Wednesday, 28 December 2016

As one year closes, another one begins… Review last year and plan for the year ahead

At this time of year, there’s a natural inclination to look back on the previous year and assess how it was. We very often hear people talking – in general terms - about what a great year it’s been, or saying that they’ll be glad to see the back of the year, hopeful that the new one will fare better.

Rather than a superficial assessment, have you thought about conducting a more comprehensive review of the year? As you would in a work situation, a review of your year can help you identify learning opportunities and set goals that will help keep your life moving in the direction you’ve planned.

There are many aspects to our lives that – when compounded together - make us feel happy and fulfilled:

  • Work
  • Play
  • Health
  • Growth
  • Spiritual

It’s unrealistic to expect every aspect of your life to perform in equilibrium and it’s natural to feel as though certain elements of your life are getting more attention at certain times. Problems tend to arise, however, if we neglect one aspect of our life in favour of another. Any major imbalance can leave us feeling off-kilter, which then impacts on the other aspects of our lives.

Think about the big picture

This isn’t about focusing on the small things that went well or the events that didn’t quite go to plan, it’s about taking a look at how the year – generally - has helped you progress towards your life goals. Are you still going in the direction you’d hoped to be? Or have events happened that meant you’ve needed to change track? Are all aspects of your life being nurtured and getting enough attention? Or are some requiring more energy at the detriment of the others? By thinking first about the big picture, we can really focus on what we need for the year ahead.

Failures are opportunities to learn and grow

It’s important to change how you think about ‘failures’. Things are bound to go wrong from time to time, but if we think about each of these failures as an opportunity to learn and grow we will be better able to embrace the failures that will undoubtedly come our way in the New Year. Don’t just concentrate solely about what went wrong, take each failure in turn and think about what happened, how you dealt with it and the opportunity it has given you for growth.

Savour your successes

There is a human tendency to give just a cursory nod towards our successes and dissect the failures – so we can avoid them in future. It’s time to reverse this habit. Take some time to look into your successes too and really understand how they came to be. Most successful events are of our own doing and by focusing on how we achieved our goals, we can concentrate on replicating this behaviour over the coming year. Professional sports people really believe in the power of positive thinking, if you think about success, you will become successful.

Visualise your perfect year

Think about what would make next year perfect. How will you feel at the end of the year when you have achieved all that you set out to? Now break it down. Think about what a perfect month would look like… a perfect week… a perfect day – you get the idea... Now break this down into actions and behaviours that you would need to adopt in order to realise your perfect year. Now do it!

Think of this time of year as an opportunity to start afresh. Think of it as a clean sheet; a blank canvas. You have a chance to become unstuck and to celebrate success and move on from failure. Make of it what you will, and remember that the future lies in your hands.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Build relaxation into your day

Most of us know that relaxation makes us feel better and more in control. It's like pressing a reset button and allowing our bodies to revert to a reduced stress state. That's why it's vital to build relaxation into every single day - not many of us can say, hand on heart, that we already do this. Life can seem to get in the way.

Here are some suggestions to help build relaxation time into your day.

  • Go for a walk - the more time you have the better, but five or ten minutes is beneficial too.
  • Listen to some music
  • Spend time outdoors - ideally somewhere peaceful, such as a park
  • Take up a hobby
  • Have a massage to relieve tension
  • Take a long hot bath
  • Focus only on your breathing for 5 minutes every day
  • Have an early night
  • Stretch your muscles
  • Call a friend
  • Take a proper lunch break away from work
  • Sweat out the tension with a good workout
  • Practise mindfulness
  • Plan to get off the bus a stop early and walk the last stop mindfully taking in the sounds, smells, how the air feels on your skin, etc.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The gift of generosity and its positive impact on your own happiness

Christmas is nearly here. How do you feel? Is the stress beginning to set in and your credit card groaning from over-use?

Christmas is the season most associated with giving. But rather than this being an opportunity to show off to the neighbours or stock up on the latest gadgets and technology, there is actually a psychological benefit to giving – when it’s done with the heart, rather than the wallet.

There have been many studies on the act of gift giving over the years. This one by Yale University is about why sometimes our gifts miss the mark, even when we’ve put a lot of thought into them and is well worth a read. It’s a complex subject and the giving/receiving of gifts is an important part of the relationships we have with other people.

It is often said that it’s the giver, rather than the recipient, who reaps the biggest psychological benefit from the sharing of gifts. This makes perfect sense when you think about the time and effort that goes into finding the perfect gift that our friends and families will love. It’s a big investment of our time and effort. Birthdays and other occasions are usually straightforward, as we have only one or two presents to think about. In contrast, at Christmas-time, we often have many people to think about and this can make it difficult to give gifts the individual attention they deserve – and that’s when the temptation to spend more than we need sets in.

Not got all your presents yet? We’ve come up with a few ideas to help you deliver thoughtful gifts this Christmas that will benefit you and the lucky recipient!

Giving time

In our busy, stressful daily life, we could all do with the luxury of more time. What better gift to give than offering to free up someone else’s time? This could be done through babysitting or dog walking tokens perhaps – or the promise of spending quality time with someone once the hustle and bustle of the festive season has passed.

Making memories

Rather than a gift, why not offer someone an experience? We’re not talking wing-walking or paragliding here, maybe an afternoon tea to spend with friends, or the promise of a cinema trip without the kids. When we are old and grey, we won’t remember what we had but will we remember those who we spent time with – and how that made us feel.

It’s the thought that counts

Finding and framing an old photograph; finding a first edition of someone’s favourite book; a packet of flower seeds that remind someone of a past holiday or special day all prove to someone that you understand them; that you will go above and beyond to make them happy. Luckily, recycling and upcycling are trendy again, which means it’s more than acceptable to make your own presents!

If spending a certain amount of money on someone is important, a thoughtful token or gesture alongside your usual store card or gift voucher is a great way of showing someone they mean something to you.

Food, glorious food

Baked goods are always made with love. Taking the time to create culinary delights has a double benefit. Not only does it give you the satisfaction of completing a task from start to finish, the end result is a thoughtful gift that shows someone you care. It also means that the recipient can’t help but think of you every time they eat a cookie, or spread jam on their toast!

Research has found there are many benefits of charitable behaviour and the happiness it creates. We hope that this blog inspires you to prepare the kind of gifts that will make you feel great about giving. It really is worth the effort.

Remember, the exchange of gifts should be a shared experience. Something that strengthens the bond between you and your friends/family. If you feel that you have to give extravagant gifts in order for people to like/love you, then you have crossed the line into over-giving and that’s not good for anyone. 

You can check if you’re an over-giver, by reading this article.

So, what are you waiting for? Go and give some gifts!

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Tips for a happy social season

Are you a party animal? Psychological research suggests that whether you're an introvert or an extravert your wellbeing may benefit from some socialising. If the idea of socialising has you running for the hills, we've put together some tips to make things run smoother during the party season.

  1. Ease the anxiety of having to enter a room full of people by turning up early. Usually at the beginning of a party or event, there are people on their own or in small groups waiting for others. It is a lot easier to get talking to people who are on their own or in small groups, but couples are best avoided.
  2. Remember to use your body. People often forget that their bodies give as much away about them as what they say and do. Try to keep your body language open - stand facing or side on to other people, avoid crossing your arms, and don't bury your head in your phone and risk cutting off the chance of interaction. When you do encounter people, try to smile and use appropriate eye contact to make a good impression. 
  3. Ask people about themselves. Everyone likes talking about themselves and it's a great way to find common ground. Do remember to keep the conversation light and avoid asking personal questions until you know them better.
  4. Eat well beforehand. This may sound strange but often when people are nervous they stop eating. Going to a party and drinking alcohol on an empty stomach is unlikely to create a good impression. Have something light to eat before you go.
  5. Try to relax. Remind yourself that you are just as good and likeable as everyone else and be yourself. Really make an effort to engage with others, but don't try to be the life and soul of the party if you're not that person. People value genuineness in others. 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Mindfulness: the next step

If you've been practising mindful breathing daily as described in our previous blog post, then you'll be ready to progress to a 'ten minutes a day' breathing exercise. The Body and Breathe Meditation described below is a commonly practised mindfulness exercise and is a great way to make progress in mastering mindful breathing techniques. Try to practise this exercise for 10-15 minutes each day leading up to Christmas and note how it makes you feel.

