Friday, 27 April 2012

How to reduce stress at work – take your dog with you

As discussed in our previous blog, it seems that animals have a therapeutic effect on us. So much so that the International Journal of Workplace Health Management has recently published a study which suggests taking your pet dog to work can actually reduce stress and make your job, and those of your colleagues, more satisfying.

Research conducted by a team at Virginia Commonwealth University compared staff at a manufacturing company who had dogs, to those who had no pets, and differentiated between those who brought these dogs to work and those who left them at home.

Overall, they found employees with access to dogs were less stressed as the day progressed than those without access. However, stress levels of owners who left their dogs at home compared to those who brought them to work rose significantly during the day.

It has been suggested having dogs in the workplace may boost morale and contribute to employee performance. Other benefits suggested (regardless of whether individuals had access to their own dogs or those of others) include increased co-worker co-operation and stress relief through stroking and petting the dogs.

Furthermore, the dogs themselves seem so much happier as they are not left at home on their own for long periods of time so it seems to be a win-win situation.

With stress at work on the increase along with high levels of absenteeism and burnout and, in turn, loss of productivity, perhaps employers should be looking at innovative ways to reduce stress in the workplace and create a more enjoyable environment for their employees.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations:

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

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Can pets help our health?

Pet owners often comment how happy their furry friends make them, so in honour of National Pet month this April, it seems appropriate to examine the idea that owning a pet can be beneficial to our health.

Animals have been used in medical settings for over a century and a half, but it is only in the last three decades that this bond between man and mammal has been studied scientifically.

Indeed, an early study from 1980 revealed patients who suffered a heart attack, and also had a pet, lived longer than patients who didn't own one. Other research has also found that petting your own dog can reduce blood pressure.

A more recent study, by the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, discovered an individual’s level of oxytocin increased when they interacted with animals. This hormone makes us happy and trusting and may explain this bonding feeling we get. Oxytocin allows our bodies to grow new cells, preparing us to heal, so we are more likely to be healthy.

Findings such as these have been applied practically. A new project has studied how dogs can help military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan re-adjust to being home.

More directly, animals have been shown to help in the therapy room itself. This is particularly the case with children - animals often put them at ease and leave them more willing to disclose information.

So, it seems animals are good for us and dogs may be 'man’s best friend' after all.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations: 

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

Friday, 20 April 2012

Do our expectations of happiness make us unhappy?

Many of us like to treat ourselves when we feel down in a bid to make ourselves happy. As discussed in the previous blog however, people in Costa Rica are shown to be happy on far fewer resources than most of us consume.

In the current climate with unemployment rising and anti-depressants at an all-time high, it is no wonder we struggle to be happy. But are our expectations of happiness too high?

According to Greek mythology, ancient Egypt and cultures throughout the Mediterranean before and after Christ, happiness is, in fact, a miracle. Indeed, this is reflected in Indo-European languages in which the words ‘luck’ and ‘fate’ are equivalent to that of ‘happiness’. In English, the root of happiness derives from the Middle English and Old Norse ‘happ’, which means chance and fortune and appears in words such as ‘perhaps’ and ‘happens.’ In Spanish and Portuguese the words ‘felicidad’ and ’felicidade’ stem from the latin word ‘felix’, which means luck, and fate. Furthermore, the word ‘srecan’ in Serbo-Croatian means happiness and luck and occurs in phrases such as ‘sretna okolnost’ (lucky circumstance) and ‘imati srecu’ (to happen upon or have luck).

Since times of the Enlightenment however, our concept of happiness has changed from something elusive to something that we are entitled to. Ironically, these high expectations may make us unhappy. If we could return to the idea of happiness being something we chance upon, and work towards rather than something we are born with then perhaps we could improve our strategies in the pursuit of happiness and in turn, be happier people.

If you are feeling down and 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,
Borders: 01896-800-400,

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Does well-being equate with being well off?

With many of us feeling the pinch, it can be easy to confuse being better off financially with greater well-being. However, an innovative measure known as the Happy Planet Index (HPI) questions this idea by examining how each country converts the planet’s natural resources into longevity and happiness for its citizens.

Surprisingly, the country with the highest level of well-being amongst its citizens and the highest HPI, is Costa Rica. Costa Rica is by no means the richest country in monetary terms but uses only a quarter of the resources most countries use, and was ranked the 6th happiest nation on Earth by a recent Gallup poll (2010). In contrast, the USA, which uses triple the resources of the average person and whose citizens’ well-being has remained the same over the last 50 years in spite of this, has a HPI of 114 only one place above Nigeria.

So why is this? Perhaps it’s because countries like America measure success in terms of money and material possessions which are not only costly to our bank balance but also our planet. Too much of anything isn’t good for us and money is no exception because up to a point we begin to derive less and less pleasure from our purchases. In fact, people are shown to be happier when they spend money on experiences rather than material goods, and other people rather than themselves.

Fortunately, what contributes most to well-being isn’t harmful to our planet or measured by Gross National Product but by priceless commodities such as strong social, and healthy romantic relationships, accomplishment and a sense of meaning. Therefore in order to be better off financially we should use psychological data to inform our economic decisions which in turn, can improve our lives. Equally, we may improve our well-being by using resources efficiently, adjusting the way we view success and paying more attention to what makes us truly happy

Friday, 13 April 2012

Are certain people more prone to depression?

