Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Making New Year's resolutions you can keep

There are only a few hours left of 2014 and at this time of year people traditionally review the outgoing year and think about things they'd like to achieve/ improve in the incoming year. It can be easy to get carried away and set unrealistic goals that are almost impossible to keep. Statistics show that only 12% of us actually stick to our New Year's resolutions. "Setting realistic, achievable goals is the key to success", says First Psychology's Professor Ewan Gillon.

Here are some of Ewan's top tips to setting achievable goals for 2015.
  • Start small and build up. Make sure you don't get carried away. Promising yourself that you will do 5 exercise sessions a week when you currently do none is not realistic. Start smaller, perhaps set yourself a goal of walking to work or going for a run at weekends. As you gain fitness and adjust to the new regime, you can add more sessions in. Setting realistic goals helps you remain positive and will keep you on track. 
  • Think broad. Broad goals allow for personal growth and for changes in circumstances. 
  • Take bite sized chunks. Any goal becomes more achievable psychologically if you break it into smaller steps. So if you wish to lose a certain amount of weight over the year, set yourself targets for every three months and give yourself rewards if you achieve them. This will keep you motivated and focused. 
  • Allow yourself to dream. Often people choose very practical goals such as giving up smoking, losing a few pounds, being healthier, etc. This is fine, but allow yourself to dream too. Make at least one resolution that allows you to enjoy yourself, perhaps learning a new skill or a language that you have always wanted to learn or doing something that inspires you. 
  • Think about the things that get you down. Are there any changes you can make to help prevent these things happening? For example, if you regularly overspend and find yourself in debt, perhaps you could start making yourself a packed lunch so you don't go to the shops every lunchtime or you could plan your weekly meals and do an online shop to prevent yourself from buying too much. 
  • Make it meaningful. Pick your resolutions carefully. Make sure they are things you really want to achieve and not things you feel you should be doing. If you really want something you are more likely to make it happen.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Coping with the loss of a loved one

The winter holidays are a time that many of us choose to spend with family and friends. Films and media portray this period as a happy time full of fun, presents and goodness, but for many people who have lost someone dear to them, it can be a difficult time, full of painful memories.

Whatever the circumstances, if you're struggling with the loss of someone dear to you, Christmas can be an unwelcome reminder that they're not here any more. Grief is a complex emotion and it can take years to come to terms with it.

The five stages of grief
The process of mourning and grief is one that people go through no matter who they are or what they do in life. However everybody experiences grief differently. There are five stages of grief and loss, which were first proposed in 1969 by Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross in her book "On Death and Dying". It can take a short or long time to work through loss and each stage may not be experienced in order, indeed you may move back and forth between the stages.
  1. Denial and isolation: this is the first reaction to finding out about the death or terminal illness of a loved one. In order to protect ourselves from the shock, we deny the reality to ourselves. This is a temporary stage.
  2. Anger: when we can no longer mask the reality and facts from ourselves, we pass into the second stage. At this point we still find it hard to process what has happened and may deal with the overwhelming pain by expressing it as anger to the outside world. We may feel angry with friends and family, our deceased or dying loved one, the medical staff, strangers or even things.
  3. Bargaining: this is the way we deal with the feeling that things are out of control. We attempt to exert control on the situation by thinking, what if. 
  4. Depression: there is much to take in when someone has died or has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. You may react to the implications of the loss, such as worrying about how you will cope financially or feel you are neglecting others. In addition you may feel a great sense of sadness as you prepare to say goodbye to your loved one. 
  5. Acceptance: the final stage of mourning is acceptance, however some people never get to this stage. It is common to go up and down through the stages of grief, but those who manage to reach the acceptance stage will feel a sense of withdrawal and calm. 
If you are experiencing grief at the moment, try to allow yourself time and space to work through your feelings as they happen upon you.

Don't worry if you don't cry or if you can't stop crying, everybody is different and everybody has their own way of grieving.

You may be surrounded by family or friends who want you to feel better and you may feel under pressure to move on. Try to schedule some time each day when you can be alone to process your feelings.

If you feel you are being constantly reminded about the person by objects all around you at home, then try to change things a little and don't be afraid to pack away some of the more upsetting objects so you can look at them when you feel ready.

Finally, take your time and look after yourself. You will feel more able to cope with things if you are well nourished and healthy.

Further information and support
If you feel you need to talk to someone your GP may have a listening service available to you, or they may be able to suggest a bereavement support service who can help.

