Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Eating your way to sound health

Although it’s well known that our diet can greatly affect our physical health by strengthening our immune system and reducing the risk of diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, it’s equally as important for keeping our mental health, wellbeing and mood in good shape too.

Studies have shown that a poor diet can increase our risk of depression and anxiety. The Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine looked at trials that were undertaken to discover the effects of dietary improvement on symptoms of depression and anxiety and found evidence that mood disorders and depression may be impacted by diet.

Without a nutritious, balanced diet, the body is not only prone to disease, it can also lead to fatigue, lethargy and low mood. What we eat can also determine our weight and if we find ourselves either underweight or overweight, this can in turn affect our self-worth, confidence and social interactions - thus increasing our chances of becoming anxious or depressed.

Foods that can help improve our mental wellbeing

'Five-a-day' has become a much-used phrase in the modern world and encourages us to eat the correct portions of fruit and vegetables every day. But there’s also a wide range of other foods that can be beneficial to our physical and mental health.

Berries

All types of berries are full of fibre and antioxidants that can improve our memory and reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Dark chocolate

Although it should be eaten in moderation, dark chocolate has antioxidants and stimulants that are extremely powerful and help focus our minds, raise concentration levels and lift our mood.

Fish

There’s a reason why fish is known as 'brain food'; it's rich in the fatty acid omega 3, EPA and DHA, which all play an important part in our diet and are fantastic for the brain. DHA produces serotonin in the brain and can help us cope with stress but if our levels of DHA are too low, it can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia and memory loss.

Wholegrains

These wonderful little grains are packed with complex carbohydrates that slowly release glucose into the blood, keeping the brain alert and helping us to concentrate and focus.

Eggs

Not only are eggs high in protein, which helps repair the tissue in our body, they contain choline and B vitamins, which are great for brain development and improving our memory.

Water

By drinking adequate amounts of water daily, we can prevent fatigue, regulate our moods and improve our cognitive skills.

Pumpkin seeds

Rich in zinc, magnesium and vitamin B, pumpkin seeds are great stress busters and can also improve our memory.


When our brains and bodies are in shape, we find that we sleep better and have more energy, our overall mood is lifted and we feel more alert, so it’s vital that we try to enjoy a healthy, balanced diet that will assist both our physical health and mental wellbeing.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Using creativity to help fight depression

When we lead hectic lives and feel the need to live up to the increasing demands of society, it can be easy to neglect our mental wellbeing. Daily pressures and responsibilities can be a major cause for stress, anxiety and depression - but what can we do to step off the metaphorical hamster wheel, re-evaluate and put ourselves first?

We should try and listen to what our inner voice is telling us and recognise the signs that our spirit and mind is longing for enrichment. Often, we put ourselves last and forget that we too need care and attention.

The effects of creativity

Research suggests that creative activities not only improve brain function, but they can reduce anxiety, boost our mood, slow our heart rate and, ultimately, make us feel happier too. When we immerse ourselves in creative exercises, the feel-good chemical, dopamine, is released into the brain, which can greatly improve our sense of wellbeing. Back in 2001, researcher Eric Jensen wrote a book called “Arts with Brain in Mind” which examined the effects of the creative arts on our brain.

As well as helping to improve our wellbeing, creativity can also be used as an outlet to release repressed feelings and thoughts. It can give us the strength to break down personal barriers and take us on a wonderful journey of self-discovery.

Creative activities

There are lots of creative activities that allow us the freedom to express ourselves, taking our mind off our present troubles and building us back up as individuals so that we can re-balance and refocus our mind.

Music

There are several aspects of music that can act as a powerful tool in improving our wellbeing. Not only can the melodies and rhythms alter or compliment our mood, very often the lyrics resonate with us on a level that makes us feel less alone in the world. Sometimes, just knowing that other people have similar feelings or thoughts to us can make us feel more connected.

Be Brain Fit has some interesting information on how music can affect the brain, reduce stress and improve your mood.

Writing

Whether it’s writing poetry, a story or song lyrics, this creative exercise can be extremely therapeutic. By putting our inner thoughts down on paper, we can express ourselves with less vulnerability. We don’t have to create a masterpiece or even show anyone what we have created, but writing can help us feel more liberated and at peace with ourselves.

Drama

Drama is a great way to release and express our emotions. By pretending to be someone else, we can step outside of ourselves and escape niggling thoughts that can lead to us feeling lonely, frustrated or depressed. Through using acting techniques, we can rid ourselves of negative emotions that we might not otherwise release.

Art

There are many forms of art such as painting, drawing, photography or sculpture and each can be restorative on our mental wellbeing. As well as giving us the opportunity to express our creative side and delve into our subconscious minds, art can be a calming pastime that can help us to relax.

The BBC runs an annual event called The Get Creative Festival which encourages wellbeing through creative activities. The nine-day event is a wonderful celebration of the arts, crafts and creativity.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

How to keep the spark alive in your relationship

It’s almost inevitable in long-term relationships that the elusive spark you once had will start to flicker at some point. That initial excitement, feeling of butterflies and insatiable passion you felt in the beginning will begin to fade, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

In order to keep the spark alive in your relationship, it takes a conscious effort from both sides. The pressures of work, money and children can all be contributing factors and we may have fallen into familiar habits that can lead to a lack of romance and intimacy in a relationship.

