Sunday, 23 December 2018

The gift of relaxation

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 Buddhist practices.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Learning lessons from top sports people

Those of the less sporty among us, may have distant memories of being made to run four laps around the school sports field as a warm up before embarking on the sport for the day. It's not surprising then that these memories may have been pushed to the backs of our minds - sport isn't for us and we are glad we no longer have to do it. But wait, are we throwing the baby out with the bath water? Can we learn lessons from sport that are useful in our lives more generally, and if so what are they?

While many people struggle to manage pressure in their everyday lives and perhaps fail to achieve their goals as a result of this, elite sports people manage to achieve their goals despite the pressure. So what can we 'steal' from the way top athletes do things that we can use in our own lives?

Five lessons we can learn from top sports people

1. Keep motivated

if you have one specific goal to achieve, set yourself a range of related goals to keep you motivated along the way and reward yourself when you achieve each goal.

2. Follow a routine

Work out what steps you need to follow to achieve your goal. Plan a routine and follow it. Being successful takes a great deal of commitment so be prepared to work hard.

3. Believe in your ability

To succeed in something, you need to believe you are capable of doing it. Think about whether you truly believe in what you are trying to achieve. If not, think why not and challenge your thought processes. Replace your unhelpful thoughts "I can't do this" with helpful and realistic ones "I am going to find this very hard, but there is nothing suggesting I can't do this".

4. Manage your anxiety and adopt helpful behaviours

When you challenge yourself, you are likely to feel anxious and fearful. Learn to manage these feelings and you will be able to achieve more.

5. Look after yourself

Look after yourself physically and mentally to ensure you are in the best frame of mind to achieve your goals. Don't overload your schedule and plan in time to relax.

And don't forget that keeping fit and healthy is vital for a happy, healthy life. Your body is designed to move. There are so many things you can do to keep mentally and physically fit. Find something that works for you and stick to it!

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Quick ways to keep your family connected over the festive period

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – but for many of us, it’s also the time when we do lots of things for other people and can easily lose sight of what is good for us and our closest friends and family. As we are pulled in different directions and have many things to do, what is meant to be valuable family time can get railroaded, leaving us feeling stressed and short tempered.

So what can we do to avoid Christmas burnout and ensure that we spend quality time with our nearest and dearest over the festive period?

Set time aside to share

At no other point in the year is a calendar more important than December. There are places to be, things to do and the demands on our time are all encompassing. Make sure that you schedule in quality time with your family. We don’t mean sat in front of the TV (though you can schedule time in for that too!). We really mean being mindful about how you spend your time together. Even in very close families, Christmas will mean different things for each individual, especially when we often have different interests and priorities. Set time aside to sit down together and share your thoughts and opinions. Opening up to others is the way to create a deeper connection.

Focus on presence – not presents

We all know what it’s like to be somewhere though our mind is actually a million miles away. There are so many things to fit in and only a short window of time. In an ideal world, we’d be focused at every single event, but the reality is that we can't do it all. Give yourself a break and choose one or two events during the season when you will be truly present. Turn off your phone, soak up the atmosphere, and take in the joy on your family’s faces. Laugh. Sing. Breathe. Take the opportunity to step off the treadmill and find the true meaning of Christmas in just a couple of Christmas events. Your family will thank you for it.

Make memories

It won’t take long for your family to forget what you have bought them for Christmas, but they won’t forget how you make them feel. The time you spend with people and the thought that you put into your gifts is not measured in money – or at least it shouldn’t be. Christmas is a time for making memories that will last for years to come. Often our Christmas as adults is shaped by what we ourselves have experienced as a child – and the same will be true of your family. Time and time again, research has shown that experiences bring more happiness to people than things do, so spend time thinking about what you can do for – and with – your family, rather than what you can buy them. Share some of your old family traditions with your own children and don’t be afraid to start some new ones too. Sharing experiences are key to keeping connected.

All families thrive on routine – they’re the patterns we all fall into during our usual day to day life. It doesn’t take much for these patterns to become compromised – especially over the holidays, so it’s important that we focus as much on the things we need to do to make sure our loved ones continue to feel loved and respected as we do on the need for everyone to have a ‘perfect Christmas’.

You can read more about family dynamics and how to create a positive environment in this Psychology Today article.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Slave to the screen? Recognise the tell-tale signs and know what you can do about it

It's World Television Day today… There’s no denying the fact that we all spend far more time staring at screens (and not just tv screens, but desktops, tablets, phones, and laptops too) than we ever used to; or that our children are growing up more reliant on screens than we would want them to be. It’s not just at home, either. Much of their school work is now completed online too.

Technology does have its benefits. However, as individuals we all need to take care than we are not only aware of exactly how much time we spend interacting with screens, but also take the necessary steps to minimise any effects that excessive screen time has on our health, and our emotional wellbeing.

There are definitely ways to protect our brain from too much stimulation - including spending more time outside and establishing a healthy sleep routine - this article from Psychology Today looks at them in more detail.