First Psychology is also able to offer counselling and other talking therapies that you may find helpful for dealing with bereavement. For further details visit

Friday, 19 December 2014

Tips for happy partying

Today is what has historically been known in the UK as Black Friday / Mad Friday / Black eye Friday or Nasty Friday. It is the last Friday before Christmas and the most popular night for the office Christmas party, which makes it a busy night for the emergency services, hence its name.

The work night out is a good opportunity to get to know your colleagues socially, so if you have a work night out tonight, then read our tips for happy partying:

Ten tips for happy partying
  1. Don't leave it too late: get there early so you don't have to walk into a room full of people. Whether you know the people or not, it can be daunting walking into a room when a party is in full swing.
  2. Create a good first impression: when meeting new people remember to smile and make eye contact. 
  3. Ask people about themselves: everyone loves talking about themselves, so create a good impression by taking an interest in others. The more you ask people about themselves, the more likely you are to find common ground which makes for an easier conversation.
  4. Plan your trip home: make sure you've thought about your trip home and who will be driving. Try to travel with others if using public transport so you're not alone.
  5. Eat beforehand: if your party doesn't involve any substantial food, then eat before you go out if possible. This will fill you up and line your stomach, which will help soak up any alcohol you may consume and stop you from over-indulging on high fat party nibbles.
  6. Keep on top of your alcohol consumption: don't feel pressurised into drinking to keep up with others. Try to drink at your own pace and make sure that you have plenty of water or soft drinks too.
  7. Stay safe: don't leave your drinks unattended and don't accept drinks from a stranger. Keep an emergency number on your phone so it is easy for you to seek help quickly if necessary.
  8. Exercise during the day: try and get out for a stroll before the party to offset the negative effects of partying on your system.
  9. Relax: you will enjoy the party more if you are able to relax and have fun. If you feel anxious about meeting new people, try and calm yourself down with some deep breathing at intervals before and during the evening. Try and pick a time when you are alone, such as when visiting the bathroom, or take a breather outside so you can concentrate on your breathing. 
  10. After the party: Make sure you get enough sleep to enable your mind and body to rejuvenate. Too much partying and not enough time to catch up with essentials such as sleep and rest can leave you feeling frazzled. 
Enjoy your night out!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Dealing with social anxiety at this social time of year

At this time of year there can be lots of social events to attend: with carol singing; work night outs; entertaining clients; and parent get-togethers among other things, we can start to feel a bit worn out. But if the thought of interacting with others fills you with panic or dread, then it may be that you're socially anxious.

Shyness and social anxiety affect most people at some point. Often unusual events such as having to give an important speech, going on a first date, going to university for the first time and having to meet a group of new people can trigger feelings of anxiety. However these feeling usually fade. When you are continually affected by your interactions with other people, it is likely you are suffering from social anxiety/phobia.

What is social anxiety/phobia?
Social anxiety is the third most common form of psychological disorder. It is an extreme form of shyness that draws out feelings of being judged, not liked, or inferior to others. As a result, those with social anxiety may struggle to interact with people and may find it hard to make friends, meet a partner, get on at work, etc.

Types of social anxiety/phobia

Specific social anxiety: suffers are generally able to meet others socially and interact. However specific tasks such as giving a speech or eating in front of others may result in feelings of anxiety.

General social anxiety: sufferers feel anxious whenever they are around people - they may feel judged and 'on display'. This condition can be very disabling and can cause people to shy away from situations they associate with anxiety, such as the work Christmas party.

Common symptoms of social anxiety/phobia
Physical symptoms: sweating, dry mouth, blushing, trembling, palpitations, and difficulty breathing. Many people start to fear these symptoms, particularly if they have difficulty breathing, and this may bring about additional feelings of panic.

Psychological symptoms: over analysing a social situation and trying to anticipate problems; worrying about what you should have done/said in a social situation; worrying what others think of you. Often people experiencing these symptoms use drugs or alcohol as a way of relaxing and avoiding these unpleasant feelings. However, this in itself can then become a problem, so it is important to deal with the anxiety.

How to deal with social anxiety/phobia
The good news is that treatment for social anxiety/phobia is often very successful.

  • A popular and effective approach for working with people suffering from social anxiety is cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT). This involves examining your thought processes and how your thoughts impact on your mood. CBT helps you examine why you feel the way you do and helps you challenge any negative thought patterns that lead to your anxiety. 
  • Sometimes learning particular social skills such as how to initiate a conversation can be helpful for reducing feelings of anxiety.
  • There are many self-help workbooks on the market that can help you examine your thought processes and the reasons for your social anxiety. They may also suggest some strategies you can adopt to improve the situation. 
  • Practise relaxation techniques such as deep breathing several times a day. Over time such techniques will help relax you and should help improve your feelings of anxiety and panic.
  • Keep healthy - take regular exercise and eat a balanced diet - these factors have been shown to be beneficial for improving mood.
  • If you wish to seek the help of a CBT therapist or psychologist, First Psychology has an excellent team of professionals who have experience working with clients who are socially anxious. Visit for further details. 
  • You can also consult your GP who can often point you in the direction of someone who can help. 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Spotting the signs of alcohol dependency

As Scotland prepares to tighten up its drink-drive alcohol limits tomorrow in the run up to the festive period, we take a look at alcohol addiction and how to spot the signs.

