Friday, 20 March 2015

International Day of Happiness

Today is International Day of Happiness 2015 so we thought we'd look at the psychology of happiness. Happiness is a complex and changing state, however there are a number of factors that have been shown to improve our chances of being happy.


Although 50% of our happiness comes from external sources, such as personal connections with others, our health and our working lives, research conducted at the University of Edinburgh and Queensland Institute suggests that happiness is partly determined by our personalities. And they found that this is largely hereditary. The researchers discovered that people who are sociable, conscientious and do not excessively worry tend to be happier.

If it's in my genes, can I ever be happy?

The good news is that while half of our happiness is linked to our genes, we can still experience happiness. 

Research by Lyubomirsky suggests that we have the ability to influence 40% of our happiness, with the remaining 10% relating to our life circumstances, so there is still hope whether happiness is in your genes or not.

The key to happiness

The following six variables have been linked to greater happiness:
  • Being optimistic
  • Being outgoing/extrovert
  • Having positive self-esteem
  • Feeling in control of your life
  • Having positive relationships in your life
  • Having a purpose to life

Becoming happier

Read our ten tips to happiness >

Friday, 13 March 2015

Friday the 13th - fears and phobias

You may have noticed that today is Friday 13th, a day that many consider to be bad luck. But did you know that some people actually suffer from a condition known as 'paraskevidekatriaphobia' or to those of us who have a problem pronouncing such things, a fear of Friday the 13th.

Those who experience this phobia, in common with phobia sufferers in general, will go out of their way to avoid doing anything that may result in bad luck on this day. For example, they may cancel/ reschedule appointments or avoid travelling because their fear that something terrible will happen is so great.

So is this really a phobia?
In general terms, a phobia is a strong, irrational fear that something poses a danger when in fact that thing poses little or no danger in reality. 

Some of the most common phobias include: flying, spiders, snakes, driving, needles, enclosed spaces, and public speaking. A fear of Friday the 13th is less common, but it can be a phobia all the same.

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder and it has been estimated that between 2.5 and 10 million people in the UK suffer from them. Estimates vary widely because often people don't seek help from a health professional for their phobias and instead aim to manage them themselves.

Symptoms of fear and phobia
According to people who suffer from intense fears may shake; feel confused or disoriented; and have rapid heart beats, dry mouth, intense sweating, difficulty breathing, nausea, dizziness and chest pain. Many sufferers also fear losing control, fainting or dying. 

Help for phobias
You may not need to seek help for a phobia. The general rule of thumb is that if your fear is preventing you from doing things you would like to do, or need to do, then it is something you should seek help with. For example, if you are unable to go on holiday with your family because of your fear of flying, or you are unable to get into a lift but work on the 10th floor of a tall office block, then you may consider getting help. 

Help for phobias
The most effective treatments for phobias involve behavioural techniques, which consist of exposure to the object of fear on a sliding scale. For example, if you have a fear of spiders, you may first be asked to look at pictures of them, then videos of them moving, and finally you may be asked to come into actual close contact with a spider. 

More information and help

World Sleep Day - sleep well!

Today is World Sleep Day, a day that aims to raise awareness of the importance of sleep on our health and wellbeing.

How much sleep we need varies widely and depends in part on our age - the older we are, the less sleep our bodies tend to need. However according to the Mental Health Foundation, we now sleep about 90 minutes less each night than we did in the 1920s, so there are clearly many people living life in a sleep deprived state.

Why is sleep important? 
Sleep affects how we think and behave. Studies have shown that a lack of sleep affects activity in the brain and can lead to low mood, negative thoughts and loneliness.

How to improve your sleep 
The World Association of Sleep Medicine suggests establishing a regular bedtime and waking time and advises that daytime sleep (naps or siestas) should not exceed 45 minutes. While exercise is generally beneficial when it comes to sleep, the association advises not doing exercise just before bed as it can make it hard to switch off.

Professor Ewan Gillon, Chartered Psychologist and Clinical Director of First Psychology Scotland, says practising good 'sleep hygiene' is key to getting a good night's sleep. "Often people who find it hard to sleep become anxious about the whole thing and this in turn can make it even harder to get a good sleep," says Ewan. "Allocating time for relaxation during the day and establishing a good routine before bed can really make a huge difference."

Here are Ewan's tips to help you achieve a good night's sleep.

Keep it regular 
Try to keep to a regular sleeping and waking pattern and exercise every day.

Allow yourself time to wind down
Wind down with a relaxing hobby, a warm bath, a good book, or the radio.

Leave technology out of the bedroom
Take a technology break 30 minutes before bedtime - no emails, texts, or TV. If your mind is busy thinking about all the things you have to do, then write a to do list.

Go easy on your system
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and heavy meals close to bedtime.

Learn to relax
Practise relaxation techniques - make it a regular thing for maximum benefit.

Further information on getting a better sleep

Want to find out more about sleeping well? Book a place on our free 'Sleep Well' webinar today!