The good news is, there are many ways we can re-ignite that spark and fall in love all over again. And what better day than National Kissing Day to explore them.

Communication is key


Talking with your partner on a regular basis creates a strong bond and emotional connection. It’s important to express our thoughts and feelings to break down barriers and prevent any resentment from building up over time. Communication also encourages a level of trust that is vital to make a successful relationship.

Personal space


Before we can give all of ourselves emotionally and physically, we must feel confident in ourselves. By allowing each other personal space to enjoy individual activities and social time with friends, we feel more fulfilled and able to give more of ourselves to our partner. When enjoying time apart, it’s important to not check up on each other every five minutes as this can cause feelings of mistrust.

Dress to impress


Living hectic lives can sometimes lead to neglecting our appearance and especially when we’ve been in a long-term relationship, we tend not make as much of an effort as we might have done at the start. Not only will you feel great about yourself when you put on your favourite clothes and pay a visit to the hairdressers or beauty salon, it will likely remind your partner why they were attracted to you in the first place.

Plan surprises


Part of the reason you could find the spark in your relationship fizzling out is because you’ve forgotten how to have fun together. An element of surprise not only shows that your partner is thinking about you and wants to do something special for you, it also opens up an opportunity to enjoy some excitement together. Perhaps book a surprise trip to the theatre or a picnic on the beach – it doesn’t have to be expensive but the time you spend together should be fun and enjoyable.

Appreciate the positives


Over time, especially when we live with our partner, it’s easy to fall into the trap of criticising their bad habits and focusing on their negative traits. Try to be mindful of all the positive traits they have too and those small gestures that often get overlooked. More importantly, remember to compliment them when they’ve achieved something good, tell them you love them regularly and appreciate even the smallest of kind deeds.

Make time for romance


Without romance and love, there is less likely to be much sexual activity between the sheets. Most of us need to feel loved before we jump into bed. Simple acts such as holding hands, kissing, cuddling and just telling your partner that you love them can all help to keep the spark alive.

Share your fantasies


Sex in a long-term relationship can become like everything else: routine and lacking in passion. One way to spice up your sex life is by talking about your fantasies and perhaps trying new things in the bedroom.

Switch off the media


Make sure when you’re spending quality time with your partner, you hide the mobile phones and turn off the computer. You’ll never be able to enjoy your time together if one or both of you are constantly checking your messages and emails. It can also seem disrespectful to the other person and you should want to make them feel that they have your undivided attention.

John Hopkins Medicine looks at various factors that can lead to a stagnant relationship and offers more ways to keep the spark alive.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Fathers feel too

While the mental health problems experienced by mothers tend to be widely recognised and documented, in comparison, little attention has been shown to new fathers. However, since a recent 'radical initiative' introduced at the end of last year by NHS England, men are now being offered support with their mental health if their partners are struggling with their own wellbeing.

When it comes to young fathers, research has shown that they are sometimes more prone to issues with their mental health than older fathers, They are also exposed to negative assumptions and judgements, which can also exist around the idea of the 'young father' with depictions of them in the media as absent or irresponsible. In fact only 10% of non-resident fathers will lose contact with their children over time.

The stress and anxieties that come with being a new parent are not gender specific and it has been estimated that 25% of new fathers will experience depression in the first year. This is not to say that mothers' struggles with mental health are not important, but the level of support that is readily given to men is significantly less, despite an increase in men moving into the role of primary care-giver.

Scientifically speaking, bodily changes such as a decrease in testosterone and an increase in other hormones like prolactin, occur in men a few months before childbirth. These changes are intended to help equip the father with the skills crucial for caring for a newborn, but they can also lead to higher chances of developing clinical depression or mood disorders.

New research has shown that a fathers mental health has a powerful impact on child development, with evidence showing that sensitive and supportive men have children who will develop better social skills and language, regardless of socioeconomic status and other factors. Despite this, research has shown that even though a father's mental health is closely correlated with that of a mother's, only 16% of fathers in Scotland have been asked about it by NHS maternity staff.

Most of us will be aware, through evidence or education, of what biological, psychological, and relationship changes might look like for a new mother. However, less of us will feel knowledgable about what might be going on for new fathers.

This fathers Day, we encourage you to help us bridge this gap and to open your mind to a better understanding of mental health in men, to improve the wellbeing of the whole family by supporting every member.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Coping with post-natal depression - dads get sad too

In order to look after your baby well, it's important to look after yourself too. If you feel that you're struggling with parenthood or feeling depressed, this becomes even more important as depression in fathers can negatively impact on your baby and your partner too. Here are some things you can do yourself to help alleviate the symptoms of post-natal depression in dads:

Talk to your partner, friends and family

Try to speak to the people closest to you and let them know how you are feeling and what they can do to support you.

Don't try to be 'superdad'

Accept offers of help from others and ask your loved ones if they can help look after the baby and do tasks such as housework, cooking and shopping.

Make time for yourself

Try to make time for activities that you find relaxing and enjoyable, such as going for a walk, listening to music or reading a book.

Rest when you can

Although it can be difficult when you're looking after a baby, try to sleep whenever you get the chance and follow good sleeping habits. Getting enough sleep can go a long way to improving your mood.

Exercise regularly

Exercise has been shown to help improve mood in people with mild depression. Try taking your baby out for a short walk in a carrier or pram. It will give your partner a break, get you moving, and help you strengthen your attachment with your baby.