According the government statistics, one in every 13 adults is dependent on alcohol in the UK and that can make for a very miserable festive period if you or a partner or close family member are one of those affected.

It can be hard to identify whether you or someone you know is hooked on alcohol. People who are addicted often don't realise it and even when they do, they may not admit it to themselves or others. However, here are some signs to look out for.
  • Stealing 
  • Lying and being unusually secretive 
  • Extreme mood changes 
  • Weight changes 
  • Mixing with different groups, new/unusual friends 
  • Alteration in sleeping patterns - sleeping more / less and at different times 
  • Having lots of cash one minute and none the next 
  • Changes in energy levels
If you recognise these signs in yourself or someone you know and feel you need help, take a look at our information sheet for lots of advice on dealing with alcohol dependency

Monday, 1 December 2014

Tips for boosting your mood this winter

If you notice a downturn in your mood over the winter months - particularly from December to February, then it may be that you need to get outside more and take in more daylight. 

During the winter months when the weather is cold, we often stay indoors more. This means that we also reduce the amount of natural daylight, fresh air and exercise we do.

The result can be 'winter blues', the symptoms of which include loss of appetite, anxiety and lethargy.  

Winter mood boosters

TIP 1  Take up an outdoor hobby like gardening or an outdoor sport
This will help relax your body while also increasing your exposure to daylight and fresh air. 

TIP 2  Take some exercise
Exercise is beneficial as it will boost your energy during the short winter days. 

TIP 3  Eat healthy foods 
Ensure your diet includes a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables for a valuable boost to your nutrition, energy and overall health during the winter months.

Seasonal affective disorder
If you notice an unusual dip in your mood every winter, you may have a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Treatments for this condition include light therapy, antidepressants, or talking therapies with a counsellor or psychotherapist or a combination of more than one treatment. If you think you may have SAD you should discuss your symptoms with your GP who should be able to advise you on a treatment plan and rule out any other conditions. 

For information and resources on depression and mood related issues, visit our webpage

Friday, 28 November 2014

What are your reasons for spending?

Before you head out to the shops today to see what the 'Black Friday' sales have to offer, have a think about your motives for shopping.

Why do people spend?
It's true that the holiday season is just around the corner and many of us will be looking to get gifts for loved ones, but necessity is not the only reason people spend. 

Money is often associated with power and success. A study in the Journal of Consumer Research actually saw participants salivating at the concept of money when they were first primed to feel they lacked power. 

People often believe money will make them more attractive, popular and successful to others. Conversely being in debt and not being able to spend makes people feel powerless and vulnerable. Indeed debt and mental health problems often go hand in hand.

Spending is used by many as a form of therapy - it makes us feel better about ourselves. However this type of spending can become habitual as it feeds our deep psychological needs.

The spending cycle and 'debtpression'
Those who have got into a cycle of spending and debt may struggle to cope with feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. People may feel they have failed and are ashamed to admit the situation to themselves and others. They may ignore letters and bills or even leave them unopened and may continue to spend. Over time this behaviour can lead to strong feelings of guilt and depression, which have been dubbed 'debtpression'.

If you are suffering from debtpression, it is important to seek help to address the underlying reasons for your spending and to break the vicious cycle of spending that you have got into. 

Lack of funds breeds creativity
While this is a very gloomy situation to be in, lack of funds can actually have some surprising benefits. Many businesses have started up during the recession as people have become more creative in finding ways to make money. Debt can make us think about new ways of doing things - it forces our hand. 

Taking action 
Whatever your approach when you are short of funds,  it is important to take action. Doing something about the situation will give you a sense of power over it and help to avoid debtpression. 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Don't suffer in silence

There have been a number of high profile cases of domestic abuse against women in the press recently and as today is International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women, we thought we'd talk a bit about domestic violence.

It can be easy to think that victims of domestic abuse can simply leave the situation, however often domestic abuse starts some time into a relationship when an emotional attachment has been established. For women, it may begin at a time of vulnerability, such as during pregnancy, and the woman may feel she has no choice but to stay with her partner, hoping it is a one-off.

