Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Ways to overcome shyness

Being shy can have a significant impact on your social and work life and can become a serious problem for many people. Shyness can lead to feeling alone and difficulty finding friends and can even result in missing out on job opportunities. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to overcome shyness and embrace your full potential.

What causes shyness?

In order to tackle shyness, you need to understand the cause. According to Steve Bressert PhD, shyness can begin at any age and can even occur in infancy. He also asserts that shyness isn’t a problem just for introverts. Extroverted people can also experience private shyness. Privately shy extroverts will portray a confident persona so much so that they appear confident in giving speeches, meeting new people and being overtly outgoing. Bressert states that there are many causes of shyness in those that are reluctant to socialise, which include:

  • Physical changes in adolescence and societal reaction to these changes - especially in girls
  • Modern technology and the restriction of the need for face-to-face socialising 
  • Social media and it minimising the need for the same spontaneous response required in real life social situations

Shyness can also be attributed to being fearful of what others think of you. This could stem from incidents in childhood or even as an adult. Yet according to, there is research that suggests that up to 15% of people are actual born with the propensity for shyness.

How to overcome shyness

Don’t avoid social situationsThere’s a lot of truth in the age-old advice “fake it until you make it”. Acting confidently despite feeling insecure helps you to practice how to act in social situations. Rather than avoiding social settings, engage with them and portray the person you want to be. Actually facing your fears can make you realise that they aren’t as frightening as you imagined them to be.

Try something new

Step outside of your comfort zone and try new things. This can be joining a new club or taking up a team sport. Acting classes can be fantastic for overcoming shyness as you are free to act as somebody else and doing embarrassing things soon becomes second nature!

Be mindful

Being mindful of your feelings and emotions can help get to the bottom of why you feel shy in certain situations. Be aware of the actions you take and the environment you’re in rather than worry about what could happen. Be in the moment and notice the things you do and say. This can be helpful when you’re conversing with others because rather than being distracted by your own worries, you’ll be paying attention to what the other person is saying. 

Acknowledge your fears

Being vulnerable is one of the most frightening things any person can do. It means allowing people to see who you truly are, and this is something shy people find difficult to accept. Shyness that stems from the fear of being judged can be released once you accept yourself and allow others to see who you are. Begin with people you know and trust by being more open with them. You could find that this deepens the relationships you already have. This is also great preparation for being vulnerable with new people in new situations.

Thursday, 23 July 2020

The psychological impact of procrastination

Over the last few days we’ve been looking at the issue of procrastination, exploring why we procrastinate, and looking at strategies to help us stop doing it.


One of the biggest challenges when trying to manage and overcome procrastination though is the psychological impact that procrastination can have on us. 


Depression/low mood and procrastination

A 2007 study published in the psychological bulletin suggested that the link between depression/low mood and over-procrastination was very strong. This is perhaps not a surprising finding. If we procrastinate over a task, we may feel hopeless in our abilities or helpless to get things done. That in turn may lead to low mood and depressive symptoms. This can often turn into a bit of a cycle. The more we procrastinate, the more hopeless and helpless we feel, and the less likely to undertake tasks we know we need to do. In other words, we procrastinate more. 


OCD and procrastination

Procrastination has also been linked to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Studies suggest that over-perfectionism, common in OCD, can result in people putting off tasks because they feel they’re not capable enough to undertake them perfectly. In addition, the fear of making mistakes when undertaking new tasks, which people with OCD often experience, may lead them to procrastinate. Much like with depression, this can lead to an unhelpful cycle in which OCD leads to procrastination which leads to an increased fear of not being perfect which leads to a reliance on obsessive behaviours or thoughts.


ADHD and procrastination

In addition to OCD and depression, ADHD can also have an impact on procrastination, and people with ADHD may feel distressed by their levels of procrastination. When you’re extremely distracted by internal thoughts or external stimuli, it can be hard to focus on executing tasks. Ultimately, ADHD can make procrastination more pronounced. 


Anxiety and procrastination

Research suggests that having an anxiety disorder can also put you at greater risk of procrastination. In common with those with OCD, people with anxiety often strive for perfectionism as a way to feel less anxious about getting something wrong. However, perfectionism can curtail our ability and desire to actually execute tasks. So, anxiety can lead to perfectionism which can lead to procrastination.


This sense of perfectionism perpetuated from high anxiety can also eat up enormous amounts of time, leaving limited time for other more important tasks. For example, someone with high anxiety that is looking to develop their self-esteem may say “I will undertake this self-esteem course until I know everything about self-esteem”.


That desire is evidence of perfectionism due to the individual’s high anxiety, it’s also totally unnecessary and eats up a lot of time ­– time that could be spent improving their self-esteem.


The psychological impact of procrastination is massive, it can lead to or exacerbate mental health difficulties such as depression, OCD and anxiety. Of course, this is not always the case but in order to understand procrastination fully, it's helpful to have an understanding of some of the other difficulties it relates to.



Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Discovering the benefits of morning rituals

Morning rituals differ from morning routines in that each action of a ritual should be done with meaning and with attention on the process rather than merely the results. A routine is something you do each morning without giving it a moment’s thought: getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, making breakfast, etc. However, rituals are thought-out actions that set you up for the day and can eventually lead to a more positive outlook on life.

What constitutes part of a morning ritual?

Although meditation and exercise can form part of a morning ritual, there are simpler tasks that can also be included. Purposely drinking your morning coffee out in the garden and taking time to appreciate the aroma of the drink and the natural aspects of your surroundings can be part of a ritual. Allocating time to have a conversation over breakfast with your children and spouse before you go your separate ways for the day is another. An action can be very small but should involve you thinking about the action and being aware of feelings and senses associated with it. The morning is the best time to begin these rituals as they can invigorate and prepare you for the rest of the day.

Why are morning rituals beneficial?

People use morning rituals for many different reasons and discover various benefits when they do. Benefits may include:

  • Helping with healthy diet – being mindful of what you are eating and savouring each mouthful makes you more conscious of eating health and avoiding foods that could impact negatively on your mood and energy levels.
  • Making you more disciplined – sticking to rituals each day can give you a disciplined mindset in other areas of your daily life.
  • Highlighting the importance of time – setting aside specific time for rituals reveals how much time you have in the day to focus on your own needs.
  • Increased productivity and creativity

The mental health benefits of morning rituals for the entire family

Rituals aren’t just for adults, and implementing morning rituals at the early stages of development can have life-long benefits.