Body and Breathe Meditation

Find a quiet comfortable chair and sit in an upright, supported position with the base of your spine making contact with the chair back.

Allow your body to relax and your mind to rest. It may be difficult for you to do this. Don't fight your mind. Simply focus on your breathing for a few minutes, then go back and try to relax again.

Move your attention around you body and become aware of the places where your body meets something else, for example, the way your feet meet the floor and the sensation you feel there. Do this for your whole body taking a few brief moments on each.

Next bring your attention to one of your feet. Bring your attention briefly to each part of your foot, the toes, ball, heel, etc and the sensations you feel in each.

Slowly allow your attention to work its way up each leg individually until you reach your hips. Then take your attention from your hips, to tummy, to shoulders taking your awareness briefly to each part in turn.

Next bring your awareness to each arm in turn. Start with your fingers and slowly move up to your wrists, forearms, upper arms and shoulders, taking your attention to each part on the way.

Then move on to your neck and finally your head. Momentarily observe how each one feels.

Once your have moved your attention through your whole body, spend a few minutes simply breathing normally and allowing yourself to rest.

Finally take your attention to your breathing and how your body feels as you slowly breathe in and out. Observe the rise and fall or your tummy with each breath. After 5-10 minutes of mindful breathing, slowly bring your attention back to the room.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Relaxation quiz and competition

Learning ways to relax your mind and body is vital to good mental and physical health and wellbeing. While short-term stress is a natural process designed to protect us from harm, longer-term stress can have a negative impact on our mental and physical wellbeing and lead to conditions such as anxiety and depression as well as physical conditions too.

Why not have a go at our relaxation quiz and see if you know how to relax. All the answers to these questions can be found in the advice and resources section of our website >

Relaxation quiz and competition

1. Which of the following is an example of immobile relaxation?

  • A  Sleeping  
  • B  Meditation

2. How do physical relaxation methods work?

  • A  They occupy the mind so that it is temporarily relieved from stressors.
  • B  They tire us out so that we're too tired to think about our worries.

3.  Which of the following is an example of physical relaxation?

  • A  Tai chi  
  • B  Competitive sport

4. Which of following statements is based on mindfulness practices?

  • A  Happiness lies in the present.
  • B  It is is important to reflect on past experiences to become more mindful.

5. Mindfulness is a practice that can help you feel less stressed. Where does mindfulness stem from?

  • A  It was developed by psychologists a decade ago as an antidote to modern day life.
  • B  It stems from ancient Budhist practices.

Enter our competition!

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of the 224 page book 'Practical Mindfulness - A Step-by-step Guide' visit and like our First Psychology Scotland Facebook page and comment with your answers, e.g. A, A, B, B, B.  Good luck!

The winner will be chosen at random from all the correct entries received by 11 December 2016. A copy of the book will be posted out to the lucky winner at a UK address provided by them during week commencing 12 December 2016. 

Saturday, 3 December 2016

How to find the perfect gift

So you've got Black Friday and Cyber Monday out of the way and still scratching your head about what to buy for your nearest and dearest? If you need some pointers on how to obtain the perfect gift, then read on...

According to recent research carried out on behalf of the department store Debenhams by Professor Karen Pine, we can get it right every time if we apply some basic principles to the gift buying process.


The first step to getting a gift that fits the bill is to really listen to the messages the recipient is giving you. People often give out information about their likes and dislikes without realising, for example, they may often say how cold they feel, or that a band is playing nearby, or they may be talking about the great gift they are going to buy for someone else and why. These are all clues (some more subtle than others) about what they may like themselves.


In addition to listening, really watch what makes the recipient happy. Which websites do they browse, which tv programmes to they enjoy, what do they gravitate towards when you're out shopping, which shop windows do they stop at and what are they looking at and which shops do they go inside? These are big clues about what they like - particularly if they return to something several times.


Putting some effort into obtaining the perfect gift often goes a long way. If you have searched high and low to get the perfect jumper in their favourite colour it will be obvious to them. If you picked up a box of chocolates while doing the supermarket shopping that will also be obvious.

The more effort you put in to obtaining a gift that reflects the person you're buying for, the greater the likelihood that it will be loved! And remember, sometimes quite simple gifts can be customised with a bit of effort. So for example, a photo frame in itself is unlikely to go down well, however taking the time to print out their favourite photo or taking a photo they would like to fit the frame shows that you've put some real thought and effort into the gift and is likely to be a real winner!


Think about the receiver and what they might feel when opening your gift. Try not to get too caught up in the cost of the gift as research suggests that while givers worry about this, receivers tend to think more about the effort and thought that has gone into a gift.

A word of caution: don't simply buy your loved one something that YOU like. This is actually very common because we like to think that our friends and family like the same things as us. This is not always the case, so make sure that you've taken the time to properly listen and observe to ensure you don't fall down this trap!

Generosity is good for you!

Remember -  generosity in all forms (be it volunteering time, giving gifts, donating money, etc) strengthens our bonds with others and makes us feel more connected socially - both of these are really important for our mental and physical health.

Many rules about giving and receiving and the appropriateness of gifts exist in our culture and both giving and receiving gifts can surprisingly create anxiety in others. Applying the simple principles above can really help make giving and receiving a joyous experience for all.

And being generous has been shown to bring health and happiness to the giver - perhaps something to remember when you're pounding the streets looking for the perfect gifts this Christmas!

Friday, 2 December 2016

Why we spend so much - the emotional side to spending money and how we can get trapped

Now we're into December, we start to field the barrage of advertisements in readiness for Christmas. The sharing of gifts is a great way to show those closest to you that you care about them and it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of glitzy presents and the latest must-have gadgets. However, according to the Citizen Advice Bureau, they helped an astonishing 350,000 people to get to grips with their debt last year alone. While excessive spending is not the only reason people end up in debt, it can be a contributory factor.

Psychologists have been studying the emotions that we feel when we buy things and have found that people tend to fit into two distinct groups. Those of us who like spending and those of us who don’t. It’s as simple as that. They then looked at the spending habits of those who spend more, to evaluate the effect that their spending habits had on their happiness.

For many, the act of buying things makes them feel good. It releases feelings of excitement, exhilaration – euphoria even. As with many other addictive behaviours, these feelings can be short-lived - especially if you can’t really afford what you’re spending money on - only to be replaced with a sense of guilt, shame or disappointment.

Tell-tale signs that you might be an emotional spender

  • Regularly buying the things you like, rather than what you need because of the buzz you get.
  • Often buying gifts for others, for no reason.
  • Basing your purchasing decisions on how you feel at that time, i.e. you’re in a good mood so treat yourself, or conversely, you feel fed up so buy something to heighten your mood.

If you can relate to these signs, getting a grip on your emotional spending needn’t be difficult, if you follow these three golden rules:

  1. Don’t buy on impulse (even if it’s in the sale)!
  2. If you didn’t set out to buy the item in question, chances are you really don’t need it. Make a deal with yourself to sleep on any impulse purchasing decisions. It’s not easy, but soon becomes second nature.
  3. Set yourself some thinking time for major purchases. Larger purchases (cars, TVs, technology) require more than an overnight review period. After a week or two of research, you can then analyse if the purchase is right for you and be able to ascertain the very best price.

Use cash as a rule – and debit cards as a fall back

The physical act of drawing money out from the bank is often enough for you to really consider your purchase. It makes the purchasing act ‘real’. For larger purchases, where you feel uncomfortable carrying cash, choose debit over credit so it leaves your account straight away.

Give yourself an impulse budget

Build some ‘me’ money into your household budget. That way if you see an absolute bargain that can’t be left on the shelf, you can make the purchase safe in the knowledge that it won’t be at the detriment of your finances. Pick an amount you feel comfortable with, then you’ll feel able to say ‘yes’ to spontaneous splurges – and the emotions it unleashes – without the associated guilt!