Often there is a period following the abusive behaviour when the perpetrator apologises for their behaviour and promises never to do it again and the victim may want to give things another try, hoping it will get better. However, this pattern of behaviour can continue for years and the victim may slowly lose confidence and begin to believe she is somehow to blame. 

Women often feel trapped in the situation and become too scared to leave. They may worry about uprooting their children's lives or leaving them behind; may not be financially independent; have no where else to go and may fear what would happen if their partner found them.

While domestic abuse is often thought of as physical violence against women, in reality it is just as likely to be of a sexual or mental/emotional nature and can happen to anyone, children and men included. 

Indeed the number of reported cases of domestic abuse where men are the victims has doubled in the last decade and it is likely there are many more unreported cases as victims of domestic abuse may feel helpless and ashamed and not know where to turn.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, there is help at hand. Speaking to a trained counsellor or therapist may be useful as it may help you rebuild your confidence and self-esteem following an abusive relationship and may enable you to think clearly about what you wish to do about the situation if you feel unable to leave. 

Police Scotland also offer lots of helpful advice and contact details of support organisations on their website. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Tackling bullying at work

Our posts this week, for Anti-Bullying Week, have focused so far on bullying between children or adolescents. However, unfortunately bullying does not stop when we 'grow up' or leave school. Bullying happens among adults of all ages and in organisations of all sizes too.

A report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) states that between 83-90% of UK organisations have anti-bullying policies, yet bullying is still happening. So what constitutes bullying at work?

Common bullying behaviours

  • Being insulting: personally criticising someone or making them feel small by ridiculing, humiliating or making demeaning comments.
  • Harassment: with-holding information; overloading someone with work; taking the credit for someone else's work; or removing responsibility from someone without discussing it with them first.
  • Exclusion: scapegoating, isolation or victimisation.
  • Intimidation: threats of physical violence or psychological intimidation.

Bullying may continue over a long period before it is recognised as such and it may be that the bully is not aware of how their actions are perceived.

The impact of bullying at work

It has been estimated that bullying may cost the UK over £2 billion a year. For the employee, it can lead to social and psychological problems in the present and longer term too.

"People who are bullied, particularly for longer periods, often struggle with feelings of low self-esteem, stress, anxiety and depression, says "Professor Ewan Gillon, Clinical Director of First Psychology Scotland, who has worked with many clients who have experienced bullying at work. "They may end up feeling completely exhausted and suffer physically as well as feeling traumatised by the experience."

When the situation starts to take its toll, people often resort to taking sick leave. In the end they may  feel the situation is intolerable and leave the organisation, without another job to go to.

How can organisations help?

Work to promote and uphold positive values and behaviour in the workplace: this is important as it ensures everyone knows what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.

Support employees: the provision of accessible and professional support for employees in the form of counselling, CBT and coaching can aid the resilience of employees who feel bullied. In addition, employees who are aware of their inappropriate behaviour may be assisted by working with a professional to change how they interact with others.

Group training: training in a group or team can be an effective way of building mutual respect between colleagues and can help foster an environment of group responsibility. Training in issues such as stress awareness can help employees recognise the signs of stress in themselves and others and can help them build strategies for dealing with stress effectively.

First Psychology Scotland offers a wide range of services for organisations through its First Psychology Assistance brand. For further details visit

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

More on beating the bullies

Bullying - and its modern relation cyber-bullying - are on the rise, with 45,000 children affected by it contacting ChildLine in the last year alone. Psychologist Professor Ewan Gillon, clinical director of First Psychology Scotland, explains the origins of bullying and how to deal with the effects on you or your family.
(The following piece featured in the Dundee Courier on 17 November 2014)

I have worked with many children and adults who have suffered at the hands of bullies. The word bullying describes any behaviour that is malicious, intimidating or offensive. It is intended to humiliate or even injure the person it’s aimed at, and sustained bullying over a period of time wears down mental resilience.

The effects of bullying People being bullied will often feel helpless and frustrated while gradually losing confidence in their abilities. They may experience physical symptoms such as sickness, sleeplessness and loss of appetite. Bullied children may feel anxious about going to school, and adults dread going into the workplace due to uncontrollable feelings of panic associated with going to the location of the bullying. These effects can spill over into family life causing added relationship problems. Bullied individuals can also find it difficult to motivate themselves which affects their productivity so it’s not surprising their studies or careers may suffer too.

Why people bully A difficult home life can exacerbate the likelihood of a bullied child becoming a bully – indeed in most cases bullies were bullied themselves and are passing on that behaviour. And the bully’s social environment can influence their behaviour - we often receive more attention for negative behaviour than we do for positive. In children, the usual power struggles of the playground transform into something much more destructive if a child bully decides to abuse their power in some way, e.g. they may be much larger in size than other children and purposely pick on the smallest child, thereby giving themselves a fleeting feeling of control.

