Friday, 28 December 2012

Setting achievable New Year’s resolutions

2013 is fast approaching and we probably all have some goals that we wish to achieve in the next year. However statistics show that only 12% of us actually stick to our New Year’s resolutions. This is largely due to our tendency to set unachievable goals that undoubtedly lead to failure. This year follow our five top hints and tips to setting your goals and you can achieve success.

  • Don’t go too big. Realistically, are you going to be able to go to the gym five times a week? Instead aim smaller, such as trying to cycle to work or going for a jog at the weekends. Setting achievable goals will keep you positive. 
  • Don’t restrict yourself, having broad goals allows for more personal evolution and growth. 
  • Break your resolution into manageable steps. Rather than trying to lose a stone over the whole year, set yourself a target for the next three months. This will keep you more focused and make it seem less daunting. 
  • Don’t only choose resolutions that are chores, such as giving up smoking or losing weight. Pick goals that you’ll enjoy doing such as fulfilling a childhood dream or doing something that inspires you. 
  • Think long and carefully about what the negative areas of your life are. Choose small changes that will help to stop any behaviours/situations that cause them. For example if you seem to be constantly in debt, try avoiding looking around the shops in your lunch break. 
  • Make sure you pick something meaningful to you. If you set your resolution purely because you feel as if it is something that you should do rather than want to do, it is unlikely you will achieve it. 
Setting these goals is the first phase of a great 2013. Come back next week for advice on how to maintain these resolutions.

Friday, 21 December 2012

How to keep the peace at Christmas

Christmas is often depicted as a time for the family to all come together, sitting and laughing by a huge log fire after a perfectly cooked Christmas feast. In reality, however, Christmas provides a unique combination of family politics, judgemental in-laws and over excitable children, making it one of the most stressful times of the year.

However, it is possible to have a truly merry Christmas with a few simple adjustments and some forward planning. Here are our top tips to keep Christmas peaceful.

  • Look for problems that cropped up last year and work out how to avoid a repeat. For example, if your mother argued with your partner’s father last year, make sure they're seated at different sides of the table. 
  • Plan the day, going for a walk together or playing board games can keep everyone amused and avoids the awkward small talk that comes with sitting around all day. 
  • Choosing which side of the family to spend Christmas with can be one of the biggest stressors. Don’t feel guilty if you cant please everyone. Instead invite the other side for casual drinks a few days before to show you care. 
  • Staying with parents can return us to our childhood ways and ignite old problems or insecurities. Don’t rise to the bait. Take a deep breath, count to ten and you should hopefully feel calmer. 
  • Watch how much you drink. Alcohol magnifies every problem and will cause you to react in ways you otherwise wouldn’t. 
  • If your mother-in law thinks she knows how to cook the turkey better, or is all too quick to give out parenting advice, just smile and don’t let it get to you. She will be out of your hair in a couple of days. 
  • If an argument does arise, calmly say, “lets just enjoy today and discuss this tomorrow”, and try not to dwell on it. 
  • Pick your battles. Realistically you are not going to change Aunty Carol’s political views over dinner, so keep things peaceful by keeping your opinions to yourself. 
  • If it does get too much for you, make an excuse and go out for half an hour. Walk the dog or nip to the shops, you’ll feel a lot better if you can find some alone time. 
  • Don’t place too many expectations on your self. If the potatoes burn and the carrots are too raw, just laugh! People are more likely to remember the company and atmosphere than what they ate. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Relatives will like having something to do and the kids will enjoy playing 'waiter' handing out nibbles. 

Christmas has a habit of never going quite according to plan, but if you can relax, smile and appreciate the family time you can still have a merry Christmas!

Friday, 14 December 2012

Negotiating Christmas when you’re divorced with children

Traditionally, Christmas is a time for families to come together and spend quality time with one another. However, modern families are becoming increasingly complex and the prospect of negotiating a happy Christmas can be daunting. This year, 9,453 people filed for divorce in Scotland alone so sadly it is all too common for Christmas to be consumed by family politics and custody arguments.

If you're divorced with children, it is unlikely you'll be happy to spend Christmas with your ex, but who should get the children? 

If you're fortunate enough to be on good terms with your ex partner, plan access as early as possible and try to be fair. Perhaps one of you could have them in the morning and swap for the afternoon? Or if you live far apart, one of you could have them on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day and swap next year? 

If you and your ex are not on speaking terms, involve a third party (such as a solicitor) to arrange access agreements and have them written down. Alternatively, a relationship counsellor is not just for those currently in a relationship, they can help you negotiate an amicable break-up and assist you in discussing arrangements, such as access.

Christmas is a time for children, so their happiness is the most import thing. Consult with them about what they would like to do, but be careful not to pressure or guilt them in to choosing to spend Christmas with you. 

Christmas is likely to be a difficult time for them as well as you, so make sure you talk to them about their feelings and reassure them Christmas will still be magical. Divorce is a big change for any family, but it is also a chance to create new and amazing experiences that can become family traditions for years to come.

If your partner has the kids over Christmas and you find yourself alone, use the time in a positive way. Have some 'me' time - do those things you're normally too busy to do. Alternatively if you really dislike the idea of Christmas alone, call your local hospital or charities to see if they need some extra help. Did you know that giving your time to help others can have some really positive benefits for your own health and wellbeing? Or perhaps look around for single events - you’ll be surprised how many others are in the same boat as you and Christmas might end up bringing you some new friends.

The most important thing is to enjoy the time you have with your children - your experiences with them now will form your memories of the future!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Mind the age gap

You've managed to navigate yourself through the difficult world of dating and have finally found 'the one' to share your Christmas with, but can it last forever if there's a large age gap between you?

Large age gaps can be a big issue, whether it's because you're at different stages in life or feel under constant scrutiny from family and friends. However, there are couples who have successful and happy relationships despite this. Here are our top tips for dealing with age differences in relationships.

  • Be confident with your relationship. If other people see how happy you both are they will be less likely to criticise you. 
  • Do not modify your own behaviour to act your partner’s age. 
  • Do not expect your partner to change their behaviour. 
  • From the beginning be aware of future difficulties. For example if only one of you wants children you need to figure out if that is a deal breaker. 
  • Use the age gap to your advantage. The older partner probably has more life experience which the younger partner can benefit from and the younger partner can bring a new outlook and energy into the relationship. 
  • If your older partner has achieved more than you, (e.g. at a better stage in their career) do not let them overshadow your accomplishments. Be proud of the goals you've reached and continue to go for them. 
  • Remember, age really is just a number. If you feel a connection and both want the same things… just go for it!

Friday, 30 November 2012

How to establish authority after promotion

Once the excitement of a new promotion has settled, the prospect of asserting authority over your previous peers can be daunting. Almost everyone interested in moving to positions of greater responsibility will face this problem at some point in their lives and the chances are very few will do it with ease. Whether your new employees continue to treat you like their friend or just ignore your requests, the peer-to-boss transition can be a tough one.

However, there are ways to negotiate through this bumpy period and emerge both as a stronger leader and a stronger team.

  • Firstly, do not let co-workers reactions ruin your happiness over your promotion. You worked hard and were chosen for a reason. If you believe in your abilities, others will too. 
  • Be confident, acting like a leader will make it easier for others to accept your new role. 
  • Connect with your team; express your commitment to their success and that of the company. If they believe you are still on their side they will co-operate better. 
  • Arrange a meeting. Outline your new responsibilities and any changes in their duties, explain exactly what you expect from them. 
  • Having once been their peer means you have a unique insight into each person’s strengths and weaknesses. Use this to your advantage to get them working at their best. 
  • Set boundaries. Your new role of authority will mean changing the way you act around your colleagues. Fo example it may no longer be appropriate to gossip or joke with them or to go out with them after work. Establishing these boundaries can help assert your role as a manager. 
  • Once promoted, that is your primary role, there is no point trying to be best friends with everyone, you must be firm when necessary. 
  • If one co-worker is refusing to accept your authority, you must take action. Talk to them about why they are having these difficulties, and if needs be, discipline them appropriately and fairly. 
Promotion is an important step in your career path. Do not let transition difficulties derail your progress. Believe in yourself and in your team and you should succeed.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Helping a partner who drinks too much

This week is alcohol awareness week, which aims to bring people's attention to how much alcohol they consume, particularly in the run up to Christmas. According to recent government statistics, one in every thirteen adults is dependent on alcohol in the UK. If  that figure includes your partner it can make the festive period very difficult.