Studies have shown that rituals and routines can have a huge impact on children. According to a study included in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, children from families with lower levels of routine experienced higher levels of hyperactivity and impulsivity compared to families with established routines.

As a family, implement a morning routine that sets the tone for the day. Let everyone know that the morning is a time of family discussion, or meditation, or the time you all gather to enjoy breakfast. This can also be the time you go over everybody’s tasks for the day so the routine is clear to all. A chart, or visual prompts for younger children, can be used as part of the morning ritual to clarify the routine for the day.

Rituals, food and mental health

The food we eat has an effect on both our physical and mental wellbeing. Fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamins, and healthy proteins such as those found in beans, seeds, nuts, and pulses help to maintain a healthy body. Too many processed foods containing sugars and fats make us sluggish which in turn makes us less active.

A diet lacking in protein can lead to serotonin depletion. Serotonin is a chemical required to regulate mood and so those suffering from protein deficiency may find themselves becoming depressed, anxious and aggressive. Incorporating healthy foods into your diet and enjoying the morning ritual of a healthy breakfast while savouring each mouthful, will make you more aware of the foods you eat. This ritual will then have a positive effect on both your mental and physical health.

How do I decide what rituals to include?

Chances are you have already thought about activities you like to do but have failed to incorporate them into a morning ritual. Finding the right activities can involve trial and error and you may do something only to find that you prefer something else. Jogging, yoga, reading poetry, listening to specific music, and meditation, are just some of the rituals you may want to try. Even chanting or mantras can help clear the mind and assist with focusing on any worries or problems you want to find solutions for. Keeping a journal is a great activity to include in a morning ritual as it clarifies precisely what is on your mind and you can reflect on past entries over the coming weeks and months.

Don’t give up!

Even if a certain ritual doesn’t seem like your cup of tea, make sure you stick with it for a few days or even a week. It takes time to incorporate a new activity into your daily life and although you may not initially appreciate the benefits, you may do so over a few days. When you have established that something is definitely not working for you, select something else and give this activity a fair chance too. Just because one activity isn’t working, it doesn’t mean you won’t find something else to suit you.

How to overcome procrastination

In yesterday’s blog we looked at some of the reasons why we procrastinate:
  • Decision paralysis
  • Time inconsistency
  • Lack of self-belief
Today, we’ll be looking at how to actually overcome procrastination – something that impacts us all every day to varying degrees.

The first thing to keep in mind when trying to overcome procrastination is that everyone is different so some of the tips discussed here might not work for you. However, it’s worth giving them all a try to see which ones you find most effective.

Acknowledge that you’re procrastinating

This seems really basic, but it’s the first and most important step towards overcoming procrastination. In order to deal with anything, we first need to acknowledge that we're doing it.

Take stock of your day and the past week, how much did you really work, how much did you really invest in the tasks at hand, and how much did you procrastinate?

Just to be clear, switching focus to other tasks that really require your attention is not procrastination, but turning away from the most important work to instead look at your Instagram feed is.

Think about the past week, tally your hours of productivity and hours of procrastination for each day. Try not to kid yourself, its really important for you to be really honest here. Did you take an extra hour for lunch? Did you really need to watch that YouTube video about funny cats? Did you really need to watch that boxset on Netflix?

You may find this process a bit demoralizing, but remember that you’re recording your procrastination time in order to overcome it, and that’s a really good thing.

Invest in some key strategies to overcome procrastination

Once you've acknowledged how much you’ve been procrastinating, you'll likely want to start to invest in some strategies to help you stop.

Let’s take a look at a few that might be helpful.

Forgive yourself

This is so important. After you’ve recognised your procrastination behaviours, as we discussed earlier, you could go down one of two roads. You could either beat yourself up for procrastinating so much, fixating on time that you won’t get back. Or you could learn to show yourself some compassion, forgive yourself, and move on.

One of the best ways to forgive yourself is to understand why you procrastinate. As we spoke about in our previous blog post, you may have had low self-belief in your ability to undertake the task you were trying to work on. You may have had multiple things going on at once that were all fighting for your attention and it therefore became overwhelming. All of these reasons make sense, so forgive yourself and move forward.

Take back the power

We often procrastinate when we feel powerless over what we’re doing:
  • Maybe your boss has instructed you that you MUST get something done by the end of the week. 
  • Maybe your partner has said that you HAVE to clean the bathroom. 
  • Maybe your bank has said to you that you NEED to get a pension sorted out.
MUST, HAVE, NEED…these are all disempowering words, which take the power away from you and put it into the hands of someone else.

When we feel we’re doing something for someone else, particularly when it’s something that we’d rather not be doing, we’re much more likely to procrastinate. What you could do instead is reframe these things and take the power back.
  • Your boss has asked you to complete something by the end of the week and you CHOSE to undertake it.
  • Your partner has asked you to clean the bathroom and you would LIKE to help them out.
  • Your bank manager has advised you to look at your pension and you WANT to get it done.
CHOOSE, LIKE, WANT…these are words that are much more empowering. They give you ownership of the task at hand.

Eat the frog first

Ok, so what do frogs have to do with procrastination? Basically, what this means is do the difficult thing first. Perhaps you really took some of the earlier points about overcoming procrastination on board? Perhaps you thought about why you procrastinate and got up early the next morning ready to work?
The best thing you could do to help keep procrastination at bay for the rest of the day is to do the difficult thing first before you do anything else.

If you need to finish writing and proof reading a big report for work, you're studying for a university exam that is looming, or you have another important task to do, eat the frog first, get it out of the way and get on with the rest of your productive day.

Invest in some practical strategies

These new ways of thinking and working are really effective, but what can be just as helpful are some practical steps that can assist you in overcoming your procrastination. Let’s take a look at a couple.

Get great, not just good, at organising

Often when we procrastinate, it has a lot to do with the fact that we’ve not been organised enough ­­– we’ve not set in place the things we want to achieve and so therefore we end up being less productive.

Write a list of the things you want to get done tomorrow and when you want to do them. The more organised you are, the less opportunity you give yourself to procrastinate.

