Wednesday, 26 May 2021

When habits become out of control - recognising and managing our behaviours

Everybody has good habits and bad habits and often the good habits can be difficult to start and the bad habits can be difficult to stop! But on the whole they don’t tend to negatively impact on our wellbeing in a significant way. However, sometimes we can start to feel dependent on certain habits to make us feel good and whether these were good habits or bad habits to start with doesn’t matter, doing them to excess and without control can cause us serious problems.

How do we know when a habit is out of control?

Any habit can get out of control or harmful through doing it to excess, even habits that are usually considered healthy, such as exercising or eating.

We may notice a habit becoming unhealthy when it starts to negatively impact on our lives in some way. It may impact on your physical health when you start to experience:
  • Difficulty sleeping or not getting enough sleep
  • Tiredness
  • Not eating regularly
  • Becoming ill more often
  • Decreased sex drive

It may affect your mental health and you may experience more:
  • Mood changes
  • Irritability/anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Paranoia
  • Feelings of hopelessness

It may affect your behaviours and relationships with others, as you may:
  • Exhibit secretive or dishonest behaviour
  • Display poor performance/attendance at work or school
  • Withdraw from responsibilities 
  • Withdraw from friends and family
  • See relationships breakdown
  • Have financial difficulties
  • Lose interest in activities, hobbies or events that were once important to you
  • Try but fail to reduce or stop the habit

Why am I doing this?

It is important to be kind to yourself and remember that this is something that can affect absolutely anybody, regardless of gender, age, or socioeconomic status, and is commonly a result of life experiences. Struggling with out of control habits is not something to be ashamed of, nor is it your fault.

However, dealing with a harmful habit without support or guidance can be a very isolating and challenging experience. Left ignored, your control can continue to deteriorate, impacting you physically, emotionally and socially. Don’t wait until the situation worsens to reach out for help.

What can I do?

Deciding to take back control of your behaviour is not an easy endeavour. If you have decided this is something you want to do for yourself and for your mental health, well done for making it this far. Some actions that you can start taking now are:
  • Recognising your triggers – what situations or emotions do you try to avoid or feel better from? Work-related stress? Loneliness? Anxiety? Being criticised? 
  • Removing temptation – try to make it easier on your willpower by removing situations that could tempt you, for example blocking gambling websites on your phone or avoiding meeting friends in locations where alcohol will be served.
  • Asking for support - having someone you can turn to, to hold you accountable and remind you of your goals when you feel your determination slipping can make all the difference in any moments of weakness
If you are struggling to get control back over your habits, speaking to a therapist can be very helpful. They can help you to identify and manage any potential triggers, as well as develop alternative, healthy strategies to use whenever they arise, and offer you support when you need it.

For more information about out of control habits, sign up to our webinar 'When Habits Get Out Of Control' taking place on Friday 4 June 2021 at 12 noon BST. 

Pallavi Parihar works as an Applied Psychology Practitioner at First Psychology Edinburgh. She will be presenting the webinar 'When Habits Get Out Of Control'

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

The benefits of writing a letter to your younger self

It’s inevitable that throughout life we will experience both good and bad moments that will create happy memories as well as emotional pain. If you could travel back in time, are there things that you would do differently? How could the more difficult times be made better? Looking back, what advice would you give to yourself with all the life experience you have now?

Why write a letter to your younger self?

There are many reasons why writing a letter to your younger self could benefit you. Perhaps there are old wounds that have never healed properly or past relationships that have affected your mental wellbeing. 

  • Heal pain
  • Forgiveness
  • Gain a better understanding of yourself
  • To become a better version of yourself

As humans, it’s natural for us to feel a wealth of emotions such as anger, sadness, happiness and resentment, but if we don’t deal with our feelings at the time of the event, they can progress into more serious problems. Intense negative emotions can, over time, create anxiety, stress or even depression. Science Daily looked at a study undertaken by UCLA psychologists which revealed that by putting our feelings into words, we can reduce emotional pain.

How to begin writing your letter

You might be wondering how to begin writing a letter to younger self, especially if you are older and have gone through many different life experiences. But your letter doesn’t have to just focus on the negative elements of your past, it can also feature happy moments that have helped shape your character and life in positive ways.

