Tuesday, 29 May 2012

No tobacco day

With the recent revelation in the news that tobacco companies target their advertising at children, World No Tobacco Day on 31 May 2012 – which draws attention to the health problems caused by tobacco use – seems particularly pertinent.

According to new research, by psychologists at the State University of New York at Buffalo, children before their teenage years are ambivalent to cigarettes and have both positive and negative associations with them. However, the age of 13 onwards is a critical period for preventing smoking, and substance abuse in general, as this is when children are most susceptible to social influences, the media and peer pressure.

The benefits to our physical health of giving up cigarettes are well documented, but a recent study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research has also revealed heavy smokers (20 or more a day) are three times more likely to suffer from major depression compared to heavy smokers who have quit. This finding, although not new, is interesting because researchers have found a one-way causal effect between smoking and depression. That is to say, smoking heavily causes depression rather than the other way round, i.e. depression doesn’t necessarily cause us to smoke.

However, depression and smoking may share certain vulnerabilities, such as our genetic make-up, which may effect the onset of smoking but equally may effect our ability to quit. Indeed, it has been found that women find it harder to give up smoking than men and this has been attributed to the fact that women's brains respond differently to nicotine.

If you need help to give up smoking, please contact your local First Psychology centre:

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440, www.edinburghtherapy.co.uk
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411, www.glasgowpsychology.co.uk
Aberdeen: www.aberdeenpsychology.co.uk OPENING SOON
Borders: 01896-800-400, www.borderspsychology.co.uk

Friday, 25 May 2012

Improve your memory

A recent study from the Mayo Clinic suggests that both mental and physical exercise can lower the risk of memory loss. Following on from our blogs on dementia here are some tips, supported by psychological research, on ways to improve our memory.

  1. Write about your problems – by writing for 20 minutes, a few times a month, about something traumatic that has happened to you, a study by Yogo & Fujuhara (2008) showed that participants’ working memory improved after five weeks. 
  2. Look at a natural scene – by walking among the trees in an arboretum, participants’ in Berman, Jonides & Kaplan’s (2008) study, did 20% better on a memory test than those who went for a walk around busy streets. Even looking at pictures of nature, it seems, can have a beneficial effect. 
  3. Say it out loud – MacLeod et al. (2010) found saying words aloud or even mouthing them led to a 10% improvement in memory. 
  4. Meditate – Zeidan et al. (2010) found meditating for four sessions of 20 minutes, once a day boosted participants’ working memory and other cognitive functions. 
  5. Predict your performance – asking ourselves whether or not we'll remember something can improve our memory. Meier et al. (2011) tested participants’ prospective memory (remembering to do something in the future) and found that trying to predict performance increased by almost 50% for some. 
  6. Use your body – we think with our bodies as well as our minds. Kelly et al. (2009) found that gesturing while teaching Japanese verbs to English speakers helped participants encode the memory. Dijkstra et al. (2007) also found that we recall past episodes better when we are in the same mood, or our bodies are in the same position. 

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440, www.edinburghtherapy.co.uk
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411, www.glasgowpsychology.co.uk
Aberdeen: www.aberdeenpsychology.co.uk OPENING SOON
Borders: 01896-800-400, www.borderspsychology.co.uk



Tuesday, 22 May 2012

More about dementia

Dementia is a term used to define a set of symptoms, such as memory loss, mood changes, problems with communication, reasoning and performing everyday tasks, which result from damage to the brain caused most commonly by Alzheimer’s disease. Over time, these symptoms gradually worsen, but the rate of progression, and the experience of dementia varies from individual to individual.

As we age, our risk of dementia grows and so investigation into the prevention of dementia is becoming increasingly important.

Research has shown those who remain more mentally active throughout their lives are at lower risk of cognitive impairment or dementia. These findings have led researchers to promote the idea of ‘use it or lose it’ and to advise individuals, particularly the elderly, to exercise their brains to preserve mental skills.

Furthermore, although it may make foreign travel easier, speaking more than one language, according to research, published by Cell Press in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, may also protect from signs of dementia.

Bilingualism improves our ‘cognitive reserve’. That is to say, speaking another language stimulates mental and physical activity which has a protective effect on cognitive functioning in healthy ageing. This cognitive reserve is believed to slow the onset of dementia symptoms and indeed, studies have shown bilinguals experience onset of dementia symptoms years later than monolinguals.

So it seems the knowledge and attention required for two languages may reorganise specific brain networks which, in turn, create more effective executive control and help us maintain better cognitive performance throughout our lives.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440, www.edinburghtherapy.co.uk
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411, www.glasgowpsychology.co.uk
Aberdeen: www.aberdeenpsychology.co.uk COMING SOON
Borders: 01896-800-400, www.borderspsychology.co.uk



Friday, 18 May 2012

Raising awareness of dementia

Given the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recent estimate that dementia numbers are expected to triple throughout the world by 2015, from 35.6 million to 115 million, it seems fitting to highlight Dementia Awareness Week taking place in England, Northern Ireland and Wales from 20-26 May this year and in Scotland on 18 June.

