Monday, 14 June 2021

Overcoming shame with compassion during difficult times

What a crazy year 2020 was and 2021 continues to be. For some, the covid-19 lockdowns in Scotland presented opportunities to become an expert banana bread baker while becoming fluent in French on Duolingo and achieving mastery in oil painting. For most of us though, it was a year scattered with jobs losses, health scares, and the deaths of loved ones. 

For those who suffered tremendously during lockdown, viewing those who appeared to thrive on social media may have elicited feelings of frustration, anger, or maybe even shame. Perhaps this shame stemmed from feeling like something was wrong with your ability to cope with this stressful event as you compared yourself to your peers. 

It’s very easy to get entangled in a shame spiral and often very challenging to get back out again. Here are some tried and tested tips and tricks to overcome shame with compassion as we all try and cope with difficult situations.

We all have different ways of coping

Comparing ourselves to others often leads to despair when we only see the positive aspects of our peers and view ourselves negatively against them. When we do this, we may put ourselves down or blame ourselves for things that are not our responsibility. In reality, everybody copes with stress differently and the ways we cope with stress are not our fault. 

Paul Gilbert, the founder of Compassion Focused Therapy said we all have ‘tricky brains’ that evolved to keep us alive. While experiencing a threatening situation (e.g. covid-19 pandemic, lockdown) some people may feel increased motivation to seek resources to survive (e.g. improve baking skills) while others may feel the need to retreat (e.g. stay in bed). Even though the coping styles are different, in both situations the person is trying to survive a stressful life event. 

By remembering that we all have different and very reasonable ways of coping, we can build compassion for ourselves and others in our joint effort to survive difficult situations.


Compassion through mindfulness and safe space imagery

When our threat detection system (red in the diagram above) is triggered, our bodies prepare to fight, flee, or freeze. I like to imagine this system as being controlled by a little security guard who presses an alarm button when a threat is detected. When this alarm button is ‘pressed’, our breathing becomes shallow, our chest becomes tight, and even our digestive system slows down! In order to calm the security guard down, we need to activate our soothing system that is affiliated with feelings of reassurance and safety. To do this, Paul Gilbert emphasised the importance of feeling compassion for ourselves that can be cultivated through deep breathing and mindfulness.

Here’s how:


Take a deep inhale in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, and then exhale for six seconds.This is called circular breathing and incredibly effective in activating or soothing system (or calming down our inner ‘security guard’).


It is helpful to start by sitting comfortably in a chair with your feet flat against the floor.

  • You can start deepening your breath using the technique above (four in, four hold, six out). 
  • Start to bring your awareness to the space around you, noticing any sounds or smells that can help you to ground yourself in the present moment
  • Bring to mind a place that feels safe and welcoming, this place could be a cabin in a forest, a beachfront chalet or a mountain lodge. 
  • Bring your awareness to the details of this place, what do you see? Are there any smells? What are some sounds you may experience?
  • Now imagine that the place itself takes joy in you being there. Allow yourself to feel how this place takes pleasure in you being there. 
  • Explore the feelings arising when you imagine this place, and whenever you are ready you can open your eyes.

These techniques will help you to soothe yourself in times of stress. Always remember that we are in this together and having compassion for yourself is the best way to approach any challenges that come your way.

For more information about learning to love yourself, sign up to our webinar 'Overcoming Shame And Learning To Love Yourself' taking place on Friday 18 June 2021 at 12 noon BST. 

Cameron Cunningham works as Counsellor/Therapist at First Psychology Glasgow. She will be presenting the webinar 'Overcoming Shame And Learning To Love Yourself'

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Teaching your children to love themselves

As children growing up, we’re faced with many situations that might knock our confidence, such as being told not to bother our parents when they’re busy, not achieving the expected grades at school, or not fitting into a peer group because of our appearance. Whatever it is that causes children to be lacking in self-worth, it’s important that we, as adults, teach them to love themselves unconditionally. 

Research published on the website Oxford Academic showed that: “self esteem can lead to better health and social behaviour, and that poor self-esteem is associated with a broad range of mental disorders and social problems, both internalising problems (e.g depression, suicidal tendencies, eating disorders and anxiety) and externalising problems (e.g. violence and substance abuse).