Remember, in some cases, emotional spending can become more than a bad habit and move onto a serious addiction. If you regularly choose shopping over spending time with your friends and family, or you feel irritable or agitated when unable to shop it could be time to review your habits and get some support

First Psychology Scotland has experienced practitioners who can work with you on understanding your reasons for spending and help you change your relationship to buying. 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Mindful breathing

December is without doubt a busy month for most people.  There are all those presents to buy, Christmas activities to do with the kids, events and parties to attend or host and the usual amount of work to squeeze into less days! It's no wonder we start to feel stressed the closer Christmas becomes. So why not aim to be more mindful this December?

Mindfulness stems from ancient practices and has become a popular antidote to modern life. It has its roots in ancient meditation practices and research has shown mindfulness to be effective for reducing stress and improving mental and physical wellbeing.

Mindful breathing is a good way to get started with mindfulness. Aim to practise the exercise below for at least five minutes each day and you should start to feel the benefits of a calmer mind.

Mindful breathing

  1. Find yourself a comfortable upright chair and sit down with your feet flat on the floor and your hands gently resting on your legs. Position yourself so that the base of your spine is gently touching the chair back.
  2. Close your eyes or direct your gaze to the floor area just in front of your feet.
  3. Sit still for a few moments and allow your body to relax and your mind to become calm.
  4. Focus on your breathing and how it feels. Think about the cool air entering your body and the warm air leaving your body and think about your abdomen rising and falling as the air enters and leaves.
  5. Breathe normally while focusing on these breathing sensations. If you find your mind wanders off, gently bring your focus back to your breathing. 
  6. After five minutes open your eyes and take in the world around you. 

Note: You may find this easier on some days than others. This is quite normal. What is important is that if your mind wanders, you gently bring it back to your breathing without judgement. You may find this happens quite a bit to begin with, but with practice you should find it easier.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Is your alcohol consumption really making you happy?

Yay! It’s WEDNESDAY afternoon – only a few more hours to go until that first glass of red wine that will help wash away all the stresses and strains of the day… Does this sound like you?

Surprisingly, according to a recent Scottish Health Survey, one in four people in Scotland drink at harmful levels (more than 14 units of alcohol a week). And other UK statistics suggest that the rest of the UK is also drinking too much. Are you are one of them! If you’re unsure, you can always check.

There are many reasons why people choose to drink alcohol and like most things, taken in moderation, it needn’t become a worry.

When asked why they drink, most people will cite one or all of the following:

"It relieves stress"

It’s true that alcohol is a sedative and as such can take the edge off any stress you are experiencing. However, it’s also a depressant and so, chances are, once the sedative effects have worn off, whatever was bothering you before will return – with knobs on!

"It makes me less shy / more confident"

Booze can act as a social enabler; lowering our inhibitions and making it easier for us to interact with other people. This is great for situations when we need to meet new people, or if we feel self-conscious in large groups. However, almost all of us can remember more than one occasion where our drinking tipped us over the edge from being the life and soul of the party, to not being able to remember how we behaved the following morning. It’s a fine line…

"It’s good for the heart"

A common fact shared by wine drinkers all over the world. There was some research that purported that drinking a small amount of red wine could have positive benefits for the heart. But – and here’s the thing – is a small amount of red wine ever really enough?

We want you to focus on just one question for a moment: do your drinking habits really make you happy? If you have to think before answering, it might be time to take a closer look at your alcohol consumption.

For this year’s alcohol awareness week, the focus is on the health impacts that regular over-drinking can have on your health. Many people believe their drinking is under control if they can get through each day without needing a drink. However, if you regularly choose drinking over other pass times and activities, this could be a warning sign.

For some people, the answer is to stop drinking altogether, but that doesn’t work for everyone – in fact, here’s an interesting article about the way we justify our behaviours to ourselves, when we know our actions are potentially harmful.

We need to be really honest about the effects alcohol has on us – and those around us. Yes, alcohol can make you feel great, but have you thought about the following potential knock on effects of alcohol?


Alcohol alters the chemistry in our brain, which leaves us more susceptible to feeling depressed. The difficulty is deciphering whether you’re drinking because you’re depressed, or if your drinking is making you feel depressed. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has produced an interesting leaflet about this topic.


Feeling anxious after an evening on the booze is quite a common side effect. It’s caused as the body breaks down the chemicals and your blood sugar levels drop. It’s not normally a major problem, but if you are someone who is prone to feeling anxious (regardless of whether you’ve been drinking or not), the effects of the alcohol will heighten your anxiety – as will certain anti-depressant drugs.


Most people believe themselves to be happy drinkers. However, we’ve already talked about the ways in which we justify our behaviour to ourselves, so here’s the reality: alcohol can also make you short tempered, self-centred and strongminded. Most family issues caused by alcohol include money problems, arguments and the inability to be ‘present’ within your family and play an active role.


Some say that the fact alcohol lowers our inhibitions means we show our true selves when we’ve been drinking. In reality what alcohol does is heighten our feelings. If we’re in a good mood, alcohol can make us feel great and we want to share this feeling with those closest to us. When we’re feeling a bit grumpy, alcohol can act as an aggressor – unmasking negative emotions - and often we share this side of ourselves with our nearest and dearest too!

For more information about alcohol awareness week, click here >

PS: Know your limits…

In January 2016, the guidance around recommended limits of alcohol was updated. The advice is to not drink more than 14 units a week and to spread these units evenly over three or more days.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Stress Awareness Month – how to manage stress

April is Stress Awareness Month - a time to raise awareness of stress. Although it’s fair to say that people have a higher awareness level of stress and mental health issues today than many years ago, it remains a difficult subject to broach with friends and family.

When people talk about stress they often talk about things getting on top of them; of matters manifesting themselves that feel beyond their control. However, who or what causes the stress is largely immaterial – we all have to look within ourselves to understand what we need to do during stressful times to regain our equilibrium to be able to take things in our stride.

With just one in three adults suffering from stress, anxiety and depression accessing treatment (source NHS data for 2014), self-care plays a huge role in the management of various mental health issues.

We’ve pulled together seven steps to beat stress to help you effectively manage any symptoms you may be experiencing.

Get moving

During times of stress, often the last thing you want to be doing is exercise, but it’s a medically proven stress buster. It doesn’t matter what you do – walk, jog, swim – so long as you get your heart and lungs working faster. Exercise releases endorphins which are the body’s natural sedative, which help us calm down and approach situations with greater clarity.

Get present

Meditation and mindfulness are both tried and tested ways of managing stress levels, helping us to relax. A calm, clear mind helps us to put things into perspective and develop appropriate responses that help us cope with stressful situations. A relaxed, settled mind is less anxious and copes better with stress. Our previous post on mindfulness techniques will get you started >

Get more sleep

Stress can make sleep difficult and yet it is the very thing our body needs in order to process information and help us make sense of stressful situations. Ways to induce sleep include taking a warm bath, listening to relaxing music and writing down a list of all the things that are on your mind before taking to your bed to avoid them taking over your subconscious thoughts.

Steer clear of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine

To maximise your chances of getting sleep, it’s wise to cut out the coffee, cigarettes and alcohol. These are all stimulants, and although they might make us feel better initially, the ‘come down’ we experience as our body processes them only adds to our stress.

Get talking

A problem shared is a problem halved, but more than that, talking to other people often helps us develop an alternative viewpoint that is difficult to acknowledge when we’re under stress. Friends and family are often only too happy to listen as it helps them feel more connected to you during times when you need support. Or if the problem involves those closest to you, talking to people not involved, such as work colleagues, can also help. The main thing is that you talk to someone you can trust rather than keep it all bottled up inside.

Take control

During stressful times it is easy to internalise things and over-think about the situation we’re in. Taking control of what we’re facing breaks it down into manageable chunks. We can then develop action plans and coping strategies to deal with each piece of the jigsaw, which makes even the most insurmountable stressful situations easier to tackle head-on.

Get positive

Thinking about happy memories or times when you have been successful is a great way of reducing stress. Visualisation techniques are often used by sportspeople to help them battle their nerves and compete with confidence, they’re also a way of reminding us that difficult times do pass and that life is a tapestry of good and not-so-good times.

For more information about how to keep things in perspective, we recommend the following article

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Being happy by yourself

Winter is well and truly here… It’s the time of year when the nights get darker and we all – introvert and extraverts alike - tend to lock ourselves away much earlier than we would during the summer months. Spending time by ourselves is something many of us will need to be more comfortable with over the winter, so we’ve developed some top tips to help you embrace the solitude and be your own BFF!

