Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Surviving summer holidays on a budget

The thought of keeping the kids occupied during the summer holidays can be quite daunting and can be a great source of anxiety for many parents, especially if you’re on a budget. When school’s out and the sun is shining, children are more likely to be happy entertaining themselves – or at the very least you can grab a bat and a ball and visit the nearest park. However, the chances of a few weeks of great weather are slim, so we’ve pulled together some ideas that will help the summer holidays go swimmingly – without breaking the bank!

Plan ahead


The first thing to do is to plan ahead. If you know what time you have to fill and how you plan to fill it, you are less likely to succumb to impulsive activities that will cost more money. Develop a planner to cover you just for the summer break and work with your children to plot out how you will spend your time.

You don’t need to feel bound by the plan. If the weather is great one day and you fancy a trip to the river, feel free to swap activities around. Get the children involved in the plan, so that everyone has a say in what you’ve scheduled.

Scour the local papers and Facebook groups are full of free activities to fill your summer break. Lots of shops, leisure centres and libraries have a range of free and low cost activities throughout the summer break – and don’t forget the museums and art galleries that are often free to enter. Remember, most free activities need booking in advance, so get organised and plan ahead.

Stick to your budget


There’s no denying that the summer break can be an expensive time. Look carefully at your finances and be clear about the money you have available over the holidays. Make a promise to yourself not to go above and beyond the funds you have available. Break down your budget week by week, so that you don’t spend all your allowance in the first couple of weeks. Think about sharing your budget with the children (if they are old enough) so that they can understand the choices that have to be made.

Make money to spend money


The summer holidays is a great opportunity to teach your children about enterprise and the value of money. There are lots of activities that the kids can get involved in that will result in some revenue for their hard earned cash – which can also then go towards additional summertime treats.

Instead of asking them to tidy their room, ask them to find some old toys to sell on eBay, Shpock or Facebook selling groups. The money raised can be put towards the cinema, brunch or swimming trips that fall outside of your summer budget. Rather than doing arts and crafts that will later decorate your fridge door, suggest activities that the children can sell on to friends and family. Friendship bracelets, door hangers and baked goods are all relatively simple to do and attractive enough to sell.

If you’re feeling adventurous, consider a family Bargain Hunt-type event, where each child is given a small sum of money and tasked with increasing this sum by the end of the week/holiday. They can choose to buy and sell, or spend the money on materials that they will transform into crafts.

When is a chore not a chore?


Even the most mundane of household chores can be turned into an activity for children, with a bit of thought and preparation. Rather than going food shopping, suggest that the children come up with a menu for a family meal. Their job is to assess the ingredients they need, find them in the shop, prepare them and cook the meal. If gardening is your thing, consider setting aside a small corner of the garden so that the children can plant and tend to their own plants and flowers – vegetables and herbs are a good ideas, as they have a purpose and can be used by the children in cooking activities.

The best thing about these ideas is that they help build confidence in children too - so it's a win, win!
Here’s wishing us all a summer filled with sunshine – and remember to plan, just in case it isn’t!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Relaxation tips for getting the most out of your summer break

The summer is finally here – what are your plans? Lazing on the beach, relaxing by the poolside, chilling out reading the latest thriller? Well, that may be what we hope will happen but in reality, the summer break can be a much more hectic affair, as we struggle to juggle the work/life balance - often with kids in tow, while covering for work colleagues as they grab their fortnight in the sun…

As this article highlights, when it comes to relaxation our minds and bodies are linked. This means that relaxation is often beyond our reach while we are stressed and busy trying to survive the holidays.

Learning relaxation techniques can help you to restore calm when you’re feeling stressed, and make you more resilient to the stresses you’ll undoubtedly face over the summer break.

Practising relaxation techniques can have many physical, as well as mental benefits, including slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure. It also improves the quality of your sleep and improves your mood - helping you to get the most out of the summer.

In our busy lives, people can create negative associations with relaxing – claiming that it’s wasting time, or a luxury that we can’t afford. How wrong they are. Regular relaxation and stress-busting techniques are actually time well spent and vital for your physical and emotional health.

You’ll find many suggestions across the web about how to relax and the techniques you can use when you feel the stress starting to build. However, not all of these are compatible with the summer holidays.

The following ideas can be incorporated into your summer’s day, whether you’re at work or play – or trying to do both!

Mindful nature


Take a few minutes to really take in your surroundings. Pick a flower and really look at how it is made up. Take in its colour, the way in which the petals join together around the centre, think about the important job it has to do. Often we engage in activities without really thinking about what we are doing. Taking a mindful moment helps to re-centre us and remind us of our place in the broader scheme of life.

Listen to music


Have you ever wondered at the ability of music to transport us to a different time and place? Music taps into our subconscious and spark our emotions without much effort at all. Compile a couple of short playlists, with songs that contain positive associations, then take a few minutes out of your day to listen to a song or two that you know will either inspire, re-energise and calm you down.

Take a - tech - break


Set some time aside each day to switch off and have a tech break. No checking your emails, no responding to text messages or surfing the net. The fact that we’re constantly contactable and ‘on’ can be very draining, although we may not consciously acknowledge this to be true. By taking a short amount of time every day just to focus on ourselves – and our families – we can recharge our emotional batteries.

Summer is an enjoyable season, but can bring with it additional stresses and strains. For more ideas as to how to get the most out of your summer break, read this article.

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!