Keep your timing

In order to stay productive and minimise procrastination, you should also think about your timing. Set yourself a time limit on how long you’re going to be working on one thing.

It's important not to fuel your procrastination, so make sure you know what you're doing, when you're doing it, and for how long.

Give yourself more structure, set limits on the tasks you’re undertaking and time limits on your breaks and your procrastination will be sure to reduce.

Procrastination can be a challenge for everyone, but with a sounder understanding of why you procrastinate, and some key tips on overcoming it, procrastination will hopefully become a thing of the past.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Why do we procrastinate?

Procrastination is a funny thing. We know the things that are good for us, we know the things we should be doing, yet so often we do something totally different, and even sometimes the total opposite.

For example, we know we should exercise more, yet we end up watching box sets on the couch; we know we should eat healthier food, yet we find ourselves eating our third Big Mac of the week; and we know we should tidy the house, but we end up leaving it for days so that it becomes even worse than when we first realised it needed to be cleaned. When you think about it, it doesn’t make much sense, does it? What place in human development does procrastination have? Surely its far too negative for it to be something to gravitate towards, yet all of us procrastinate at some point each day.

The big question is, why on earth do we do it?

Common reasons for procrastination

Decision paralysis

We have so many things going on in our lives that when it comes to occupying our time and our head space, we struggle to establish what's really important. 

If you're sitting down to write a big assignment for your university degree, you have to manage the difficulties of being distracted by your phone, the latest ASOS sale, an article of interest that popped into your email inbox, a game that you’ve become addicted to on your smart phone, and how beautiful the weather is outside.

Our brains are overloaded more than ever with stimuli – decision paralysis is a result.

Time inconsistency

One of the biggest reasons we procrastinate is down to time inconsistency. You can understand this better by looking at the following example: 

You want to start a new career, and this requires you to get a degree in the new area you want to work in. You've researched the degree you need and you know that it will likely take about four years to get it. Great! You’ve figured out the long-term goal you need to accomplish. However, this goal was created for your future self, and it’s your present self that needs to take action to complete it.

The difficulty is that your future self and your present self both have different desires. Your present self likes immediate gratification, and your future self prefers long-term benefit. However, that long-term benefit might be months, even years away, and so often your present self and its desire for gratification right now wins the internal battle.

It’s great that you've dedicated your future self to achieving that long-term degree, but your present self needs to sit in front of the laptop and get on with that massive report that is due to be submitted next month. We all know that to obtain a degree in four years’ time we have to work hard now, but a couple of episodes of Game Of Thrones right now isn’t going to hurt….right?


If our belief in our ability to undertake a task is limited, we will procrastinate more. For example, you may want to lose two stone by this time next year, but you’ve tried so many times before and its never worked…what makes this time any different? 

Our belief in our abilities has a direct correlation to our procrastination.

Instead of trying a new workout or diet regime to lose weight, you might tell yourself:

  • It’s too hard to try this again, I’m inevitably going to fail, just like last time.
  • I’m not that overweight to be honest, and in truth there are plenty of people far less healthy than me.
  • It seems like so much effort just to lose a little bit of weight, I’m going to just chill out instead.

All of these are examples of common thinking processes from someone that lacks self-belief, and if we don’t believe in our ability or capacity to achieve the goal we've set ourselves, then we are much more likely to procrastinate in striving to achieve it.

In truth, procrastination is a really subjective thing, you may procrastinate for totally different reasons to someone else. One of the most important steps to helping manage your procrastination is to understand it better.

Take some time to have a think about how some of the points we’ve covered here might apply to you and your procrastination and join us tomorrow for an article on how to overcome procrastination.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Calm your mind and make better decisions

It’s common sense to presume that when your mind is a whirlwind of thoughts, you’re not in the best position to be making sensible decisions. Anxieties surrounding work, family, illness, and finances can all take their toll on your mental health. This can lead to indecisiveness or poor decision-making. Learn how to calm your mind and uncloud your thoughts so you can make better decisions in all areas of your life.

What causes an uncalm mind?

There are times you will have very real concerns which cause anxiety and unrest, resulting in you being unable to make rational decisions. Sometimes, however, there are worries based on scenarios or factors that don’t yet exist. Typical concerns of this type include:
  • Being anxious about the future
  • Concerns that the decision you make will be the wrong one
  • Being overly concerned with what other people may think of you

Other factors that may lead to a restless mind include:
  • Outside influences – taking on other people’s worries as your own.
  • Having too many options from which to choose and not knowing which is the best for you.
  • Impending deadlines – although some people thrive on stringent deadlines, others find them stressful.
  • Lack of sleep – according to the mental health charity Mind, mental health and wellbeing can be affected by lack of sleep, causing a cycle of stress, worry, tiredness, and low self-esteem. 

How can I calm my mind?

Firstly, it’s extremely important that if you're feeling depressed or anxious on a daily basis for more than a short period of time, you should visit your GP or healthcare practitioner for advice. However, if you aren’t thinking clearly because of an event or decision in your life, or you find decision-making tricky at times, there are things you can do to help.

Get plenty of sleep

Design a sleep routine that works for you and try to stick to it as much as possible. This could be having a warm bath before bed or reading a book before you go to sleep. Make sure you avoid screens or devices for an hour before bed as the blue light they give out can confuse the body and cut down on alcohol and caffeine as they can lead to a restless night. You are less likely to feel anxious if you've had a good eight hours' sleep and will be able to face the next day’s decisions with a clearer mind. Read more about the importance of sleep >

Put pen to paper

Writing things down so you can see them in front of you can make decision-making much easier. Write about the decision you are about to make and the possible outcomes. Make a pros and cons list, or simply write about how you visualise the result of the decision you make. Writing about a decision, rather than just thinking about it, can help you think critically about the subject rather than just emotively. Read more about the benefits of putting pen to paper >


Practised on a regular basis, mindfulness has been shown to actually change the structure of the brain. This means that not only will mindfulness help you feel calmer and more in control in the shorter term, but over time, you will be less likely to slip into unhelpful thinking patterns too. For more information about mindfulness and how to get started, visit our webpage >

Calm your body with breathing exercise

If you practise breathing exercises on a daily basis, you will start to see how they relax your entire body and also your mind. Breathing exercises force you to distract your mind by focusing on your body. This process gives your mind a break and when you go back to your everyday tasks, you will find that you can focus and think things through more easily. The NHS website is a fantastic resource for breathing exercises that can help you be calm in difficult situations so you don’t make any rash decisions. Visit the NHS website >

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Using 'negative' emotions to your advantage

It may seem contradictory to suggest that emotions usually viewed as negative can actually be used in your favour, but with the right research and approach, they can. Discover how the emotions of sadness, anger, and fear can be used to your advantage with steps that will increase your emotional intelligence.