Learn how to talk to yourself – and listen

It doesn’t have to be out loud, it’s about getting used to the voices in your head. In the absence of other people and their opinions, we have only our inner voice. We should listen to it, more. It is only by searching within ourselves that we can truly establish what we want and need. Yours is the only advice you need follow. The key is to keep it positive. Everyone has their inner demons, it’s time to nurture positivity and negate your own negative vibes. You count, your opinion matters. You are enough.

Celebrate your solitude

Place value on the time you spend by yourself. Plan out how you will spend the time, just as you would when spending it with others. Rather than see the evening as sprawling out before you, chunk out the time into activities – have a bath, read a book, get creative. If you ever feel bored or lonely, pay more attention to your surroundings. Practice mindfulness and gratitude and cherish the time you have alone.

Change your surroundings

Over the winter there’s a tendency to hibernate – this can quickly fall into stagnation as when we’re alone, it’s easy to fall into routines and patterns. The truth is, when you’re by yourself things will never change unless you instigate it! Why not use the dark nights as the time to breathe new life into your indoor space. We’re not talking decorating and new furnishings, just the simple act of moving your existing furniture around will be enough to spark a new interest in your surroundings and make your time alone feel fresh and exciting.

Avoid mindless consumption

Can you hear that? Silence… In a world that never switches off, alone-time is a gift you’ve been given to switch off and take in the peace and quiet. Now, silence isn’t for everyone - some people simply can’t bear a life without background noise, but time alone is a valuable opportunity to think and reflect and it would be time wasted if we didn’t take advantage of this – at least some of the time. TV, radio and technology are distractions from the important questions we should all address from time to time – are you happy? Are you satisfied? Is your life on the right track / do certain elements need to change? These searching questions can only be truly tackled in the quiet – not an environment filled with noise.

Plan for the future

Do you have a plan for the future? Do you know which path you’d like to follow and have any idea how you will get there? The purpose for your life needn’t be big or grand. It just needs to be acknowledged. The only person who can decide if you’re heading in the right direction, is you! Alone time helps you focus and there’s no better time for you to make plans. Be brave and go beyond dreaming – write your plans down, give them legs, make them real. And then set out a timescale within which you will achieve them.

Time spent alone can be beautiful – and it’s certainly something to cherish. This is the time to build confidence in the fact that you are responsible for your own happiness and that you have everything at your disposal to live your life, your way. Relationships with others are valuable – but the one you have with yourself should always come first.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Psychological First Aid: be prepared

Every year on the 10th October, the World Health Organisation asks us all to turn our attention to mental health - to learn more about it and the ways we can support those who are suffering.

Mental health is a term used to describe a person’s psychological and emotional well-being. It impacts how we think and feel, as well as the way we interact and engage with those around us.

There are many reasons why a person’s mental health may become imbalanced and many factors that contribute to mental health problems, including biological factors, life experiences and even family history. Mental health problems are more common than we think and that’s why World Mental Health Day is so important – to raise awareness and make sure people know where to get support.

This year’s World Mental Health Day centres on the topic of psychological first aid. It’s a complex area, designed to support people who have experienced a tragedy or trauma. On a global scale, this is about assisting children and adults following a disaster or terrorism. But closer to home, there are things we can all do to help our friends, neighbours and colleagues when terrible things happen, be it a sudden death of a loved one or the loss of a job or home, for example.

Often the terms emergency or disaster are used to describe disruptive and destructive events that cause loss of life, property and livelihoods. When this happens, people often lose confidence in the networks that are there to protect them. By learning the basic principles of psychological first aid, we can all be better prepared and able to support people in distress.

The concept of first aid is based on the fact that any of us may need to step in to assist when someone needs it. It’s a massive responsibility and can have a profound impact on those needing help.

The main aims of psychological first aid are to help people:

  • feel less distressed
  • understand the situation and its context
  • identify their own abilities to cope

Psychological first aid is delivered by trained professionals and we would not recommend attempting to deliver it yourself. However, there are a few general principles of psychological first aid that we can keep in mind when communicating with people who have been through a traumatic event, so that they know that support it available and people are listening to them.

Keep calm

  • People who are overwhelmed or disoriented respond best to people who themselves are stable, calm and composed.
  • Be friendly and compassionate even if people are being difficult, upset or demanding.
  • When people express fear or worry, remind them that more help and services are available and, if possible, how they can find them.

Encourage connections

  • Offer people, who wish to share their stories and emotions, the chance to talk without being forced and without too many questions.
  • Encourage people to contact their friends, loved ones and community leaders (as appropriate).
  • Offer practical help to people to address immediate needs and concerns, linking them with available services if you can.

Provide hope

  • Convey the expectancy that people will recover from what they have experienced.
  • Be there/be willing to help in the future if you feel able.
  • Reassure people that their feelings are normal.

More information on psychological first aid and World Mental Health Day > 

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Free yourself from social anxiety and enjoy Fresher’s Week

Up and down the country young adults are unpacking boxes, putting up posters on the newly-painted walls and developing budgets that will enable them to live on just a few pounds a week.

Starting university is an exciting time – a rite of passage - when teenagers cross the line from being regarded a children to becoming a fully-functioning adults. Many young people will embrace the change, but for others the transition from living at home to cohabiting with lots of strangers will be a daunting and formidable event; one that necessitates leaving behind the comfort of home and the familiarity of your current network of friends and family.

A study published by the American Psychological Association in 2013 looks at the importance of friends and social networks during adolescence and young adulthood. It explains about our need to gather knowledge and information from a diverse range of sources and relationships during this period of your life.

There is no getting away from it, we need friends. Ironically, the older we get, the harder it seems to be to make new ones!

Feeling anxious about this need to meet new people and establish new friendships is absolutely normal. This social anxiety may present itself in any or all of the following thought patterns:

A feeling that we are not perfect, which can leave us feeling self-conscious and awkward
Who is? Very often we are our own worst critics and our self-perception is skewed. We dislike things about ourselves that others would not even notice.

A fear that new people will realise we are not perfect, when our ‘old’ friends have learnt to accept us as we are
People are selfish and are much more interested in what you think of them than what they think of you. We all have an innate need to be liked and this means we often don’t notice as much about others as we should.

A realisation that we get nervous in new social situations and can ‘clam’ up
This is not uncommon and often can be managed with some simple visualisation techniques. Let’s be honest, this is probably the reason so many Fresher’s events take place in, or near, a bar. Alcohol takes the edge off people’s nervousness and everyone is in the same boat.

A trepidation that any lull in conversation will be interpreted as arrogance or disinterest
Making new friends is like dating, it’s only over time that silences are not deemed awkward. Think about making new friends as being on a discovery mission and stock yourself up with interesting discussion points before you set off.

A concern that other people are far more interesting
All social anxiety comes from an innate feeling of not being good enough – why would people want to talk to you? What value do you add to the situation? Why would people be friends with you when there are many more interesting people about? The reality is that 50% of the people in the room will be feeling exactly the same way!

There’s no escaping the fact that social anxiety can be tricky to deal with, as it often isn’t grounded in any truth. It is all about self-perception and how we feel about ourselves – and this becomes extremely distorted under stress. So, is there anything we can do to ease the situation? After all, no-one wants to be alone during Fresher’s Weeks, do they?

A recent study found that the reason it was more difficult to make friends as we get older is simply because we don’t find ourselves in the same consistent gatherings as we do when we’re younger. It’s easy to form new relationships when you have a ready-made supply of people to try and connect with, like your school classmates, for example.

It also highlights the fact that many friendships stay limited within their ‘container’ - for example, a class or activity - until someone initiates a gathering outside of it. So, if friendships aren’t practised outside of the container, they simply perish when the activity or class ends. With this in mind, here are three top tips to making new friends as we get older.

Join groups and clubs that you’re really interested in

You’ll meet like-minded people which will help to keep the conversation flowing. You don’t need to worry about people turning up or having an off week, because the group is already established.

