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, 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:

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.


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