What are emotions?

Emotions are more than merely feelings, and according to, they are defined as a “complex state of feeling that results in physical and psychological changes that influence thought and behaviour.” This definition shows how important it is to be aware when you are experiencing these emotions and to ensure the physical and psychological changes can be kept in check.

There are many different theories about emotions and their purpose. Renowned naturalist and biologist, Charles Darwin believed that emotions were essential in order for animals and humans to survive. 

We now know that when animals are being stalked by predators they will experience fear which will start a chain of chemical reactions in the body enabling the body to become stronger and run faster. This rapid change in the body provides the body with the tools to either stay and fight or flee the situation. Animals are also likely to display warning signs to predators, such as hissing so that they are less likely to be approached. The chain of reactions can also heighten certain senses such as sight (making it easier to focus on predators) and hearing (to assist us in making an escape). 

Humans and fear

In a similar respect, humans will experience fear and a similar process will occur in the body. They will rapidly develop clearer eyesight, stronger muscles and sharper hearing. The heart will pump more oxygen through the body. Of course, in the case of humans the fear is not usually a predator these days!

The sorts of behaviours that may have protected us from harm in the past may result in us avoiding situations that we find frightening, such as avoiding parties due to a fear of being embarrassed, or failing to turn up to job interviews for fear of failure. 

In order to use fear to your advantage you need acknowledge the emotion and think about it realistically. It is widely known that we all experience fear, the difference between those who are high achievers and the rest of us is that high achievers experience the same fears, but take the decision to push forwards towards their goals anyway.

You can move forwards towards your own goals too. To achieve this:
  • indulge in daily self-reflection – write down all the elements that you find frightening and what specifically makes you afraid.
  • assess the pros and cons – write a list of the positives that could be achieved through facing a particular fear and a list of the negatives.
  • face the fear – perhaps the most difficult step of all is to face your fears. Attend the party or the interview and have an actual experience of the thing you fear. If it's too difficult for you, break it down into smaller, more manageable steps.
  • Give yourself recognition – no matter how small the steps you take, congratulate yourself at each stage.

Why do we feel anger?

Following the Darwinian approach, it may be difficult to see how anger could benefit either animals or humans. For animals, anger acts in much the same way as fear as it forces the animal to protect what is theirs if they feel threatened. An animal is most likely to react with anger physically only when they have assessed the situation and come to the realisation that they can win or when they feel cornered and have no choice but to fight.

Do humans do the same? In many ways, yes!

Although to us, anger seems to be just a reaction to something we perceive to be unjust or negative, it is in fact a reaction that tells us that a boundary has been breached. In the same way an animal will assess its opponent and realise they could win, rather than flee, an angry person will have determined that they can dis-arm their opponent. The difference is that one would hope a person wouldn’t react with physical violence when angry, but they may well behave aggressively by raising their voice and presenting an aggressive expression.

How can anger ever be positive?

Once you're aware that something is making you angry, you can change its direction and use it to enhance your career or outlook on life, rather than hinder it.
  • Channel your anger in a different direction to avoid an unpleasant situation – leave the room, go for a run, or scream into a pillow. Try to avoid being reactionary.
  • Acknowledge the things that make you angry – be it a person or experience – and reflect on why you may be feeling this particular emotion. Your anger is telling you something. How you respond is up to you. 
  • Write a plan – the great thing about anger is that it actually makes us determined. If you're angry because you were overlooked for a promotion, write down how you're going to deal with this and how you're going to make your situation better. This can be asking for feedback and creating a step-by-step plan to being a more attractive candidate next time.
  • Accept you may be wrong and apologise – if you have given in to your anger you may have acted in the spur of the moment. Reflect on the situation. Could the person you're angry with actually be right, and if so, be the bigger person and acknowledge this.


People often leave us alone when we are sad. The miserable loneliness of sadness may not appear to have any advantages, but sadness is perhaps one of the most cathartic experiences one can have. When one loses a loved one, it is important to grieve and to feel the sadness associated with the loss. The same can be said of a broken relationship as you mourn the loss of your connection with the other person. It isn’t only humans that feel sadness. Animals are often seen mourning the loss of their offspring or being sad when alone. This suggests that there is an evolutionary reason why humans still feel sadness and that it must have its uses.

Why is sadness good?

  • It can make you more empathetic – when you experience sadness yourself, it can help you understand another person’s emotions when they experience something similar.
  • It improves memory – studies show that sad people are more likely to remember the smaller details of an event in contrast to those in a more positive mood.
  • It’s a great motivator – After the initial period of sadness, people are more likely to find themselves motivated to better themselves or to actively cheer themselves up. 

Knowledge is most certainly the key to using 'negative' emotions to your advantage and the more you acknowledge and explore your feelings and the reason why they have come about, the better you will become at understanding how to achieve this.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Body dissatisfaction

Do you sometimes catch yourself turning and twisting in front of the mirror, wishing that parts of you were smaller, bigger, shaped differently? If you do, you are not alone! Studies have found that we live in an age of growing body consciousness and, as a consequence, often growing dissatisfaction with our weight and shape.

It has been estimated that up to 70% of women will try to diet at some stage in their lives and many either perceive themselves as bigger than they are or wish to shed some weight. Notably, dissatisfaction with shape and appearance can affect women of any age – from girlhood to their more senior years. Men tend to be generally more satisfied with their bodies, but in recent years there has also been an increase in male body image concerns, often (but not always) reflected in a wish to be bigger or more muscular.

While gender seems to play an important role in terms of how much and what kind of body dissatisfaction is expressed, sexuality, ethnicity, age, and social class may also have an impact. For instance, different cultures tend to have different beauty ideals and while the prevalent western beauty standard of thinness (particularly for women) is widespread, it is not universal. Many African cultures value a more voluptuous body shape as a sign of good health and attractiveness.