Be the one that dares to take the friendship ‘outside’

Many friendships never progress simply because they were kept contained within a specific environment, e.g. the fitness class. Be brave and ask new friends to join you for a coffee, to the library – whatever it takes to build the friendship

Hang on in there…

Your existing social network was built up over years, creating a new one will take time too.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

How to deal with anxiety in children

None of us wants to see a child unhappy, but the best way to help kids overcome anxiety isn’t to try to remove stressors that trigger it. It’s to help them learn to function as well as they can, even when they’re anxious. And as a bi-product of that, the anxiety will decrease or fall away over time.

Remember: the goal isn’t to eliminate anxiety, but to help a child manage it.

It is natural to feel anxious when dealing with changes to our usual routine – starting school is a good example of one of these changes. Often, your child won’t know the words to explain what they’re feeling, but if any of the following is becoming an issue, chances are your child is anxious about something:

  • Being clingy and having tantrums 
  • Not wanting to go out or spend time with their friends
  • Worrying about things that they’ve previously not mentioned
  • Complaining about ‘not feeling well’

We’ve developed six top tips to help guide your child through times of change and help manage their anxiety.

1. Don’t avoid things just because they make a child anxious

Helping children avoid the things they're afraid of may make them feel better in the short term, but in the long run it just reinforces the anxiety. It is normal for a child in an uncomfortable situation to get upset. They’re not being manipulative; they just need help to deal with the situation. If we shield them from their fears they will never build personal resilience, which can only lead to problems as they get older.

2. Create a soothing routine at home

Children seek comfort in what they know and understand to be true. During times of change, such as starting school, the most effective thing you can do at home, is keep your home routine as regular as possible. It provides a constant to the child and helps them understand that while some things may change in their lives, other things remain exactly the same. This helps them contain their anxiety and manage their feelings.

3. Help them to visualise success

Talk to your children about the positive outcomes relating to the changes they’re experiencing. Meeting new people means making new friends; additional homework is an opportunity to learn new information; every problem is just an opportunity when reframed and presented back to us.

4. Rest up

It can be hard dealing with a child who is going through an anxious phase in their life. Remember that the best thing you can do is keep things together. Get plenty of sleep and rest so that you are ‘present’ and able to deal with their questions, reservations and uncertainties. It can be draining – so you’ve got to be physically and mentally prepared to deal with it.

5. Get organised

Set time aside in the morning to address your ‘to do’ list and return emails. These are tasks that often get addressed at night and often take us away from spending time with our children, when they most need it. Keep them busy. Get them involved in your day to day routine too – have them empty the dishwasher, pair up the socks or make their own lunch – this helps them see that there’s more to life than what they’re anxious about.

6. Have Fun

It may not seem right to have fun when your child is in an anxious state, but it definitely is! Everyone needs to recharge their batteries. It’s okay to say to your child: “I need to take time out so I have lots more energy to help you.” This is good parenting. Your down time can include your child too – do the things that make you smile together; spend time doing activities you both enjoy – this will help you AND your child remember that anxiety is not the only thing going on.

Child anxiety is tricky to deal with, but we all go through it. Keep focused, keep grounded and you can weather the storm together, coming out stronger the other side.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Developing social skills in children

For many children going to school will be their first taste of independence. The first opportunity for them to communicate with others outside of the safety of the family circle. This is how their personality is shaped and they learn how to interact with the world around them.

It is for many children, an exciting time of self-discovery. However, for others, social skills may be harder to develop than any academic subject.

There are many ways that we as parents can prepare our children for the social interactions they will encounter once at school.

Do as I say – and as I do

It may appear that our children don’t listen to us – however, they hear more than we realise and they see everything. The way we treat others serves as a role model for our children and reinforces the other cues and tips that we share with our children.

If you are sociable yourself, chances are your children will find it easier to interact with others. If manners are important in your home – it won’t come as a surprise to your child when they’re expected to display good manners out of the home environment.

Parents who are social themselves serve as positive reinforcement for their children. Children may be able to mimic their parents interactions with others when they attempt to make friends with other children, or when learning to cooperate and share with their peers.

Explaining to children why we act the way we do as adults helps them to understand social behaviour, which then helps them replicate it for themselves. Saying things like: “Ask nicely for things, rather than hurt your brother” or “Always say thank you when someone holds the door open for you” really helps to put social skills into context and help children understand.

It’s all a game

Of course, children all develop at their own pace but if you sense that your child could do with some extra support in developing their social skills, here are a number of simple games you can try:

  1. Have a staring contest: eye contact is really important, it’s how we judge non-verbal cues and conveys the emotion behind the words we hear. A staring competition is a quick and easy – not to mention very enjoyable – way of showing your child how to look others in the eye without feeling challenged or threatened. Bet you they’re better at it than you are!
  2. Play emotion charades: it’s important that our children understand how to process the emotions people display. Rather than act out books or movie titles, try and convey emotions – happy, sad, angry, embarrassed; helping your child to appreciate how people are feeling, helps them develop empathy and respect for others.
  3. Stick to the point: often it’s hard for children to keep to one topic. Holding a conversation is quite a skill and one that will set them in good stead for the future. A conversation is where two people talk about something, with each person building on what the other has said. The topic game is a great way of helping children stick to this. You pick a topic, and work through the alphabet with each player saying a different word relating to that topic e.g. fruit would be: A – apple; B – banana; C – carrot; countries would be A – America; B – Belgium; C – Canada; and so on…

If you have concerns…

Social skills take time to develop and school teachers are well equipped to help all children reach their full potential once they’re at school – both academically and socially. If there are any concerns as to your child’s development, chances are your school will be aware of them and will want to work with you to develop a plan to better support their needs.

However, as a parent, you know your child better than anyone and, if you have any concerns, there are three areas of difficulty that have been identified within the autism spectrum:

· difficulty with social relationships, for example appearing aloof and indifferent to other people

· difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication, for example not fully understanding the meaning of common gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice

· difficulty in the development of interpersonal play and imagination, for example having a limited range of imaginative activities, possibly copied and pursued rigidly and repetitively

More information about autism >

As with all other development milestones, we must give our children the time and space to develop, at their own pace. Social skills is something that we all have a role in shaping, but ultimately it is up to our children to find their own way, with our love, support and guidance.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Back to school - how did it go?

Well they're back, but are things going well?

The start back to school comes around far too quickly after the summer holidays. For many children, going back to school – or starting school – is something they take in their stride; for others, it may be a source of anxiety or confusion, especially if they started a new school or moved up from primary to secondary.

Unlike many anxieties our children experience, school-related anxieties are unique in that we often know what our children are going through. This can be a blessing; we are able to offer an understanding ear and some empathy for what our children are experiencing. However, in some cases, we as adults, pass on our own anxieties to our children, which can make it harder for them to navigate the changes they’re going through.

Now is a good time to review the back to school process and whether your child is settled or a bit anxious.

Here are some ways you can help reduce school-related anxieties.

Talk to them

Chat with your child about their school day and the year so far.  How has it been? What are they enjoying most? Is there anything they’re unsure or worried about? What are their teachers like?

Show them that we’ve all been there before

Dig out old photos of you when you were at school – the happy ones, of school plays and end of term discos. Talk to your child about all the happy memories you have from school and the friends you made along the way.

Take away any unknowns

Try to find out more about the term ahead. What will your child be doing. Talk to your child about this so that they know what to expect and ask them if they have any concerns.

Find similarities between school and home life

Create positive associations with the school and the new school year - this can help to reduce the anxiety our children feel. For younger children, this might be as simple as keeping exciting stuff like colouring pencils in a school bag and taking them out when your child wants to colour at home. That way, they can start to associate school with interesting activities that they enjoy.

Prepare them for routines

School is all about routines. The more familiar your child is with routines at home, the easier it will be for them to get used to the routines at school.

Secondary school

If your child has just stepped up to secondary school, they will be experiencing additional challenges. They're expected to take responsibility for themselves in a way they never have before at school – and probably at home. However big the desire to pander to them, now’s the time to help them on their way by increasing their responsibilities at home too. Some simple ideas would be setting their alarm clock; packing their own bags for trips and outings; letting them take the bus alone to meet a relative; polishing their shoes and ironing their clothes. The more they can do for themselves, the better they’ll be able to cope with their first term.

