Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Summer phobias and how to deal with them

The long-awaited British summertime is now upon us. It’s a time of light evenings, longer days and sun-drenched weekends eating ice cream and relaxing in our open spaces.

However, for some people the summertime brings with it unwelcome associations and phobias which can put a dampener on not only their enjoyment, but also that of their friends and family.

Summer phobias are more common than we think. A phobia is more intense than a dislike of something, or an unwillingness to do something. It will bring significant anxiety to the person when they see – or even think about – the source of their phobia.

Usually phobias arise as a result of a frightening or traumatic experience earlier in our lives – usually in childhood, but sometimes as an adult. A bee sting, a fall into the sea, or a bad case of sunburn are all enough to trigger a phobia. This article gives a full list of the ‘recognised’ summer phobias - there are more than we may think!

To many, your phobias may seem irrational – they may suggest you ‘get over it’ or advise you to ‘face your fears’, however phobias do not work like that. They are a real fear that manifests itself in physical symptoms – hyperventilating, cold sweats, palpitations... For this reason, most people tend to avoid the triggers relating to their phobia. The good news is there are recognised coping techniques that can help you manage your phobias and get the most out of the summertime.

Visualisation


Visualisation is a tried and tested practice for helping us manage our phobias by rewiring our thinking. When we think about the positive outcomes of our actions, we are more likely to take events in our stride and conquer our fears. Instead of thinking about the time you sat in the garden and were stung by a wasp, think about when you sat in the sunshine, without instance, enjoying your book with a cold drink in hand. If you think the best will happen, it can minimise the ways in which your phobia manifests itself.

Mindfulness


Find yourself a quiet space. Sit down, make yourself comfortable and breathe… That’s all - calm and steady. Take just a minute to be at one with your body and how it feels. The simple practice of mindful breathing helps to keep us focused and helps to manage our physical responses to phobias . If it helps, place your hands on your abdomen so you can feel your breathing motion.

Imagine the worst


Often our phobias are born out of an expectation that the worst is going to happen – when, most likely, it won’t. By thinking about the worst outcomes, we can put our phobia into perspective, which makes them easier to manage. For example, if you have a fear of open water and your friends are planning a riverside picnic, thinking about what would happen if you were to fall into the river (likely outcomes are that your friends would jump in after you; there would be lots of trees on the banks to break your fall and use as an anchor; or you could tread water until help came). The solutions that you have identified can be enough for you to keep your phobia in check and enjoy time with your friends.

Remember, being afraid is perfectly normal. Fear keeps us safe – it helps us properly assess situations and develop appropriate responses. Phobias however, can hinder our development and stop us from doing things that would otherwise be enjoyable – or beneficial to our lives.

If your phobias are threatening to dampen your summer and the above techniques haven’t helped, it could be time to call in the additional support, such as clinical hypnotherapy and talking therapies.




Sunday, 18 June 2017

The important role of being a father

With Men’s Health Awareness Week coming to an end, what better way to end it than with a tribute to our fathers on father's day. Whether it be a coffee in the morning or a fancy spa break, this is the day to treat your dad to something special. So, what is it we are celebrating? Are we simply saying thank you for putting up with us or is there more to it than that?

The role of the father figure has shifted significantly over time. Hundreds of years ago, the role of the father would be as both breadwinner and authoritative conveyer of rules and moral codes. More recently, the changing and expanding roles of women have allowed for men to shift more comfortably into the position of care-giver, providing more for their children than just financial stability. Despite this, statistics show that in recent years, UK shoppers spend an average of 75% more on Mother's Day than they do on their dads.

Research has shown that the involvement of fathers is critical to a child’s growth, health and well-being with reports showing that they are more likely to form stronger relationships, have confidence in new surroundings and be more emotionally secure. Not only can a positive male role-model encourage young boys to develop positive gender-based characteristics, daughters are also more likely to form a positive opinion of other men in their lives and subsequently stronger relationships.

Even in early childhood, playful activities that allow young children to interact and bond with their fathers can have an impact on and develop patterns for future relationships. A report by the NRFC shows that the presence of a responsible father can improve academic performance and minimise the need for disciplinary action for children.

Despite all the positive’s that can come from being a father, as with motherhood, there can be challenging aspects that men can struggle with such as post-natal depression including symptoms of overwhelming anxiety and stress.