Don't drink alcohol or take drugs

Often people resort to alcohol or drugs to help them cope, but it is more likely to make you feel worse.

Meet other dads

You're not alone. You could join a swimming class or other groups that are just for dads and their babies. Meeting up with other people can really help boost your mood and make your feel more connected.

Join a support group

It can be reassuring to meet other parents that are going through the same situation as you. Talk to your GP or health visitor to find a group near you.

Try creative activities

Express how you're feeling through activities such as writing or drawing. You don't have to show anyone, but it may help to improve your mood.

Bonding with your baby

It's difficult to feel connected to your baby when you're depressed, so engaging in simple activities together can help to build this relationship.





Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Coping with grief and loss

Losing a close family member or friend can be extremely upsetting and can stir a wealth of emotions that you may find difficult to deal with. There are, however, many strategies and supports available for coping with grief and loss that can help you to understand your emotions and make sense of your feelings.

Understanding your emotions

Although every one of us is different and we may deal with loss in different ways, there are lots of common signs and various stages of grief that most of us will experience. One of the first emotions we might experience when we lose someone close to us is shock, even if we were expecting the inevitable. Other emotions such as feeling overwhelmed, anger, confusion, loneliness, sadness, relief and guilt can all play a significant part in the grieving process.

You might also feel fearful of the future, afraid of how you will cope without your loved one. Remember that these kinds of feelings are normal and will diminish with time, and it’s okay to allow ourselves to feel these emotions.
Ways of coping with grief and loss

There are many ways of coping with your loss that can assist with the grieving process.

Talk to someone

Whether it’s a friend, family member or bereavement counsellor, there is always someone who you can talk to about your grief. Expressing and speaking about your feelings helps you come to terms with your loss and prevents you from internalising and burying our emotions. Speaking about the things you loved about the person can help rewire your thought process and create more positive emotions.

Take care of your physical health

Intense emotions caused by grief and loss can also have a negative impact on our physical wellbeing. Appetite and sleep patterns may be disrupted, which in turn, can affect your immune system and cause headaches, stomach ache and lethargy.

Even though you may not feel like eating initially, try to maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of rest. Gentle exercise can also help ease feelings of grief. Being outdoors is wonderful for lifting the mood and swimming can be a soothing activity that can help focus the mind.

Relaxation techniques

Emotions such as anger and fear can be overwhelming and can cause a great amount of stress both on the mind and body. There are lots of relaxation techniques that can reduce stress and anxiety, such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga and mindfulness.

The NHS's Moodzone offers several self-help techniques -

Stay connected to your loved one after death

Shutting out emotions or memories can be damaging if they reappear at a later date because we haven’t allowed ourselves to grieve properly. We can remain connected to our loved ones in different ways; you might want to speak to them or write a letter to them expressing your feelings. This can be extremely therapeutic in dealing with negative emotions. Alternatively, undertaking an activity to raise money for a charity that was close to their heart can give you focus and purpose.


Finally, be kind to yourself and remember that there is no set length of time for grief and what you are feeling is normal.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Keeping your kids healthy - in mind and body

As parents, we have a duty to our children not only to keep them healthy physically, but also mentally. With the rise of social media platforms and online activity, peer pressure and the stresses of school, there is more pressure than ever to ensure our kids are mentally prepared to deal with life’s challenges.

This article by the British Psychological Society shares some sobering statistics about the extent of mental health difficulties experienced by children and young people today.

Share your experience

In order to guide our children the best we can, firstly we need to look after our own mental health so we can set a good example and lay down positive pathways for them to follow. As adults, we have experience on our side and, no doubt, we will have faced many challenges and stressful situations. It’s important to share our experiences with our children so they understand that even though it’s part of life to struggle sometimes, how we deal with difficult situations is what really matters. Let them know that it’s OK to be afraid, anxious or stressed as long as they acknowledge it and take positive measures to keep their mind healthy.

Build self esteem

Children often doubt their abilities and question themselves as individuals:

“Am I good enough?”

“Do people like me?”

“What if I fail?”

Although it’s natural to have doubts, we can take action to help build their self esteem and boost their confidence. It’s important to praise our children for their positive qualities rather than focusing on the negative. By helping them focus on their strengths and find solutions to problems, we can teach them to become comfortable in their own skin.

Give genuine praise and keep it real; there’s no point in telling our children they are the best at something if they’re not, as it will only give them false hope and set them up for a fall. Also remember to praise their efforts, not just their successes.

Build a trusting relationship

There are many ways we can build trust in our relationships with our children. By encouraging open conversations, we allow them to express their thoughts while also teaching them respect. If we give them the opportunity to discuss their feelings without passing judgement, our bond grows, along with their confidence.

At any age, it’s vital to allow our kids an appropriate amount of independence. Letting them do things for themselves can increase determination and self belief and teach them ways to overcome hurdles. Even though it can be tempting, we must try to refrain from doing everything for them as it will only lead to unhealthy dependency.

Tips for keeping your kids mentally healthy

When we keep our problems to ourselves and internalise our fears, it can lead to stress, anxiety and even depression. As well as encouraging our children to talk openly, suggest writing a diary to get their thoughts down on paper. This can help gain control over their emotions and improve their mental health.