The importance of self-love

Self-love is a vital component of happiness. By learning to accept our emotions, thoughts and individuality, we strengthen our core being and ultimately enjoy a more positive and fulfilled life. When children continuously question or doubt themselves, it can lead to negative emotions and a distorted self-image. There’s no denying, self-love doesn’t always come naturally to everyone and there are often situations or people that will cause us feelings of insecurity and a lack of self-worth. Over time this lack of self-worth can seriously affect mental wellbeing and even influence our decisions in life, which might not always be the best decisions.

Ways to raise confident kids

So how can we pass on the positive and valuable lessons we have learnt throughout our lives to our children so that they become confident adults? There are many ways that we can teach children self-confidence and although some may seem obvious, there may be some things you can do that perhaps you hadn’t considered.

  • Don’t worry about what other people think – one of the greatest lessons we can learn in life is to not worry too much about what other people think of us. This might seem easier said than done as there are always times when we want a person to like or respect us. However, this sense of fear often prevents us from being our true selves in order to impress others. 
  • Express your emotions  – We are human and we all experience emotions, both positive and negative. Often as children we’re taught to not let anyone see us cry, not get angry or show our fear. Although these kinds of negative emotions can lower our self-esteem, if we supress them, they can do even more long-term damage to our wellbeing. By teaching children to recognise how they’re feeling and understand why they are feeling a certain way, they can gain a clearer perspective on their emotions which will allow them to deal with certain situations in a more positive way.
  • Be honest and true to yourself  – Compromising and pleasing others can be rewarding but when it causes us to be stressed or anxious, it can lead to resentment. Teaching children that it’s okay to speak the truth, as long as it’s in an unoffensive manner, and to choose what’s right for them rather than compromising their happiness to please others is essential.
  • Show both physical and verbal affection  – Children thrive on physical and verbal affection as it reinforces that they are loved and cared for. In turn, this will boost their self-confidence and increase their emotional intelligence so they can deal with life experiences. Children also need to know that they don’t have to achieve something outstanding or be the best at everything to feel worthy of your love. 
  • Make time for them – one of the greatest things we can do for our children is spend quality time with them. If you’re busy, set aside a time when they know they will have your full attention. This doesn’t always have to involve an expensive day out, sometimes they might just want you to spend time colouring with them or reading them a story.

If you're interested in finding out more about the importance of self-love, why not book a place on our FREE webinar 'Overcoming Shame And Learning To Love Yourself' which is taking place on Friday 18 June 2021. Book your free place here >

How to protect your self-esteem when using social media

You’ve probably already heard of the idea that our self-esteem is impacted by the media we consume and are exposed to. In a world where we are bombarded with particular body types and lifestyles, how can we ensure we protect our self-esteem while still receiving benefit from using social media?
Is social media really that bad for us?
Social media use has gathered some negative attention in recent years. However, much of the research indicates that it isn’t necessarily social media alone which is the problem, but rather how we use and engage with it. Therefore, it’s worth considering why you’re using social media. Do you notice that you use it when you’re bored? Do you find yourself checking your notifications to see how many likes you’ve received on your last post? Do you notice feeling dissatisfied with areas of your life after using social media ­- your looks, or yourself as a person? These may be signs that you’re using social media in a way that could be harmful for your self-esteem and psychological wellbeing.

Does social media contribute to low self-esteem?

Our self-esteem can be impacted by how we use social media and the role it plays in our lives. Positive comments, likes, and other forms of feedback on social media can leave us feeling seen, approved of, and as though we belong. These are hugely important to us as human beings as we require a sense of belonging for our psychological wellbeing. However, if you find yourself judging your feelings of worth based upon the amount of likes you receive, or you judge your posts on the amount of engagement they receive from other users, then this may mean you’re vulnerable to experiencing the negative effects of social media use.

Remember we’re often only seeing the best versions of someone else on social media. It is not representative of real life’s struggles and the natural ups and downs we have in common with all other human beings. However, it is tempting to compare. Psychological researcher, Erin Vogel, and her team found that although social media users were aware that other users were selectively presenting the best versions of themselves, they were still negatively affected by it.

How can you use social media in a positive way to protect your self-esteem?