But before we do that, it’s important that we are able to recognise the tell-tale signs that indicate when our screen time is becoming excessive. Common signs of overstimulation include:

  • Irritability
  • Inability to relax
  • Lack of organisation
  • Reluctance to empathise with others

There’s a name for regular over-use of devices – it’s called electronic screen syndrome. This article from Psychology Today takes a closer look at the effects that regular over use of devices can have on the brain.

Overcoming over-reliance

There’s only one way to overcome the effects of too much screen-time and that’s by cutting down the amount of time you spend on devices. It’s hard to self-regulate. It’s about putting aside a certain amount of time each day when you will turn away from your screen and give your brain a rest from the stimulation. Set a time limit – and stick to it. It will be hard at first, but distraction helps to break the habits you have. Make sure that you make plans for what you will do with the time when you’re not looking at a screen.

These screen restrictions apply to our children too. As parents, we may not notice the positive effect of restricting screen time right away, but over time it will result in a variety of health and wellbeing benefits (such as better sleep habits, improved performance at school and increased desire to interact with friends and family). Remember, we cannot expect our children to do this for themselves, it is our job to guide and help them to develop a better understanding of the benefits of less screen time.

There are many things we can do that will help. Here’s a few tips:

  • Remove the TV and devices from your child's bedroom. 
  • Don’t have the TV on watching during meals or homework. 
  • Don’t eat while watching TV or using a computer. 
  • Turn on the radio for background noise. 
  • Make sure the device-free times are observed by all the family 

For more information about how to help your kids break away from the box, have a look at this previous blog post:

Friday, 9 November 2018

Ways you can support a child who is being bullied

Times have changed. Years ago, while bullying existed in our schools and open spaces, home remained a safe-haven where children and young people could retreat and feel safe. Today, however, our children are not afforded this luxury. Bullying often continues long after the school day has ended and the challenge for parents is how we can best support our children when they’re going through a difficult time.

Give them your time

Having a non-judgmental, calm ear that they can talk to, whenever they feel the need, is the most important thing you can offer to your child when they’re being bullied. As a parent, your instinct will be to sort the problem out, to fix things. That is not what your child needs at first. Make it clear that you are there for them and encourage them to speak to you every day. Reassure them. Let them know that whatever they are going through is not their fault and that together you will sort it out.

Give them an outlet

When you have been bullied, you start to feel as though everyone is against you. It is hard for you to recognise happiness and joy in your life. Encourage your child to write things down. By asking them to keep a diary, you are helping to serve two purposes. Firstly, it becomes easier to keep track off the bullying incidences and monitor for escalation. But more importantly, it can really help us show our children that even in difficult times, goodness exists. Let your child know that the diary is for their eyes only, but do take the time to talk to them about what they have written and to talk about their experiences, good and bad.

Give them some coping strategies

Helping to build your child’s confidence by giving them tools and techniques they can use when they’re being bullied can really help them take some control back. This is important to prevent them from feeling powerless. Talk to your child about where to go and who to speak to when they are feeling vulnerable and need to escape. Help them to identify five people who they can go to if they are worried or concerned – this list should include people both inside and outside school.

Give them some assertiveness tips

When you are being bullied your self-confidence takes a real battering. Unfortunately this can sometimes leave you more vulnerable and an ‘easy target’ for bullies. Coaching your child – through role playing – to be more assertive, will really help them to build back their confidence. Show them the difference that positive body language and eye contact can make when dealing with others and help them appreciate when to stand tall and when to remove themselves from a situation.

Give them some ‘off’ time

Nowadays, we live our lives online. Cyber bullying is becoming increasingly common among teenagers and it’s especially hard for people to escape. As parents, we need to take control. Make sure your child has some ‘off’ time at home to switch off, particularly around bedtime. Work with your child to monitor their social media and take screen shots of anything that you deem inappropriate.

Remember – and always remind your child - that bullying can happen to anyone, at any time. It is not a reflection of the person. If you’re worried that your child is suffering, this previous blog on bullying will help you spot the signs:

Monday, 29 October 2018

Building lasting friendships

We find as we get older that friends will come and go throughout the various stages of our lives. Friendships are important for many reasons, not least the fact that they help us define our priorities and steer our thoughts and behaviours in a positive direction. Strong friendships can be formed in many different situations - we've completed a list that will help you build friendships that will last the course of time. 

Be yourself 

It can be easy to take on a more outgoing personality in order to try to make friends but people can see through this facade. The best way to make true friends is to be yourself so that the friends you make will like you for the right reasons. The easiest way to achieve this can be to meet over a shared activity as the pressure is off and your shared interest will make it easier to forge a friendship without trying too hard.

Give and take

Giving and taking is the key to friendships that stand the test of time. The best friendships will allow you to ask for help when you need it and feel able to offer support when your friend is in need. Try to look at things through your friend's eyes from time to time. If they're struggling - ask if you can lend a hand. They may not take you up on your offer, but that doesn't mean they won't appreciate it. We all look for similar traits in friends - kindness, dependability, loyalty. Be the kind of friend you seek!

Make time for your friendship

Depending on your stage of life, it can be hard to find time to nurture your friendships. Don't take your friends for granted. Make the effort with each of your friends so they know you're still there.