Cyber-bullying The social media revolution means that bullying no longer stops in the playground. I have seen an increase in the effects of cyber-bullying, with youngsters struggling with the psychological pressures arising from overuse of social media. In a recent survey questioning 10,000 young people, 7 out of 10 had been a victim of cyber-bullying – a worrying statistic. Living their lives online (via Facebook, Instagram and other social media channels) is leading to a dramatic reduction in self-esteem, particularly in young girls who can be more affected by the opinions of their peers. Parents can help by being more vigilant about how long their children are online for and which sites they’re visiting.

Worried your child is being bullied? Is your child anxious about going to school? Are they behaving differently, for example in a shy manner when they are usually outgoing? Bullied children often ‘act out’ after school, the result of a day of pent-up feelings, so take note if your child shows anger or aggression for no apparent reason. Do they lose their temper easily, or need constant reassurance? Are they pushing you away physically, or biting their nails, or pulling at their hair? As well as a lack of self-confidence and restlessness and/or sleeplessness, these are all signs of increased anxiety which could be symptoms of bullying.

Top tips for dealing with bullies
  • The most important thing is to stay healthy as this will mean you’re firing on all cylinders physically, emotionally and psychologically when facing the bully.
  • Bullies crave an emotional response so do your best to remain calm and rational, no matter how upset you may be feeling inside. Tell them in your most assertive voice to stop the behaviour that is upsetting you. Some people are unaware of the effect their actions have on others so this may be all it takes to put an end to the bullying.
  • Tell someone close to you (a family member, friend, teacher or colleague) about what is happening to you and build a strong support network. Speak to others and find out whether they are experiencing similar problems. Being seen surrounded by friends/colleagues will often deter a bully and makes you a less attractive target.
  • Understandably you may wish to forget what has happened but it’s important to keep a record of the bullying incidents so that, if you need to take the matter further, you will have the facts of when, where and how you were bullied to hand.
  • Finally, consider professional counselling as a way of dealing with any unresolved feelings towards bullying. 
First Psychology Scotland has 10 centres throughout Scotland. For further information visit

Monday, 17 November 2014

Beat the bullies

Today is the start of anti-bullying week, so we thought it a good time to talk about the subject of bulling and the impact it can have.

What is bullying?
Bullying is the act of belittling someone repeatedly through harassment, physical harm, demeaning speech or efforts to ostracise them. Bullying can takes many forms. The three main types being physical bullying, verbal bullying and cyber bullying.

Anyone can potentially fall prey to a bully. It can happen in pre-school, primary school, secondary school and in the workplace. However it is most prevalent in the mid-teen years when children move from primary to secondary school.

Long-term bullying can lead to low self-esteem, lack of confidence, trust issues, anxiety and depression and these effects may be continue to be experienced in the future as well as the present. Knowing how to spot the signs in others - particularly young people, who may feel they have no voice - is an important step to making things better.

Common signs that a child or young person is being bullied
  • Becoming withdrawn and lacking confidence
  • Coming home with unexplainable injuries
  • Being reluctant to go to school, or playing truant
  • Becoming anxious or distressed 
  • 'Acting out' at home due to a build up in frustration at school
  • Changes in weight or eating habits
  • Decrease in school performance
  • Find it hard to sleep
  • Beginning to bully other children or siblings
  • Changes in behaviour, such as starting to wet the bed when dry previously
  • Possessions going missing more than usual

If you think your child is being bullied, try to talk to them to find out if there are any grounds for your suspicions. Give your child space if they don't want to talk, but let them know you are there for them if there is anything troubling them.

If you are the parent of a teenager, spotting the signs of bullying can be particularly difficult due to the quite usual distant and secretive behaviour of this age group. Unchecked bullying can lead to depression in teenagers. Read our article about teenage depression for more information.

The Scottish Government has produced an informative guide for parents and carers of teenagers being bullied. Click here to download a pdf copy. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Remember remember men's health

Thanks to the 'Movember' Foundation, we don't just remember, remember the 5th of November, but men's health issues throughout November too.

Men are often reluctant to seek help for a number of reasons, so when a man is feeling physically or mentally unwell, it is often a partner or a friend who persuades him to seek help - in many cases as a last resort.

"Many of our male clients in particular have struggled for years before seeking help," said Professor Ewan Gillon, Clinical Director of First Psychology Scotland. A practising psychologist, Professor Gillon works with male and female clients in his personal clinics and takes a keen interest in how men seek help.