  • Follow social media accounts that interest you, make you laugh, smile, feel curious, and ones that leave you feeling inspired. Unfollow anything that makes you feel less than this or over focused on one area.
  • Ensure social media is not used to substitute offline interactions or solely as an attempt to address feelings of loneliness. Research has found that when people replace face-to-face relationships with connections established online, the quality of social support both given and received is sacrificed. 
  • Consider how you can ensure your life outside of social media is full, rich, and purposeful. Find a direction and purpose that aligns with your values. Research shows that those who have a higher sense of purpose are less affected by likes than those who do not feel they have much purposeful direction in life.
  • Consider how social media fits into these values. Perhaps it’s by ensuring you’re compassionate and considerate online. Perhaps it’s reducing your screen time to remain ambitious and motivated at work or to be present with your family.

If you find thinking about or doing these things difficult, try talking about it with a trusted loved one or a professional who can help you if you are really struggling.

For more information about healthy social media use, sign up to our webinar 'Getting The Most Out Of Social Media For your Wellbeing' taking place on Friday 11 June 2021 at 12 noon BST. 

Fiona Rugg-Gunn works as an Applied Psychology Practitioner at First Psychology Edinburgh. She will be presenting the webinar 'Getting The Most Out Of Social Media For Your Wellbeing'

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

When habits become out of control - recognising and managing our behaviours

Everybody has good habits and bad habits and often the good habits can be difficult to start and the bad habits can be difficult to stop! But on the whole they don’t tend to negatively impact on our wellbeing in a significant way. However, sometimes we can start to feel dependent on certain habits to make us feel good and whether these were good habits or bad habits to start with doesn’t matter, doing them to excess and without control can cause us serious problems.

How do we know when a habit is out of control?

Any habit can get out of control or harmful through doing it to excess, even habits that are usually considered healthy, such as exercising or eating.

We may notice a habit becoming unhealthy when it starts to negatively impact on our lives in some way. It may impact on your physical health when you start to experience:
  • Difficulty sleeping or not getting enough sleep
  • Tiredness
  • Not eating regularly
  • Becoming ill more often
  • Decreased sex drive

It may affect your mental health and you may experience more:
  • Mood changes
  • Irritability/anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Paranoia
  • Feelings of hopelessness

It may affect your behaviours and relationships with others, as you may:
  • Exhibit secretive or dishonest behaviour
  • Display poor performance/attendance at work or school
  • Withdraw from responsibilities 
  • Withdraw from friends and family
  • See relationships breakdown
  • Have financial difficulties
  • Lose interest in activities, hobbies or events that were once important to you
  • Try but fail to reduce or stop the habit

Why am I doing this?

It is important to be kind to yourself and remember that this is something that can affect absolutely anybody, regardless of gender, age, or socioeconomic status, and is commonly a result of life experiences. Struggling with out of control habits is not something to be ashamed of, nor is it your fault.

However, dealing with a harmful habit without support or guidance can be a very isolating and challenging experience. Left ignored, your control can continue to deteriorate, impacting you physically, emotionally and socially. Don’t wait until the situation worsens to reach out for help.

What can I do?

Deciding to take back control of your behaviour is not an easy endeavour. If you have decided this is something you want to do for yourself and for your mental health, well done for making it this far. Some actions that you can start taking now are:
  • Recognising your triggers – what situations or emotions do you try to avoid or feel better from? Work-related stress? Loneliness? Anxiety? Being criticised? 
  • Removing temptation – try to make it easier on your willpower by removing situations that could tempt you, for example blocking gambling websites on your phone or avoiding meeting friends in locations where alcohol will be served.
  • Asking for support - having someone you can turn to, to hold you accountable and remind you of your goals when you feel your determination slipping can make all the difference in any moments of weakness
If you are struggling to get control back over your habits, speaking to a therapist can be very helpful. They can help you to identify and manage any potential triggers, as well as develop alternative, healthy strategies to use whenever they arise, and offer you support when you need it.

For more information about out of control habits, sign up to our webinar 'When Habits Get Out Of Control' taking place on Friday 4 June 2021 at 12 noon BST. 