First Psychology recognises that fathers deserve just as much time for themselves as all the mothers out there so this Father’s Day, read more here about how our experienced practitioners can provide a space for men to talk about and work through their struggles in this wonderfully important role.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Why men find it hard to seek help

As it's the start of Men's Health Awareness Week, we thought we'd take a look at how how gender affects our desire to seek psychological help and to recognise the need for change.

Do you need to change? Are you like Jim?

Jim comes home from work on Tuesday night - exhausted! He goes to the living room to find his wife already watching something on TV and feels annoyed. His wife asks: "What's wrong with you Jim? Why can't you cheer up?" This angers him so he snaps back at her trying to get her to understand why he's annoyed. She doesn't understand. how can she not understand? They argue for ten minutes before Jim storms out, slamming the door behind him. He goes to the fridge, pulls our a beer and some crisps but isn't in the mood to waste time cooking especially when he has an early meeting in the morning. Jim feels all his muscles ache so he decides he should lie down, the gym can wait. Jim's wife comes to bed and before he knows it, midnight has been and gone. Jim tosses and turns. he just bought a new mattress but why can't he get comfortable? What feels like five minutes passes and the alarm is screeching in Jim's ear. He puts it on snooze, breakfast can wait, Jim thinks, I'll have a good feed after the gym tonight.  
That same evening... 
Jim comes home from work on Wednesday night - exhausted!

Jim is showing many of the signs that things are not right and need to change. He is tired, unable to sleep and snappy. He seems caught in a daily routine that doesn't work for him. He is not happy and men in this situation often find it hard to recognise there is a problem or to know what to do to make things better.

Since the 19th century, men have been taught to follow an unwritten code for being masculine. This is an outdated code of assumptions, rules and beliefs that society has developed about boys and men. So society has a lot to answer for in terms of how men perceive themselves and cope with the world around them.

Young boys are taught that only certain colours are appropriate to them - this happens from the minute they are born when they are dressed in blue.

In adulthood men are taught to be strong, aggressive, always in control, unfeeling and capable of handling problems on their own without seeking help. This explains why men are less likely to seek help when things get on top of them. As a result of not feeling able to get the help they may need, man can feel alone and depressed and in more severe cases, suicidal. Did you know that three quarters of suicides in the UK are committed by men?

It's clear that we need to learn to understand the language of men better. Everyone no matter what gender or age should be encouraged to speak about their feelings - that's part of being human. Men are not weak by seeking help, but showing they can adapt to their situation. That demonstrates strength.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

How to spot and support a male midlife crisis

It’s often the subject of jokes when people reach their 40s, but evidence suggests that midlife crises are a real concern for many. Studies show that a modern day midlife crisis can hit men around the age of 43, while for women it’s usually a year or so later. 

While women can often talk through their concerns with their peers, for the majority of men this type of conversation can be difficult and as a result, they can often feel the effects of a midlife crisis more acutely.

According to this article, the male midlife crisis can be triggered by a number of events, such as unrealistic or unrealised ambitions, stresses and pressures of being a provider or an avoidance or reluctance to grow up. For some, there is a sense that time is running out and, although not a medical condition in its own right, these thoughts can often present themselves through physical and mental symptoms.

As well as anxiety and depression, when they reach their mid 40s to early 50s, some men experience loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, mood swings and other physical or emotional symptoms. Some people call it the male menopause and suggest that some men go through both a psychological crisis and a hormonal one.

The term 'male menopause' is used to describe the hormonal, physiological and chemical changes that occur in men. It's true that testosterone levels gradually decrease from the late 20s, reaching pre-puberty levels by the age of 80. However, this in itself should not trigger any symptoms or physical issues.

In most cases, the male mid-life crisis is primarily psychological in origin, which can be addressed in a number of ways:

  • Finding better ways of tackling stress, such as exercise or other physical activity, like gardening. 
  • Avoiding alcohol, nicotine or other stimulant drugs that actually add to the body's stress and can dampen your mental wellness.
  • Engaging with a range of complementary therapies, such as aromatherapy and yoga. These can have a powerful relaxing effect which helps promote a positive mood and relieve mild depression. 

The journey from youth to middle age and on into old age may seem daunting, but you can choose to see it as a ‘glass half full’ experience and use it as an opportunity to change the direction of your life: take up a new hobby, learn a new skill, travel, return to education, try something you've never tried before, commit to stretching yourself every day.

Mindfulness practices (which we explored in a previous post)– can really help to centre yourself in the moment and appreciate your adult life as a gift. Talking therapies can also prove helpful, and are a first step in assisting someone you suspect is suffering.