"Us men are brought up to hide our feelings and be strong and it can be hard to admit needing support," he said.

While not cultivating his own 'movember' moustache, Professor Gillon believes the Movember Foundation's aim to get men talking about their health and taking action is vital to the health of men.

"There used to be a common belief that men were less susceptible to certain conditions, such as depression and eating disorders, but more recent thinking is that the symptoms are often different in men and have therefore gone undetected. Raising awareness of men's health is a vital step towards men getting the help they need," he said.

The Movember Foundation aims to change the way men think by introducing an element of fun into this otherwise serious issue. The moustache creates a talking point for men to engage and talk about their health and do something about it.

If you would like to support the Movember Foundation by growing a moustache for November, or if you would like some general information on men’s health, visit the Movember Health Tips page,

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Bullying and young people

According to recent studies,  bullying is becoming more widespread.

The use of social media in every day life is one factor. Bullies are able to hide behind opaque identities online and can use these to target individuals. And whereas in the past malicious information may have taken a while to spread, with social media, information can spread fast leading to increased humiliation of the victim in a very public environment.

The effects of bullying
"The long-term consequences of bullying are considerable," says Professor Ewan Gillon, Clinical Director of First Psychology Scotland. "When young people are bullied, it can result in a life-time of anxiety in social situations. Adults who were bullied as children can find it hard to trust others."

"Those who experience bullying often isolate themselves from others and this can add to feelings of depression and lack of control over the situation. Cyber bullying can be particularly bad because the victim may not know who is behind the bullying and may start to become paranoid around others. Self-harming and suicidal thoughts are common among those who are bullied. People find the situation hard to tolerate and try to find ways to deal with the pain they experience."

Beating the bullies
With such far reaching consequences on the minds of young people in particular, it is important to think about what you can do to help beat bullying in young people.

Respect Me, Scotland's anti-bullying service, has produced a useful checklist for parents and carers that provides some valuable suggestions about how to help a child deal with bullying.

The website stresses the importance of empowering the child or young person by ensuring they are involved in the decision making process. "Ask the child or young person what they would like to happen next" says www.respect "Sometimes they won't want you to do anything - just having told someone can often help."

"It is vital that the young person trusts you and feels they can talk to you," says Professor Gillon. "You can really make a difference by helping to rebuild the confidence of a young person.

Further support
If you think your child is suffering from depression or other psychological issues as a result of the bullying, your GP should be able to provide some advice to help manage this or provide further assistance where necessary.

For information and advice about depression, the symptoms, self help and other resources,  read our fact sheet.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Exam stress – simple advice for pupils, students and parents

If you're currently revising for exams, you may be feeling worn out, stressed and fed up and you may be wondering if there is anything you can do to make things easier on yourself. If you're a parent, you may be wondering how to help your child do their best. We've put together some basic tips for pupils and parents:

Tips for pupils 
  1. Strike a balance between work and rest: don’t try to work 24 hours a day, but make sure you revise a bit each day. Take regular breaks and have some exam-free time when you see friends or family. This will help you to work healthily, concentrate and retain information. 
  2. Pay attention to your basic needs: eat well and avoid caffeinated and fizzy drinks. Water is good. Sleep is very important too – you are more likely to perform well if you've had a good nights sleep than if you've stayed up all night cramming. Take time to unwind before you go to bed. 
  3. Keep things in perspective: your exams might feel like the most important thing in your life, but what’s the worst that could happen? 
  4. Relax: Some physical symptoms of stress can be strong and include butterflies, shaking, sweaty palms and difficulty falling asleep. Anxiety may increase as you enter the exam room. Simple exercises, such as taking a deep breath, lifting your shoulders as high as possible and then letting them and your breath go, can provide instant relief. Repeat this exercise a few times. 

Tips for parents
  1. Stay calm: you may worry your child is applying themselves too hard or not enough. In both cases, the important thing is to stay calm and talk to them about it. 
  2. Work with your child: think about what your child's underlying emotions might be and work with them. Often pupils put revision off or throw themselves into it. Both approaches can be fuelled by anxiety (fight or flight).
For further information visit First Psychology Scotland.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Couple or 'uncouple' - your relationship is key

In the press yesterday was news that Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband Chris Martin are to 'consciously uncouple'. By this they mean they will continue to remain friends and co-parent but hope to reduce all the emotions that commonly come with a separation – anger, sadness, and bitterness.

Relationship difficulties and separations can be an extremely stressful and upsetting time for couples and families.