Many addicts don't want to admit, or even recognise, they need help, but as someone close to them you may notice some of the following signs:

  • Lying or being secretive 
  • Stealing 
  • Extreme changes in mood 
  • Changes in sleeping patterns – more, less or at different times of day or night 
  • Changes in amount of energy 
  • Changes in weight 
  • Changes in social groups, new and unusual friends 
  • Changes in finances - having large amounts of cash and then none at all. 
However, even if you don't notice these signs there may still be a problem as addicts can be very successful at hiding their habits. 

It's hard to get away from alcohol as the party season approaches - from boozy chocolates to a quick Christmas tipple, there is temptation everywhere. If you think your partner has an alcohol problem or just always seems to have one too many drinks, the first step is communication. Tell them how their drinking upsets you - this can be a great motivation to stop.

Ask them to look at the following questions, which can help them see the effects alcohol is having on them and other people.
  • Are you drinking more and more often? 
  • Have you tried to reduce or stop drinking without success? 
  • Do you use alcohol to help you relax or feel better? 
  • Have friends and family made comments about your drinking? 
  • Have you dropped friends because of your drinking? 
  • Do you feel confused or depressed in the morning? 
  • Do you ever crave alcohol? 
  • Do you regularly blackout when drinking? 
If you don't feel able to resolve the problem between the two of you, you should consider getting expert help and support. There are many support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous who will understand and be able to help. Likewise an experienced counselling psychologist will be able to help you both get to the root of the drinking and cope with the season ahead.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


Mindfulness is a popular approach that has been shown to help people deal with stress.

Mindfulness focuses on the here and now - how are you feeling internally and externally on a moment by moment basis. Focusing on the present prevents us dwelling on past issues or worrying too much about the future. This allows us time to bring our nervous system back into balance. It's like a rest and reset for the mind.

Practising mindfulness

In practice, mindfulness often focuses on repetitive action such as breathing or chanting. It can be applied to activities such as walking, exercising, eating or meditating as well as more passive activities such as sitting.

For mindful practice the following are necessary:

  • A quiet environment - somewhere you are free from distraction..
  • A comfortable position - sitting on a chair, lotus position etc, try not to lie down.
  • A focus - something to concentrate your mind. It can be an object, a feeling, some words or an image. Whatever you choose, it will act as an anchor to help you remain focused. 

Exercise: Breathing to connect

Sit comfortably with your eyes closed. For the next six minutes connect with your breathing. Notice the gentle rise and fall of your rib cage and follow the air in and out of your lungs. Let any thoughts and feelings come and go, and each time you notice that your attention has wandered, gently refocus (you'll need to do this again and again... and again). For the next three minutes expand your awareness so that you're aware of your body and feelings as well as your breath. For the final minute open your eyes and connect with the room around you, as well as with your body, your feelings, and your breathing (Harris, 2007).

For more about mindfulness visit our website >

Friday, 16 November 2012

Relaxing - part 3

Today we look at the third relaxation technique, body scan, which can be used to combat stress.

Body scan is similar to progressive muscle relaxation, covered in our previous blog, but involves focusing on muscle groups rather than tensing and relaxing them.

Technique 3 - body scan

  1. Lie down on your back with your legs straight out and your arms by your sides. Focus on your breathing and breathe deeply for two minutes or until you feel ready to start.
  2. Focus on your toes on your right foot. Tune in to the sensations you feel there and imagine your breathe flowing from the sole of your foot. 
  3. After a few minutes, move your focus to your right ankle and repeat process. Then move to your right calf, knee, thigh and hip and repeat for the left side of your body. From there, move up to your torso, through your lower back and abdomen, the upper back and chest, and your shoulders. Pay close attention to any parts that are uncomfortable.
  4. Move your focus to your fingers on your right hand and then move to your right wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm and shoulder. Repeat for left arm, then move to your neck and throat and finally the parts of your face, the top of your head, tongue, nose, cheeks, eyes, forehead, temples and scalp. When you reach the top of your head, let you breath reach out beyond your body and imagine yourself hovering above yourself.
  5. After completing the body scan, lie for a few minutes relaxing in silence and stillness noting how your body feels. Then open your eyes slowly, take a moment to stretch and very slowly roll on to your side and get up.
Our next blog will look at mindfulness - an approach that can be extremely effective for combatting stress.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Relaxing - part 2

Following on from our blogs on stress and relaxation, today's blog will look at the relaxation technique known as progressive muscle relaxation.

This technique involves systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups to gain an awareness of how tension and relaxation feel in the body. This should then make it easier to notice when we become tense and therefore more able to do something about it.

Technique 2 - Progressive muscle relaxation

  1. Get comfortable, take off your shoes and make sure your clothes are loose.
  2. Take a few minutes to slowly breathe in and out.
  3. Turn your attention to your right foot and focus on how it feels.
  4. Slowly tense the muscles in your foot as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of ten.
  5. Slowly release the foot, taking note of how it feels as the tension leaves the foot and it becomes limp.
  6. Stay in a relaxed state breathing deeply and slowly.
  7. Next focus your attention on your left foot. Follow the same sequence as for right foot. 
  8. Continue tensing and relaxing your muscles moving slowly up the body (see below for recommended sequence) and trying hard to focus on one muscle group at a time. 
Recommended sequence: 1 right foot, 2 left foot, 3 right calf, 4 left calf, 5 right thigh, 6 left thigh, 7 hips and buttocks, 8 abdomen, 9 chest, 10 back, 11 right arm and hand, 12 left arm and hand, 13 neck and shoulders, 14 face

TIP: if you are left handed you may wish to start with left side of body first

If you have a history of back problems, muscle spasms or other injuries, this technique may not be appropriate for you as tensing muscles may aggravate your condition. Instead try the body scan technique, which will be covered in our next blog.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Relaxing - part 1

Following on from our previous blog on work-place stress, the next few blogs will look at different ways to relax.

Being able to relax effectively is an important skill because it triggers the body's natural relaxation response - the opposite of the stress response. Relaxation is not difficult, but it can take some practice to master. Trying a range of techniques is a great way of finding what works best for you.

Technique 1 - Deep breathing

Focused deep breathing can be a very helpful technique in combatting stress and it forms the foundation of other relaxation practices. The key to deep breathing is to concentrate on breathing from the abdomen, filling up the lungs with air and puffing up the abdomen as we inhale. This process delivers more oxygen to the body and immediately helps reduce anxiety and tension.

How to deep breath

  1. Sit in a comfortable position, with a straight back. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
  2. Inhale through your nose. You should feel the hand on your abdomen rise, but the hand on the chest should hardly move.
  3. Exhale through your mouth. Concentrate on pushing out the stale air while contracting your abdomen muscles. The hand on the abdomen should fall as you exhale, while the hand on your chest should again hardly move.
  4. Continue to inhale through your nose and out through your mouth. Your abdomen should rise and fall as you do this. Concentrate to ensure it rises as you inhale and falls as you exhale. 

Tip: If you find it hard to breathe from your abdomen while seated, then try lying down until you have mastered the technique.

In our next blog we will look at technique 2 - progressive muscle relaxation.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Tackling work-place stress

Today is National Stress Awareness Day and this year's focus is on beating work-related stress, something that according to figures from the charity MIND affects half a million people in the UK to a level that is making them ill.