Problem solving skills can be highly beneficial as they help our children gain perspective and find solutions, which in turn can build up their resilience. Once they realise there is a “way out” of a negative situation, it will reduce their anxiety and make any subsequent problems seem less intimidating.

Physical and mental health go hand in hand and the more physically active we are, the less likely we are to suffer from stress and anxiety. Any form of exercise releases endorphins and serotonin which give us that “feel good factor” a good diet helps too.

This previous blog post shares some good tips on how we can be kind to ourselves, which are just as applicable to our children.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

How to silence your inner critic and boost your self-esteem

In an age where media has a firm grip on society via the internet, glossy magazines, newspapers and reality TV shows, it’s no surprise we compare ourselves to others and want to be as beautiful, glamorous, successful or body perfect. But what we so often fail to recognise is that many of the images we see in the media aren’t real.

Images of celebrities, models or public figures are enhanced and smoothed out to make them appear more attractive. Take off the make-up, remove the filters and forget the airbrushing and you’ll find many of them are just like the rest of us: imperfect humans.

How to identify your inner critic

In order to silence our critical thoughts we must firstly become aware of them. Listen to your thoughts and be aware of what they’re saying. Is there any truth in it? Are they things that we can fix? These nagging voices can instil a sense of fear in us or make us believe that we’re not good enough. Maybe we’re afraid we’ll be judged on our appearance, fearful that we’ll be rejected, or we might have feelings of shame.

Be mindful and recognise when you’re mentally punishing yourself. Remember that your inner critic is not a voice of reason. Step outside of your head and try to be realistic. Imagine the voice as a character rather than yourself and when it starts with the negative chatter, respond with positive replies. By reacting positively, we counter balance the negativity. It’s easy to be swayed by what we tell ourselves so make sure you don’t let that critical talk linger.

How to overcome your fear of what people think

Often, self doubt stems from our fear of what other people will think of us. When we’re constantly telling ourselves that our boss or colleagues don’t like us, they’ve probably never even given it a thought and your inner conversations are totally fabricated. This kind of fear can be damaging and prevent us from taking chances in life or even just contributing to a conversation.

It may very well be that these people you're afraid of, have only positive things to say about you and actually have nothing but admiration for you.

How to boost your self-esteem

There are several techniques that can help boost your self-esteem.

Regularly practise positive affirmations
Maybe even write a few down on a piece of paper and keep it close to hand. You could try phrases such as “I am beautiful”, “I am loved” or “I love my body”.

Stop comparing yourself to others
Accept that everyone is different and there is no right or wrong way to look (as long as we are healthy). Bear in mind that the person you constantly compare yourself to might be wishing they were more like you!

Focus on what you like about yourself
If you like your smile, smile more. Others will only notice your radiant smile and not the parts of you that you dislike.

Dress how you want to dress
Don’t hide behind your clothes in the hope that you’ll blend into the background; dress in clothes that make you feel good about yourself or flatter the parts of your body that you love. If you feel confident, you will look confident.

Practise self care
Do whatever makes you feel good about yourself, whether that’s an activity such as playing an instrument, painting or writing. More importantly, spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself and try to avoid those who don’t!

Focus on what you can change

Stressing about things you can’t change, such as the colour of your eyes, is a pointless exercise. Focus on the parts of you that you can change and set a realistic goal in achieving the results you’d like. If you would like to improve your body weight, eat well and create a fitness regime that will help you achieve your goals. If you feel like your hair is dragging you down, arrange a trip to the hairdresser and try a new style. Small changes can go a long way to improving your self confidence.

You can read this article from Psychology Today for more advice on how to keep your inner critic under control.

If your inner critic goes unrecognised, it can sometimes lead to more serious issues, including eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Mind.org has some useful information on this subject, as well as help and advice on self care and treatment.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Ways to practise self care when you’re studying for exams

Sitting exams at any age can be an extremely daunting time, especially for those who aren’t very academic. People often feel their whole future depends on their exam results, not to mention having to live up to other peoples’ expectations.

Exam stress – as this article from The Psychologist demonstrates – is nothing new. For some people, it seems that everything comes naturally and they can remember facts and information with very little effort. We forget that every one of us is different and we all learn at different speeds and in different ways. While one person might have a spatial (visual) or auditory (aural) learning style, others might prefer to learn kinaesthetically (practically, hands on) or linguistically (verbally). It’s OK to be different and comparing ourselves to others only adds to the pressure we feel.

Plan and schedule

Revision is much easier if you prepare a schedule in advance. As well as putting things into perspective, it can be quite fun once you start to create your weekly plan. Consider the times of day when you feel like you’re more focused and slot in the trickier, more demanding subjects. Completing a revision timetable can help reduce anxiety and even motivate you to get started.

Take breaks

There’s no point in mentally exhausting yourself to the point where you have complete brain fog. If you’ve read ten pages and suddenly realise you have absolutely no idea what you’ve read, it’s time to take a break. Take breaks to suit your method of working. Whether you prefer to take a ten-minute break every hour or an hour-long break every couple of hours, there are no hard and fast rules.

Eat, drink and sleep

It’s quite surprising the number of people who actually forget their basic things when they’re consumed by revision. Drinking plenty of water and eating healthy protein snacks such as nuts and seeds, yoghurt, tuna and eggs can help focus the mind. A good night’s sleep is also essential for learning, so try to get to bed at a reasonable time and leave at least an hour for your night-time routine to declutter your mind.