The need for this awareness is further emphasised by the figure of $604 million –  the amount predicted to be spent each year on treating individuals with dementia. This includes loss of income of those who have given up work to care for loved ones with dementia.

According to WHO and Alzheimer's Disease International, programs to tackle dementia (only currently undertaken in eight countries) should focus on improving early diagnosis, public awareness about dementia, support for caregivers and reducing the stigma associated with dementia.

Unfortunately, health care workers are often insufficiently trained to detect dementia. Only one in five of all dementia cases are diagnosed and in the majority of cases, the disease is in its latter stages at this point.

Lack of information and understanding of the disease are to blame for the stigma attached to dementia. Many people, including caregivers, feel socially isolated because of it. Reducing the stigma will hopefully reduce delays in diagnosis as well as delays in support and healthcare.

In most cases, dementia sufferers are cared for informally by friends and family, including children, but caregivers themselves can be vulnerable to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, as well as poor physical health. Therefore, the more support given to carers, the longer individuals with dementia can remain at home rather than enter costly care.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440, www.edinburghtherapy.co.uk
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411, www.glasgowpsychology.co.uk
Aberdeen: www.aberdeenpsychology.co.uk OPENING SOON
Borders: 01896-800-400, www.borderspsychology.co.uk



Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The benefits of quality time with the family

In our previous blog, we discussed ways to improve the balance of our working lives, but let's now examine the impact too much work can have on family life. Although a crude measure, one of the most revealing signs that work and the demands of our hectic lives are stealing time away from home, is a decrease in the family tradition of sitting down for dinner together.

In the US, the Journal of American Medicine has documented only 43% of families sit down and eat together every day. Although this may not seem significant, it has been shown that regular family meals provide children with better nutrition and also boost communication skills, performance at school and encourage better overall health and well-being.

What’s more, the National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University has established teenagers who have frequent family dinners (5-7 times a week) compared to those who don’t, are at less risk of substance abuse. Children who have family dinners less than 3 times a week are 4 times more likely to smoke tobacco, try drugs and are twice as likely to drink alcohol. This study, as well as others, demonstrates the effect that family meals have on protecting children from the lure and stresses of everyday life.

Given these findings and the growing epidemic of eating disorders in the younger population, researchers at Harvard Medical School explored other benefits of family meals such as the prevention of eating disorders. Their research revealed young girls (aged 9 -14) who ate dinner with their family most days were less likely to binge eat, purge their food or frequently diet the year after.

If you or anyone you know has an eating disorder or needs help with work-life balance issues tplease contact your local First Psychology centre (below) to book an initial session with one of our experienced practitioners:
Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440, www.edinburghtherapy.co.uk
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411, www.glasgowpsychology.co.uk
Aberdeen: www.aberdeenpsychology.co.uk
Borders: 01896-800-400, www.borderspsychology.co.uk

Friday, 11 May 2012

Ensuring a work family balance

The theme for this year's International Day of Families, which is celebrated globally on 15 May, is ‘Ensuring a work family balance’. In the first of two blogs on the topic, we are going to examine how to get the work part of this balance right.

Work, however much you enjoy it, can have a nasty habit of coming home with you like an uninvited guest and robbing your loved ones of quality time. Below are some tips on how to leave work at work:

  1. Release nagging, work-related thoughts – acknowledge your thoughts, notice if there is anything deeper behind them, label your thoughts (write them down if it helps) and then let them go. Begin and end the process by focusing on your breath and the sounds you hear. 
  2. Unravel like a thread from your job-related stress – imagine you're unwinding your list of worries, distancing yourself from any nagging thoughts about outstanding work, and freeing yourself from these thoughts with each rotation of the spool. Today there is no work, but tomorrow, you’ll get to it. 
  3. Laughter is the best medicine – it can lift our mood, calm us down and distract us from perceived doom. Make a list of things that make you laugh and then act them out, e.g. renting a comedy, watching stand-up or catching up with a friend who makes you laugh. 
  4. Be a tourist – we often do things automatically without thinking when carrying out our day-to-day activities. By seeing and doing things, as if for the first time, through the eyes of a tourist you will rediscover life around you. For example, take time to notice the sights and sounds on your commute home from work. 
First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440, www.edinburghtherapy.co.uk
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411, www.glasgowpsychology.co.uk 
Aberdeen: www.aberdeenpsychology.co.uk OPENING SOON!
Borders: 01896-800-400, www.borderspsychology.co.uk

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Improving communication with people who have hearing problems

The ability to communicate clearly is something we often take for granted. However, one in six people in the UK experience some form of hearing loss, which means we may be excluding people and making their lives more difficult without realising it.

