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.