Nobody likes to feel used, so don't ignore your friends until you want something from them. There are so many ways to keep in touch with people - social media, texting, emails, phone calls. There really is no excuse for radio silence. Keeping the lines of communication open lets your friends know that you are thinking about them. It's ok to ask for favours, but not all the time!

Stay positive 

Our friends are there for us when we're feeling down - they help us get back up and carry on. Try not to moan to your friends but rather look at problems together and how you can overcome them. Friends can be great sounding boards and can help guide us in the right direction -  let them lift you up!

Be honest 

Sometimes friendships can waver due to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Be upfront with your friends and try to sort out disagreements before they hurt your friendship. Don't try and second guess what is going on or what they may be thinking. Ask them and remember to be kind! If your friend is hurt, try to understand why. Sorting things out straight away can save things getting out of control.

Have fun with your friends! 

Lasting friendships are built on shared interests and experiences. Spend time together, share experiences and have a laugh together! This is what will stand the test of time.

For some tips on how to find new friends in a digital world, read our previous blog post.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Embracing your vulnerability as a strength

Why is it that we all strive to be seen as strong? We hear it all the time: ‘He’s a strong man’; ‘She’s a strong woman’ – but just what is it about the human psyche that makes us regard our vulnerabilities as weaknesses?

More generally, vulnerability is usually associated with uncertainty, which other people see as risky, and this leaves us feeling emotionally exposed. That’s why very often we mask our true feelings, or soldier on without seeking the support or guidance that we need to develop to our full potential.

But perhaps now is the time to break the fa├žade and show others our more vulnerable side? The more we talk about the issues we face, the more it becomes socially acceptable to show our authentic, vulnerable self. This will make it much easier for us to get the support we need.

This has certainly been the case in the world of sport. A number of top sports people have spoken out recently about the struggles they have faced in the sporting world. While just as vulnerable as everyone else, we wrongly assume our sporting heroes to be invincible. And this can lead people to feel shameful about how they are feeling and prevent them from seeking help. However things are starting to change as more people speak out. 

Whatever walk of life we're in - whether it be sport or something else, when we can't admit how we're feeling to others, we isolate ourselves and make it harder for ourselves to get the help we need. 

As more people speak about the struggles they face, the more we understand that nobody is without their struggles and the easier it is for them and others to seek help. 

So, where do we start? Here’s our advice for dealing with some social situations where we shouldn’t be afraid to let our guard down:

When you are wrong

We get it, it’s super hard to admit you've messed up. However, we’re all human and mistakes are inevitable from time to time – you can’t bake a cake without breaking a few eggs, after all. We may strive for perfection but in getting there we need to take advantage of the many opportunities we’ll have to improve – and how do we learn if not through mistakes? By admitting we’re wrong from time to time, we leave ourselves open to the learning opportunities that go hand in hand with mistakes.

When you don’t know all the facts

Why is it that we would rather make assumptions or gloss over our lack of knowledge than admit we don’t know it all? Admitting to others that we don’t know it all is uncomfortable – but it’s also liberating. Now’s the time to admit when our knowledge is lacking and let others fill the gap.

When you’ve hurt someone

No-one likes to upset others – and it’s certainly not something the vast majority of us would do intentionally – but admitting to ourselves and to others when our actions have caused upset is one of the hardest things we can do. The good news is that a well-placed ‘sorry’ goes a long way to not only mend broken bridges, but also strengthen relationships. Saying sorry for your actions is a strong thing to do!

When you are thankful

For one reason or another, we use our gratitude sparingly. It’s as if by thanking others we are demonstrating a ‘need’ for their guidance and support – we’re admitting that we are unable to do it by ourselves. The reality is that gratitude actually improves our psychological health – it’s scientifically proven – as well as making us more aware of our interdependence on others and our place within the universe. You can read more about the benefits of gratitude in this Psychology Today article.

There’s no denying that allowing our vulnerabilities to be on show takes courage. This other Psychology Today article looks at how we can – and should - embrace the power of vulnerability and use it to help us build more meaningful connections with others. Maybe it’s time that we all started to acknowledge our vulnerability as the agent of empowerment it could – and should – be.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The benefits of keeping a journal

With so much reliance on social media these days, it’s easy to lose sight of the benefits of the written word. And while blogging is growing in popularity – enabling people to share their deepest thoughts and ideas with the public at large – the self-awareness benefits of journaling could be in danger of being lost.

Keeping a journal has long been recognised as a way of building a greater self-awareness and provides an excellent tool to help us practise gratitude, both of which contribute to us leading happy, fulfilling lives.

The daily ritual of keeping a journal helps us maintain a mindful focus on the things we experience every day and encourages us to see our own lives through a different lens – enabling us to gain perspective in our otherwise hectic, busy lives.

Daily writing in a journal – even just for a few minutes – really helps us concentrate on what’s important to us. It’s therapeutic, enabling us to appreciate the positives in the everyday and supporting us as we analyse and make sense of the negative issues and events that we all encounter from time to time.

In much the same way that blogging has been shown to have positive benefits for teenagers, journaling has been found to be a great tool for improving our self-esteem and easing social anxiety. They key is to use your journal as a way of gaining a deeper understanding of your emotions and to develop a greater self-awareness. You can find out more about how negative thought patterns can cause us to feel ‘stuck’ – and what journaling can do to help us in this Psychology Today article.