One of the most important parts of writing your letter is to be completely honest, remember that only you will read it, unless, of course, you choose to show it to someone else. Perhaps you might find it easier to start by jotting down some of the most vivid memories from your past. You can then look back at them and remember how they made you feel and what you learnt from them. How did certain events or people affect you as a person and how have they impacted on your life?

Maybe you thought you made a wrong decision but now looking back realised that it actually benefitted you. For example, did you make a career change that you felt was a mistake at the time but eventually it led to something better than you could have ever imagined?

You’ll most likely find that once you start writing, the words will just flow, and you won’t need much encouragement. Of course, your letter will be determined by the personal events and relationships from your unique life.

Some of the things you should remember when writing your letter:
  • Be honest and open about your feelings
  • Talk kindly to yourself and be empathetic
  • Give yourself positive advice that you wish you had known at the time
  • Decide how old your younger self is that you’re addressing
Once you’ve finished your letter, you could either read it straight away or seal it in an envelope to open on a future date. Perhaps you’ll want to write a series of letters to yourself from various ages of your life.

Friday, 14 May 2021

Learn to be your true self and embrace your gender identity

Take a moment to think about your gender. How would you describe your gender identity? How do you express your gender to other people through how you look or act? How comfortable do you feel with the way that you experience and express your gender?

These questions can help you begin to think about your gender identity and how you make sense of this part of yourself. It is natural to question your gender identity, and this can happen at any stage in your life. Maybe you have noticed that you feel uncomfortable when someone uses a particular gender pronoun, like ‘she’ or ‘her’, or that you feel out of place wearing gender-specific clothes at work. Learning more about gender identity can help you understand yourself and figure out how to show your authentic self, which is important for your emotional and mental wellbeing.

Tips for exploring your gender identity

Understand different gender identities

Many people assume that our gender identities match the gender we were given at birth, but this isn’t always the case. In some cases, people feel differently from their given gender. For example, when a person identifies as transgender, this means that their gender identity doesn’t match the gender that was assumed when they were born. 

Another common assumption about gender is that only two gender identities exist – male and female. However, there are actually many different gender identities that exist outside of these terms. Non-binary is a term people use to describe genders that don’t fall into the categories of male or female. Some people might also describe their gender identity as ‘gender fluid’ which means that they feel as though their gender is not fixed and varies over time.

A rising number of celebrities are publicly embracing fluidity and challenging gender norms. For example, actor Elliot Page recently came out as transgender. Singer Miley Cyrus and model Cara Delevingne identify as gender fluid. The pop star Sam Smith came out as non-binary and changed their pronouns to ‘they/them’ and musician Grimes identifies as gender neutral. Note: All of these people explore and express themselves in different ways within their chosen gender identity – there are no rules as to how you must look or act if you identify as non-binary, gender fluid, or transgender. These are just a few examples of ways that other people explore and express their gender identities. It can be helpful to look at the many different terms that describe gender identity and see which fit best for you. You might prefer not to use labels which is completely fine – this is personal to you and how you feel.

Experiment with the way you express your gender

There are lots of different ways that you can choose to express your gender identity. This includes your appearance and the way you behave. Some people have the same gender expression all the time, while others may change their expression over time or circumstances. For instance, we might express our gender differently when at work with colleagues, out with friends or at home by ourselves.

You can play around with the way that you express your gender by, for example, thinking about which gender pronouns and names feel most comfortable for you and what sorts of clothes and accessories you feel reflect your gender. It’s okay to try out different things and then change your mind if this doesn’t feel right. Everyone has different ways of expressing their gender and only you can know what feels like the right expression for you!

Find your support network

Surrounding yourself with people who love and care about you is really important for feeling supported and understood. Think about people in your life who you can trust and turn to for non-judgemental support. It might feel anxiety-provoking to open up to others, but they are there to support you. Family and friends are a great place to start, and you can also think about seeking out people in the LGBTQIA+ community who might know what you’re going through. Look for resources online where you can get advice, discover role models, and become part of a supportive community. This is a good way to remind yourself that you’re not alone and that there are other people out there who share your experience. Remember to be careful when navigating the comments sections on websites or profiles discussing gender identity issues as some people might leave comments which could be distressing.

