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. 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.