While stereotypes often focus on the idea that body image issues are most common in white, upper/middle class women, the reality is far more complex. In short, anyone can struggle with thoughts of physical inadequacy or be unhappy about the way they look, no matter who they are.

Where does body dissatisfaction come from?

There can be many reasons for someone becoming dissatisfied with the way they look – we often focus on the media and the perceived societal pressures to look a certain way, but often there are other factors at work too. We may have grown up around critical parents or other family members; been bullied at school or at work; or face unique pressures in our social and cultural environment to be a certain way. We may develop beliefs about what it means to look a certain way (for example, associating thinness with success and attractiveness) and reject anything that does not conform to this ideal. Over time, criticisms from others (parents, partner, community, peers) are internalised and stay with us to the extent that we start seeing ourselves as others have seen us – justified or not.

How to be less dissatisfied with your body

  • Focus on the positives – What do you like about your looks? What (positives) have other people commented on? If you are not sure, ask those you love and trust – you may be surprised by what they say.
  • Focus on the whole you – you are more than your weight or dress size. Think about what makes you tick. What are you good at? What do people like about you? This can help shift the focus from concentrating on things you are unhappy about to feeling more positive about yourself overall.
  • Be mindful of the images you see on social media platforms – they are more often than not airbrushed and altered and do not portray reality. How useful is it to be comparing yourself to bodies that don't really exist?
  • Be kind to yourself – stop treating other people better than you treat yourself. You are the only person you will spend the entire rest of your life with.
  • If you feel that you are really struggling and would like to speak to someone about your body dissatisfaction and how it impacts on your life, don't hesitate to reach out. You are not alone and help is available. 

The psychological dimension of healthy eating

There are probably as many definitions of 'healthy' eating as people trying to follow a 'healthy' diet. In fact, in the age of the internet and social media, we are bombarded with often contradictory advice about food and nutrition. Health blogging has become a popular (and sometimes lucrative) endeavour and platforms such as Instagram brim with tantalising food pictures and recipe suggestions posted by professional or self-declared health gurus. 

The NHS and other established health organisations' guidelines around healthy eating reliably encourage variety and balance in our diets – beware of (certain) fats, sugars, too much meat, and processed foods and eat more fruit and veg. Most of us will have some idea of what eating a 'healthy' diet involves. However one aspect of healthy eating that is talked about less often is the psychological dimension. In light of the steep rise in eating disorders in the past few decades, how we feel and think about food and eating needs to be given some attention. Our relationship with food can have a significant psychological impact on our physical and mental wellbeing.

If we focus on the nutritional side of eating, we miss important emotional and social aspects of food. Adherence to a strict 'health' focussed diet (in absence of any medical or physiological imperatives that necessitate this) may mean that you get your '5 a day' but it may also leave you deeply unsatisfied, constantly overthinking about your eating habits, and unable to partake in the social sharing and preparing of food that doesn't fit with your particular 'regime'. It might start to make you feel alienated from others as well as anxious and worried about what you can and cannot eat.

In extreme cases, an 'obsession' with eating healthily can take the shape of an eating disorder. Though not officially recognised in diagnostic manuals to date, Dr Steven Bratman, an American physician, coined the term 'orthorexia nervosa' in 1996, describing an 'unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food'. An orthorexic attitude to food is characterised by an intense fear of 'impure' or 'unhealthy' foods (however this is defined by the individual) and a near constant preoccupation with 'healthy' eating.

Bratman makes it clear that he does not mean to pathologise healthy eating habits, but he stipulates that people can start to develop an 'unhealthy obsession with healthy food'. At its extreme end, orthorexia can lead to malnutrition or death and this resemble anorexia nervosa, a recognised and dangerous eating disorder which causes sufferers to strive for weight loss when they are not in fact overweight.

However, even on the less extreme end of the spectrum, an unrelenting and rigidly controlling attitude towards 'impure/unhealthy' food can seriously undermine a person's physical and psychological wellbeing, as well as compromising their ability to socialise, be spontaneous, or try new things. Therefore it is important to consider what our diet feels like to us – not just in a physiological sense, but also in terms of our thoughts and emotions. Do we allow ourselves to enjoy food, eat with others, experiment with new flavours, get excited about going out for meal? Or does the thought of food fill us with a feeling of pressure, anxiety, or dread?

Food is an inevitable and crucial part of our lives and plays an undeniably important role in our wellbeing. It is worth remembering that 'healthy' eating is not just about physical health but also has a psychological dimension and sometimes we need to find a balance between the two. 

Our eating habits are not just about food

Imagine you are in a supermarket for your weekly food shop. What are you paying attention to when choosing which foods to buy? Do you have a tendency to glance at nutritional values or calories, do you consider ethical and ecological factors, do you look at the origin of fresh produce, do you compare prices and opt of the cheapest/most expensive items on the shelf?

What we choose to eat goes beyond our physiological needs

Health psychologists have long recognised that what we choose to eat goes far beyond responding to our physiological needs. Our food choices do not take place in a vacuum but in the context of our social, cultural, spiritual, and political environments. Food and eating habits can be a way to express who we are as a person; what our religious, ethical, or spiritual beliefs are; what we consider our cultural heritage; and how we like to connect with others.

Food can be a statement

Jane Ogden, professor for health psychology, suggests that food can be a 'statement of self' and this has been the case for centuries. From the strict vegan to the proud meat eater, our food choices are often indicative of how we relate to ourselves and the world – what is acceptable or unacceptable to us? Are we 'controlling' or 'indulgent' around food and how do we define those categories? Do we use foods as a 'treat' or do we deny ourselves certain things?

Food can express our identity

What we eat can also reflect our cultural, national, or spiritual identities. For example, many religions consider certain foods to be either 'sacred' or 'profane' – just think of beef or pork in the context of various major religions. We may feel patriotic about our home country/region's national dish or reject it in favour of other cuisines, showcasing our cosmopolitan pallet. For those of us who have emigrated, cooking some of the staples from 'back home' may be a way to stay connected to where we are from.

Food and socialising

Food also plays a major role in how we socialise and connect with others – the picnic in the park, preparing a family dinner, going for a nice meal to mark a special occasion...there are many ways in which food is central to our social lives.