Leisure time

Many of us feel that we can’t enjoy ourselves when there’s revision to be done. However, it’s vital to enjoy leisure time in between studying – it boosts the mood and leaves us more receptive to taking in new information. Try to build some of these simple activities into your revision schedule:

  • Get outside into the fresh air – a brisk walk or some form of physical exercise does wonders for both your mental and physical health.
  • Listen to your favourite music and completely relax. 
  • Simple mindfulness techniques such as yoga and meditation, or even just focusing on your breathing, can help you become more aware of your thoughts and boost concentration levels. 
  • Socialise with friends and remember that laughing and smiling can release endorphins and reduce stress hormones.

The BBC, in partnership with YoungMinds, has launched a coaching network called the Mind Set for people who want extra support. Although the network is aimed at GCSE students, there are some fantastic tips and advice for anyone sitting exams.

You can also read our previous post, for more tips on how to cope with exam stress.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

How to get the family outside more

Over the last couple of decades, the growing world of electronic media has impacted greatly on the lives and social activities of families. Scenes of people huddled around a table all looking at their screens, rather than interacting have become a common sight. While parents sit scrolling through Facebook - with one eye on the TV - the children shut themselves in their bedrooms so nothing can interrupt their YouTube browsing or computer gaming.

These are sad scenes and yet many of us are growing to accept this as the norm. The outside world has become neglected. Countless studies have shown the negative impacts digital media can have on both our physical and mental health, not to mention our relationships. Isn’t it about time we ditched the digital and got back to nature?

Although these habits may seem hard to break, there are lots of ways we can encourage each other to revert back to the 'real world' and start venturing outdoors. There are lots of ideas for getting the family outside more on Activeforlife.com, and here are some of our ideas to get you started:

Call a meeting!

Start by talking to each other about which outdoor activities excite you. It might seem like a thankless task initially but once you start throwing some ideas around, you’ll find everyone will become more enthusiastic. Often it's the thought of being outside that we're most resistant too – usually once we've  broken the cycle of being attached to our devices, the joy of being outside quickly returns.

Back to basics

Who doesn’t love the enchantment of being among woodland? Once you’re outside, try and recreate the sense of competition with your children that they would usually getting from their games consoles at home, or give them an end goal that they can share on social media afterwards. Den building competitions or woodland art are great ways of doing this and there’s nothing like a bit of competition to get the adrenalin flowing.

Nature hunt

Part of the problem with tearing ourselves away from our technology is the fear of boredom and not having anything to occupy the mind. Why not make that countryside walk more fun by creating a nature hunt before you go? Make a list of various things to find on your walk, such as a certain kind of flower, tree or animal and provide prizes for the person who finds them all first?


The unfortunate reality is that if we want to spend more time outside, we must consciously plan for it to happen. For more ideas on how to do this, why not read this previous blog: http://firstpsychology.blogspot.com/search?q=outdoors

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Why having a pet is good for your mental health

For many years, scientists have been researching the effects of owning a pet and how it can impact on mental health. It has been well documented that pets can help with depression, bi-polar disorder, post-traumatic stress and schizophrenia. But even without the countless studies that have been undertaken, most pet owners would agree that caring for an animal has lots of obvious benefits. This month is National Pet Month, so we decided to take a look at the ways pets can improve our mental health.

Pets and depression

Owning a pet is one of the greatest distractions from our everyday problems. Depression can lead to lethargy, low self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness – all of which owning a pet can help to alleviate. All pets offer a non-judgemental ear and some animals are extremely sensitive to our moods. Just by our tone of voice or body language, they can understand when to give us attention or when to leave us alone. Having a pet allows us the opportunity to open up, knowing that we won’t be judged or questioned.

Pets and physical health

Owning a pet, in particular dogs or horses, encourages us to exercise on a regular basis. Even though we may not feel like exercising, our sense of responsibility often takes over and forces us to get moving, for the sake of our pets. As well as our physical wellbeing, even the smallest efforts to get outside for a quick stroll can boost our mood too. Walking increases oxygen levels, reduces blood pressure and releases endorphins. The fresh air and exercise can aid sleep and have a positive effect on the symptoms of depression as well as improving overall mental health. Walking among nature can make us feel calm and it’s a great way to practise mindfulness.

Pets and companionship

More often than not, mental health problems can leave us feeling lonely as we’re unable to communicate our thoughts. Owning a pet can prevent feelings of loneliness. Besides being great listeners, pets have a wonderful way of making us feel loved, wanted and needed. And they are also great at helping us form relationships and connections with other people too. Just by caring for our pets on a daily basis, we are inadvertently introduced to new people, who we may never meet otherwise. Positive interactions such as a brief chat with a stranger in the park, at the pet shop or in a training class, can really brighten our day and have a affirmative effect on our mood.

Anxiety

Having responsibility for a pet is a great way of causing distractions from our negative thoughts. Not only can it reduce our time spent online, absorbed in work or worrying about the next thing to go wrong, it gives our lives meaning and builds confidence. This study in Psychology Today, suggests that between 5-20 minutes of interaction with a dog is all it takes to help reduce blood pressure and enable us to feel calmer.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Stress Awareness Month – how to manage stress

April is Stress Awareness Month. 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 https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional-fitness/201610/keeping-life-in-perspective

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

How to establish healthy parent and child relationships

The relationship between parent and children is the first – and arguably the most important -relationship in any child's life. In adolescence, the nature of this relationship may change dramatically as children look for increased independence from their families and begin to make their own decisions. But it remains as important – if not more so.