Try and allow your child to take the lead on arranging meet ups with friends and allow them a bit more slack. However scary it may feel, you know when your child is ready to go out with friends alone. They need to get used to navigating the world alone and taking responsibility for themselves. Give them some freedom to do this, but make sure they know when to call home and give them a set time to be home, so they have a safe structure while they get used to being more responsible for themselves.

Try to keep the communication lines open with your child, whatever their age. And let them know that you're interested and happy to chat about anything they're anxious about. Make sure you attend parent's evenings so that you know how things are going from the school's perspective. That way you can help iron out any difficulties before they become unhelpful longer-term issues.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

De-clutter your life – focus your mind

We’re all guilty of keeping hold of things we really don’t need. We live in a consumerist world and often feel defined by what we have. A large number of us openly admit to having too much ‘clutter’ and will set certain time aside each year to have a good clear out – January, spring and the summer holidays are popular times for a sort out.

According to Roberta Lee’s book – the super stress solution – the practice of decluttering is as much about emotional cleansing as it is about becoming more organised. Just as our emotions change, so too does the need to keep certain items. A good example might be the box of art supplies you bought after making a New Year’s resolution – at the time, it was a box of excitement, a box of potential… If unused all year, however, it becomes a box of failure, of pressure, of a lack of time to fulfil your dreams. This shows it’s time to dispose of the box!

We’ve come up with six simple steps to help you declutter your closets and focus your mind.

1. A bit at a time

Decluttering can often feel like an onerous task – overwhelming even. This is easily solved by breaking the task down into bite sized chunks. Professional organiser Regina Leeds suggests setting a timer for 10-20 minutes at a time to spark a ‘speed elimination’. Start with smaller spaces – like a drawer or a cupboard. These simple successes will spur us on for the bigger areas to come.

2. Finish the job

If you’ve set time aside to declutter an area of your home, make sure you finish the job. The task is not complete until the rubbish bags have been disposed of, the unwanted items dropped off at the charity shop and any other items listed on eBay for sale. Sorting into piles is a great start, but if you break off the task, there’s a chance when you return, items you had deemed to be clutter will find their way back onto your ‘must keep’ pile again!

3. Clear before you buy

For some, the purpose of decluttering can sometimes be overshadowed by the need to find appropriate storage solutions. We think too much about how to organise things and get caught up in the best way to store and display our clutter, rather than really sorting it out. Our advice – clear first, then you know exactly how much stuff you have to find new homes for.

4. Makes rules and stick to them

If you have too many clothes and have made a deal with yourself to only go shopping once a month, or adopt a ‘new thing in / old thing out’ practice – stick to it. It sounds simple, but clutter is often born out of a desire to collect things we don’t need. Find diversionary activities that will help you stick to your rules and make it easier to keep clear of clutter.

5. Change your habits

Hands up – who has a stash of plastic carrier bags in a kitchen cupboard? The 5p government charge was introduced so people would use fewer bags, but it hasn’t changed our habits. Making real changes to your daily routine is difficult, but it can be done – you just need to convince yourself of the benefits it will bring to your life.

6. Technology is your friend

Create online photo albums of all your favourite pictures; subscribe to Netflix and rehome all your old DVDs; transfer CDs onto an MP3 player; there are even apps that can help you manage your important paperwork. Make technology work for you and your home.

Of course decluttering your home is only half of the battle. Make sure you use the new-found positivity your tidy home will bring to set the stall for the future. Commit to the positive changes you’ve made by asking yourself some simple questions before bringing anything new into the house: Why do I need this? Do I have anything like this already? Where will I keep it? Only you know the right answers!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

From 9 to 5 to 24/7: relationship hacks to ensure the holidays bring you closer together

Did you know that the average couple spends only 150 minutes together each day? This can be roughly broken down into 55 minutes watching television, 30 minutes eating, 24 minutes carrying out housework and 16 minutes on a social life! It’s no surprise then, that relationships can become strained over the holidays when we spend much more time together than we’re used to.

We’ve developed some tips for keeping your relationships positive and productive during the summer, so that by the end of the holidays you’ll be stronger than ever.

Me time

Just because you’re on your holidays doesn’t mean you have to live in each other’s pockets. It’s not selfish to build a bit of ‘you time’ into your holidays – in fact, it’s necessary for us all to nourish our souls so that we can give our best to others. Make sure you give yourself time to be by yourself during your holidays – and encourage your partner to do the same. Take a bath, read a book, listen to some music… Just a short period of time each day doing something you love will be enough for you to really appreciate your time with others.

Mindful minutes

The move from spending a few hours a day together to 24/7 can at times feel a little draining. If this is the case for you, just take a minute to refocus. Bring yourself back into the present so you can appreciate your day and those around you. It’s a really simple exercise. Find yourself a quiet space. Sit down, make yourself comfortable and breathe… In and out, calm and steady. Use all your senses to take in what’s around you. Be aware of how your body feels and how it relaxes with the simple practice of breathing. When the minute is up, take a deep breath and continue on with the day.

Remember the old times

The first few months of a relationship is a special time. Everything is new and exciting – you’re finding out about each other and, quite frankly, you can’t get enough of each other! As relationships age, the excitement may dull a little but it’s replaced by a calmer, deeper appreciation of your partner. Remembering the days when your relationship was blossoming is a great way to inject a spark back and remind each other what brought you the place you’re at. It helps you realise just how lucky you both are to have found each other.

Try something new together

An unpublished study by the University of Chicago found that couples who had fun together, stayed together. So why not use the holidays as an opportunity to try something new: develop a hobby; visit somewhere you’ve never been before or take part in an activity that neither of you have tried before. As relationships develop we have a tendency to fall into routines and distinct roles. By trying something new we are starting from a level playing field – which is a great way to improve communication, support each other and have some fun.

Treat every day as a new day

In life there will be good days and bad days. Holidays are not exempt from this. What we must do, for the sake of our relationships, is make a pact that every day is a new day. Whatever has happened the day before, any issues (as far as possible) should be dealt with then put to one side in order for us to enjoy the rest of our holidays. Carrying resentment, hurt and anger around weighs heavy and makes it difficult to enjoy time spent together.

Remember, holidays are only as good as we make them and with effort, determination and positivity they can be really good for our personal relationships, bringing us closer together than ever before.

Be kind; be tolerant; be flexible – and enjoy your summer, together.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Home for the holidays: getting the most out of your time during the summer break

Everyone loves the summer – long days, light nights, school holidays and the prospect of a week or two off work to spend with the family.

The reality, however, doesn’t always live up to our high expectations. Many find that spending extended periods of time with other people can be stressful – no matter how much we love them!

People want to be together and feel connected during the holidays, so much so that we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and others, to have a ‘perfect’ time. We are conditioned to feel that we should make the absolute most of our time off and feel obliged to spend 24/7 with our nearest and dearest during the holidays, which, not unsurprisingly, can lead to tensions and upset.

Balance and moderation are key to ensuring a successful summer break. If you’ve found yourself doing any of the following during previous holidays, chances are you are in danger of over-extending yourself – and that can lead to disappointment and disenchantment.

During the holidays, do you find yourself:

  • Agreeing to attend family gatherings out of obligation, rather than desire?
  • Buying gifts and treats for yourself, or children, that you can’t really afford?
  • Preparing elaborate meals or celebrations for friends and relatives?

If you do, here's how you can put some balance back into your summer holidays.

1. Set aside time for yourself, and encourage other members of your family to do the same

Spending all day and evening with your family can upset the equilibrium of family life. We all like routine and can often feel off kilter due to the change in our daily habits. A quick an easy way to reset the balance, is to build in some ‘me time’ for you and the other members of your family. Even a short period of time – fifteen minutes to half an hour – is enough to centre yourself and enjoy the rest of the day. Take a bath, read the paper, listen to your music – it doesn’t matter what you do, so long as it makes you feel good.

2.    Ensure everyone is given a ‘voice’ during the summer

Past surveys have suggested that parents find the pressure of keeping children entertained all day, every day very stressful – chances are it’ll be the same this year too. Parents often feel they spend the entire holiday on making their kids happy, keeping them entertained at all times and breaking up arguments. Aim to make a positive change this summer by giving everyone an opportunity to do what they want to do – not just the little ones. Why not encourage everyone to write down the things they’d like to do over the holidays, fold them up and then pick one out of a hat, anonymously, as and when you need them.