So what causes work-related stress?At work we may find ourselves working side by side with people we wouldn't choose to spend time with. Add to that the fact that people often have different working styles, for example, one person may work very intensely for five hours then appear to be 'slacking' for the rest of the day while their colleague may keep their head down all day and work at a consistent, less intense pace. Conflicts can arise with one person perceiving another not to be pulling their weight while the other person may wonder how they can possibly be expected to do more. As a result people may feel under pressure to drive themselves harder, particularly if there is a potential threat of redundancy.

Other people's expectations and how we manage them play a large part in work-place stress. Being expected to: work late, behave in a particular way, do tasks we are neither trained nor experienced at, take ownership of projects we perhaps disagree with, and in addition, not feeling we are valued by our employer or society for what we do can all contribute greatly to stress at work. 

So what can we do to get on top of stress?It may seem that with all these contributing factors we are destined to be stressed, but the situation is just half the stress story, the other half is how we respond. As stress arises from the body's natural response to danger, to fight stress effectively we need to find ways to relax our bodies. 

Over the next few blogs we will look at three different relaxation techniques - deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and body scan and explore how to become more mindful - techniques that many find helpful when tackling stress.

Friday, 28 September 2012

I’m just not that into you – part II

Following on from our previous blog, here are some other reasons for loss of sexual desire in relationships and things we can do to help.

The sexier one 
One partner may naturally have a higher or lower libido but equally others may be put off by their partner’s lack of energy or technique.

Being open with your partner is important. Talk about what turns you on or off and make suggestions without criticising or making your partner feel inadequate. Appreciate them for the effort they are making. If your partner has a higher sex drive then try to meet their needs to strengthen your bond and if it is lower, try to initiate sex at least once a month.

Anger is a passion killer
Being constantly angry and overly critical of your partner is likely to extinguish those flames of passion and create a stressful and insecure environment which is not conducive for sex. Anger can also be elicited by one partner towards the other if they are withholding sex.

We all have our differences from time to time and conflict, to a certain extent, can be healthy in a relationship. However, it's the way you express these differences that matters. By stating them clearly and respectfully or perhaps adjusting your expectations you can avoid your partner shying away from you. For example, by discussing expectations about the frequency of sex you can avoid resentment and frustration in your relationship. If anger is something you feel unable to control then you should seek professional help.

Give your whole heart 
Unfortunately there is a tendency to take those close to us for granted. We trust they will always be there for us and so begin to neglect their sexual and emotional needs, perhaps reserving our passion for another person outside of the marriage. We think that however we behave they will never leave us and as they become more needy we distance ourselves from them, scorning them for what they have become.

It is important to appreciate your partner every single day. By simply reminding yourself of the fragility of relationships and treating every day in your relationship as potentially the last this will prevent you from taking them for granted.

Need professional help?
If you are having problems with sexual desire or any other relationships difficulties and would like to talk to someone then contact your local First Psychology centre at one of the following locations:
Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

I'm just not that into you – part I

If after being with your partner some time you feel their interest is waning and they just don't seem to fancy you as much as they once did. Here are some suggestions to get their interest.

Take pride in your appearance - living up to the ideal body images portrayed by the media can be hard work and pretty much impossible. However, staying in shape, maintaining good hygiene and making an effort with how you look should improve your confidence and get your partner's attention.

Take time to be friends - living with a partner is made up of three elements: practicality, friendship and sexual intimacy, which should be present in equal measure. Often the demands of everyday life, such as work and children, can leave little time for friendship which is needed for intimacy. Conversely, neglecting practical matters may leave your partner feeling disappointed and not interested in sex. Try to rebalance your home life so there is time for all three elements.

Set aside time when you prioritise your relationship. Go out every week as a couple, share the chores more, turn off your phone during time together and read books to become more creative and proficient in bed. Sex is important as oxytocin released during orgasm helps strengthen your physical bond and, in turn, your relationship.

For more advice on problems with sexual desire in relationships, look out for part II of this blog.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations:
Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Be kind to yourself

As individuals, we are our own worst critics. Society has taught us to be overly critical about every aspect our being from the way we look to how we behave. Self-criticism is believed to lead to self-improvement and ultimately, success, whereas being kind to ourselves is deemed selfish. But is this really the case?

Not according to researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, who reported that self-criticism is damaging and results in problems such as low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. Self-compassion, on the other hand, is associated with greater well-being, better emotional coping skills and compassion for others.

Self-compassion involves accepting thoughts and feelings, observing life without judgement, being kind and understanding to ourselves in our suffering and when doing so, realising we are not alone.

Being self-compassionate might not come easy at first but here’s a few tips that may help.

  1. Imagine someone else - what would we do or say to someone we cared about who was suffering. 
  2. Look at your language - if we wouldn’t use the words we use when we talk about ourselves to others, we are probably being too self-critical. 
  3. Comfort your body - kind physical gestures, such as putting our hand on our heart or holding our arm, affect our bodies and trigger the soothing parasympathetic system. 
  4. Memorise compassionate phrases - when we find ourselves being self-critical, having stock phrases, which are meaningful to us, can help. For instance, ‘At this moment I am suffering’, ‘Suffering is part of life’, ‘May I be kind to myself?’, ‘May I show myself compassion?’. 
  5. Meditate – practising this can help retrain the brain which makes it easier to perform self-compassionate gestures and makes self-soothing easier. 

Friday, 14 September 2012

Suicide prevention – part II

The impact of suicide on the family and wider community is vast. Furthermore, the cost of suicide to the economy is estimated to be billions of pounds a year. However, the fact that suicide attempts far outnumber completed suicides gives us some hope that there are factors at work in protecting against it.

There are things we can do ourselves. Psychologically we can protect ourselves from the risk of suicide by developing resilience (being able to cope with, and adjust to stressful life events), self-confidence, self-worth, effective problem-solving skills, and help-seeking behaviour. Adopting a healthier lifestyle such as a good diet, regular exercise, enough sleep, and abstinence from smoking and illicit drugs can also lower our risk of suicide. Furthermore, religion and social integration, maintenance of good relationships, support from others and access to healthcare can all protect us from suicide and reduce the likelihood that we will attempt it again.

There are also measures that others can take such as restricting access to dangerous methods, using campaigns which promote positive physical and mental health (thereby reducing stigmatisation of the latter and suicide), as well portraying a responsible depiction of suicide in the media, and encouraging help-seeking behaviour.

It is estimated that more than half of those who commit suicide were seen by a primary care physician within the month before their death. Therefore another key preventative measure is early identification, particularly diagnosis and effective treatment of those with psychiatric or substance-related disorders.

If you would like to talk to someone about how you feel, please contact your local First Psychology Centre to book an initial session with one of our experienced practitioners: 

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Suicide prevention – part I

Yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day. Suicide is preventable and to raise awareness of this, we are going to consider who is at risk and what factors can protect us from it in our two part blog.

Suicide is one of the biggest killers across the globe, more so than homicide and war put together. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around one million people die each year by suicide, which equates to one death every 40 seconds. Though suicide attempts are 20 times the number of actual suicides, it is estimated that 5% of us attempt suicide at least once in our lives.

Suicidal behaviour tends to increase with age, being high among middle-aged and older adults, particularly those over 75. However, it is still the second cause of death worldwide among 15-19 year olds.

Although women attempt suicide two to three times more often than men, suicide is more common among men, with three males to every one female taking their own lives. The reason given for this is that men are more aggressive and have higher intent to die so therefore use more lethal means.

Suicide rates are highest in Eastern European countries, such as Lithuania and Russia, and lowest in countries of Central and South America, such as Peru, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia.