Seek professional support

If you are struggling with your gender identity, it can be helpful to speak about how you’re feeling to a professional. Your GP can suggest some options to give you more support. Talking to a trained therapist might also be a good way to make sense of how you’re feeling in a confidential and non-judgemental environment.

Take your time to explore

Finally, the best thing you can do is to take your time and give yourself room to explore your gender identity and expression. Remember to be kind to yourself in the process!

Further information

  • To find out more about gender identity, why not watch the recording of our webinar 'Understanding And Exploring Your Gender Identity' which took place on Friday 21 May 2021. You can also check out the resources provided during that webinar using this link. 
  • NEW WEBINAR! – Thursday 23 June 2022   Join us for our FREE webinar 'Exploring Your Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation Later in Life' FIND OUT MORE AND SIGN UP >

Dr Sylvie Kay works as an Counselling Psychologist at First Psychology's Edinburgh, Glasgow and Online centres. She presented the webinar 'Understanding And Exploring Your Gender Identity' and she will also present the upcoming webinar 'Exploring Your Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation Later in Life'

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Bathing in nature to improve mental wellbeing

Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing as it’s more commonly known, has become a popular way to embrace nature and boost mental wellbeing. Originally practised in Japan, this back-to-nature activity has now caught on internationally. A study published by the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction indicated that it may reduce stress, heart rate and blood pressure, which in turn can reduce the risk of depression, cancer, stroke and ulcers.

What is forest bathing?

Ultimately, forest bathing involves spending mindful time among nature beneath a leafy canopy where you can disconnect from the outside world and become one with the trees and wildlife. It’s about stepping away from the hustle and bustle, switching off your devices and allowing the forest to heal your mind. Living busy lives in built-up areas can often be detrimental to our mental health and has been linked to anxiety, stress and depression. So it’s important to take time out to de-stress among nature and take care of our own mental wellbeing.

Forest bathing exercises

There are several ways you can immerse yourself in forest bathing and let Mother Nature wash over you. Whether you want to get down and creative or prefer to indulge your senses with the sound of sweet birdsong or the fresh smell of pines, you’re sure to leave feeling more relaxed, revitalised and free from head clutter.

  1. Practise mindfulness as you walk among the trees, paying particular attention to the sights, sounds and smells of the forest. Make a conscious effort to slow down your walking and breathing as you absorb absolutely everything around you.
  2. There are few settings as calming as the forest for a spot of yoga. This is a great way to practice your breathing and inhale the fresh air as you stretch among the trees. Yoga has lots of physical benefits as well as releasing the much-needed serotonin which can improve your mood and make you feel happier.
  3. There’s nothing quite like cooking outdoors. If you don’t have the skills of Bear Grylls and haven’t accomplished starting a fire with a couple of dry sticks, why not buy a disposable barbecue and head down to the forest for some wild dining (forest permitting). There is something so primitive and liberating about cooking over an open fire that really awakens all of your senses. 
  4. Creating art is a great way to release any pent-up emotions and to feel more mentally balanced. So, creating art under a forest canopy surrounded by nature can only bring even more positive results. This is a wonderful way to express yourself, increase your self-confidence, and reduce stress and anxiety.

For more information, visit The Forest Bathing Institute. You’ll also find the UK’s first research paper on the health benefits of forest bathing.

Friday, 7 May 2021

Socialising after lockdown with social anxiety

The past year has been challenging for many of us. Not being able to travel freely, restricted in how we spend our free time, not spending time with the people we want to. One of the main things that has changed significantly for all of us, is our social life. 

Although this element can be challenging in many ways, there are many people who will not be looking forward to our social lives getting back on track.

Social anxiety disorder is one of the most common anxiety disorders in the UK, affecting as much as 12% of the population. 

Living with social anxiety can impact different areas of our lives, one of these being our social relationships. It can be especially challenging when we want to be able to hang out with our friends, but our anxiety gets in the way.

Here at First Psychology, we meet individuals every day who are struggling with this, but are determined to find a way to manage their anxiety and take part in the social activities they want to.

If this sounds like you, here are some helpful ways to start understanding and managing your own social anxiety, that you might want to try before your next social event.

Remember to go slow

The more pressure we put on ourselves, the harder it will be to feel relaxed in any social interaction. If you don’t feel ready to socialise, that’s ok. Instead, use the time to do things that you enjoy. Just because socialising in groups is now more of an option, does not mean there is any need to rush. It is your decision to make.