Deaf Awareness Week from 7-13 May aims to raise awareness and understanding of different types of deafness by highlighting the different methods of communication used by deaf and hard of hearing people.

Communicating with someone who is deaf doesn't have to be hard, it just takes time and patience to make sure it is undertaken in the individuals’ preferred method and that above all, it is effective.

Hearing aids can help but they don’t restore hearing perfectly and so the wearer may rely on lipreading. People born profoundly deaf often use sign language as their means of communication and often can’t lipread or understand written English - sign language is structured in a completely different way to English.

Tips to help improve communication with relatives, friends, colleagues and customers who may have hearing problems

  • Attract the listener's attention before you start speaking by waving or tapping them on the arm.
  • Always face the person you’re talking to. 
  • Find a suitable place to talk, with good lighting and away from noise and distractions. 
  • Speak clearly but not too slowly and be careful not to exaggerate your lip patterns. 
  • Don't shout as this can distort lip patterns and make you look aggressive. 
  • Don’t cover your mouth with your hands or clothing. 
  • Use natural facial expressions and gestures. 
  • Check that the person you're talking to is following what you’re saying. Use short and simple sentences and avoid jargon. 
  • Don’t keep repeating what you’re saying if someone doesn't understand. Try to say the same thing in a different way. 
  • In group conversations, include deaf and hearing people in the conversation and don't just focus on those that can hear. 
  • If using communication support, talk directly to the deaf person rather than the interpreter and maintain eye contact. 
First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations: 

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440, www.edinburghtherapy.co.uk
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411, www.glasgowpsychology.co.uk
Aberdeen: www.aberdeenpsychology.co.uk (opening soon!)
Borders: 01896-800-400, www.borderspsychology.co.uk

Friday, 4 May 2012

How to go with the flow

Continuing on from our last blog on flow, we are most likely to find it, it seems, when we are faced with a task that has a clear goal or when our skills are fully immersed in completing a task which is challenging, but attainable. 

If our task is too easy, flow can be restored by increasing its difficulty but if it’s too great a challenge, acquiring new skills can help us to resume this state of flow.

Flow can occur in all aspects of life, but is particularly useful for enhancing performance in the following areas:

Education - overlearning a skill or concept can help us experience flow, as can stretching ourselves beyond our current level of ability.

Sports - engaging in a challenging athletic activity that is achievable but that, once again, slightly stretches our ability, can help us reach flow. Flow enables athletes to gain a sense of mastery of their performance and lose any self-consciousness they may feel.

Work – allowing ourselves to completely focus on a task or project at work, can cultivate flow like an author writing a novel.

Flow not only makes our lives more fulfilling and enjoyable, it can also enhance learning performance and skill development as we constantly seek out challenges and knowledge to assist us in finding and going with the flow.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations: 
Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440, www.edinburghtherapy.co.uk
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411, www.glasgowpsychology.co.uk
Aberdeen: www.aberdeenpsychology.co.uk (opening soon!)
Borders: 01896-800-400, www.borderspsychology.co.uk

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Happiness and flow

Have you ever been so immersed in what you’re doing you lose track of time? Focusing so intently on the task at hand you’re not conscious of what you’re thinking or feeling? Every action you take is automatic, you’re using your skills to the best of your ability and you feel energised in doing so?

We might use phrases such as being ‘in the moment’, on the ball’, or ‘in the zone’ to describe these feelings and according to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, these experiences also describe a mental state known as ‘flow’.

Flow can be experienced in many ways. Some people experience it while engaging in sport and others during creative pursuits. It can last for minutes, hours, days or longer periods of time. Flow is an inner state of being that brings us happiness because we become absorbed in activities which have meaning and purpose and as a result, feel connected to our inner self and others. So, how do we experience flow and achieve happiness?

Factors for achieving flow
The following factors have been identified as being important, but not all are necessary for flow to occur:

  1. Clear, attainable, but challenging goals. 
  2. Strong concentration and focused attention. 
  3. An intrinsically rewarding activity. 
  4. Feelings of serenity - a loss of feelings of self-consciousness. 
  5. Timelessness - feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time passing. 
  6. Immediate feedback. 
  7. Knowing the task is possible - a balance between skill level and the challenge presented. 
  8. Feelings of personal control over the situation and the outcome. 
  9. Lack of awareness of physical needs. 
  10. Complete focus on the activity itself. 
Look out for our next blog which discusses the benefits of flow and how to apply it to certain aspects of our lives.

First Psychology Scotland has centres in the following locations:  

Edinburgh: 0131-668-1440, www.edinburghtherapy.co.uk
Glasgow: 0141-404-5411, www.glasgowpsychology.co.uk
Aberdeen: opening soon!
Borders: 01896-800-400, www.borderspsychology.co.uk