In today’s digital society it’s easy to be overbearing in an attempt to keep your child safe. However, as this article from Psychology Today shows - the relationship a parent has with their child is central to an individual’s personal development and mental health. It is our job to develop the relationships our children need to be able to function as adults when they grow up.

As our children grow, our parenting style needs to evolve. It shifts from being the caregiver and decision maker, to that of advisor and enabler. When children are younger they look to their parents to make appropriate decisions on their behalf, as these children grow they turn to us to guide them, equip them with the skills and insight they need to make sound decisions for themselves. We still need to ensure that we are still safeguarding their interests and making sure they don’t engage in risky or dangerous behaviour, but as children make the transition from child to teenager to young adult, emotional support is usually sought, rather than offered.

Here are our three top tips for establishing healthy parent / child relationships

Talk about trust

Our job as parents is to help children transition into adulthood. To do that positively, requires trust. Trust is borne out of transparency and freedom within boundaries. Be up front with your child about what your expectations are of them, the levels of behaviour that is required and the consequences if they don’t comply. Being open and honest with your child is key to building trust. This article looks at ways in which we can give our children more freedom and why it’s important for your parent / child relationship.

Give me some space!

Even young children require a degree of personal space. A time or place where they can feel safe and able to reflect. By creating physical boundaries for our children, we are showing our respect for them as individuals. Although it may seem harmless to encroach on your child’s space when they’re younger, as they get older this can be perceived as interference. And rather than strengthen your relationship, this will only serve to add friction. It’s also important not to assume that your child’s need for personal space is the same as your own.

Avoiding anxiety

Regardless of their age, our children look to us for confidence and inspiration. They need someone to show them the way, yet encourage them to follow their own path. It’s a delicate balancing act and being a parent is fraught with anxiety: too much freedom versus not enough freedom; too much fussing versus not enough... When we get anxious about our kids, this can lead to us doing too much for them. It’s called over-functioning and it’s a sign that we’ve forgotten where we end and where our child begins. Yes, it’s true that as children grow they may be influenced more by their peers, but it’s still up to the parent to provide them with a confident, consistent, competent role model to look up to – however anxious we may feel on the inside. 


For more information on the parent / child relationship, read our previous blog post

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

How to keep the loneliness at bay and be happy by yourself

There’s a big difference between being alone and being lonely. In today’s digital world, it’s easy for people to feel alone – with friends and acquaintances constantly posting updates of their full social lives and all the fun they’re having.

It’s important for us to get used to being alone from time to time for our own personal growth, as this Psychology Today article outlines - however being alone too often, especially when it’s not done out of choice, can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness

Loneliness is the feeling of sadness that arises when we feel we have no friends or company to interact with. It’s not just about being alone either. It is possible to feel lonely in a room full of people, if we feel that the people we’re with do not care about us, value our input or understand how we’re feeling.

It’s natural to feel lonely from time to time. This is absolutely normal. It can happen when we move house, change jobs or schools, or have to attend events or functions where we do not know anyone. These temporary feelings of loneliness only become an issue when they’re accompanied by a more persistent feeling of isolation, which can lead to depression and anxiety.

When we are lonely, we tend to put the needs of others before ourselves. And that’s not OK. We put up with bad behaviour, as the fear of being alone is greater than the reality of what we’re putting up with. We go out of our way to make other people happy so they will stay with us, rather than focus on our own expectations and desires. Unfortunately all that this serves to do is make us feel more resentful and dissatisfied, which in turn only exacerbates our feelings of loneliness.

The key is to learn how to put a value on our own company. How we choose to spend the time that we have on our own plays a large role in our sense of personal fulfilment. Some people choose to create specific goals to help keep focused, some prefer to find an activity they enjoy and spend as much time as they can perfecting their skills. Try doing these three things to help to keep the loneliness at bay:

Practise self-love

Spend some time thinking about what your mind and body needs to feel fulfilled. This article from Psychology Today offers some great advice on how to do this.

Keep yourself occupied

Loneliness manifests itself often when we have too much time to dwell on our situation. By keeping busy, we can use the time we have alone productively, which helps the time to pass quicker.

Be grateful

Rather than focus on what is missing from your life, use some of your alone time to take stock of what you do have and the elements of your life that you are grateful for – maybe you love your job or where you live – this practice can help to keep the loneliness you’re feeling in perspective.

The mental health charity, Mind, offers some great advice on how to make new connections, as well as information on how to seek help if you feel your loneliness may be as a result of an underlying mental health issue. Read more here.

We’d love to know what you do to help keep the loneliness at bay, leave your comments below…

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Ways of showing your friends you care

All relationships, platonic or romantic, need to be nurtured if they're to flourish. Even our longest, strongest friendships can flounder, when we lack the time to give them the attention they need.

Romantic relationships will often reach a breaking point when they’re neglected. This then acts as the catalyst we need to spring into action. Friendship breakdowns are ‘quieter’. Less dramatic. They are much more likely to simply drift away, sometimes before we’ve even noticed there is anything wrong.

So what can we do to show our friends that we value them? Here are some of our tips.