3.   Set a budget and stick to it

It can be tempting to try and keep up with the Jones over the holidays; to spend money we haven’t got, on things we don’t really need. Remember though, memories are built around people, not possessions – so make a promise to yourself to spend time, not money this holiday. Work up a budget you can afford and then stick to it. Deal in cash, not credit card, which makes you less likely to overspend and consider giving the kids their own daily allowance for holiday sundries, such as ice lollies, etc. Not only does this teach them about budgeting, it makes it fun for them too – and means you won’t have to keep saying ‘no’ to them.

4. Go back to basics

You may be surprised to hear that when asked what they are looking forward to about the summer holidays, the majority of children who are asked say they are looking forward to spending more time with their family and playing outdoors. Use the holidays as a time to reconnect with your nearest and dearest doing simple things, like walking in the woods, going to the park, tidying the garden or washing the car! Not only will your kids thank you for it, your purse will reap the benefits too. Plan ahead and do your research to find out all the local free activities in your area that you can take advantage on.

5.    Do what works for you and your family

Only you and your family know what works for you. Don’t worry about how things should be or what you should do, but do what you can do and more importantly what you want to do. Spend time doing things that are important to each of your family members – and involve them in the preparation. Compromise, negotiate and cooperate with each other to plan a summer break that is perfect for your family – not for others.

Above all else, try not to place unrealistic expectations on yourself or other family members this holiday. Remember, not one of us is perfect but if we accept our friends and family as they are, and embrace our differences even, we can achieve a stress-free summer.

Happy holidays!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

A problem shared is a problem halved: a focus on men’s mental health

Remember that book called Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus? It was designed to illustrate the differences between the way men and women approach personal relationships, but the sentiment behind the book is also true when it comes to mental health. 

The Centre for Studies on Human Stress in Canada conducted some research into stress triggers. It’s no surprise that they were different for men and women.

Women were found to get stressed when faced with social rejection – it made them upset. For men, the stress triggers were performance related. They were given difficult tasks to complete which caused their heart rate and frustration levels to rise.

Men are predisposed to outperform. This can put them under immense pressure. While a woman’s response to stress is often an outpouring of emotion, this practice in itself goes someway to easing their stress. For men, on the other hand, there is usually no outward response to the stress triggers. Frustration is internalised, which may then manifest itself as anger or avoidance behaviour – such as isolating themselves or creating additional problems that are easier to deal with. There may also be a tendency to blame others for problems, in an attempt to transfer the burden of stress.

It’s good to talk

While talking about problems is second nature to most women, men may need more encouragement to talk. Many stress-causing issues at work or home cannot be resolved easily, but talking can help. Sometimes it is as simple as changing perceptions about a situation, rather than changing the situation itself – and the best way to do this is by speaking to another person about what you’re going through.

Active body, healthy mind

Exercise is closely linked with better mental health and stress control. A study back in 2012 by the University of Glasgow found people who exercise outdoors experience half the mental health risks of those who exercise inside. An effective way for a man to improve his mental health, especially during times of stress, is to spend more time outdoors. It doesn’t matter what exercise, but 20 minutes of outdoor exertion does wonders for mental wellbeing.

Put a name to it

It’s always easier to cope with what’s happening around us when we can identify how it makes us feel. Some men find it beneficial to put a name to their emotions, so they become ‘real’ rather than abstract. This could be: "The important meeting is just two days away; I’m feeling anxious.” Or “My co-worker took credit for my proposal; I’m feeling angry.” By naming our emotions, we make it easier to park them and move on. We can free ourselves and concentrate on finding a solution to help us overcome the stress.

Mindfulness practices have been found to be beneficial when it comes to engendering positive mental health in men. You can read more about men’s mindfulness here >

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Only Men Allowed: your mindfulness matters

Do you ever feel like you’re living life on a treadmill or in a hamster wheel? You’re doing what you need to keep going, but things are happening around you – you’re just not really ‘present’ to enjoy them?

There’s no escaping the fact that we live in a busy society. Life is simply not as slow as it once was and we’re juggling more plates than perhaps we ever have before.

For men especially, it can be tricky to step back from daily responsibilities and take stock of where we are – and where we’re heading.

Mindfulness is a short, sharp intervention that brings you back to the present. It makes you aware of your surroundings by requiring you to pay attention to things you wouldn’t otherwise give a second thought to.

It can help to relieve stress; improve blood pressure; and stimulate rational judgement so that you can make better decisions. It can be done anytime, anywhere – and the only person who needs to know is you!

It works too... Mindfulness practices that have been tailored for use in male dominated settings, have been used successfully in a number of environments including the US marine corps. It has been found to help officers and service personnel better deal with anxiety, stress, depression and insomnia. Mindfulness programs have also been used in prisons with great success, to encourage compassion and reflection among the male inmates.

The good news is it’s really easy to incorporate mindfulness exercises into your everyday routine.

A mindful minute

Set an alarm clock or timer for one minute. All you are to do for the entire 60 seconds is focus on your breathing - nothing else. You can keep your eyes open, or closed. You can keep your hands by your side or lay them flat across your belly. If your mind starts to wander, bring yourself back to your breathing, then simply stop when the timer tells you the minute is up. What could be simpler?

A mindful break

Take a break. No, we don’t mean take your work papers to the canteen and read them over a rushed sandwich; we’re talking about a proper five minute break. Doing nothing. Take a seat and just be. Take in your surroundings, look out of the window, or watch your colleagues as they go about their business. Again, if your mind wanders, bring yourself back to the room. Go about your business again, when your five minutes is up.

A mindful drive

  • Step 1: turn off the radio and drive in silence. 
  • Step 2: take notice of how your body feels while you are driving – do you grip the steering wheel? Is your stomach clenched? Is your jaw tight? By noticing how you hold yourself in the car, you can consciously relax your body. TIP: It is advisable to focus on these things before you start driving, then you can revisit them fleetingly while you drive without losing focus on the road and your safety.
  • Step 3: drive below the speed limit. It is a maximum after all. By shaving a couple of miles an hour off your speed, you start to ‘drive’, rather than race. This takes all the tension out of your journey.

It's so easy to stop noticing the world we live in – to lose touch with the sights, smells, sounds that surround us and get wrapped up only with the thoughts and emotions in our heads. By coming back to the present – if only for a few minutes each day – we can not only benefit the ‘now’, but also the future.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Mind over matters: how mindfulness can help

In today’s busy society, with an ever growing to-do list and 24-hour social media, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed from time to time. And when things do start to get on top of us, feelings can quickly escalate so that we lose sight of what’s really important to us.

We can’t slow society down, much as we’d like to, but what we can do is share two tried and tested mindfulness behaviours that will – in no time at all – retrain your brain to stay focused, so that you’ll be better able to gain perspective and regain control during stressful life-episodes.

So what exactly is mindfulness? Simply put, it’s about paying attention. Its basis lies in Buddhist meditation. Today’s mindfulness practice has been modified to reflect modern society and the need to build mindfulness techniques into our everyday routines.

The good news is, that with practice, mindfulness is a skill that anyone can learn. The even better news is that studies show that we can change our habits and behaviours in just eight weeks. 

If you answer yes to these questions, these two mindfulness techniques could benefit you:
  • Have you ever found your mind wondering?
  • Do you anticipate the end of conversations half way through? 
  • Are you worrying about ramifications before you really know what the problem is?
Mindfulness helps to bring you back to the present – in touch with yourself, other people and what’s going on around you. This process, in time, improves mental and emotional wellbeing, helping us to enjoy life more and understand ourselves better.

Technique one: present in sixty seconds

Pick a regular time in the day to spend just sixty sessions being totally aware of what’s going on around you. It could be before you set off on your way to work in the morning; after getting home from the school run; or while taking a short stroll at lunchtime. Sit – or stand – and breathe. That’s it. In and out, calm and steady. Use all your senses to take in what’s around you: What do you see? What can you smell? What can you hear? Be aware of how your body feels and how it relaxes with the simple practice of breathing. As you breathe out, let a smile form on your face. If it helps, place your hands on your abdomen so you can feel your breathing motion. When your sixty seconds are up, continue with your day as normal.