Although anyone can be susceptible to suicide, certain groups are more at risk:

  • Individuals with a history of suicide attempts or self-harm – this is a strong predictor of suicide. 
  • Individuals with a psychiatric disorder and/or substance-related disorders – around 50% of people who consider suicide have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder during their life and up to 90% of people who die by suicide have at least one psychiatric diagnosis. 
  • Individuals who experience stressful life events - relationship breakdowns, financial/job difficulties, bereavement, physical illness, childhood trauma can lead to suicide attempts or suicide as people feel unable to cope. 
If you are affected by any of the information in the above blog and would like to talk to someone about how you feel, please contact your local First Psychology Centre to book an initial session with one of our experienced practitioners: 

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Friday, 7 September 2012

A distorted body image

Body dsymorphic disorder (BDD) affects one in 50 people and usually starts in the early twenties or teenage years. Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder are excessively preoccupied with how they look and greatly exaggerate or even imagine flaws in their appearance. BDD sufferers can obsess about any area but tend to focus more intently on the skin, eyes, nose, teeth, buttocks, stomach, hair or chest.

BDD is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder because the obsessions about appearance can become so consuming that they can greatly affect a sufferer's everyday life (preventing them from going to work and socialising) and as a result can lead to other problems, such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Over 25% of people with BDD have a history of attempting suicide. Research from Rhode Island Hospital and Auburn University has suggested it is eating less or restricting food intake in BDD that correlates with more than double the number of suicide attempts whereas excessive exercise, another BDD-related behaviour, resulted in half the number of suicide attempts as those without a history of BDD. Other behaviours associated with BDD such as cosmetic surgery, compulsive skin picking and physical self-mutilation did not show a consistent correlation with suicide behaviour.

The rationale for these findings, published in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, is that individuals who are able to endure physical discomfort, such as the pain of restricting food intake, are more capable of withstanding the physical pain of inflicting self-harm and are more likely to attempt suicide. Therefore when assessing individuals with BDD who restrict their food intake, it is also important to identify suicide risk.

If you, or someone you know would like to book an initial session to talk to one of experienced practitioners about BDD, please contact your local First Psychology centre.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The perfect body – part II

As well as the media, another powerful influence on our body image results from the messages we receive from the people closest to us - our parents, siblings, friends, colleagues and teachers. 

Our parents, in particular, can have a major impact on our body image. This concept has been labelled ‘thin-heritance’ and explores how we may model our parents' negative views of food, unhealthy dieting practices and negative attitudes towards their own or our bodies. This can negatively affect our own body image.

In all our relationships, be it with a parent or partner, we seek acceptance and validation. So an offhand look when asking for a second helping may cause individuals to become dissatisfied with their bodies and increase their risk of developing an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

Sometimes body image can also result from the relationship we have with ourselves and in particular, the qualities we possess. Individuals with the following traits are more susceptible to negative body image than others:
  • Perfectionists – their bodies have to be perfect as well.
  • Impressionable people – who are easily manipulated/controlled. 
  • People who compare themselves to others. 
  • People who worry too much about how others view them. 
  • Younger people - adolescents are more likely to be affected by body image. 
  • People who are far from their ideal body – tend to have more body dissatisfaction. 
  • Girls – negative body image is more common in adolescent girls than boys (although, times are changing) and girls are also more likely to internalise standards set by society for the ideal body and feel pressure to conform to these. 
Sexual orientation, particularly for men, and cultural factors can also play a role in negative body image, as some cultures are more accepting of different body shapes than others.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations:
Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Friday, 31 August 2012

The perfect body – part I

Summer is supposed to be a carefree time, but for some it’s a season of self-consciousness and inadequacy. The realisation we will need to shed some clothes can be particularly daunting.

Indeed, estimates reveal up to 90% of women in the UK experience body image anxiety and a worrying two-thirds of these would undergo surgery to rectify the problem. But it’s not just women who are unhappy with their bodies. Researchers at the University of the West of England found that four out of five men in the UK dislike their bodies and would trade a year of their life to achieve their ideal body shape/weight. But where does negative body image originate from?

Now more than ever, we are under immense pressure to conform to society’s ideals of the body beautiful. Historically, the ideal female body was voluptuous and full figured because it symbolised wealth and fertility. In the 1900s, however, this ideal changed as plumpness became associated with indulgence and lack of self-control and so the ideal body became thin and boyish for women and lean and muscular for men.

These ideals and ultimately, how we value ourselves are conveyed through the media. Images are usually unrealistic, unattainable (as they are often digitally enhanced), and are therefore damaging to our physical and psychological well-being. The media is more powerful than ever. The media often wants us to feel bad about ourselves so we buy products to fix this. The problem is the more we are exposed to it, the more we believe it reflects the real world.

Whereas we once aspired to have bodies like ‘real people’ we knew, we now grow up wanting to look like supermodels. This trend is reflected in the growing problem of eating disorders and body image dissatisfaction. Although the average woman’s weight has increased, around 1.1 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders and compared to Miss America winners from the 1950s, at least 25% of present-day role models would be considered underweight.

For more information on negative body image, check out The Perfect Body - part 2

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Mindful eating

We live life at such a frantic pace we have little time to think about the food we eat or how we consume it. Eating should be pleasurable as it satiates our hunger, but when we’re doing other things, such as watching TV or working, we fail to recognise our bodies are full and continue to eat regardless. As a result, we don’t enjoy the food we have and need more food to feel satisfied.

Mindful eating can teach us to savour our food, recognise our eating habits/impulses and seize control of them. It allows us to listen to our bodies and rediscover the joy of eating.

Here are some mindful eating strategies to help us achieve the above:

  • Only eat when you’re hungry but don’t wait until you’re starving. 
  • Eat without distractions – in silence for at least half of the meal is preferable. 
  • Focus on your food in minute detail – this can be enhanced by putting your cutlery down between mouthfuls. 
  • Contemplate your food before eating – appreciate the aroma and appearance of your food. 
  • Savour the taste of your food – take small bites and chew thoroughly before swallowing. 
  • Stop eating when you feel satisfied. 
  • When you finish eating, pay attention to how you feel. 
  • When preparing food, focus on the ingredients. 
  • When cooking, fully concentrate on what you’re doing and think about how the food will nourish your body. 
  •  Have a healthy snack on hand, when you’re likely to act on impulse, rather than automatically reaching for the biscuit tin. 

We often make quick decisions when we’re tired, hurried or stressed but if we give more thought to what food we buy, how we cook it and our portion sizes then we can make better choices about food to satisfy our bodies and minds.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations: Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Friday, 24 August 2012

How family affects our eating habits

In the current climate, we are taking on more and working longer hours to keep our jobs and put food on the table, but at what cost to our family’s health?

Research by the Temple’s Center for Obesity Research and Education has investigated this work/family conflict focusing on both parents’ employment status and those with adolescents in particular. Findings have revealed that parents who work full-time, compared to those who work part time or stay at home, have fewer family meals, are more likely to indulge in fast food as a family, spend less time on food preparation and are less likely to encourage their adolescents to eat healthily. The adolescents then in turn eat less fruit and vegetables. Regardless of employment status, the only difference between mothers and fathers was that men reported far less hours of food preparation than women.

When considering the relationship between work and stress on our eating habits, it seems it can have a hugely negative impact on our children’s health. Indeed, parents with high levels of stress compared to those with low stress, revealed they had one and a half less family meals per week and ate half a serving less of fruit and vegetables each day.

The findings of this study, recently published online in Social Science and Medicine, suggest parents need assistance in providing healthy and realistic meals to their family which can be maintained, considering the pressures of modern day parenting. One solution put forward is that parents teach children to cook their own healthy meals which will not only benefit them now but in the future when they have their own families.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations: Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Why are holidays so important?

Whether we’re a workaholic, an employee, unemployed or a full-time parent, we all experience stress in varying degrees and we all deserve a break from time to time. Even the Prime Minister takes time off for recess during the summer and although some think this isn’t justified, he's probably doing the right thing.