Our relationship with food

Sometimes our relationship with food can become skewed and difficult, for example when we start coming overly focussed on our weight or exceedingly controlling, secretive, or shameful around what we consume. If those patterns persist over time, we may be diagnosed with an eating disorder – a serious mental health condition that can have a significant negative physical and psychological impact.

There are many reasons why we eat what we eat and they go far beyond basic nutritional considerations. It can be important to be aware of our relationship with food, particularly as it often reflects our relationship with ourselves and others. 

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Get ready for summer

Summer shouldn’t all be about the countdown to looking good on the beach, it should be a time for fun, relaxation and some much-needed time out from your daily routine. Unless we make some proper time for ourselves when we can fully relax and escape the stresses of everyday life, the pressures can mount and as a result we face mental and physical burnout, especially when we’re constantly trying to maintain a hectic lifestyle.

In order to make time for ourselves, ideally a week or longer, where we can enjoy lazy mornings, lingering lunches or BBQs in the sunshine, we need to declutter our lives and start to wind down.

8 ways to declutter your life

  1. In the weeks leading up to your summer break, try to make sure you’ve finished any outstanding tasks at work. There’s nothing worse than worrying about your job when your supposed to be enjoying a break. You need to be able to totally switch off your mind so that you don’t have any feelings of anxiety.
  2. Meditation is a great way to relax, unwind and clear your mind. Set aside 10 minutes every day if possible to free your mind of unwanted chatter. As well as feeling much calmer, it will also help you deal more effectively with any tasks you need to get done before your holiday.
  3. Do one extra household chore each week so that you don’t have to think about those niggling jobs during your time off. Perhaps you might want to deep clean the house or catch up on some gardening, especially as it might not be possible to travel this summer and you’ll need to make the most of the holidays at home.
  4. As we tend to over-indulge when we’re enjoying a break, doing some form of exercise in the run up to our holiday can make us feel less guilty if we want to enjoy a week of eating and pure relaxation.
  5. Try to ease yourself into a better evening routine so that you’re getting plenty of sleep – you don’t want to waste your entire break simply catching up on sleep after feeling mentally exhausted for so long. You’ll also find that if you sleep well, you’ll have more energy to complete you’re the tasks above.
  6. Take stock of anything that’s causing you anxiety or stress and try to resolve the issue before the summer so that you don’t have a sense of doom looming over you. Perhaps there’s something at work that’s concerning you or maybe you need to resolve an ongoing disagreement with a colleague or friend. Whatever it is, try to find a way of dealing with it so that it isn’t taking up your head space when you’re supposed to be relaxing.
  7. Make a pact with yourself that during your summer break you focus on yourself and do what makes you happy. Put work out of your mind and soak up all those wonderful moments that make you appreciate life.

Studies show that summer provides some very important benefits to our health and wellbeing so it’s vital that we are able to truly enjoy the season. By decluttering your life in the run up to your summer break, you’re much more likely to savour every moment.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Dealing with transitions in your life

Change in our lives is inevitable, yet it can still be a troubling thought for some of us. According to literature on stress and coping, there is no such thing as an inherently difficult life transition, so what is it about changes in our lives that we find so challenging?

Well, research has shown that the reason we can struggle with transitions, is because of the mindset we apply to the situation at hand. Life transitions that can feel particularly difficult to deal with include leaving home, starting a new job, and divorce. Achieving a positive mindset in all of these situations is not always easy, however, there are ways we can manage these transitions to make them less stressful.

  1. See the challenge in change rather than the threat – When we see change as a something to be dreaded or feared, we automatically open ourselves up to the stress which occurs when we feel threatened. Instead, try to approach any event that may scare and overwhelm you, into a challenge you can tackle. 
  2. Seek support throughout the transition – Studies have shown that having social support is one of the most significant keys to successfully managing change. Try to remember that absolutely everyone will go through a significant life transition at some point. Although everyone's experiences will be different, it can help to have that emotional boost along the way from people who care about you and may have helpful tips to share with you.
  3. Prepare for the change – As with many things in our lives, it often isn’t helpful to avoid or deny that change is happening. It may seem easier at the time, but the sooner we can accept what’s happening, the sooner we can start to adapt. In certain transitions such as retirement or moving house, research has shown that planning at least two years ahead, will allow the moving-on process to occur without the accompanying ‘devastation’ of the loss of your old home or job. 
  4. Use the transition as positively as possible – All major life transitions, no matter what they are, come with potential for meaningful reflection. Where possible, try to see the positives in the change coming, while also acknowledging the positive elements of this part of your life before the change. With some transitions, such as the death of a loved one, this can be extremely challenging, and it might feel impossible to identify positive aspects of this change. In this case, it can be useful to focus on the things you were able to experience before this change, and recognise that going forward, you are taking memories with you that you will be able to cherish forever.
  5. Realise that change is a natural part of life – Fortunately, our lives are never at a complete standstill, as this would be extremely boring and entirely uneventful. You may not be seeking or wanting change when it happens to you, but the realisation that transitions are inherent to human life is something that can be useful to remember. Instead of fighting it, try to accept it as something that we all face at some point, in different forms. The aim is to make these transitions as smooth as possible, to enable us to move forward and to grow, rather than becoming stuck in the past, in a part of our lives that is no longer serving us.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

How to raise confident children

Confidence is one of the most important life skills you can develop as a child. In such a vast world with so many social rules, there’s much to discover and overcome. For any parent, helping to build their child’s confidence is one of the greatest lessons of all and it will stand them in good stead for conquering any difficulties or challenges that lie ahead of them.

Ways to increase confidence in children

Show appreciation

No matter how big or small the achievement, always give praise to your children. And it’s equally as important to praise effort as well, so they don’t feel they have to achieve something great to be worthy of your approval or love. However, it's important to make sure it IS an achievement. For example, don't praise your children for tying their shoelaces unless they have a problem with that particular task and are making progress with it. 

Let them be themselves

One of the many reasons children lack confidence is because they're afraid to be themselves for fear of being reprimanded. Although we should still impose guidelines for behaviour and teach them right from wrong, we should also allow our children to express themselves and not be afraid of what others might think of them. They should be allowed to have their own opinions as long as they learn to express them in a positive manner.

