind of fear can be damaging and prevent us from taking chances in life or even just contributing to a conversation.

It may very well be that these people you're afraid of, have only positive things to say about you and actually have nothing but admiration for you.

How to boost your self-esteem

There are several techniques that can help boost your self-esteem.

Regularly practise positive affirmations
Maybe even write a few down on a piece of paper and keep it close to hand. You could try phrases such as “I am beautiful”, “I am loved” or “I love my body”.

Stop comparing yourself to others
Accept that everyone is different and there is no right or wrong way to look (as long as we are healthy). Bear in mind that the person you constantly compare yourself to might be wishing they were more like you!

Focus on what you like about yourself
If you like your smile, smile more. Others will only notice your radiant smile and not the parts of you that you dislike.

Dress how you want to dress
Don’t hide behind your clothes in the hope that you’ll blend into the background; dress in clothes that make you feel good about yourself or flatter the parts of your body that you love. If you feel confident, you will look confident.

Practise self care
Do whatever makes you feel good about yourself, whether that’s an activity such as playing an instrument, painting or writing. More importantly, spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself and try to avoid those who don’t!

Focus on what you can change

Stressing about things you can’t change, such as the colour of your eyes, is a pointless exercise. Focus on the parts of you that you can change and set a realistic goal in achieving the results you’d like. If you would like to improve your body weight, eat well and create a fitness regime that will help you achieve your goals. If you feel like your hair is dragging you down, arrange a trip to the hairdresser and try a new style. Small changes can go a long way to improving your self confidence.

You can read this article from Psychology Today for more advice on how to keep your inner critic under control.

If your inner critic goes unrecognised, it can sometimes lead to more serious issues, including eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Mind.org has some useful information on this subject, as well as help and advice on self care and treatment.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Ways to practise self care when you’re studying for exams

Sitting exams at any age can be an extremely daunting time, especially for those who aren’t very academic. People often feel their whole future depends on their exam results, not to mention having to live up to other peoples’ expectations.

Exam stress – as this article from The Psychologist demonstrates – is nothing new. For some people, it seems that everything comes naturally and they can remember facts and information with very little effort. We forget that every one of us is different and we all learn at different speeds and in different ways. While one person might have a spatial (visual) or auditory (aural) learning style, others might prefer to learn kinaesthetically (practically, hands on) or linguistically (verbally). It’s OK to be different and comparing ourselves to others only adds to the pressure we feel.

Plan and schedule

Revision is much easier if you prepare a schedule in advance. As well as putting things into perspective, it can be quite fun once you start to create your weekly plan. Consider the times of day when you feel like you’re more focused and slot in the trickier, more demanding subjects. Completing a revision timetable can help reduce anxiety and even motivate you to get started.

Take breaks

There’s no point in mentally exhausting yourself to the point where you have complete brain fog. If you’ve read ten pages and suddenly realise you have absolutely no idea what you’ve read, it’s time to take a break. Take breaks to suit your method of working. Whether you prefer to take a ten-minute break every hour or an hour-long break every couple of hours, there are no hard and fast rules.

Eat, drink and sleep

It’s quite surprising the number of people who actually forget their basic things when they’re consumed by revision. Drinking plenty of water and eating healthy protein snacks such as nuts and seeds, yoghurt, tuna and eggs can help focus the mind. A good night’s sleep is also essential for learning, so try to get to bed at a reasonable time and leave at least an hour for your night-time routine to declutter your mind.

Leisure time

Many of us feel that we can’t enjoy ourselves when there’s revision to be done. However, it’s vital to enjoy leisure time in between studying – it boosts the mood and leaves us more receptive to taking in new information. Try to build some of these simple activities into your revision schedule:

  • Get outside into the fresh air – a brisk walk or some form of physical exercise does wonders for both your mental and physical health.
  • Listen to your favourite music and completely relax. 
  • Simple mindfulness techniques such as yoga and meditation, or even just focusing on your breathing, can help you become more aware of your thoughts and boost concentration levels. 
  • Socialise with friends and remember that laughing and smiling can release endorphins and reduce stress hormones.

The BBC, in partnership with YoungMinds, has launched a coaching network called the Mind Set for people who want extra support. Although the network is aimed at GCSE students, there are some fantastic tips and advice for anyone sitting exams.

You can also read our previous post, for more tips on how to cope with exam stress.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

How to get the family outside more


Over the last couple of decades, the growing world of electronic media has impacted greatly on the lives and social activities of families. Scenes of people huddled around a table all looking at their screens, rather than interacting have become a common sight. While parents sit scrolling through Facebook - with one eye on the TV - the children shut themselves in their bedrooms so nothing can interrupt their YouTube browsing or computer gaming.