When we’re stressed, we’re more likely to become ill because our body is less able to avoid injury and fight infection. We may not sleep or digest our food as well and our memory and ability to make decisions may worsen. We may also become irritable, depressed and anxious.

Holidays can help us de-stress. Indeed, research in Canada has revealed active pastimes, such as holidays and golf, helped almost 900 lawyers guard against or improve job stress. Holidays allow us time to rest and recuperate, to broaden our horizons, to gain a new perspective, to promote peace and understanding and to learn. Researchers at Purdue University have also found they promote positive bonding, communication and solidarity for families through shared experience.

Here are some tips on how to make the most of your holiday.

  1. Do your research - this will minimise stress and inform you of what's available where you’re going. 
  2. Don't feel guilty -  holidays are about relaxing and ridding yourself of unwanted feelings such as guilt. If you’re worried about taking a trip, maybe there is something else going on. 
  3. Make it an adventure - research has shown that active holidays are most beneficial. Take some time to relax on the beach but make sure you get off the beaten track as this will pose new challenges and give you some memorable, bonding experiences with your holiday companions. 
First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations:
Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Friday, 17 August 2012

Is work addiction real?

As summer is now in full swing, most of us will have had or be looking forward to a well-deserved break. We may joke when people can’t leave work at work, but there are some people who are compelled to work and do so excessively. These individuals are known as ‘workaholics’, but is it really possible to be addicted to work?

According to researchers from Norway and the UK the answer is yes, and they have even gone so far as to develop an instrument to measure work addiction which they have called The Bergen Work Addiction Scale. This scale, which appears in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, uses elements of addictions that are recognised as diagnostic criteria.

It is hardly surprising to learn that work addiction is on the rise, particularly considering the current climate, the new technology we have at our disposal and our lack of ability to switch off and separate our work from our home life. What might alarm us, however, is the association between work addiction and stress/burnout, health problems and insomnia as well as conflict between work and family.

Take a look at the scale and score each item below as follows:
(1) never, (2) rarely, (3) sometimes, (4) often, (5) always.

· You think of how you can free up more time to work.

· You spend much more time working than initially intended.

· You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression.

· You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.

· You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.

· You deprioritise hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work.

· You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

If you score ‘often’ or ‘always’ on at least four out of the seven items, this may suggest you are a workaholic.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations: Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Unlock your creativity

Life can sometimes feel like groundhog day - get up, go to work, come home, watch TV and then go to bed. As we grow up, we neglect our playful side and the many activities we once enjoyed. We often find ourselves cruising through life on autopilot.

With the holidays nearly here however and perhaps a little more time on our hands, there is no better time to unlock our creativity and bring some joy back to our lives. Here are some tips suggested by Allison Arden, author of The Book of Doing: Everyday Activities to Unlock Your Creativity and Joy.

  1. List three activities you enjoyed as a child and start doing them. 
  2. Read biographies of people who’ve inspired you. 
  3. Sketch pictures of people and objects everyday – sitting still for a while may allow you to see things from a new perspective. 
  4. Train for something – this could be anything from a marathon to a bike-a-thon. Starting gradually and building up to something slowly can make you feel competent and empowered. 
  5. Write down three things you want to achieve on your birthday - give this list to a friend who will put it in your birthday card the following year so that you can see what you’ve accomplished or consider what stopped you from achieving your goals. 
  6. Learn the evolution of something that interests you – you can do this by asking where, what, how and why? 
  7. Start a new tradition – for instance, every time you go on holiday, create a photo album on your return. 
  8. Re-read your favourite stories as a child. 

With adulthood comes responsibility but this doesn’t mean we can’t still have fun. By discovering activities we enjoy, we can connect with others and the world around us in a positive way.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Why being left-handed makes a difference

What do Prince William, Barak Obama, and Jimi Hendrix all have in common? They are left-handed.

It is estimated 5-26% of the population are left-handed and to mark Left-Handers Day on the 13 August, let’s see why being left-handed is less common and what difference, if any, our handedness makes.

Left-handedness is thought to be hereditary, much like eye colour. Left-handers are likely to have left-handed parents, which is believed to result from a genetic mutation or developmental issue.  Did you know schizophrenia is more common in left-handers as is autism, dyslexia and epilepsy? More left-handers are also born in spring or early summer which may affect brain development as higher rates of viral infections occur in expectant mothers during the winter.

Left-handers however, are better at using both parts of their brain, as they tend to have a larger corpus callosum. They are more likely to be good at maths, better at creative problem solving and have an IQ higher than 131 which some attribute to the greater connectivity between brain hemispheres. Left-handers are also more proficient at using both hands at once, which might explain why some of the best musicians and athletes are left-handed.

According to research in the Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, handedness can influence our decisions regarding matters of value, intelligence, and honesty. Researchers found when we encounter things on the same side as our dominant hand, we prefer them. For instance, a right-hander will favour products, job applicants etc when they are positioned on the right. Likewise, the left-hander will favour those on the left. The rationale for this is that we prefer things we can perceive, and interact with easier. 

An interesting twist to this is that when right-handers are handicapped and no longer able to use their right hand, they also started to prefer things on their left. This discovery has massive implications because it suggests by changing our bodies, we can also change our minds.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations:
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

What do you know about happiness?

Positive psychology is a growing field of study and as such, there is a wealth of research revealing ways to live longer, healthier and happier lives. Here are some interesting findings on happiness.

Happiness has its roots in our genes – although 50% of our happiness is created by external factors such as relationships, health and work, research conducted at the University of Edinburgh and Queensland Institute has found happiness is partly determined by our personality. They also found that personality and happiness are, by and large, hereditary.

People with certain types of personality are happier – using a framework called the Five-Factor Model to rate participants' personalities, the research above also discovered people who are sociable, conscientious and do not excessively worry tend to be happier.

There are six variables that predict happiness – various research has revealed positive self-esteem, perceived sense of control, extroversion, optimism, positive relationships and a purpose to life are all key to happiness.

Money can’t buy us happiness – researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have divulged that respect and admiration from those around us is far more important than money as far as happiness is concerned. Researchers at Warwick University and the University of Minnesota have gone further to state that having money does not necessarily lead to happiness.

We can change 40% of our happiness - research by Lyubomirsky, who developed the Subjective Happiness Scale, has determined that about 50% of our happiness is fixed and 10% is a result of life circumstances. The remaining 40% is within our power and ability to change because our capability for happiness is underdeveloped.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Live pono

As we delve deeper into summer our pace starts to slow, we have more time for reflection, and it’s an ideal time to renew our outlook. One way we can do this is by being pono.

Pono is a feeling that most of us have experienced at some time of peace, purpose and a sense that everything is ‘right’. In order to be pono, we must forgive ourselves so that we can let go of the bad feelings we harbour towards others.

Pono comes from ho`oponopono which is the ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. This process allows us to overcome one of our biggest barriers to forgiveness - fear. Often we fear asking for, or offering forgiveness because we think it makes us look weak and vulnerable. Unfortunately, fear is a negative emotion and holding onto negativity does nothing but harm.

There are three steps to the process of ho’opnopono: 
  1. Forgiving - we may not realise it but forgiveness is a two way process. It entails the person who has done wrong asking for forgiveness but it should also involve the aggrieved party giving forgiveness. By saying ‘please forgive me too’ the process is complete, the matter will be put to bed and we are ‘right’ with one another. 
  2. Talking – after forgiveness, we must share our thoughts and feelings with each other and express ourselves without holding back. Once we feel we have said everything that needs to be said, we should ask for, or offer forgiveness once again. 
  3. Learning – it is important to learn from life experiences because it can help us change our thinking and behaviour and create the lives and relationships we really want. In order to maintain pono, we must consider what we should learn from the event. When difficulties do arise, by being pono, we can view them with insight and fresh eyes rather than muddy them with baggage from the past. 

