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