When it comes to keeping a journal, there really is no right or wrong way or a one size fits all, but you may find the following guidelines helpful:

Keep your journal for yourself – just like your secret diary when you were a teenager!

If you suspect that you will be sharing what you write with others somewhere down the line, your writing won’t reflect your true self, just those aspects that you feel able to share with others. Feel free to discuss the topics that you write about with your family and friends, as you wish, but keep the written journal for your eyes only

Place some value on your journal

Set regular time aside for your writing and find yourself a private space, away from everyday distractions, so you can give it your full attention. Lots of people choose to write at the start or end of the day, but whatever works best for you, so long as it’s regular enough to become part of your daily routine.

Set some time aside to reflect on what you have written

Look beyond the words to identify your thought patterns – especially where you have a tendency to be overly negative – as this will help you put things into perspective in future. Only by reflecting on what we have written, can we shift our negative mindsets to a more positive outlook.

Friday, 5 October 2018

How to overcome loneliness

A recent study found that young people (age 16-24) feel loneliness more intensely and more often than any other age group. This might be surprising to many, as we often think of loneliness happening to us in old age. However, it has been suggested that the reason why this age group feels loneliness so intensely is because they are still finding out who they are.

More generally loneliness can come about for a number of reasons – the death of somebody significant; moving to a new location and being separated from friends and family; divorce; or it can be a symptom of an underlying issue such as depression or low self-esteem. 

Loneliness is a feeling of being alone in the world, irrespective of who’s around you. You may feel sad, misunderstood, out of the loop, and disconnected from the world. It is a state of mind which often leads people to crave company. The problem is that the mindset of loneliness often makes it harder to engage with others.

Loneliness has been linked to a number of negative mental effects including depression, increased stress levels, poor decision making, alcohol and drug use, and antisocial behaviour as well as a range of physical health issues.

However there are some things you can do to prevent loneliness.

The feeling of loneliness can be seen as an important indicator that we need to change something. Look at your life and think about what doesn’t work. Are you spending too much time indoors, do you belong to any groups, do you have a regular routine, do you make time for friends and family, do you spend too much time working, etc.

The next step is to make some changes. Often getting involved in a group with a common goal can be a great way to bond with others without being too daunting. It’s important to create some meaningful relationships in your life because ultimately, sharing meaningful experiences with others helps us feel more connected to the world, less lonely, happier and more positive about life.

How to ‘re-find’ yourself once your children leave home

It’s October. The frivolity of Fresher’s week is over and college students all across Scotland are knuckling down to their studies. If you’re the parent of a young person who has just set off on their university adventure you may well be feeling a range of emotions, as the reality of their departure sets in.

It’s common to feel at a bit of a loss when you eventually get the house back to yourself. Your home – once a noisy hub of activity – can seem very quiet and still once your children have moved on; and the relief and excitement of getting your space back can soon be replaced with boredom, loneliness and sadness if you don’t find meaningful ways of occupying your time.

Empty nest syndrome is often described as a feeling of grief that people experience once their children have left home. Parents who have spent every waking hour thinking about the needs of others can feel very vulnerable and worthless after that role is taken away from them and this can sometimes lead to relationship problems and confusion about what to do next – and who to do it with!

If you are in a relationship, the top priority once the kids have left home is to reconnect with your partner. It’s easy for our interests and goals to have shifted during the time it takes to raise a family, and relationship support organisation Relate suggests you start with a light-hearted quiz to confirm that you still have a good understanding of each other’s needs and to check if your hopes and dreams for the future remain aligned. Read more.

For more tips of how to keep the spark alive in your relationship, have a look at our previous blog post.

The next priority is to find something worthwhile to do with the time that you had previously dedicated to looking after your kids. It’s a great opportunity to embark on a journey of rediscovery and to seek new pastimes that speak to your soul and make you feel fulfilled.

Finding new things to occupy your time and energy is something you can do with or without your partner. Together, it’s about finding a new, shared interest; but new individual hobbies and activities will also have a positive effect on your home life and relationships. Learning new skills for yourself and uncovering new passions and interests will make you happier and give you a fresh topic of conversation within your relationship.

The good news is there is no shortage to the range of opportunities and activities that are out there for you can embark on, without it taking too much effort (or money). Here are just a few suggestions to get you thinking:

Give time

Volunteering your time to help others is a good way of recreating a sense of purpose and usefulness when your home circumstanes change. As well as sharing the experience you already have, volunteering also offers opportunities to learn new skills, many offer training too.

Health matters

Now is your time – and that means it’s the perfect opportunity to start that healthy eating plan you’ve been talking about for years, and look at an exercise plan to complement your current regime and living habits too.

Get out and about

If you've always dreamed of travelling the world – now is the time to do it. Take that trip. Visiting new places broadens the mind and gives you a sense of the wider universe which is great for your mental well-being. It's also great for re-bonding experiences with your partner.

Cook and eat

When you really think about it, cooking for a family – and kids in particular – is a great lesson in restraint. Picking meals that everyone likes and choosing the ingredients that everyone likes. Now is the time to expand your cooking skills and try new things.