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations: Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Do and be the best you can

With the Olympic Games having recently begun, there seems no better time to discuss some of the psychological techniques employed by athletes to improve their performance.

One such technique is known as ‘self-talk’ which reflects the link between our thoughts and performance. Self-talk uses self-addressed words or phrases to guide action.

Different types of self-talk work in different ways. It can benefit both beginners and more experienced athletes when they practise the technique. However, self-talk is believed to be most effective for novel tasks. This is because it is easier to fine tune the early stages of learning, and tasks involving fine skills (such as sinking a golf ball), because it improves concentration. Instructional self-talk (such as ‘elbow up’ for a beginner swimmer) works better for tasks involving fine skills as opposed to motivational self-talk (e.g. ‘give it all’) which works better for tasks requiring strength, endurance, confidence and psyching-up.

Another approach used by athletes to improve performance is ‘The Inner Game’ which is a method of coaching established by Timothy Gallwey in the 1970s. This technique is based on the idea that we all possess two types of engagement. The outer game involves overcoming external barriers to reach an external goal. The inner game takes place within our mind and is played against obstacles such as fear, self-doubt, loss of focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions. Therefore to learn and maximise our performance, we must let our minds be quiet and focused and master our inner game by reducing the self-imposed complications so we can reach our full potential.

In addition to sport, both techniques have been useful in a variety of other fields. Indeed, Gallwey’s work forms the basis for other types of coaching such as business coaching, life coaching and executive coaching.

For more information about coaching or to book an initial session with one of our coaches, please contact your local First Psychology centre: Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Friday, 27 July 2012

Be a good sport

There’s good news for those of us who hate to exercise but want to keep trim. According to the BBC’s Horizon programme, it’s possible to improve some measures of fitness by exercising for only three minutes a week. But why are some of us averse to exercise?

One common reason for failing to exercise is that we simply don’t feel like it because we are discouraged or depressed. Another reason is that we don’t have the time.

According to research in the Journal of Physical Education, teachers of PE in school can largely influence whether we enjoy sport or not. By encouraging social interaction and responsibility, focusing on effort and personal improvement and not making comparisons with other pupils, PE teachers can make students feel competent doing exercise and playing sports outside of school, as well as throughout their lives.

The social side of sport or group cohesion it creates has been investigated by a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. It seems the camaraderie that often develops between team members can affect a teenager's willingness to engage in exercise and can be the key to maintaining physical activity in the longer term.

This link between motivation and group cohesion is an important finding, particularly as it is more common for people to engage in physical activity in groups rather than on their own. It has also been shown that if people are in groups they enjoy, they are more likely to stick to exercise regimes.

Therefore by understanding group cohesion we can increase the likelihood that physically active children will remain physically active adults.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations: Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The benefits of exercise on mental wellbeing

With a summer of sport ahead us, the topic of exercise seems rather pertinent.

The benefits of exercise to the body are well known. It keeps the heart healthy, strengthens our immune system, reduces blood pressure and reduces stress through the release of endorphins which make us feel good. However, the benefits of exercise to our mental well-being are less known and in particular, its effect on our brain.

Research suggests exercise can help reduce anxiety in women and alleviate depression in both sexes. Indeed, a recent study revealed that a 30 minute brisk walk (or equivalent) significantly improves our mood after 2, 4, 8, and 12 hours.

In the last few years, researchers at Dartmouth’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences have focused on the relationship between exercise and the brain and discovered a gene that regulates the beneficial effect of exercise on our brain - according to age, and memory in particular. These findings could be significant in using exercise as treatment for mental illness.

Indeed, a study at the University of Sydney has found evidence to that exercise can reduce the risk of dementia.

The findings of the research conducted at Dartmouth, published in the journal Neuroscience, suggest exercise can reduce characteristic behaviours in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, much of this research was based on work with animals. When applied to humans it seems genes determine whether exercise has any beneficial effect or not.

Nevertheless, these findings could still prove useful in predicting which ADHD children may respond to exercise as treatment. They also emphasise the importance of exercise in early life, while the brain is still growing and changing, as this results in more permanent wiring of the brain and therefore supports learning and memory.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations: Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Friday, 20 July 2012

Football and domestic abuse

Recent reports by BBC News have revealed a link between domestic abuse and international football tournaments.

During the 2010 World Cup, domestic violence surged. Figures from police forces across England revealed that when England lost to Germany there were 724 more cases of domestic abuse, an increase of 29%. However, it is not only losing that causes abuse to rise. When England beat Slovenia, there were 516 more cases reported which is an overall increase of 27%. Nevertheless, when England drew there was no significant impact on domestic abuse. It has been argued that football does not cause domestic abuse but it can, in some relationships, be an issue which compounds it.

Domestic violence is an attempt to exert power or control over another person using fear, intimidation, verbal abuse, threats or violence. Over time, victims often become isolated from family and friends, losing their network of social support, and the abuser may use increasingly brutal methods to control, leading to serious injury, hospitalisation, and even death.

Domestic violence is something that not only affects women, but men and children too. Indeed, domestic violence and child abuse often take place in the same family. Research has revealed that 50 - 70% of men who frequently assault their partners also abuse their children. This can result in physical injury, psychological harm or neglect and a link between violence in the family and juvenile delinquency has been demonstrated. Furthermore, abused children are six times more likely to commit suicide, 24% more likely to commit sexual assault crimes and a 50% more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. So, as you can see, as well as being destructive in itself, domestic violence can also have extremely damaging effects. 

Getting help

If you are affected by domestic abuse it is important to seek help to change the situation for the better, whether you are a victim or the person responsible for the violence. Often victims are too scared to seek help for fear of being harmed further or their family or friends being hurt, but it is important to break the cycle of domestic violence. 

First Psychology Scotland can help support those affected by domestic abuse while they rebuild their lives. For more details contact your local centre:

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Pride and prejudice

With controversy surrounding the recent European Football Championships which took place in Poland and the Ukraine, and in tribute of Nelson Mandela's birthday tomorrow, it seems fitting to draw the spotlight on the topic of discrimination and racism, in particular.

It is hardly surprising to learn that racial discrimination may be harmful to our health. Findings from a study conducted at Rice University found approximately 18% of black people and 4% of white people reported more physical symptoms and higher levels of emotional upset as a result of perceived treatment based on race. Indeed, the relationship between perceived racism and self-reported depression and anxiety is strong.

According to researchers at the University of British Columbia, it is how we feel about ourselves, particularly how we experience pride that determines our racist attitudes towards others who are different.

'Authentic' pride results from hard work and achievement whereas 'hubristic' originates from status which is gained through less authentic means such as money, power or nepotism. If we experience 'authentic' pride, it has been revealed that we are more likely to have empathy for others and are therefore less likely to be prejudiced or racist towards others.

However, the way we respond to racial insults varies widely according to where we are from. Research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin revealed African-American women compared to Asian-American women are more likely to directly rebuff racist comments. This difference is believed to reflect cultural differences and is based on work which demonstrates the distinct ways people from different cultures have of communicating, displaying emotion and managing conflict.

Either way our reaction to racism, whether direct or indirect, does not mean we are any less offended by it. What is more important though is to raise awareness of racial discrimination and the impact it can have on health and well-being.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations:

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Friday, 13 July 2012

Friday the 13th - is it a phobia?

From fear of commitment to another fear altogether, for those of you who hadn't noticed, today is Friday the 13th. For individuals who suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia (fear of Friday the 13th) this day, which comes around at least once a year and as many as three, is feared so much that they will re-schedule appointments, dodge ladders and black cats, or indeed avoid anything they think might bring them bad luck. But is Friday the 13th a phobia?