Pallavi Parihar works as an Applied Psychology Practitioner at First Psychology Edinburgh. She will be presenting the webinar 'When Habits Get Out Of Control'

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

The benefits of writing a letter to your younger self

It’s inevitable that throughout life we will experience both good and bad moments that will create happy memories as well as emotional pain. If you could travel back in time, are there things that you would do differently? How could the more difficult times be made better? Looking back, what advice would you give to yourself with all the life experience you have now?

Why write a letter to your younger self?

There are many reasons why writing a letter to your younger self could benefit you. Perhaps there are old wounds that have never healed properly or past relationships that have affected your mental wellbeing. 

  • Heal pain
  • Forgiveness
  • Gain a better understanding of yourself
  • To become a better version of yourself

As humans, it’s natural for us to feel a wealth of emotions such as anger, sadness, happiness and resentment, but if we don’t deal with our feelings at the time of the event, they can progress into more serious problems. Intense negative emotions can, over time, create anxiety, stress or even depression. Science Daily looked at a study undertaken by UCLA psychologists which revealed that by putting our feelings into words, we can reduce emotional pain.

How to begin writing your letter

You might be wondering how to begin writing a letter to younger self, especially if you are older and have gone through many different life experiences. But your letter doesn’t have to just focus on the negative elements of your past, it can also feature happy moments that have helped shape your character and life in positive ways.

One of the most important parts of writing your letter is to be completely honest, remember that only you will read it, unless, of course, you choose to show it to someone else. Perhaps you might find it easier to start by jotting down some of the most vivid memories from your past. You can then look back at them and remember how they made you feel and what you learnt from them. How did certain events or people affect you as a person and how have they impacted on your life?

Maybe you thought you made a wrong decision but now looking back realised that it actually benefitted you. For example, did you make a career change that you felt was a mistake at the time but eventually it led to something better than you could have ever imagined?

You’ll most likely find that once you start writing, the words will just flow, and you won’t need much encouragement. Of course, your letter will be determined by the personal events and relationships from your unique life.

Some of the things you should remember when writing your letter:
  • Be honest and open about your feelings
  • Talk kindly to yourself and be empathetic
  • Give yourself positive advice that you wish you had known at the time
  • Decide how old your younger self is that you’re addressing
Once you’ve finished your letter, you could either read it straight away or seal it in an envelope to open on a future date. Perhaps you’ll want to write a series of letters to yourself from various ages of your life.

Friday, 14 May 2021

Learn to be your true self and embrace your gender identity

Take a moment to think about your gender. How would you describe your gender identity? How do you express your gender to other people through how you look or act? How comfortable do you feel with the way that you experience and express your gender?

These questions can help you begin to think about your gender identity and how you make sense of this part of yourself. It is natural to question your gender identity, and this can happen at any stage in your life. Maybe you have noticed that you feel uncomfortable when someone uses a particular gender pronoun, like ‘she’ or ‘her’, or that you feel out of place wearing gender-specific clothes at work. Learning more about gender identity can help you understand yourself and figure out how to show your authentic self, which is important for your emotional and mental wellbeing.

Tips for exploring your gender identity

Understand different gender identities

Many people assume that our gender identities match the gender we were given at birth, but this isn’t always the case. In some cases, people feel differently from their given gender. For example, when a person identifies as transgender, this means that their gender identity doesn’t match the gender that was assumed when they were born. 

Another common assumption about gender is that only two gender identities exist – male and female. However, there are actually many different gender identities that exist outside of these terms. Non-binary is a term people use to describe genders that don’t fall into the categories of male or female. Some people might also describe their gender identity as ‘gender fluid’ which means that they feel as though their gender is not fixed and varies over time.

A rising number of celebrities are publicly embracing fluidity and challenging gender norms. For example, actor Elliot Page recently came out as transgender. Singer Miley Cyrus and model Cara Delevingne identify as gender fluid. The pop star Sam Smith came out as non-binary and changed their pronouns to ‘they/them’ and musician Grimes identifies as gender neutral. Note: All of these people explore and express themselves in different ways within their chosen gender identity – there are no rules as to how you must look or act if you identify as non-binary, gender fluid, or transgender. These are just a few examples of ways that other people explore and express their gender identities. It can be helpful to look at the many different terms that describe gender identity and see which fit best for you. You might prefer not to use labels which is completely fine – this is personal to you and how you feel.