With upsetting life events from bereavement and unemployment to marriage breakdown, it is no wonder many people become depressed, yet, despite what life throws at them, others don’t. So are some people more prone to depression than others?

Recent research at the University of Pittsburgh has confirmed teenagers are more prone to depression than adults. Women are also twice as likely than men to suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organisation. More specifically, research in Canada has suggested older mothers are more prone to depression than younger women and another study at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, has surprisingly linked depression in women to a lack of red meat in their diet.

Researchers at Manchester University however believe it is all to do with resilience and have been studying the brain to figure out the nature and origin of resilience. Participants were divided into four groups based on whether they had experienced high or low stress lives and whether they had suffered from depression or not and their brains were scanned while performing memory tasks and looking at emotionally charged pictures. Although research is incomplete, they found people who are more resilient are more likely to recognise happy faces and less likely to recognise sad or fearful faces. More resilient people are also better at remembering positive words and pictures too. This suggests cognitive flexibility - our capacity to adapt our thinking to different situations - and the way our brains process and remember information, may play a key role in measuring resilience.

Resilience most probably encompasses the interaction between our genes, our body chemistry, the wiring of our brains, and our life experiences. However, it is hoped an understanding of resilience in terms of brain activity might offer ideas for new treatment or at least, ways to tailor existing treatments to the individual.

If you 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,
Borders: 01896-800-400,

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Does depression give us evolutionary advantage?

Depression Awareness Week, held this year from 22-28 April, aims to raise awareness of depression and to end the stigma attached to it. For the estimated one in five people in the UK and 120 million people worldwide who suffer from depression it can be a very isolating and debilitating condition. However, a controversial new theory has suggested depression actually offers an evolutionary advantage.

Although most people who suffer from depression would disagree, a number of evolutionary psychologists have suggested depression assisted our ancestors in fighting infection and may also help us re-evaluate our lives and decisions that lead to our depression.

The former proposal outlined in the journal Molecular Psychiatry highlights the finding that people who are depressed tend to have higher levels of inflammation or an overactivated immune system regardless of whether they are fighting infection or not. Depression has therefore developed as an adaptive response bound with physiological responses, to help fight and survive infection, allowing individuals to pass on their genes.

The latter proposal, on the other hand, hypothesises that people with depression use rumination as an adaptive strategy to solve painful issues, particularly given the finding that sad subjects were better judges of deception than happy ones. However it should be noted that much of this research has been criticised for its lack of generalisability.

Evolutionary psychologists hope by focusing on levels of inflammation we can better predict whether an individual will respond to treatment for depression and whether drugs to treat autoimmune diseases can be used effectively for treating depression, which doesn’t respond to therapy. Other researchers however argue that depression no longer serves any evolutionary advantage and remains a serious but highly treatable mental health problem.

If you are feeling depressed and 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,
Borders: 01896-800-400,

Friday, 6 April 2012

How to be a happy shopper – part 3

Following on from our previous blogs on the topic of spending, here are some final hints on how to be a happier shopper.

Get more pleasure for your money It's good to have things to look forward to in life and the same applies to spending. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we can 'buy now pay later' and so the pleasure we gain from the anticipation and uncertainty of delaying purchases is lost. You'd think that getting what we want, when we want would more than make up for this loss of anticipation but the ability to wait actually increases the pleasure we derive from our money and improves our ability to make informed decisions for the future, rather than impulsive ones in the present.

Ask others for advice We like to think we know best and spending money is no exception but we can learn to spend money more wisely by heeding the advice of others. Research has shown other people can work out what we'll enjoy simply by watching our faces and when making predictions we should not think about it consciously as we tend to overestimate the length or intensity of future feelings when we do so. Obviously, putting all our financial decisions in the hands of others would be unwise. However, it seems that other people, who are similar to us and have experience of these things, may have more of an insight and may be better at making judgements about what we'll enjoy than we have ourselves.

If you 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,
Borders: 01896-800-400,

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

How to be a happy shopper - part 2

Following on from our previous blog, here are some more ways to be wise with your money.

Spend on others Contrary to what we might think, if we’re going to spend money, research has shown that spending money on others makes us happier than spending it on ourselves. Individuals who give a greater percentage of their income to others or charity are happier than those who spend it on themselves (Dunn et al. 2008). Giving to others makes us feel good about ourselves and also helps strengthen our relationships both of which make us happy. We assume spending money on ourselves will make us happier but the mere mention of money has a negative effect, making us less likely to help or spend time with others and less likely to donate to charity. Ironically, doing less of these things makes us less happy so we must fight our instinct to indulge ourselves and spoil others instead.

Buy less insurance We hate loss more than we love gain and insurance providers play on this risk aversion, selling us peace of mind. Obviously, certain insurance policies are necessary, such as car or healthcare, but others may be a waste of money. In reality, things aren’t as bad as we expect them to be and we are psychologically stronger than we think, working hard to reduce the effects of negative events. Therefore if something does go wrong, we are unlikely to regret not buying insurance as much as we expect.

Avoid buyers regret It’s the small details in life that makes us happy. The problem is when we think about potential purchases we forget these. Therefore in order to avoid buyer’s remorse we need to think about what we want to buy in concrete terms. By thinking about how we will use the item or service will hopefully make us happier with our purchase.

For more advice, look out for our third and final blog on how to be a happy shopper.