Often, just a conscious change in thought patterns and our own mental perspectives on middle age can start to bring about change. There are many positives within our adult lives that we can tend to overlook, if we focus only on the negatives. These include embarking on more challenging work and learning opportunities, investing time into long-standing friendships and pursuing the opportunity to gain deeper spiritual satisfaction and appreciation in what we do.

If all these suggestions fail to lift the spirits of men you suspect are suffering from a mid-life crisis, then a visit to their GP  to rule out any underlying issues may be advisable. Our Therapy for Men service may also be helpful.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The benefits of a good night’s sleep

It’s estimated that we spend around a third of our lives (around 25 years) sleeping -  that’s a long time - but entirely necessary, if we are to live a long and healthy life.

So, what’s so special about sleep anyway? Why is it important to us and our wellbeing?

While we sleep


Getting enough sleep – and specifically, deep sleep – is vital not only to our physical wellbeing, but to our mental wellness also. When we sleep, our body continues to work, hard. It resets and balances our brain function and fights off anything that threatens our physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development.

Sleep is the mind and body’s opportunity to refresh and restore itself. During periods of deep sleep, growth hormones are released and our immune system rebuilds itself. This doesn’t happen when we’re awake. There are four reported stages of sleep:

Light Sleep: this is the transition from being awake to being asleep. Your breathing slows, and you drift away from consciousness. This stage only occurs once when you first fall asleep.

Unconscious Sleep: during the second stage of sleep, your body temperature decreases and your heart rate slows down. At this stage, you are ready to enter deep sleep.

Deep Sleep: it will be difficult to wake you from a deep sleep. Not much is known about what actually happens to us during a deep sleep. But, given that we don’t dream during deep sleep, it could be the time when our brain refreshes and consolidates our memories.

REM sleep: this is when we dream. If we’re woken up during REM sleep, we can vividly remember what we were dreaming about. Scientists believe that we experience muscle paralysis during REM sleep, so that we don’t injure ourselves while trying to act out our dreams!

Once we’ve actually dropped off, an average sleep cycle averages between 100 to 120 minutes and we could go through up to five sleep cycles each night.

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

Accidents happen


Studies show that sleep loss and poor-quality sleep can lead to accidents and injuries. Indeed, drowsiness can slow reaction time to the same extent as alcohol can.

Memory loss


Sleep helps us to think clearly and a lack of sleep impairs our cognitive processes. We become less aware and find it more difficult to concentrate. When we’re asleep, our minds consolidate what we have learned that day, so a lack of sleep makes it difficult to recall what we have previously experienced.

Health hazards


Sleep disorders and general lack of sleep put us at risk of a number of other conditions, such as heart issues, blood pressure problems, diabetes and stroke. It is said that many people who suffer from insomnia also have another health condition too.

How can we get more sleep?


If you find falling asleep difficult or struggle to sleep when you would like, there are a number of things you can do to help:

Retire and rise at the same time – try and get your body into a routine with regular bedtimes and wake-up calls each morning. Aim for between six to nine hours each night. Use your alarm to wake you and try and stick to the routine – even at the weekends.

Take time to wind down – and that includes turning off the technology! Try a warm bath. Some people find that writing a to-do list for the next day helps to clear the mind, ready for sleep.

Exercise with caution – gentle stretches and yoga type exercises will encourage sleep, but while we may think that exercise leaves us exhausted, it actually reinvigorates us and makes sleep harder to achieve.

So, whatever else you have going on in your life, make sure that you take sleep seriously. Your mind and body will thank you for it!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Getting down with the kids – how to play with your children

It’s the International Day of Families on 15 May 2017.  There is no shortage of blogs detailing the trials and tribulations of being a parent – there is much joy to be had – however, there is no denying that the changes in our society have impacted the lives of our children. They spend more time indoors than previous generations and much less time ‘playing out’ than we may have done when we were young.

This puts pressure on adults to spend more time directing the activities of their children and playing with them. In the main, parents really enjoy playing with children. However,  there is confusion around how adults can best to do this constructively and in a way that fits everyone’s abilities and interests.

Play is a natural learning process for all children. It helps them build confidence and develop physical skills, it teaches them empathy and about caring for others and the environment. For younger children, it also plays a vital role in developing language and communication skills. When children play with their parents, this helps them to feel loved, valued and safe.

In order to play constructively with our children, we need to do two things.