These are sad scenes and yet many of us are growing to accept this as the norm. The outside world has become neglected. Countless studies have shown the negative impacts digital media can have on both our physical and mental health, not to mention our relationships. Isn’t it about time we ditched the digital and got back to nature?

Although these habits may seem hard to break, there are lots of ways we can encourage each other to revert back to the 'real world' and start venturing outdoors. There are lots of ideas for getting the family outside more on Activeforlife.com, and here are some of our ideas to get you started:

Call a meeting

Start by talking to each other about which outdoor activities excite you. It might seem like a thankless task initially but once you start throwing some ideas around, you’ll find everyone will become more enthusiastic. Often it's the thought of being outside that we're most resistant too – usually once we've  broken the cycle of being attached to our devices, the joy of being outside quickly returns.

Back to basics

Who doesn’t love the enchantment of being among woodland? Once you’re outside, try and recreate the sense of competition with your children that they would usually getting from their games consoles at home, or give them an end goal that they can share on social media afterwards. Den building competitions or woodland art are great ways of doing this and there’s nothing like a bit of competition to get the adrenalin flowing.

Nature hunt

Part of the problem with tearing ourselves away from our technology is the fear of boredom and not having anything to occupy the mind. Why not make that countryside walk more fun by creating a nature hunt before you go? Make a list of various things to find on your walk, such as a certain kind of flower, tree or animal and provide prizes for the person who finds them all first?


The unfortunate reality is that if we want to spend more time outside, we must consciously plan for it to happen. For more ideas on how to do this, why not read this previous blog: http://firstpsychology.blogspot.com/search?q=outdoors

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Why having a pet is good for your mental health

For many years, scientists have been researching the effects of owning a pet and how it can impact on mental health. It has been well documented that pets can help with depression, bi-polar disorder, post-traumatic stress and schizophrenia. But even without the countless studies that have been undertaken, most pet owners would agree that caring for an animal has lots of obvious benefits. This month is National Pet Month, so we decided to take a look at the ways pets can improve our mental health.

Pets and depression

Owning a pet is one of the greatest distractions from our everyday problems. Depression can lead to lethargy, low self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness – all of which owning a pet can help to alleviate. All pets offer a non-judgemental ear and some animals are extremely sensitive to our moods. Just by our tone of voice or body language, they can understand when to give us attention or when to leave us alone. Having a pet allows us the opportunity to open up, knowing that we won’t be judged or questioned.

Pets and physical health

Owning a pet, in particular dogs or horses, encourages us to exercise on a regular basis. Even though we may not feel like exercising, our sense of responsibility often takes over and forces us to get moving, for the sake of our pets. As well as our physical wellbeing, even the smallest efforts to get outside for a quick stroll can boost our mood too. Walking increases oxygen levels, reduces blood pressure and releases endorphins. The fresh air and exercise can aid sleep and have a positive effect on the symptoms of depression as well as improving overall mental health. Walking among nature can make us feel calm and it’s a great way to practise mindfulness.

Pets and companionship

More often than not, mental health problems can leave us feeling lonely as we’re unable to communicate our thoughts. Owning a pet can prevent feelings of loneliness. Besides being great listeners, pets have a wonderful way of making us feel loved, wanted and needed. And they are also great at helping us form relationships and connections with other people too. Just by caring for our pets on a daily basis, we are inadvertently introduced to new people, who we may never meet otherwise. Positive interactions such as a brief chat with a stranger in the park, at the pet shop or in a training class, can really brighten our day and have a affirmative effect on our mood.

Anxiety

Having responsibility for a pet is a great way of causing distractions from our negative thoughts. Not only can it reduce our time spent online, absorbed in work or worrying about the next thing to go wrong, it gives our lives meaning and builds confidence. This study in Psychology Today, suggests that between 5-20 minutes of interaction with a dog is all it takes to help reduce blood pressure and enable us to feel calmer.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Stress Awareness Month – how to manage stress

April is Stress Awareness Month. Although it’s fair to say that people have a higher awareness level of stress and mental health issues today than many years ago, it remains a difficult subject to broach with friends and family.

When people talk about stress they often talk about things getting on top of them; of matters manifesting themselves that feel beyond their control. However, who or what causes the stress is largely immaterial – we all have to look within ourselves to understand what we need to do during stressful times to regain our equilibrium to be able to take things in our stride.

With just one in three adults suffering from stress, anxiety and depression accessing treatment (source NHS data for 2014), self-care plays a huge role in the management of various mental health issues.

We’ve pulled together seven steps to beat stress to help you effectively manage any symptoms you may be experiencing.