When your kids are away at college or university, there’s a temptation to keep the house just as it was when they left it. This doesn’t help you to move forward though. Use this time to declutter your home – and your life. We’ve got some great tips on decluttering in our previous blog posts.

As with any new phase in life, it can take time to adjust when your kids leave home. Remember, after so long looking after other people, it’s time to focus on you and give yourself what you need to nourish your body and soul. That can only benefit the rest of your family too…

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Practising thankfulness - why it can help you achieve a more positive life

It’s all too easy to get bogged down in the hustle and bustle of daily life and lose sight of what’s important in our quest to get through each day. With World Gratitude Day just around the corner on 21st September, we take a look at how we can practise thankfulness and the benefits of doing do.

Every little helps

Being thankful is not just about celebrating the big successes. Gratitude is about recognising and appreciating even the smallest of things in life – like nature and changes in the weather. Throughout the day, take the time to acknowledge the little milestones and victories that you experience.

Find gratitude in your challenges

Thankfulness can also be found in the challenges we have faced; they have after all shaped who we are today. Even in the darkest of situations there is usually something we can be grateful for. Spending some time to review negative or difficult situations from the past can help us identify the elements of our lives that we are truly thankful for.

Be mindful

Spend just five minutes of each day living in the present. Find a quiet spot and think about the things in your day that you are grateful for. Consider each in turn and examine what it is about them that make you happy and why you are thankful to have them in your life. Getting into the habit of doing this every day, helps to 'rewire' the mind to focus on the small elements of life that make us fulfilled and whole, rather than constantly focusing on the big picture.

Give some of yourself to others

Many people find true gratitude in their own lives when they give their time freely to others. Volunteering in the local community can help keep us centred and make us more thankful for what we have ourselves. Helping others really does help us just as much.

Start a journal

Some people find it beneficial to start a gratitude journal, a place to jot down positive thoughts and images of the small things we hold dear in our lives. By writing things down or depicting them through imagery, we make them real and give them a value. Keeping a journal of all that we are thankful for helps us to focus our attention on the things that are important to us.

Practising gratitude is a way of reprogramming the brain to notice happiness in the everyday, rather than the constant quest for bigger and better. Studies show that it can take as little as eight weeks to change our habits to effect positive impact on our mindset. The brain is a wonderful tool and  deliberately changing its thought patterns can help us go through life with greater empathy and a deeper happiness.

Start now - think of one thing that you are grateful for and think about why this is. Does it make your life easier, make you feel a particular way, give you hope for the future, help you feel more in control? There are lots of reason why you may be grateful for something/someone in your life.

For five more ways to practice gratitude in your everyday life, have a look at this blog post from Psychology Today and this article from the Huffington Post.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

How to spot the signs of stress in children

Much as we don’t like to think about it, stress can affect all of us – young and old. In today’s modern society, the pressures that we place on our children can cause them to feel overwhelmed and stressed, even though they may not know the words to accurately label their emotions.

A little bit of stress is natural and can actually act as a driver to boost performance and help us build resilience. However, in young people stress can be a scary emotion to work through and the way they learn to deal with the stresses they face can affect the way they think, act and feel long into adulthood.

In younger children, learning to form relationships with others and becoming less reliant on our parents can cause anxiety; for school-aged children the constant hamster wheel of school work and extra-curricular activities leaves little time for relaxation, which can be tiring and stressful.

Alongside these pressures, we as parents are often under a fair amount of stress ourselves which, like it or not, our children can pick up on. Issues such as hearing us talk about troubles at work, worrying about a relative's illness, or financial matters can all weight heavy on young people's minds.

A child’s own ability to cope with stressful situations builds as they grow older, but it’s important that we're able to recognise the signs of stress when they're younger, so as to help them navigate through their feelings and work with them to develop appropriate coping mechanisms. Sometimes children may not realise that what they are feeling is stress. However, often they will present physical symptoms which may include some of the following.

Changes in eating habits

Eating more or less than usual, especially the wrong types of food.

Headache and stomach pains

The odd headache or tummy upset should not be cause for concern, but reoccurrence may be a sign of stress.

Nightmares or waking in the night 

Sleep disturbances are a sign that the brain is busy, children may also start to bed wet or require night-time toilet trips.

Stressed children may find it hard to control their emotions, may display aggressive or stubborn behaviour, or may even start to withdraw from family / school activities that they’ve previously enjoyed. You can find out more about the signs and symptoms of childhood stress in this article by the American Psychological Association.

As parents it can be upsetting to see our child going through a difficult period in their lives, especially when they’re finding it hard to engage with us about it. That said, there is much we can do to provide the safe and secure environment needed to help them process their stress and build the resilience they need to cope.

Keep to your usual routines

Young people under stress find routines comforting. Sticking to your usual routines can have a calming effect, even if the child chooses not to engage with the activities on offer.

Do as I do

Children will mimic the behaviour of the adults they see around them and your child will look to you to replicate how you yourself deal with stress. Try to set a positive role model and handle your own stress in positive, healthy ways.