Technique two: something new

Although we don’t often realise it, our bodies work on autopilot for a good proportion of the day. Do you wander into a room and wonder how you got there? Do you grab three breakfast bowls without thinking? Brushing teeth, driving a car – all done without real thought or examination. To keep mindful, take time to try something new. Your senses will be heightened and you will be more aware of what’s around you. We’re not talking big stuff here – sit in a different seat, try something new for lunch, pick up your cup with your non-dominant hand. Go on, try it and see what a difference it can make to how you feel the rest of the day.

What difference does it make?

At this point, you may questioning the significance of these simple techniques. It sounds too easy, doesn’t it? The psychological benefits of mindfulness have been well noted for years - with techniques like these having been proven to help with stress, anxiety, depression and addictive behaviours. Now, the medical benefits are being noticed by health care professionals too, with mindful practices being seen to have a positive effect on physical problems like high blood pressure, heart disease and chronic pain.

So little to lose and lots to gain! What’s stopping you?

Friday, 13 May 2016

What is it about Friday 13th?

It's Friday 13th, the only one in 2016, and those of you who suffer from a fear of Friday 13th may well be feeling some of the common symptoms of phobia. 

These include: shaking, feeling disorientated or confused, sweating profusely, rapid heart beat, dry mouth, dizziness, nausea, and pains in the chest. Often people also worry about being out of control, fainting or even dying, and this can add to the feelings of anxiety and distress.

So why fear Friday 13th?

There are a whole range of reasons why it is thought we fear this day, many of them stemming from associations with bad events in the bible. However more generally speaking, phobias are strong irrational fears about something being dangerous when there is little or no danger at all. Sometimes we develop fears and phobias following a traumatic event and this creates an association between our object of fear and the bad event. However often people with a phobia or fear have no idea where it has come from.

How do phobias impact on people's lives?

People who suffer from phobias often go out of their way to avoid the thing that causes the symptoms. For example, someone with a phobia of travelling on planes, might avoid going on holiday altogether, may turn down promotions that involve such travel and may generally find themselves making excuses for not travelling on a plane. Those with a fear of Friday 13th may avoid important meetings or events on that day and may even avoid going out altogether.

When to get help

If you can live with your fear or phobia with little impact on your life then you probably don't need to seek help. If on the other hand your life revolves around the phobia and planning how to avoid your object of fear, then it would be advisable to seek professional help.

Treatment for phobias?

Behavioural techniques are very effective for treating people with phobias. The process usually involves a slow gradual exposure to the object of fear until such time as you can tolerate it without the unpleasant symptoms. For example, if you fear spiders you may start by looking at a picture of a spider, then video images and then an actual spider. 

Luckily, Friday 13th doesn't come around that often and usually people who suffer from this phobia can therefore manage without professional help.

More information and help

Read our article on phobias >

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Water off a duck’s back: three top tips for building personal resilience

Life is full of highs and lows – how we react to these events makes us who we are. We’re all different, but have you ever wondered why some people seem able to quickly bounce back from major blows, while others fall to pieces when things don't go their way? Two words: personal resilience.

Personal resilience is a widely used term that describes our ability to deal with change and cope with the stresses of everyday life. As human beings we’re innately programmed for self-preservation so the good news is that we can all learn to become more resilient. We just need to invest a bit of time and effort in ourselves. 

We can’t promise you a stress-free life, but we can promise that by acknowledging your triggers and changing your old thought patterns you will find it easier to bounce back under pressure. These three top tips will help prepare you for whatever lies around the corner…

1. A little bit of what you fancy does you good

It sounds clich├ęd, but it’s true. If you’re getting to the point when even the smallest irritation takes the wind out of your sails, chances are you’re not being kind enough to yourself.

Resilience is all about balance, so give yourself permission to build some ‘you time’ into your daily / weekly regime – make yourself a priority. Your emotional self will thank you for it and reward you with a deeper sense of clarity when the going gets tough.

To find out if you’re neglecting your emotional well-being, take a few minutes to jot down a couple of lists. On one side write down all your day-to-day responsibilities; on the other write down all the activities and pass times that put a smile on your face. Compare the two lists. If your ‘work’ side is much longer than your ‘play’ side, it’s time to redress the balance.

2. Take a ‘time-out’

Think about how we help our children deal with their big feelings and stress triggers – we often ask them to physically take themselves away from the source of the problem to clear their head. Why don’t we do this as adults?

Taking a step away from an issue or problem makes it easier for us to gain perspective about what’s happened and make it easier for us to come up with a coping strategy. In today’s digital world it’s difficult to for us to switch off. Difficult, yes, but not impossible. 

Make the effort to take time out each day to clear your head. Don’t think about anything, just concentrate on your breathing until your body starts to relax. With practice, it will become second nature and a useful calming technique to call upon whenever we start to feel stressed. 

3. The Scouts are right: be prepared!

No one knows what the future will bring. What we do know, though, is that some things will make us happy – and some won’t. Simply acknowledging that fact enables us to plan ahead and prepare ourselves. 

Look back at how you’ve dealt with stressful incidents in the past and how you coped with them. Use these experiences to prepare yourself to deal with similar situations in the future. 

Be aware of the support network that’s already around you and take the time to nurture your family ties and friendships. Where you find support to be lacking, spend time building new relationships and support structures to fill this gap so it’s there when you need it. 


Resilience is not about sweeping emotions under the carpet; it’s about acknowledging and accepting our feelings. Often hurt, guilt, pain or anger will remain. That’s OK. Resilience does not mean we don’t feel - it’s about understanding why we feel that way and realising when the time is right to move on with our lives.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

How to manage exam stress

The mere thought of exams and tests can strike panic into our hearts and leave us feeling like we haven't done enough. Whatever the subject/s being revised, it can be hard to get the revision balance right. The closer the exams are, the more panicked people often become and there is a tendency to cram in as much revision as possible, however this is not usually beneficial.

"There are a number of things students can do to help themselves in the run up to exams and tests," says Professor Ewan Gillon, clinical director of First Psychology Scotland.  "Learning to recognise the signs of stress and ways to manage the symptoms can be hugely beneficial." 

"Often people get engrossed in their studies as the exams approach and feel the only way they can get a good result is to cram in as much information as possible. This can make them feel overwhelmed and can be counterproductive," says Professor Gillon. 

Instead he advises on the importance of having a realistic revision plan which includes rest days and treats to keep motivated. "Working with friends can be helpful to keep you all on track, but only if you can be disciplined enough to actually work. If you find that study sessions with friends are not productive, then perhaps setting up nights out or scheduling in catchup time with friends to break up periods of revision can give you something to look forward to and help keep you motivated." 

Professor Gillon suggests structuring your revision schedule using relaxation time to break up sessions or topics into bite sized chunks with the relaxation time between aiding retention of information. 

"Finding ways to relax can really help you achieve your goals and prevent you panicking. The human mind needs time to assimilate all the information being taken in during revision and study. Relaxation gives your brain time to do this important job and gives you the best possible chance of retaining the information for the exams. Different people find different things relaxing, but taking some exercise, doing a hobby, yoga, tai chi, or relaxation techniques such as Body Scan are tried and tested methods for relaxing and reducing stress." 

So what can parents and teachers do to help during this stressful time?

Parents can sometimes be just as stressed as their children about exams. They have often invested time in helping their children over the years and understandably want them to achieve their best." Professor Gillon suggests that parents can assist by providing healthy food, offering regular drinks and gently reminding children to take scheduled rest periods or to keep on track with their revision schedule. "Parents may also benefit from relaxation techniques and activities, which can help them deal with the tensions created by looming exams. Often understanding the pressures our children may be under and giving them some leeway at this stressful time can help keep the mood of the house stable."

"I'd like to see teachers helping pupils relax as part of their exam preparation. We learn better when we're relaxed as our minds are open to take in information and retain it. Study skills and planning are vital, but for maximum wellbeing and resilience, relaxation is imperative too."

Professor Ewan Gillon will be presenting a FREE webinar 'Building Resilience to Exam Stress' on Thursday 21 April, 7-8pm. Places are limited. Reserve your seat now at