A phobia is a form of anxiety disorder which causes distress for an individual and disrupts their everyday life as they go to great lengths to avoid certain situations and objects. Phobias are defined as 'a strong, excessive, irrational fear of something that actually poses little or no danger'. Approximately 2.5 million people in the UK suffer from phobias and women are twice as likely as men to suffer from panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and specific phobia, though men and women suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder and social phobia in equal measure.

Treatment for phobias involves behavioural techniques in which the client is exposed to their fear on a sliding scale until they are no longer frightened to confront their original phobia. For instance, if you were scared of injections the first step may be to see photos of needles, handle a needle and then watch videos of injections before you were eventually able to have an injection yourself.

Some argue Friday the 13th is the result of our tendency to copy other people. If, for instance, we see other people are concerned about something then we are likely to be concerned as well. By being aware of this tendency, staying positive and seeking out situations that disconfirm our fear then perhaps we will come to learn that something bad will NOT happen on Friday the 13th.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations:
Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848,

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Cohabitation - part II

Contrary to the woes of premarital cohabitation in our previous blog, evidence has recently come to light which suggests it is the individual's attitude toward the decision to live together that determines whether the relationship will succeed or fail. Couples who demonstrate commitment to each other before shacking up, by getting engaged for example, fair just as well as those who marry without living together first. Indeed, women may even reduce the risk of divorce if they make a conscious decision to live with their partner before marriage, though are twice as likely to part company if they serially cohabit. With this in mind, the decision to live together should not be taken lightly. Here is some advice on what to consider before doing so.

Speak now or forever hold your peace - discuss issues, such as chores or who's welcome in your home when you're not around, before you move in. This will save problems later down the line. If you're worried bringing issues up will cause an argument, then perhaps you shouldn't live together.

Discuss finances - paying more than either one of you can afford may result in the partner who subsidises the other being resentful. Make it clear that it is your choice to do so or if you think resentment may creep in, choose a place that is within both your means.

Have a trial run - spend a decent amount of time at each other's homes so you can identify your partner's habits and how they really live.

Don't be a nag - constantly nagging your partner about their annoying habits will not help. Living together involves negotiation. Find solutions that are not dependent on your partner changing and be prepared to change yourself.

Be independent - maintain friendships and your independence. This is  are important after you move in, otherwise you lose what you enjoy and ultimately, your own identity.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations:* Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
* Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
* Borders: 01896-800-400,
* Aberdeen: 01224-452848,

Friday, 6 July 2012

Cohabitation - part I

From co-operation at work to co-operation at home, premarital cohabitation is a popular and growing trend since the 1970s in all countries except catholic ones. For many, it is seen as a trial run before tying the knot, but is it such a good idea seeing the divorce rate for couples who cohabit are higher, and living together as a couple before marriage in the USA before 2000, was associated with lower marital satisfaction, lower commitment among men, poorer communication, higher marital conflict and higher rates of wife infidelity.

Some attribute this statistic to individuals having lower standards for those they are willing to live with than marry. A lot of couples live together for convenience, but it is inertia and the investment they have made which stop them from getting out or starting over again. This leads them to drift into marriage, rather than making a conscious decision to do so, which in turn, leads to disaster. Furthermore, 40% of couples who cohabit have children which push them together for the sake of the child but, in some cases, only for a while.

It doesn't have to be this way though if you avoid further obligations such as getting a puppy or having children. Before you commit be sure of what you really want, be honest with yourself and your partner about how you feel, what you need and expect from the relationship, and be straight about your motives for moving in together. Being open will encourage problem solving and better communication which will enable you to successfully overcome any issue, even after you are wed.

If you are having relationship difficulties and wish to book an initial session with one of our experienced practitioners to discuss these, please contact your local First Psychology centre at one of the following locations:

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452848,

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Co-workers from hell - part II

Following on from our previous blog, here are some more strategies on how to handle difficult co-workers.

As everyone is different, there is obviously not one single, sure fire way to deal with awkward workmates but there are some things you can do, or rather avoid doing that can make the situation better. Avoid:
  • sarcasm
  • defensiveness.
  • using 'you' - instead use 'I' and 'we' statements, as 'you' implies they are the problem not that the problem is shared. e.g. 'I don't understand' rather than 'You're not making sense'.
  • expressing emotion as this makes it difficult for the other person to keep up their high level of emotion. This can be done by keeping your voice soft and your tone even.
  • engaging. If the conflict continues and is not being resolved, then politely disengage from the situation by, for example, saying 'I think it would be better to discuss this when emotions aren't so high', then walk away. 
If none of the above work, you may need to remove yourself completely from the situation. By declining invitations out when you know your colleague will be present or choosing work assignments that do not involve you and your colleague working together.

You should also ask yourself whether your co-worker is completely to blame or whether you play a part in the problem, by being intolerant or a perfectionist for instance.

The only power your hellish co-worker has over you is that which you give them. By not engaging or reacting to their antics, you can save energy and be more productive, which in turn will put less stress on your body and mind.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations:Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452848,

Friday, 29 June 2012

Co-workers from hell - part I

Your boss may be incompetent, but hellish co-workers can bring turmoil to your working life, as well as your emotional and physical well-being. Every organisation has one, if not many, and they come in different guises; the bully, the know-it-all and the suck up, to name a few. But don't worry, help is at hand with some useful advice on how to cope with these nightmare colleagues, and reduce stress at work in the process.

Predict and prepare

Work colleagues may be annoying but they tend to be pretty predictable as well. For instance, the work gossip will always gossip and the complainer will always complain. Although it is difficult to predict what people will do in every situation, we can anticipate the theme of this drama or conflict and prepare a response. Without this preparation, we are likely to react with anger or annoyance which will only make the situation worse. Role playing with someone you trust, and trying out a few responses can help you find the most effective way to resolve the issue.

No to bad behaviour

Much like children, the behaviour of hellish workmates will be reinforced if you become embroiled in their games. It may be tempting to react, particularly if you feel under attack, but this will just give them leverage so try hard to resist otherwise you will just sink to their level. By keeping responses short, polite, rational and void of emotion, the bad behaviour will extinguish or they will simply get bored and move onto someone else, who is willing to play a part in their drama.

Remember, it's not personal

Sometimes work colleagues are difficult because they lack social skills or have issues of their own and use conflict to mask these. There is no excuse for bad behaviour but at least if you think about it like this it gives you a reason for their behaviour, which is often more likely about them than you. In this instance, don't take it personally and try to find some shared interest so you can understand one another better and work alongside each other more harmoniously.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Male bosses judged more harshly

With the recent, alarming statistics from the USA that women earn 84.6% and 78.3% of their male counterparts, in accordance with the number of hours they work (41-44 hours and over 60 hours respectively), it seems that women are still getting a raw deal in the workplace. However, men are getting a hard time in another way it seems.

According to a new study, conducted by the Pennsylvania State University, male bosses who make mistakes are judged more harshly than women leaders who make the same errors.

We all make mistakes but it seems the consequences of these errors can damage the perceptions of leaders who make them, for some more than others. Indeed, male bosses who make errors were deemed less competent and less effective as leaders and, as a result, employees were less likely to trust their decisions and were less willing to work for them.

The findings, published in Springer's Journal of Business and Psychology online, went further to evaluate the effects of gender when the domain of work was considered to be traditionally male (construction) or female (nursing). Researchers discovered that male leaders were judged more negatively than female leaders for mistakes made in a male domain of work. This suggests male bosses are not reaching expectations of performance in this domain, but women are not expected to succeed in 'man’s work' anyway.

Although it is advisable to avoid mistakes altogether this isn’t always possible because we are only human. It is important however, particularly for male bosses it seems, to consider how these errors affect the way workers view you.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations:
Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452848,

Friday, 22 June 2012

Men are more social when stressed

According to a popular belief held for over 100 years, humans always exhibit the ‘fight or flight’ response to stress. This is a physiological, primitive, inborn reaction our bodies experience in order to prepare us to ‘fight’ or ‘flee’ from a perceived threat or danger. It has been common belief that when men experience stress they become aggressive. However, in line with our blogs on men’s health, it seems researchers at the University of Freiburg in Germany have discovered stress in men does not always lead to aggressive behaviour. 