Make them feel wanted

Positive self-esteem helps children to combat feelings of stress, so if you feel your child is struggling, do what you can to build them up and praise them. Encourage them to take part in activities that they enjoy and are good at to help build up positive emotions to combat the stress.

More info about how to spot and deal with stress and anxiety in children >

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

How to help your child develop resilience to overcome adversity

As adults we become well versed in dealing with the trials and tribulations that life throws our way. However, try as we might to shield them, as parents there is little we can do to protect our children from life’s ups and downs. We can however do a great deal to help prepare them and to aid their development of resilience - a quality they’ll need in order to lead a fulfilling and happy life.

Raising resilient children is about providing them with the tools they'll need to respond to the issues, problems and challenges they'll face throughout their childhood and into adolescence.

With news of mental health issues in children seemingly on the rise, anything we can do to help them deal with stress and promote a positive mental outlook – even when things don’t go their way – can only help them as they navigate their way into adulthood.

So what do resilient children look like?

They’re the ones who seem to bounce back when things don’t go to plan. They’re the children who appear to be able to manage their emotions when faced with challenges and don’t let it put them off reaching for their goals. As this article from Psychology Today points out though, resilience is more than outward appearances, it’s more to do with a mindset - an understanding that to fail, is to grow. It’s quite a sophisticated outlook, so what exactly can we do to ensure our own children build the resilience they need to succeed in life?

There are a number of things we can do as parents that demonstrate what resilience looks like and encourage the resilient behaviours in our children. We have to be resilient in order to build resilience in others.

Use positive self-talk

Resilient people talk positively. They use phrases such as ‘you can do this’ and ‘you’ve got this’, rather than focus on what went wrong or what you can’t do. Look at how you yourself deal with adversity and about the language you use when faced with unexpected issues. Children will mimic the behaviours seen at home, so use positive language and remain hopeful, rather than dwell on the negatives.

Know how to manage their emotions

Resilient people are not afraid of showing their feelings or articulating them to others. It is by owning our feelings that we can work through them and determine a positive course of action to address issues we face. It’s fine to be upset, or angry, or frustrated – but use these to propel you forward, rather than hold you back. Encourage your children to talk about how they feel so that they understand how to identify and manage their emotions.

Are not afraid of change

Resilient people are not afraid to work around their plans when faced with unexpected events or interruptions. They are eager to try new things and – while they may appear disorganised – they are just happy using a trial and error approach to their daily life. Schedules are great – especially in today’s busy world – but we do have a tendency to over plan our lives and this does nothing to prepare our children for what to do if the unexpected happens.

What we need to remind ourselves is that no one – child or adult – can be expected to be resilient all of the time. That’s unrealistic. So if your child breaks down when they don’t make the football team or a favourite toy breaks, that’s a natural reaction. What sets resilient children apart is their ability to process these events and successfully move forward.

You can find more ways to develop resilience to help beat stress by visiting Mind's website.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

How to manage the first week back at school

It seems to have gone flying by, but the summer holidays are drawing to a close and the kids are going back to school. Indeed some children have already gone back. So what can you do to make the transition easier for them?

Early to bed, early to rise

Late nights may have been the order of the day in the holidays, but getting back to routine again can come as a real shock to the system. While children may have had the opportunity to get up late in the holidays to make up for late nights, the school day demands an early start and a clear head. Lack of sleep leads to irritability, non-compliance and hyper-sensitivity so it's important to get them back into their usual sleep pattern and routine as soon as possible. If your kids are struggling to go to bed at night after going back to school, get them outside and using their energy so they're tired and more likely to sleep earlier. The sooner you are back into the routine the easier it will be for them.

Enable and empower your children to do things for themselves

Holidays are usually a highly organised affair. All we expect of our children is for them to turn up and have fun! Sometimes, getting back to school and taking more responsibility for themselves again can be quite a transition. Giving them back more control over their own lives before and during their first week back can really help them adjust. Ask them to choose their own clothes and sort out their own laundry as well as helping with other household chores so that they are prepared to take over responsibility for themselves at school too. Enablement and empowerment are two life skills that should be encouraged and reinforced even during the holidays.

Keep communicating

We appreciate that the last thing your child wants to talk about when they are away from school is school. However keeping the lines of communication open during the holidays and first few weeks back can really help to prepare your child mentally for the weeks ahead and gives them an opportunity to discuss any concerns or anxieties they may have. Try and support your children's friendships too by arranging meet ups with friends outside of school.

The end of the summer can be a stressful time for children - and their parents - but for different reasons. For parents it's the return to the daily juggle between school, home and work and sometimes, in our eagerness to 'get back to normal', we can fail to spot the signs of anxiety or nervousness in our kids. Make sure they retain some of the 'freedom' of the holidays and give them some space to readapt to their school routine while also supporting them to explore and express their feelings.

And if you're getting your child ready to start school for the first time, Pacey, the professional association for childhood and early years, has come up with some handy factsheets. 

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Book recommendations for Book Lover's Day

Every day our practitioners work with people dealing with anxiety, stress, anger and phobias; issues with their families, children or young people; relationship difficulties; and many other issues and problems.

We asked them for their recommendations for books that may be helpful when dealing with such issues.