Teach them it’s okay to fail

Failure is often something feared by children the most because they are afraid of the repercussions. It’s so important to let them know that failure is a process everyone must experience in order to become a better person in whatever capacity. As long as they know it’s okay to fail, they will continue learning valuable lessons for life. From experiencing failure, they will also discover resilience and perseverance.

Set them challenges

Setting challenges for children and pushing them out of their comfort zone can be extremely beneficial to them. As long as you start off small and increase the challenges gradually over time, this will give them the confidence to try new things and they will become less fearful as they grow up.

Help them discover their talents

Even as adults, some of us never realise our talents or potential because we're too afraid to take risks or try something new. Sometimes we might have hidden talents that won’t be discovered at school, so we need to try our hand at lots of different things to find out what we enjoy and want to improve at. Whenever possible, let your child take up a dance class or learn to play an instrument and if they don’t enjoy it, let them try something else.

Teach them not to be afraid of adults

It’s not uncommon for children to feel fearful of adults, and this can prevent them from expressing themselves truthfully. As long as your children understand respect and that it applies to everyone not just people of a certain age, then we should avoid instilling a fear of adults in them.

Show them unconditional love

Although there will be times when you need to let your children stand on their own two feet, make sure they know that you love them unconditionally. If they know they have your support and love at all times, this will give them the confidence to learn from their own mistakes.

Be a good role model

One of the best and most important ways that our children learn from us is when we lead by example. Let them see when we make mistakes and how we learn from them, or show them how we cope with situations that we might be fearful of.

By raising confident children, we are also giving them the skills to manage their mental wellbeing. The better they become at facing challenges and overcoming failure, the less likely they are to feel anxious or stressed about certain situations.

More information

For more about raising confident and happy children, download our pdf booklet, Flourishing Children - Help Your Child To Thrive

This BBC article looks at a study that was undertaken to determine if confidence in children affected their academic success. It's an interesting read!

Friday, 22 May 2020

Releasing your inner child

What makes children so resilient? Why do they see the magic in everything? Why don’t they worry about what people think or the results of their actions?

As young children, we live in the moment. We have tantrums, we cry, we laugh, we say what we think and we express how we feel. We are selfish at a young age and we haven’t yet started to adhere to many of society’s restrictions.

As an adult, we have spent most of our lives being inculcated with ideals and told how we should behave or live our lives. We're constantly given expectations to live up to which can often make us feel inadequate, unsuccessful or insecure, so we become too afraid to be our true selves. We also have more and more responsibilities as we grow up which can create more worry and pressure, with less time to focus on the things that makes us truly happy.

To protect our mental wellbeing, it’s important to make time for ourselves and remember how it feels to be young, carefree and happy again. Just because we have responsibilities, it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun and make time for relaxation. Studies have shown that by being in touch with our inner child, we can heal issues in our adult life.

Think of all the time we spend watching television, scrolling through social media or cleaning the house – surely, we can take back some of that time and remember how good it feels to be young and carefree.

10 ways to release your inner child

  • Let your creative side run wild. Get out some paints and paper (or buy some if you don’t have any) and let loose with your imagination. Who cares what the end result looks like? It’s all about enjoying the process and how it makes us feel.
  • Don’t wait for the sun to come out to go for a walk. Put your wellies on and get out in the rain. Remember how it smells, sounds and feels.
  • Go to the park and take a few of your favourite childhood snacks to enjoy while you're there. You could even try making a daisy chain!
  • Play some music from your childhood and get lost in the memories and feelings of nostalgia.
  • Do something spontaneous. Don’t plan anything but when the mood takes you, just throw caution to the wind and do it.
  • Read your favourite childhood book and remember why it was so magical and why you felt a connection with the characters.
  • Build a den in your garden or home or revisit somewhere that used to make you feel safe in your own little world. Perhaps there was a certain tree that you used to climb, or you could visit the neighbourhood you grew up in. If you can't visit in person, why not visit it on Google maps?
  • Spend time with friends and have fun (you can do this online or in person depending on the restrictions in place). Make a rule not to talk about anything serious and just be silly and laugh.
  • Write a letter to your younger self. Tell them about all the wonderful experiences you’ve had and give them some insightful advice from the older you.
  • Play a game with your partner or friend. You can probably still buy most games that you had when you were younger either in a toy shop or online.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Letting go of things you can’t control

Throughout life, everyone experiences events and situations that are way out of their control. But it’s how we react to the hand that has been dealt to us that determines how it affects us.

Too often we don't recognise when we're swimming against the tide and spend too much of our precious time and energy battling against a situation that is out of our control. This can be extremely exhausting and also damaging to our mental and physical wellbeing. So, it’s important that we recognise the types of things that drain our energy.

If we continue to let uncontrollable situations control us, over time the ongoing stress and anxiety can cause more serious mental and physical health problems. Our bodies don’t react well to continuous stress and when we become run down, our immune system is weakened, and we are more susceptible to illnesses.

Things we can’t control and should let go of

You might be wondering how to distinguish between what you can and can’t control, so here are a few examples of what you should try not to focus on too much:

  • The past – the best way to deal with the past is by not regretting anything as it is too late to change it, so try and learn from it and put the knowledge from your experience to better use in the future.
  • Mean people – everyone is responsible for themselves and unfortunately, the majority of the time, we are unable to change other people’s behaviour. The best way to deal with mean, unkind people that drain your energy is to avoid them whenever possible. Devote your energy to people who are worthy of your time and energy.
  • Stop predicting the future – although we do have some control over the future, we can’t always predict it. So, worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet means that you might suffer twice.
  • Natural disasters – Again, we have absolutely no control over natural disasters. There may be certain measures that you can put in place to minimise the damage caused (if you feel there is a real chance of a natural disaster occurring), but generally, you should try not to worry about events that haven’t yet occurred. 

How do we let go?

If there is something in particular that is bothering you and making you anxious or stressed, make a list of the things that are causing you concern. Decide exactly which things you feel you have no control of and which you can control.

There are lots of meditation and mindfulness exercises that can help you with the process of letting go. Research studies have shown that practising mindfulness can have a positive effect on anxiety. Visualisation exercises can also be very useful. Ultimately, it’s how we respond to situations that’s really important. Think of specific times in your life when you were in control. Ask yourself why you were in control, how did you deal with the situation, and how did you feel at the time? By visualising the details, it will help you to understand how to feel in control again.