Experiment with the way you express your gender

There are lots of different ways that you can choose to express your gender identity. This includes your appearance and the way you behave. Some people have the same gender expression all the time, while others may change their expression over time or circumstances. For instance, we might express our gender differently when at work with colleagues, out with friends or at home by ourselves.

You can play around with the way that you express your gender by, for example, thinking about which gender pronouns and names feel most comfortable for you and what sorts of clothes and accessories you feel reflect your gender. It’s okay to try out different things and then change your mind if this doesn’t feel right. Everyone has different ways of expressing their gender and only you can know what feels like the right expression for you!

Find your support network

Surrounding yourself with people who love and care about you is really important for feeling supported and understood. Think about people in your life who you can trust and turn to for non-judgemental support. It might feel anxiety-provoking to open up to others, but they are there to support you. Family and friends are a great place to start, and you can also think about seeking out people in the LGBTQIA+ community who might know what you’re going through. Look for resources online where you can get advice, discover role models, and become part of a supportive community. This is a good way to remind yourself that you’re not alone and that there are other people out there who share your experience. Remember to be careful when navigating the comments sections on websites or profiles discussing gender identity issues as some people might leave comments which could be distressing.

Seek professional support

If you are struggling with your gender identity, it can be helpful to speak about how you’re feeling to a professional. Your GP can suggest some options to give you more support. Talking to a trained therapist might also be a good way to make sense of how you’re feeling in a confidential and non-judgemental environment.

Take your time to explore

Finally, the best thing you can do is to take your time and give yourself room to explore your gender identity and expression. Remember to be kind to yourself in the process!

To find out more about gender identity, why not book a place on our free webinar taking place on Friday 21 May 2021 at 12 noon BST. 

For more information about gender identity sign up to our webinar 'Understanding And Exploring Your Gender Identity' taking place on Friday 21 May 2021. 

Sylvie Kay works as an Applied Psychology Practitioner at First Psychology Edinburgh. She will be presenting the webinar 'Understanding And Exploring Your Gender Identity'

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Bathing in nature to improve mental wellbeing

Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing as it’s more commonly known, has become a popular way to embrace nature and boost mental wellbeing. Originally practised in Japan, this back-to-nature activity has now caught on internationally. A study published by the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction indicated that it may reduce stress, heart rate and blood pressure, which in turn can reduce the risk of depression, cancer, stroke and ulcers.

What is forest bathing?

Ultimately, forest bathing involves spending mindful time among nature beneath a leafy canopy where you can disconnect from the outside world and become one with the trees and wildlife. It’s about stepping away from the hustle and bustle, switching off your devices and allowing the forest to heal your mind. Living busy lives in built-up areas can often be detrimental to our mental health and has been linked to anxiety, stress and depression. So it’s important to take time out to de-stress among nature and take care of our own mental wellbeing.

Forest bathing exercises

There are several ways you can immerse yourself in forest bathing and let Mother Nature wash over you. Whether you want to get down and creative or prefer to indulge your senses with the sound of sweet birdsong or the fresh smell of pines, you’re sure to leave feeling more relaxed, revitalised and free from head clutter.

  1. Practise mindfulness as you walk among the trees, paying particular attention to the sights, sounds and smells of the forest. Make a conscious effort to slow down your walking and breathing as you absorb absolutely everything around you.
  2. There are few settings as calming as the forest for a spot of yoga. This is a great way to practice your breathing and inhale the fresh air as you stretch among the trees. Yoga has lots of physical benefits as well as releasing the much-needed serotonin which can improve your mood and make you feel happier.
  3. There’s nothing quite like cooking outdoors. If you don’t have the skills of Bear Grylls and haven’t accomplished starting a fire with a couple of dry sticks, why not buy a disposable barbecue and head down to the forest for some wild dining (forest permitting). There is something so primitive and liberating about cooking over an open fire that really awakens all of your senses. 
  4. Creating art is a great way to release any pent-up emotions and to feel more mentally balanced. So, creating art under a forest canopy surrounded by nature can only bring even more positive results. This is a wonderful way to express yourself, increase your self-confidence, and reduce stress and anxiety.

For more information, visit The Forest Bathing Institute. You’ll also find the UK’s first research paper on the health benefits of forest bathing.