Relationships are often complex things, particularly when there are children involved. Both partners have a shared love of the children and want to make things as pleasant as possible for them. Despite this, anger and bitterness can often lead to significant conflict during relationship difficulties and the children can get caught in the middle.

But whether you have children or not, there are some common relationship issues that may lead you to feel unhappy in your relationship.

Common relationship issues
Arguing - couples can get 'trapped' in a cycle of arguing which is more about who wins and less about who empties the dishwasher. This can be very destructive and can lead you to feel that your partner dislikes you.

Intimacy - couples often describe feeling as if they are living together as flatmates rather than partners. Professor Leslie Greenberg, a Canadian psychologist has identified a cycle in which one partner pursues the other for intimacy and the other partner becomes more distant to escape the situation.

Relationship beliefs - we all grow up with certain beliefs which often stem from our families. These may relate to how we want to bring up our children or even how we deal with conflict. When you are your partner do not share similar beliefs about the things that are important to you both, things can get tricky.

Mental health problems - common mental health difficulties such as depression and anxiety can impact significantly on the health of a relationship.

Is there a way back for my relationship?
If you and your partner are committed to making your relationship work, it is worth seeking the help of a relationship counsellor who will work with you, listen to what you both have to say and remain neutral during the process. You do not need to come to relationship counselling with your partner – and indeed it is common for individuals to seek help alone – but it is usually more beneficial if you can both attend at least some of the sessions.

What if it's over?
You may be surprised to hear that a relationship counsellor can provide the support you need to work through the issues that arise at the end of a relationship. Whether you view this process as a 'conscious uncoupling' or a 'big split', it can be a devastating time for both partners. There is often a grieving process involved, but a relationship counsellor can help you work through any issues that arise and help you move on to greater happiness.

Further information about relationship problems 
To read our information sheet about relationship problems see

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Mindfulness to enhance relaxation and wellbeing

In our last blog we talked about anger and how the practice of mindfulness can be used to aid relaxation and bring about an increased feeling of calm and wellbeing, but what is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is currently very popular and sometimes it seems you can't go far without reading about its benefits somewhere. However, mindfulness has actually been around a long time – indeed it has its roots in ancient eastern meditation practices. Mindfulness was introduced to modern healthcare by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn.

So what can mindfulness do for you?
It is a natural process of the human mind to wander and make up stories or 'chatter'. However, what we often don't recognise is that these thoughts strongly affect our emotions. Despite being processes of our mind, we can get caught up with them and find ourselves feeling angry, upset, sad or jealous.

Mindfulness practices work to inhibit negative thinking patterns and the over active limbic system that can occur when people are feeling depressed of stressed. An expert in mindfulness, Professor Mark Williams at Oxford University, claims that brain patterns actually change with the practice of mindfulness and this has been backed up by numerous studies.

What does mindfulness involve?
The process of mindfulness is about learning to accept the 'chatter' of the mind, allowing it to come and go, while concentrating on the here and now. A mindfulness exercise is given below. It demonstrates how powerful your own thoughts can be in how you feel. While doing the exercise you will notice how much the mind wanders.

Sit or lie comfortably with your eyes closed. For the next six minutes concentrate on your breathing. Notice the gentle rise and fall of your rib cage and follow the air in and out of your lungs. Let your thoughts come and go and each time you notice your attention wandering, gently refocus it (you will need to do this again and again). For the next three minutes expand your awareness to include your body and your feelings as well as your breath. For the last minute, open your eyes and connect with the room around you as well as your body, your feelings and your breathing (Harris, 2007).

Further information
Tasim Martin-Berg, a counselling psychologist at First Psychology Edinburgh, has written a helpful article about mindfulness. The article explains a bit more about the practice and benefits of mindfulness and has a list of useful resources.

There are a variety of self-help materials to help you learn to become more mindful. A good one to start with is Jon Kabat-Zinn's CD, Mindfulness for Beginners.

For details of practitioners who offer mindfulness based therapies at our centres, please see your local centre's website at: Aberdeen | Borders | Dundee | Edinburgh | Glasgow | Inverness.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Is anger good or bad?

Anger gets a bad press, but we thought it worth explaining why we get angry and why anger isn't really so bad.

Anger is a natural emotion and something we should all expect to feel from time to time. However, anger is often seen as a very negative emotion and one we should aim to quash. Anger may be bad for us - but on the other hand it has its uses (The Guardian, 04/04/14)

What is the purpose of anger?
Anger is an emotion that kicks in when we feel violated in some way - it allows us to stick up for ourselves and in that respect it is a positive thing.