Put them first from time to time

We get it. Life is busy. There are many pulls on your time and you often feel like you're not giving your best to everyone. Your real friends will see this and understand your predicament. This makes them value any time you spend with them so much more. However a true friend deserves to have your full attention every now and again. You don’t have to mention what you've sacrificed to see them – they will know – and just an odd half hour here and there will be enough to keep the friendship fire burning, so long as they know they have your full attention.

Take the time to talk

We live in a digital age, when most of our friendships are conducted online. They’re superficial. We're more likely to post photos online of the food we're eating, than physically speak to the people we're dining with. The time we get to spend with friends may be less, but let’s commit to making sure any time we do spend together is quality time. Put down the devices and talk to each other face to face, rather than via a screen. You’ll be surprised at how little effort it takes to scratch beneath the surface of what you see on social media and re-engage with your closest friends.

Keep things personal

Friendships are not about the big gestures. And when it comes to tokens of appreciation for friends, it always pays to keep things personal. This article from The Independent does a good job of summarising the small things we can do to connect with those we’re closest to. Personal cards and small gifts from time to time demonstrate the value you place on your friendship and help to reinforce the friendship bond you share.

Believe in your friends, when they need you most

The strongest friendships are the ones that weather the storms together. Be the kind of friend that you want to have yourself. One that encourages, bolsters and nudges their friend forwards – not the fair weather friends who are there to celebrate with us, but nowhere to be seen when there’s some commiserating to be done. As our lives pull us in different directions, keep your interactions with your friends positive – and make sure you’re there for them when no one else is.

Give but don’t expect to receive

One of the traps that we fall into with platonic friendships is the need for reciprocation. We keep a mental tally of the things we do for other people and - often subconsciously - follow the rule that if we’re do something for one of our friends, that they will be required to do something equally great for us at some point in the future. This causes resentment and disharmony. How about we start doing things for friends just because we want to make them happy?



Don’t forget, as this article from Psychology Today says, friendships are born out of a desire to spend time with another person that we like. We get pleasure out of their company. If maintaining some of your friendships becomes a chore or a duty, rather than something you cherish, then it’s really time to ask yourself how committed you are to this friendship in the first place.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Tell-tale signs that you’re not in a healthy relationship

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. It’s a day for romance and for spending time with those we love. Often though, Valentine’s Day pushes us to reflect on our romantic relationships to assess how we’re ‘measuring up’ to the other couples we see.

Unfortunately, social media gives us some unrealistic expectations about what relationships should be like. No relationship is perfect. That said, there are a number of signs to look out for that could indicate your relationship is really not healthy. We’ve picked out some of the main indicators:

Passive aggressive behaviour

The best relationships are based on honesty and openness. You should never be afraid to say what you think – and you should afford your partner the freedom to do the same. If you can sense that all is not well with your partner – or you’re being given the silent treatment – but are met with responses such as “I’m fine” or “Nothing” when you probe, that’s passive aggression. How can we make things right, if we don’t know what the issue is? If this is you, try not to get dragged into the drama. Don’t feed the need for attention and wait until your partner is ready to talk. The more often this happens, the more concerning it would be. Watch this short clip from the Daily Positive for more information on how to spot this kind of behaviour and tips for dealing with it.

Volatility

Life is full of ups and downs. Healthy relationships provide us with the grounding and support we need to cope with the bad times and rejoice in the good times. Your relationship shouldn’t add to the stress and drama of everyday life, so if you and your partner thrive on extreme highs and lows it may be useful to ask yourselves why. All healthy relationships include some conflict, of course, but not all the time — and not to extremes. If you find it hard to predict when your partner will be upset or how they will react to certain events, that’s a red flag or an indication of a deeper issue.

Jokes and ridicule

The strongest couples are the ones that laugh together – they laugh with each other, but never at each other. If your partner ever makes you feel small with ‘funny’ comments about you or your behaviour, that’s a sure sign that problems are afoot. That’s not to say that your partner can’t make a joke. If the jokes make you feel included that’s healthy humour – if the comments or jokes make you feel stupid, small or vulnerable, that’s not good. As a general rule, if someone has to add the words “only joking” after speaking, there may be an unhealthy undercurrent running through their comments. This Guardian article gives an interesting perspective on what constitutes ‘banter’ and what doesn’t.

You feel like you have to ask permission

Newsflash: adults don’t need permission to do things. Sometimes, we may seek support from our partner to take a certain course of action – a discussion around chores or childcare associated with a business trip, perhaps, but we’re not seeking permission. Yes, relationships require compromise and big life decisions that could impact on your partner should be discussed together, but if you find yourself asking permission to make plans with friends, or to make simple lifestyle choices, you should ask yourself why. That’s not necessary and definitely not healthy.


If you find yourself in an unhealthy relationship, this article from Psych Alive may help you think about what's going wrong.

If you feel you need support to work out what's best for your relationship, check out our page on relationship problems.


Thursday, 31 January 2019

Simple solutions for helping to beat the winter blues

There are not many of us that look forward to the winter. Let’s face it, it’s just not as much fun as the summer!

It’s dark when we wake up and dark again by teatime. This lack of sunshine can be quite draining. People often report a heightened desire to stay indoors during the winter months, especially after the excitement and activity of the Christmas season is well and truly behind us.