Get moving

During times of stress, often the last thing you want to be doing is exercise, but it’s a medically proven stress buster. It doesn’t matter what you do – walk, jog, swim – so long as you get your heart and lungs working faster. Exercise releases endorphins which are the body’s natural sedative, which help us calm down and approach situations with greater clarity.

Get present

Meditation and mindfulness are both tried and tested ways of managing stress levels, helping us to relax. A calm, clear mind helps us to put things into perspective and develop appropriate responses that help us cope with stressful situations. A relaxed, settled mind is less anxious and copes better with stress. Our previous post on mindfulness techniques will get you started >

Get more sleep

Stress can make sleep difficult and yet it is the very thing our body needs in order to process information and help us make sense of stressful situations. Ways to induce sleep include taking a warm bath, listening to relaxing music and writing down a list of all the things that are on your mind before taking to your bed to avoid them taking over your subconscious thoughts.

Steer clear of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine

To maximise your chances of getting sleep, it’s wise to cut out the coffee, cigarettes and alcohol. These are all stimulants, and although they might make us feel better initially, the ‘come down’ we experience as our body processes them only adds to our stress.

Get talking

A problem shared is a problem halved, but more than that, talking to other people often helps us develop an alternative viewpoint that is difficult to acknowledge when we’re under stress. Friends and family are often only too happy to listen as it helps them feel more connected to you during times when you need support. Or if the problem involves those closest to you, talking to people not involved, such as work colleagues, can also help. The main thing is that you talk to someone you can trust rather than keep it all bottled up inside.

Take control

During stressful times it is easy to internalise things and over-think about the situation we’re in. Taking control of what we’re facing breaks it down into manageable chunks. We can then develop action plans and coping strategies to deal with each piece of the jigsaw, which makes even the most insurmountable stressful situations easier to tackle head-on.

Get positive

Thinking about happy memories or times when you have been successful is a great way of reducing stress. Visualisation techniques are often used by sportspeople to help them battle their nerves and compete with confidence, they’re also a way of reminding us that difficult times do pass and that life is a tapestry of good and not-so-good times.


For more information about how to keep things in perspective, we recommend the following article https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional-fitness/201610/keeping-life-in-perspective

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

How to establish healthy parent and child relationships

The relationship between parent and children is the first – and arguably the most important -relationship in any child's life. In adolescence, the nature of this relationship may change dramatically as children look for increased independence from their families and begin to make their own decisions. But it remains as important – if not more so.

In today’s digital society it’s easy to be overbearing in an attempt to keep your child safe. However, as this article from Psychology Today shows - the relationship a parent has with their child is central to an individual’s personal development and mental health. It is our job to develop the relationships our children need to be able to function as adults when they grow up.

As our children grow, our parenting style needs to evolve. It shifts from being the caregiver and decision maker, to that of advisor and enabler. When children are younger they look to their parents to make appropriate decisions on their behalf, as these children grow they turn to us to guide them, equip them with the skills and insight they need to make sound decisions for themselves. We still need to ensure that we are still safeguarding their interests and making sure they don’t engage in risky or dangerous behaviour, but as children make the transition from child to teenager to young adult, emotional support is usually sought, rather than offered.

Here are our three top tips for establishing healthy parent / child relationships

Talk about trust

Our job as parents is to help children transition into adulthood. To do that positively, requires trust. Trust is borne out of transparency and freedom within boundaries. Be up front with your child about what your expectations are of them, the levels of behaviour that is required and the consequences if they don’t comply. Being open and honest with your child is key to building trust. This article looks at ways in which we can give our children more freedom and why it’s important for your parent / child relationship.

Give me some space!

Even young children require a degree of personal space. A time or place where they can feel safe and able to reflect. By creating physical boundaries for our children, we are showing our respect for them as individuals. Although it may seem harmless to encroach on your child’s space when they’re younger, as they get older this can be perceived as interference. And rather than strengthen your relationship, this will only serve to add friction. It’s also important not to assume that your child’s need for personal space is the same as your own.

Avoiding anxiety

Regardless of their age, our children look to us for confidence and inspiration. They need someone to show them the way, yet encourage them to follow their own path. It’s a delicate balancing act and being a parent is fraught with anxiety: too much freedom versus not enough freedom; too much fussing versus not enough... When we get anxious about our kids, this can lead to us doing too much for them. It’s called over-functioning and it’s a sign that we’ve forgotten where we end and where our child begins. Yes, it’s true that as children grow they may be influenced more by their peers, but it’s still up to the parent to provide them with a confident, consistent, competent role model to look up to – however anxious we may feel on the inside. 


For more information on the parent / child relationship, read our previous blog post