Here are their suggestions. We will update with more books throughout the day!

Books on anxiety, stress and phobias

The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions, 1990, by Paul D MacLean
(Recommended by R. Victor Morton, Senior CBT Psychotherapist)

The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety: A Guide to Breaking Free From Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, 2016, by John P. Forsyth and Georg H. Eifert
(Recommended by Tasim Martin-Berg, Consultant Counselling Psychologist)

Full Catastrophe Living, Revised Edition: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation, 2013, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
(Recommended by Kate Boyd, Counsellor and Hypnotherapist)

The Mindful Way Workbook: An 8-Week Program to Free Yourself from Depression and Emotional Distress, 2014, by John Teasdale, J. Mark G. Williams, and Zindel Seagull
(Recommended by Rebecca Knowles, Psychological Therapist)

Books on relationship issues

Hold Me Tight: Your Guide to the Most Successful Approach to Building Loving Relationships, 2011, by Dr Sue Johnson
(Recommended by both Roger Kostick, Psychologist Therapist and Senior Couples Therapist and Rebecca Knowles, Psychological Therapist)

Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships, 2016, by Eric Berne
(Recommended by Sharon Laing, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist)

The Emotionally Abusive Relationship: How to Stop Being Abused and How to Stop Abusing, 2003, by Beverly Engel
(Recommended by Sharon Laing, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist)

Come as You Are: the surprising new science that will transform your sex life, 2015, by Dr Emily Nagoski
(Recommended by Tasim Martin-Berg, Consultant Counselling Psychologist)

Books on children and young people issues

The Thriving Adolescent: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Positive Psychology to Help Teens Manage Emotions, Achieve Goals, and Build Connection, 2015, by Louise Hayes
(Recommended by Tasim Martin-Berg, Consultant Counselling Psychologist)

Raising Children Compassionately; Parenting the Non-violent Communication Way, 2004,
by Marshall B. Rosenberg
(Recommended by Tasim Martin-Berg, Consultant Counselling Psychologist)

Anh's Anger, 2009, by Gail Silver
(Recommended by Kate Boyd, Counsellor and Hypnotherapist)

The Hate U Give, 2017, by Angie Thomas (This is a fiction book)
(Recommended by Tasim Martin-Berg, Consultant Counselling Psychologist)

General books

Nonviolent Communication -A Language of Life (Nonviolent Communication Guides), 2015,
by Marshall B. Rosenberg
(Recommended by Tasim Martin-Berg, Consultant Counselling Psychologist)

Why Love Matters: How affection shapes a baby's brain, 2014, by Sue Gerhardt
(Recommended by Maisie Hennessey, Senior Counsellor / Psychotherapist)

Black Box Thinking: Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance, 2016, by Matthew Syed  (A good book for learning constructively from mistakes!)
(Recommended by Maisie Hennessey, Senior Counsellor / Psychotherapist)

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, 2007, Pema Chodron
(Recommended by Kate Boyd, Counsellor and Hypnotherapist)

Beyond Anger: A Guide for Men: How to Free Yourself from the Grip of Anger and Get More Out of Life,  2000, by Thomas J. Harbin PhD
(Recommended by Sharon Laing, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist)

I'm Ok, You're Ok, 2012, by Thomas A. Harris (Recommended by Sharon Laing, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist)

The Compassionate Mind (Compassion Focused Therapy), 2010, by Paul Gilbert(Recommended by Paul Kirsten, Senior Psychological Therapist)

The Compassionate Mind Workbook: A step-by-step guide to developing your compassionate self, 2016, by Chris Irons and Elaine Beaumont
(Recommended by Paul Kirsten, Senior Psychological Therapist)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, 2013, by Susan Cain
(Recommended by Paul Kirsten, Senior Psychological Therapist)

Paul Kirsten also recommends the 'overcoming series'.

What Do You Say After You Say Hello, 1975,by Eric Berne
(Recommended by Kate Boyd, Counsellor and Hypnotherapist)

We hope you enjoy selecting and reading books from this list. Do let us know if you enjoy them!

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Forgiveness - steps to forgiveness

Forgiveness is about putting aside old differences, moving beyond past grievances and starting afresh.

Psychologist Bob Enright pioneered the study of forgiveness. He believes that true forgiveness is the offering of empathy, compassion and understanding (towards the person who has hurt you).

Research has shown that forgiveness is linked to positive outcomes such as reduced anxiety and depression. Holding on to feelings of anger and resentment can be stressful and when we are able to let this go, our muscles relax, anxiety levels decrease, and we have more energy to focus on the more positive aspects of our lives. Forgiveness can be especially relevant in relationships, where things like betrayal and resentment can often occur.

Psychologists have developed a 20-step system to move people through the phases of forgiveness, however there are also self-directed steps that can be taken to get there:

1. Write it down

Let it all out. Why are you upset and who are you upset with? Get all your negative emotions down on paper and try to pin-point exactly what it is that you can't forgive.

2. Put yourself in the other person's shoes

Practising empathy can be very healing. Have a think about potential reasons for this person acting in the way they did and you may even find yourself feeling compassionate towards them.