For most of us, winter is an inconvenience – a season that must pass in order for spring and summer to return. However, for a small number of us the winter blues actually manifest themselves as a seasonal depression: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is a depressive illness caused by a lack of natural sunlight. Approximately 20% of people in the UK experience some SAD symptoms, while another 8% suffer more seriously to the point that it affects their daily lives.

Not everyone who experiences SAD will present with the same symptoms – you can have a look at this Psychology Today article to see what the symptoms may be. Many people feel less energetic and more lethargic, needing more sleep than usual. They may also find it hard to get enjoyment out of everyday tasks and activities in that way that they would during the summer months.

There are a number of things that everyone can try in order to lift the blues and make the winter months more bearable. Put simply, it’s about spending time outside whenever you can and maximising the amount of natural light you are exposed to on a daily basis.

However awful the weather outside, a short daily walk will really help put a spring in your step. Exercise and activity get the endorphins flowing which help you to feel good. Getting out and about maximises the amount of natural sunlight our bodies are exposed to as well, which really helps to minimise the SAD symptoms you’ll experience.

If getting outside proves difficult, then it’s advisable to do whatever you can to keep work and home environments clutter free, light and airy. Sit next to windows whenever possible and – if it’s not too cold – try and get some fresh air through an open window.

Diet also has a role to play in keeping our mood on an even keel over the winter. While stodgy foods, like pies and stews might seem like a good idea to keep up warm and nourished, in truth they can sometimes add to our lethargy and lack of energy. What your body really needs to keep the SAD symptoms at bay, is food that is rich in vitamins C and D and zinc (such as spinach, citrus fruit and fish).

For more tips on how to improve your mood over the winter, why not read one of our previous blog posts. 

Monday, 21 January 2019

How to reconnect as a couple

Relationships are be hard work. They’re something we have to work on every day if they're to survive the highs and lows that life will undoubtedly throw our way.

In a previous post, we took a look at some common relationship difficulties and it is unsurprising that many of us will have experienced at least one of these over the Christmas holiday break.

It a full-on season, with lots of socialising and present buying, not to mention the expectation that everyone should be happy and jolly all the time. However, for many couples these holiday rituals bring money and time pressures that we don’t experience the rest of the year. This can put a strain on relationships that we often need to repair during January.

We’ve come up with a few quick and simple relationship tips, designed to help you reconnect with each other after the Christmas break and enrich the time you spend together as a couple.

Make it a habit


Relationships thrive on routines. After all the extra-curricular and unplanned activities of Christmas it’s time to carve some time aside for couple rituals that you can both look forward to. We’re not talking hours of time either, even something as simple as a ten-minute planned morning tea break together where you share your plans for the day is enough to rebuild and repair the bond you have together. Whatever you do, make it a regular occurrence and give it the attention it deserves.

Date night


Most couples swear by date night. It’s the one time in the week when it’s OK to focus solely on each other. Date night is usually high-jacked during December in favour of the need to socialise with a wider group of friends, family and work colleagues. Make it a priority to reinstate it as soon as you can in January. Don’t forget, date night needn’t be expensive or lavish – we're often cash strapped in January after all. It can be as simple as watching a movie together with a bag of popcorn, taking a walk together, or spending time reminiscing over old photo albums. What’s important is that you are together.

A problem shared


January is a time for making resolutions. You’re both more likely to stick to a shared resolution, than an individual resolution and it’s also the perfect excuse to work together as a team. Whether it’s become fitter, eating more healthily or learning a new hobby / skill, why not set yourselves a shared resolution? It will not only bring your closer together as a couple, but also give you a shared interest and goal.

This article from Psychology Today has some interesting ideas to get your started. Why not have a look and see which of these thirty-second activities you could try too?

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Why you need to look back before looking forwards

This time of year - a few days into a fresh new year - is a time when our attention often focuses on our resolutions for the next twelve months. They usually centre on the things we’d like to change in our lives – eat less, exercise more, or stop smoking… This year, we’re challenging you to think a bit differently.

Rather than empty resolutions that bear no resemblance to where you have been, how far you have come, or where you want to go, we want you to spend some quality time reviewing what has happened to you over the course of the past twelve months – and use the insight you uncover to develop a meaningful plan for the year that lies ahead.

Ask yourself questions such as:

What parts of the year did I particularly enjoy?
When did I feel challenged?
When did I feel overwhelmed?

By looking constructively, you can plan yourself a year that fulfils you and gives you the stretch you need to grow. We wouldn’t think twice about taking the time to reflect after we’d completed a big project at work – yet we seldom give our own personal reflection the same attention.

Reflection helps us to assess how we’ve done things, what the result was, and whether we should carry on as-is or if there’s a need to change direction in order to achieve what we really want.

You can choose which areas of your life you want to reflect on – it could be time for a general stock take, or a time to look at a particular aspect of your life that you have already identified deserves more attention in the coming year. Family, relationships, work, learning are all good starting points for your reflective practice. There will be some areas of overlap – it can be difficult to get more family time, if your job is particularly demanding, for example, but always start by thinking about the year that has passed.

Be honest in your assessment and evaluation of what went well and the areas that you would like to address going forward. Don’t just think about what was good – delve deeper to examine what it was that made it good. How did it make you feel? How can you recreate that feeling?

Once we have identified the high points – and the low points - this gives us a basis from which to develop a specific and focussed action plan. You can still call these resolutions if you want to!