Figure out why we are playing with them


Do we just want to spend more time getting to know them? Is it not safe for them to play outside with their peers? Are their certain social skills that are holding them back from making positive friendships with other children? By being honest about why you are engaging in play, you can develop an activity that will help your child.

Consider how they would play if they were with other children


In order to create a constructive play environment, we should first observe how children play with others. There is a tendency for adults to take control and direct the play, as they would any other interaction with their children (do the dishes, get ready for bed, etc.), but all that’s teaching your child is to be able to take orders! On the other hand, this is not an opportunity for children to boss us about either - parents should be willing to assert themselves as their peers would, or they are not helping them develop the negotiation skills they need in the future.

If we look at animal behaviour, the young will roughhouse and run, just for the sheer fun of it. But in doing so they are learning more about their bodies, what it can do and what their limitations are. It’s easy for us as adults to forget how to play – our bodies don’t work the same as when we were young and we can feel awkward and self-conscious.

An interesting study  (Gray and Feldman, 2004) looked into how teenagers play with younger children. They find it much easier to tap back into their inner child and have less reservations about standing up to a child’s unacceptable demands than we adults do, but they are less likely to offend when they do say no!

So, once we’ve decided we’re going to play, what are we to do? We’ve got a few ideas for you here:

Outdoor play


  1. Throw balls – catch is a good way to improve hand eye coordination, and communication skills.
  2. Go to the local park and push your kids on swings, catch them as they come down the slide – have a go yourself! 
  3. Make mud pies in your garden; if you have a sand pit make sandcastles and get another family to choose the best. 
  4. Go on a nature walk around your local area – make things with what you find.

Indoor play


  1. Play card games/ board games /party games – they teach children (and us) how to win, lose and follow instructions.
  2. Embark on a craft project together – paint, build, stick, sew, bake – kids get a real sense of satisfaction out of creating an ‘end product’.
  3. Listen to music together – sing, play percussion, dance, share stories of music that was popular when you were young.
  4. Read a book together – take it in turns, ask questions, write an alternative ending or make up a new story altogether.

Playing with your children should never replace the time that they spend with their peers, but it is an important opportunity for you both to learn more about each other – and this can only serve to strengthen your family relationships.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

How to give your kids more freedom as summer approaches

The lighter evenings are here and people generally share a desire to spend more time outside than during the autumn and winter. The same is true of our children too – it’s much more appealing to play outside with their friends than to stay home with us.

It’s a dilemma for parents though. Lighter nights provide the perfect distraction to get our children away from all the social media and technology gadgets that claim so much of their time indoors; however, it’s a big, bad world out there. How exactly do we assess whether our children possess the skills they’ll need to survive outside the safety of their home? This interesting article about 'helicopter parenting' looks at the challenges that parenting in today’s modern society brings.

What we need to remember is the fact that we’re trying to build a balance as they move from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. We need them to develop the skills they’ll need to be independent, while still appreciating the role their parents play in terms of advice, guidance and general safety.

As parents, we have a natural tendency to underestimate our children’s readiness to be more independent. We only need to look to our own childhoods to appreciate that the children today do not enjoy many of the freedoms afforded to us by our own parents and carers.

If you think your child may be ready for more freedom – or indeed they are requesting it - our advice is to take baby steps, start off small and build on it. This serves two purposes: it eases the transition for parents between them being visibly safe at home, to spending more time out of eyesight, with their friends; it also enables parents to assess their child’s ability to abide by the rules they are set. Gradually increase the time they’re able to play out by a half an hour at a time and see if they comply. Ask them to call at regular intervals – not just to ease your mind, but also so that they are clear about their responsibility to keep in touch when away from home.

Before making any decisions, it doesn’t hurt to do your research first. Don’t be pressured into agreeing to things just because your child says everyone else is ‘going there’ or ‘doing that’ – do your due diligence first. Ask around the other mums to find out what levels of freedom their peers have and couple this with some of your own online research, using parenting forums and education websites.

Don’t be afraid to build increased freedom rights into your home discipline routines too. Use increased independence as a reward for excellent behaviour and good choices made at home. This reinforces the concept that parents remain the guardians of their children’s time – and how they spend it, which helps to build a mutual respect.

Giving our children the independence they crave – and possibly need, in order to become well rounded, responsible adults – is one of the hardest jobs we have to do as parents. In some ways, the advances in mobile communication make it easier for us to keep tabs on our children in ways our own parents never could. However, our children still need to learn that independence is a privilege – we hold the key to their freedom, but they need to earn it first.