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,