Well then it's good to be angry isn't it?
Despite its bad press, anger isn't a terrible thing, it has a very useful purpose. It fires us up and allows us to take action. Anger is our emotive response to something. However, our behavioural response to feeling angry, aggression, can be extremely damaging to relationships at home and work. Therefore in instances where aggressive behaviour in response to anger has become a problem, anger is worth addressing.

Surely if something makes me angry that isn't my fault?
Often people feel that things make them angry. However, as NHS website Moodjuice points out, it is important to note that it is not people or events that make you angry, but your personal reaction to them. Once you know that, you can take steps to address your feelings of anger.

What can I do to manage my anger?
There are many techniques that can help you manage your feelings of anger.

The website Moodjuice contains self-help materials you can use at home.

The ancient practice of mindfulness is currently a popular approach and one that can be very effective for increasing feelings of calmness and relaxation. It takes skill and practice to gain the maximum benefits, but is well worth the effort. Mindfulness does not aim to suppress how you feel, but is a way of learning to become more aware of your responses to the world around you.

There are also a number of other approaches that may be helpful for anger management so it is worth consulting an experienced professional if you are struggling to manage things by yourself.

More about anger >

More about mindfulness >

Friday, 14 February 2014

How to rescue your relationship - relationships part 2

Today is Valentine's Day, a day when we traditionally celebrate the love we share with our partner by giving them tokens of our love - often in the shape of heart-shaped chocolates or red roses. But what if things aren't as rosy as you'd like?

Keep talking
Keep communicating with your partner and tell them how you feel. When you've been together for years it can be easy to assume that your partner can read your mind. Talk to them about your day, about things that are on your mind, and about your relationship - communication is the key to any successful relationship.

Listen to your partner
Make sure your partner gets a chance to speak about their experiences too. Listen carefully to what they have to say and take their concerns seriously. It may sound simple, but a common reason for conflict in a relationship is poor communication.

Minimise arguments
Try to avoid arguing at times when you may feel tired or stressed as things can escalate very quickly. Give each other time to mull over the issues that have been raised. It is healthy to have disagreements but if the situation is becoming destructive or you are both becoming overly distressed, try to take some time out.

Make time for you as a couple
Work and children can lead to very full lives and 'couple time' can seem like a distant memory. Take time out as a couple. Consider reserving a regular 'date night' for you and your partner. Spending couple time with your partner on a regular basis will help you stay close to them.

Make your partner feel special
Little things can really go a long way to showing your partner how much you appreciate them and how special they are to you. We're not talking grand gestures here, but the little things like offering to do the school run for a day or allowing your partner to enjoy a spa treatment or a hobby. 

When the problems are growing
If things just aren't getting any better, don't be afraid to look for professional help. Sometimes it can be easier to address problems with the help of a neutral professional who is experienced in helping couples work through their difficulties. 

Thursday, 13 February 2014

How to find your ideal partner - relationships part 1

With valentine's day fast approaching our attentions often turn to matters of the heart, but what if you haven't met that special someone yet? Here are some top tips on finding your ideal partner.

Spotting that special someone
No matter where you are - looking online, at your local pub, or even just walking down the street - you need to know who you're looking for. Think about the qualities that matter to you and be really honest with yourself. Try and sort in your mind the qualities that are  'must-haves' and those that are desirable but not necessarily deal breakers.

Shared values
When you meet someone for the first time, there's no denying that first impressions count. We take just a few seconds to decide whether we're interested in someone or not. However, once things move on and become more serious, ask yourself if you and your partner have shared goals and values. Do you respect them? Partners who share similar values and have a mutual respect for each other are more likely to have a long, happy relationshi together.

Come back tomorrow for 'relationships part 2' -how to rescue your relationship.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Top tips to help you spring into spring

The winter weather coupled with a lack of daylight - not to mention sunshine - can leave us feeling as dark as the sky. We've put together some tips to help brighten your mood and put a spring in your step.

1. Change your routine - We're not talking about big changes, but the little things, such as going for a walk at lunchtime rather than sitting at your desk with a sandwich. When you feel that you're stuck in a rut and unable to change, the little things can help you regain control of the situation and lead to much bigger things in the longer term.
2. Take some exercise - The links between regular exercise and greater wellbeing are well documented. The important thing is to find something you like doing so you will continue to do it.
3. Phone a friend - If you're feeling low it is easy to shy away from social contact. However keeping in regular contact with people who care about you can be a great mood booster.
4. Watch what you eat - The mind and body work together, so to help your mind you need to also look after your body. Eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and keep off the sugar if you want to maintain a stable mood and keep your stress levels on an even keel. 
5. Get enough sleep - It can be hard to sleep, particularly if you are anxious about something, but ensuring you get eight hours of sleep a night will help you deal with the day ahead.