Write it down

Take some time to notice, and jot down the thoughts that are coming up for you when you imagine stepping into a social situation. Once you’ve done this, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there any evidence that contradicts this thought? 
  • What are the costs and benefits of thinking in this way?
  • Is there another way of looking at this this situation?
Try to answer these as honestly as possible then notice how you feel.

Visualise and embody your social self

Sometimes it is the negative way in which we imagine ourselves in a social situation that can put us off, even if that image is unrealistic. A more helpful way to approach social anxiety, is to visualise ourselves in a positive way.

  1. Ask yourself- how do I want to appear in this social situation? There may be certain words that can describe this (e.g. confident, focused), or perhaps a drawing captures it more accurately (e.g. posture, facial expressions).
  2. Now that you have this positive image in your mind, think about what you can do to make it more of a reality. While you do this, remember to be kind to yourself, focusing on self-motivation and encouragement, rather than criticising or making unhelpful demands of yourself.

For more information about social anxiety and some techniques to help manage it, sign up to our webinar 'Understanding and Managing Social Anxiety' taking place on Friday 14 May 2021. 

Elspeth Quinn works as an Applied Psychology Practitioner at First Psychology Edinburgh. She will be presenting the webinar 'Understanding and Managing Social Anxiety'

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Overcoming failure and moving on

There’s no doubt that failure can be a hard pill to swallow, but it can also teach us important lessons that spur us on to do bigger and better things.

Often, we create our own expectations and set ourselves unrealistic goals which in turn can lead to failure and disappointment. If we experience failure regularly, it can play havoc with our self-worth, leaving us anxious, stressed and lacking in confidence. So, what can we do to overcome failure and move on with a positive attitude?

Accept your feelings

If you fail at something that was particularly important to you, such as getting that dream job or losing at a competitive sport, the chances are it’s going to sting a little, especially when you didn’t see it coming. But that’s okay and it’s natural to feel disappointed. However, if you dwell for too long, your initial feelings can turn into more destructive emotions such as anger, resentment, and depression. You might start to believe that you’re a complete failure as you become more and more critical of yourself. Acknowledge how you feel, but then look at the reasons why you might have failed and tell yourself that you can learn from the experience and move on.

How to learn from failure

Although it might be painful initially, keep reminding yourself that one failure doesn’t mean you will fail every time. This is merely a temporary setback that will ultimately help you improve. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What caused me to fail? Wherever possible, ask for feedback. For example, if you didn’t get the job, ask why. It might just be that you didn’t have as much experience as the next interviewee, but this doesn’t reflect badly on you personally.
  • How can I avoid the same mistakes next time? What can I do differently?
  • Have I set myself an unrealistic goal or is this something I can achieve in the future with more practice/experience?

As you start to answer these questions, you’ll start to think more positively with a constructive mindset. It might even spark a new idea or challenge that could be even more exciting and within your grasp. 

Scientific American looked at a study carried out by Professor Wang and his colleagues on the dynamics of failure across science, startups and security.  Wang said: “You have to figure out what worked and what didn’t, and then focus on what needs to be improved instead of thrashing around and changing everything.” He believes that "Every winner begins as a loser".  What is clear from the study is that it not only takes persistence to become a winner, you have to learn from each previous failure along the way too. Simply trying and trying again is not the answer for success unless you do this. 

Don’t set yourself impossible goals

Sometimes we feel as though anything is possible and we can take on the world but remember to be realistic about your goals. Recognise your limitations to avoid setting yourself up for a fall. Maybe you are trying to run before you can walk so make sure you have a practical plan in place to help achieve your ambitions. By raising the bar too high and too quickly, you risk feeling worthless if you fail and haven’t prepared for it.

Expect the worst

By expecting the worst, this doesn’t mean we can’t hope for the best. But a simple exercise of imagining the worst outcome can mean that we have already dealt with failure before it happens. This also gives you the opportunity to have a back-up plan in place which will give you something positive to focus on should you fail.

Remind yourself of your successes

Finally, keep on reminding yourself of all the times you didn’t fail. This will stir up the positive emotions and feelings you had in previous times that made you feel great about yourself.