Worrying prevents us from experiencing the positives in the here and now so it’s important that we learn to switch off. Although life is ever changing and often out of our control, if we start to focus more on the present and recognise the difference between “I can’t” and “I won’t”, we will soon start to become better equipped to let go.

Ways to stop worrying about things we can’t control

  1. Try to stop second guessing people’s thoughts
  2. Practise mindfulness and learn to live in the present moment
  3. Restrict your use of social media
  4. Practise meditation
  5. Write down your worries 
  6. Change your focus

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Stop second guessing people and thinking the worst

How many times have you second guessed someone’s intentions only to find that you were way off the mark? This is something many of us do on a regular basis without considering the consequences beforehand.

Usually when we’re second guessing, it’s because we’re not aware of all the facts – and the negative chatter in our heads instantly assumes the worst. For example, a work colleague may have told you that she liked what you were wearing. To most people, this would be taken as a compliment, but you might think they were being sarcastic and making fun of you. Not only can this cause an unnecessary argument with the person if you were to verbalise your suspicion, but if you didn’t express your thoughts, negative feelings such as hurt or anger could start to affect your mental wellbeing over time.

One of the main problems with thinking negative thoughts is that we don’t question them. When these kinds of thoughts go unresolved, it can affect our mood and lead to issues such as anxiety and stress. Often when we choose not to confront our thoughts, it’s because we subconsciously know that we could be jumping to the wrong conclusions. We don’t want to appear paranoid or unreasonable, so we keep the thoughts to ourselves.

In order to stop second guessing people and making assumptions, we need to rewire how we think.

Imagine the following scenario… (not uncommon prior to social distancing)

You invite friends and family over for a dinner party. After the meal, who offers to help you clear everything away? You’ll likely find that each guest acts differently. Someone might offer to help you; someone might disappear to the bathroom; and someone else might remain seated and carry on chatting.

Everyone has a different response because everyone is different and has their own individual personalities. Just because people don’t act or react in the same way that you would, it doesn’t mean that they are intentionally wanting to hurt or upset you.

Perhaps your friend who rushed off to the bathroom had been wanting to go for some time, but didn’t want to appear rude so waited until everyone had finished their meal to leave the table. Perhaps your friend who continued chatting didn’t want to walk off during a conversation and felt uncomfortable because they wanted to help you.

What is catastrophising?

Remember that we aren’t mind readers and often when we assume the worst it’s down to unrealistic thinking. This is called catastrophising, often caused by anxiety, and it is a destructive way of thinking where we assume the worst. This Guardian article features a three-step plan by a psychologist on how to deal with anxiety and reduce catastrophising.

However, there are also several other ways you can stop second guessing.

How to stop second guessing people

  • Recognise your emotions and try to understand what has caused you to feel a certain way.
  • Practise mindfulness by observing your thoughts. Try to be aware of your thoughts as they enter your head and accept that they are not always speaking the truth. Question your thought process and ask yourself if they are based on fact, if not, let them go.
  • Reason with your initial thoughts and consider an alternative, more rational explanation. It’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt. 
  • Remember that most people have good intentions and aren’t out to upset you.
  • If you have questioned your emotions and thoughts and still feel that they are right, speak to the person involved in a calm and non-judgemental way. Ask what they meant by their comments without accusing them of something you’re not 100% sure about. Communication is key and by holding back on angry or emotional accusations, it will hopefully put your mind at rest.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Walk your way to good health

Because it’s something that we do on a daily basis without giving it much thought, and let's face it, we don’t always break into a sweat, many people often overlook walking as a form of aerobic exercise. But walking has many health benefits and is an excellent way to keep both our mind and body in shape.

For most of us, walking is a simple form of aerobic exercise that we can incorporate into our daily routine. Unlike more rigorous exercise such as running, gym sessions or competitive sports, walking rarely poses a risk of injury and it can be much more enjoyable than an intense workout.

Walking is in the news at the moment because it is one of the UK Government's suggested methods of taking some daily exercise and it's easy to do alone or in family groups, with little equipment, and direct from our front door.

Health benefits of walking

There are many health benefits of walking that not only improve our physical fitness, but also our mental wellbeing.
  • Walking reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Walking lowers cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • Walking reduces the risk of diabetes.
  • Walking helps protect us against dementia.
  • Walking helps fight obesity.
  • The release of endorphins during aerobic exercise can lift our mood (especially when we walk among nature), which helps to combat stress, anxiety and depression. These benefits are outlined in an article published in the Primary Care Companion Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
  • Walking improves our memory. In this article by The Guardian, Amy Fleming talks to neuroscientist, Shane O’Mara, about how walking benefits the cognitive functions of the brain.

Just 30 minutes of moderate walking every day can make a huge difference to our overall wellbeing and health. You might think that is a lot of time to squeeze into a normal busy day, but when everything is back to normal, the corona virus lockdown has ended, and your busy schedule resumes, you can break it down into small chunks, say ten minutes three times a day, you’ll be surprised at how easily you can keep walking and increase your step count. By making small changes in your routine, the time spent walking will soon increase, and it will become a habit that you won’t want to live without.

There are lots of ways you can introduce walking into your day-to-day life and, before you know it, it will have become second nature.

Ways to increase your step count

Please note that many of these options assume a normal level of freedom and we are not suggesting that anyone goes against the current lockdown situation, we are simply listing the options for when things return to normal.

  • Walk to work, or if it is too far, get off the bus a stop earlier or park the car further away and walk the rest of the way. 
  • Walk to the shops if you’re only buying a few items.
  • Choose the stairs instead of the lift.
  • Take a lunchtime stroll. The fresh air will make you feel great, too!
  • Go and explore local parks, nature trails, canal paths and woodlands. You’ll be surprised at what small adventures you can enjoy so close to home when you go on foot.
  • Visit new cities and towns and walk around the local area as well as the shops. 
  • Invest in a treadmill or use one at the local gym 
  • Join a walking group and climb hills or ramble through national parks. 

Walk4Life is a fantastic resource that encourages you to walk more. On the website you’ll find places to walk, maps, walking challenges and walking groups. Not only will you be improving your mental and physical health, you could make lots of new friends, too!