It has always been assumed men demonstrate aggression under stress and since the late 1990s, scientists have suggested that women exhibit a protective and befriending reaction to stress, which they labelled the ‘tend-and-befriend’ response.

More recently, researchers revealed that positive social contact before a stressful situation reduced the stress response in men but they wanted to investigate whether stress could produce other behaviour in men than aggression alone.

Using a tool to measure stress in public speaking engagements and games to measure pro-social behaviour, such as sharing and trusting, they found that men were indeed more social in their response as a direct consequence of stress. These findings however, suggested than negative behaviour, such as punishment, was not affected by stress.

The results of this study, published in the journal Psychological Science, therefore refute the age-old belief about our reactions to stress and have significant consequences for our understanding of coping strategies and the social role of stress.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations:

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848, opening soon! 
Borders: 01896-800-400,

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Men and eating disorders

Many people wrongly assume eating disorders only affect teenage girls when in fact they are not exclusive to any age, cultural/racial background or gender. They usually develop around the age of 14-25 but can appear in middle age, and 10-20% of those diagnosed with an eating disorder are male. This figure however, is likely to be higher as the symptoms are less likely to be recognised in men and in addition men are less likely to seek help. Therefore eating disorders go largely undiagnosed in men and boys.

We use food when we are bored, anxious, angry, lonely, stressed, unhappy and struggling to cope with relationship and work problems, grief and traumatic events among other things. Many people develop an eating disorder because they feel ‘too fat’ or ‘not good enough’ and believe it is the only way they can feel in control of their life.

Eating disorders are often not the product of a single cause, but a trigger commonly cited for men is teasing or bullying about weight and body shape. Eating disorders can often be recognised in males when they become obsessive about fitness and over-exercise. This can put excessive strain on their heart and lungs and too much pressure on joints which in turn, can lead to muscular ailments. Another side effect of eating disorders, as well as lack of energy in the long term and osteoporosis more generally, is impotence and erectile dysfunction in men.

Genetics have been found to play a small part in the probability of an individual developing an eating disorder but equally, the attitude that key members in their lives have towards food can also affect them.

If you have a problem with your relationship with food and would like to talk to one our experienced practitioners, please contact your local First Psychology centre in the following locations: 

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848, opening soon! 
Borders: 01896-800-400,

Friday, 15 June 2012

A not so Happy Father’s Day

Fatherhood for the vast majority of men is filled with joy and happiness. According to a study, conducted at Melbourne’s Parenting Research centre however, new dads are just as likely as new mums to suffer from the ‘baby blues’.

The ‘baby blues’ describe a condition which includes symptoms of anxiety, worry, stress, feeling unable to cope, feeling blue and despairing that things won’t get better.

Surprisingly, research published in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology revealed the rates of these problems were the same for both fathers and mothers with 9.7% of fathers reporting symptoms of post-natal depression in the child’s first year of life, compared to 9.4% for mothers. This risk of ‘baby blues’ in men also changed with age and income. The younger the father, the higher the risk and men on lower incomes were reported to be 70% more likely to experience post-natal depression.

Furthermore, when they compared new fathers to childless men of a similar age and background, they found that new fathers had a 40% higher rate of these problems.

Historically, post-natal depression experienced by mothers was believed to be related to biological changes, but these findings seem to contradict the idea that only women can suffer from the ‘baby blues’. Therefore services should be geared towards men as much as women, and fathers should be offered the same support that women receive in their child's early life.

Happy Father’s Day to all you Dads out there! If you are struggling with fatherhood and would like to talk to one of our experienced practitioners, please contact your local First Psychology centre in the following locations: 

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848, opening soon!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Men’s Health Week

It is well documented that men seek psychological help far less than women even though they encounter as many mental health problems. Each June in the run up to Father’s Day we celebrate Men’s Health Week with the sole purpose of trying to increase awareness of preventable health problems and to encourage early detection and treatment of disease amongst men and boys.

In honour of Men’s Health Week this year from 11-17 June, we are going to look at how some mental health issues, which are traditionally thought to be women’s problems, can affect men too.

While the rate of self-harm is higher in women, it is four times more likely to lead to suicide in men. Although the triggers for men and women are similar, i.e. abuse in childhood, domestic violence, breakdown of a relationship, problems with alcohol and employment, self-harm is becoming a growing issue for men, particularly those aged 20 to 35.

Self-harm includes overdosing, swallowing chemicals like bleach, and cutting, gouging or scratching the skin and it is used by many as a way to cope with painful or emotional events.

Some attribute the rise in self-harm among men to a confusion about their role in society. Others believe the difficulty for young men to get jobs over a long period of time and the culture of men keeping their emotional problems to themselves, are to blame.

Whatever the reason, new guidelines have been issued to doctors and nurses, who often struggle to understand self-harm, to treat these patients with as much respect as others. Often health professionals are unsympathetic to self-harmers in a bid to discourage them from repeating their actions, but this often has the opposite effect, making them feel worse and more likely to self-harm again.

If you would like to talk to someone about self-harm or would like to book an initial session with one of our experienced practitioners, please contact your local First Psychology centre on: 

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411, 
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848, opening soon!
Borders: 01896-800-400,

Friday, 8 June 2012

The power of mindfulness

How many times have you driven somewhere to arrive without remembering anything about the journey? Quite often probably, because our lives are so busy and we have so many conflicting demands to juggle that we often go on automatic pilot to cope. In doing so, we lose awareness of the present moment.

Our last blog discussed the idea of happiness in relation to a balanced time perspective, but the founder of modern day Mindfulness, Jon Kabat Zinn, suggests the key to well-being and happiness is to be more present in our own lives. He reasons we are too easily distracted by thoughts of the past and the future that we are too self-critical and fail to notice the good things happening around us.

Mindfulness involves paying attention to our thoughts, feelings and sensations in the present moment in a non-judgmental and purposeful way which allows us to step back from our automatic responses to everyday events and see things how they really are. In doing so, it is believed we can improve our quality of life.

Over the last three decades, mindfulness has been primarily used for stress reduction (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction - MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) which is known to have greater efficacy than antidepressants in preventing relapse in depression. More recently, mindfulness has been found to aid in the recovery of addictions and a study undertaken at the University of Rochester Medical Center has suggested that the quality of primary care for both practitioners and their patients can be improved if physicians are trained in mindfulness meditation and communication skills.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations: 

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848. opening soon!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Is the key to happiness a balanced time perspective?

Some people regularly look back to the good old days whereas others can’t wait to see what’s around the corner and some just focus on the here and now.

According to researchers at San Francisco State University however, the happiest people are those with a balanced time perspective. That is to say, individuals who live in the present, look fondly towards the past, and anticipate the future, are more satisfied with their lives.

The findings of this study, reported in the Journal of Happiness Studies, reveal that relying too heavily on any one time dimension can make it difficult for us to move forward, can limit our cognitive flexibility in certain situations and also lead to destructive behaviours. For instance, a very hedonistic, live in the moment attitude could lead us to over-indulge or live to excess.

Living in the past may keep us from enjoying the present; living too much in the present may stop us from achieving future goals; but at the same time, looking to the future too much may lead us to miss out on what’s going on in the present moment. So it would seem that a balance needs to be struck in order to maximise well-being.

The benefits of this balanced time perspective have been extended to the area of consumer choice. Researchers have applied the idea of how having a balance of the past, present and future can help individuals make better consumer decisions and have also investigated how purchasing habits and values relate to happiness.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations: 

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440,
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411,
Borders: 01896-800-400,
Aberdeen: 01224-452-848, opening soon!