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.