3. Wish them well

This part takes a great deal of strength. Visualise a gift that you could offer to the person that has wronged you and let go of any hurtful feelings that may still be there. If you feel ready, extending kindness and goodwill in person towards them is a huge step towards forgiveness. If not, wishing them well - even in your head - can still be beneficial.

4. Remember that you deserve happiness

Forgiveness is often a two-way street and sometimes we can place a level of blame on ourselves, as well as dragging around anger and sadness. Remember, everyone deserves happiness. Be kind to yourself and show yourself the same forgiveness that you would like to be able to show another.

How to practise forgiveness

It's International Forgiveness Day today, so we wanted to take a look at the ways in which we can practise forgiveness and the benefits that this can have on our overall wellbeing and happiness.

Before we do that, let’s spend a moment to think about what happens when we don’t forgive. Like most things in life, if not cleaned up and put away, our thoughts and memories can fester and tarnish. If we don’t deal with things that are bothering us – if we don’t practise forgiveness – the only person who suffers is ourself. We become bitter and self-absorbed, our issues become part of us and this can dampen any enjoyment and happiness we would otherwise feel.

Forgive for yourself, not for others

We may sometimes think that by forgiving another person’s actions we are actually letting them get away with bad behaviour. The truth is, forgiveness is only beneficial to one person – and that is you! When you forgive, you give yourself permission to move on from the events and actions that caused you pain. You free your mind from thinking about it and going over events in your mind. You find peace. Forgiveness provides closure.

Say ‘no’ to negative feelings

Sometimes you need to re-programme your mind to free yourself from negative feelings. Going over and over events in your mind is seldom productive so you need to find a way to process whatever it is that is stopping you from moving forward. There are a number of ways of doing this. The first is by sharing how you feel with the person who you believe has ‘wronged you’. Often once you have expressed something  out loud, it allows your mind to free and you are able to move forward. If this is not possible, the next best thing is to write down how you feel in a letter. You don’t even need to share the letter, once written you can rip it up and burn it if you want - you will still have freed your mind from the burden and be able to move forward with your thinking.

Let go

Have a good deep look at yourself and answer truthfully: how is your life being affected by your inability to forgive? Has it stopped you from living the life you once had? Picture what your life could be like if you were able to process your feelings and forgive? Would you feel lighter, freer, happier, even? We can't change what has happened to us in the past, but what we can do is refuse to be burdened with feelings and emotions that weigh us down. When you make a conscious decision to forgive, you allow yourself to let go and that can only have a positive impact on your life, as well as those around you.

Remember, forgiveness is a process and it does take time. It is too easy to brush over events that have hurt us – file these feelings away and think that all is forgotten. However, it doesn’t do us any good. Although it is hard, we really need to take the time to work through our emotions. Only when we truly forgive others can we start to heal. We owe that to ourselves.

For more information on forgiveness - and how it helps us grow and move forward – read this article from Psychology Today.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

How to build friendships that last

Next week is International Friendship Week and as this article from Psychology Today says – friendship is the best medicine. We find as we get older that friends will come and go throughout the various stages of our life and that are friendships are important for many reasons, not least the fact that they help us define our priorities and steer our thoughts and behaviours in a positive direction.

Another article from Psychology Today outlines 15 reasons why we need solid friendships and how they can help shape our lives and we’ve also compiled a list that will help you build friendships that will last the course of time.

Be yourself

True friends can see through the facade to get to the authentic person that lies beneath. Rather than try and be someone that you're not in order to make friends, concentrate on being true to yourself so that you will attract the right kind of friends that will stick with you no matter what.

Put others first

Lasting friendships are based on give and take. In order to build strong friendships you need to be a good friend yourself. Think about what you can do to be a better friend to others and explore the ways in which you could make their lives easier.

Ask yourself what you look for in a friend

Words such as loyal, kind, understanding, dependable will probably feature. The reality is that the qualities you’re looking for in a friend are the same qualities that they will be looking for too, so try and be the kind of friend you seek.

Spend time together

It’s difficult sometimes to find the time needed to nurture friendships – maybe due to work pressures or stresses at home – it’s easy for us to take friends for granted or neglect them. Like all relationships, friendships take effort, so make sure you carve out time in your schedule to spend with your friends.

Don’t be one of those friends

You know the ones? They only contact us if they want something... Keep the lines of communication open and be available for your friends, all the time, not just when it suits you. It’s fine to call upon our friends for things we need from time to time – and them us – but make sure it’s not all the time!

Keep it positive

We rely on our friends to pick us up when we’re feeling down. They should lift our spirits and guide us to make positive decisions. Try not to burden your friendships with too much negativity or stress. If you are facing challenges do so together, but try and do so from a positive viewpoint.

Honesty is always the best policy

Friendships falter if based on anything less than complete honesty. If misunderstandings arise, tackle them head-on and never let disagreements damage a friendship, try and sort it out. Being open, honest and kind - it's central to building long-lasting friendships.

Have fun!

The friends that laugh together, stay together. Keep your friendships fresh by having fun together. Try new things and visit new places. Connections built on shared experiences are the ones that will stand the test of time.

For some tips on how to find new friends in a digital world, read our previous blog post.