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!

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.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

It’s national humour month – what makes laughter the best medicine?

The saying goes that laughter is the best medicine and there’s no denying the fact that our spirits lift when we smile or laugh. But why exactly is it so therapeutic and what can we do to make sure humour remains a constant component of our everyday lives?

National Humour Month kicked off on 1st April, April Fool’s Day, a day when it’s culturally OK to laugh, joke and prank our friends and family. The sentiment behind National Humour Month is more serious – it’s about raising awareness of the therapeutic value of humour; what happens to our bodies, our mental wellbeing and our quality of life when we laugh and joke.

As good for you as exercise – and much more fun!


The fact that laughter is good for you is grounded in scientific research too. In this video link
we see how the blood sugar levels of diabetic patients rise less after eating a meal at a comedy show, because laughing improves digestion and speeds up respiration and blood circulation. It also claims that laughing 100 or more times a day may have the same health benefits as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise!

We laugh at people, more than we do actual jokes


In another study reviewed here, students observed more than 1000 people laughing spontaneously in their natural environments. They found that mostly we laugh at other people rather than actual jokes – the way they relay stories, observe everyday life and provide commentary on the ordinary and mundane. This goes to suggest that if we surround ourselves with happy people, it will rub off on us too. It's the act of laughing that makes people feel better – rather than what we laugh at – so a good sense of humour and a positive attitude play a role in the health benefits we experience, too.

It’s OK to fake it


The best news is that the benefits you get from laughing can be realised whether your laughter is real – or forced! It’s all about the physical act of laughing. While you may feel awkward at first, the people who attend the Laughter Club mentioned in this Huffington Post article say that you soon lose your inhibitions and natural laughter follows – along with the benefits to your wellbeing.

So, why exactly is laughing so good for us?


  • A good laugh relieves tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
  • Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies.
  • Laughter releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, which makes us feel happy and can help relieve pain.
  • Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow.

Remember, laughing is for life – not just April, but why not use National Humour Month as the catalyst to welcome more laughter into your life? It can only be good for you.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Exercising for health and wellbeing – making the most of the great outdoors

Do you have a spring in your step, now that the seasons have changed?

There is something about the lighter evenings and brighter weather that make us yearn to be outdoors. The great news is that this can be as good for your mind, as it can for your body.

The link between exercise and our physical wellbeing is well documented, however it is now becoming evident that exercise has benefits beyond our body. It can be good for our mental wellbeing too – and when we feel good on the inside, it shows on the outside. We’re not talking hours in the gym either, the NHS website outlines lots of ways that you can start to incorporate healthy activity into your busy daily schedule.



Now that Spring has sprung, we have no excuse not to be outside more. A study back in 2012 by the University of Glasgow found people who exercise outdoors experience half the mental health risks of those who exercise inside, and that a jog through the forest was much better for you than an hour of high impact activity in the gym! Just twenty minutes moderate exercise outside is enough to put a smile on your face and give you a feeling on inner wellbeing that will continue throughout the day.

So why does physical activity make us feel good?


When we exercise, our body releases endorphins which are the body’s natural sedative. These help us calm down, focus our thoughts and approach situations with greater clarity. Put simply, endorphins make us feel as though we can take on the world!

The hardest part is always getting started. So we’ve developed a round-up of some outdoors activities, that are good for you without you even realising it…

Gardening


Digging, planting, clearing leaves, moving pots, mowing the lawn are all more strenuous than we realise – and much more enjoyable than an hour on a treadmill. At this time of year, our gardens really could you with a bit of TLC, so why not?

Cleaning the windows


No-one wants to spend time and effort cleaning windows when the weather is lousy, so chances are your window’s really could do with a spruce up at this time of the year. All the bending and reaching really does give your body a workout.

Washing the car


Wax on, wax off… In the twenty-odd minutes it takes to give your car a really good clean, your heart will have started to pump more blood around your body than usual, producing the endorphins you need to raise your mood.

Buying groceries


Yes, buying groceries is a chore, but why not turn it into part of your exercise regime? Pick a shop 15 minutes' walk away and head there to buy the shopping you need. The return journey will provide even more of a workout, as you’ll be carrying the bags but remember to distribute your shopping load equally and don't overload yourself.

How long do I need to be outside for?


As little as 30 minutes is enough to release the serotonin and endorphins we need to feel better mentally – and this can be split into two shorter 15 minutes stints if it helps. For more information about how to get the most out of your outdoor walks, a professor at by the University of Exeter looks at the reasons why walking is such an effective form of exercise and the ways in which we can get the most out of walking in this article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-122898/Why-walking-workout-good-body.html 

Monday, 20 March 2017

International Day of Happiness - what would you write on your wall?

Today is international day of happiness, a day started by the United Nations in 2012. The first year that the day was celebrated, orange 'happiness walls' sprang up in many cities - places for people to share their ideas for achieving happiness.

So we thought we'd do our own happiness wall with some tips for achieving happiness in life.

What would you write on your own happiness wall? Visit Twitter and tell us what you'd put on your wall using #HappinessWall and we'll add our favourite tips to our own wall.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Nutrition and hydration week - how food can affect your mood

The saying goes that we are what we eat and what better time to look at whether there’s any truth in the saying than during Nutrition and Hydration week?

Drink


When it comes to drinking, people often choose alcohol to help change their mood. They may have a tipple to feel more relaxed, to help them engage more freely with others, or to give them that ‘happy’ vibe. However, evidence suggests that while alcohol does indeed change our mood, it’s not in the way we think. As a depressant, booze is likely to worsen symptoms of anxiety. So as we drink to alleviate feelings of stress, sadness or anxiety, in reality alcohol is exacerbating them.

The same can be said of caffeine. When taken in a drink, Caffeine quickly blocks the action of a brain chemical called adenosine. It’s a naturally occurring sedative so without it we feel more alert and sharp. That’s why coffee is a popular morning beverage However, for people pre-disposed to feelings of anxiety, it can actually leave you feeling more anxious.

Similar chemical changes occur in our body when we drink sugary drinks too. We get a rush and peak of energy as the sugar reaches our system – which can feel great and make us more productive – only to crash again soon after as our body over-produces insulin to absorb all the sugar. This leaves us feeling irritable and less able to focus. These highs and lows can be significant when it comes to managing our moods.

Food


There are a number of studies that have been done into the links between what we eat and how it impacts our mood. But the converse is also true – does our mood affect what we choose to eat, and in doing so does it create a vicious circle? We feel down so we make bad food choices that only serve to make us feel worse. This article in psychology week looks at the many ways in which our mood affects our food choices and the impact this then has on our body and brain.

There are a few golden rules to follow if you believe that your food choices could be impacting on your mood. It’s not rocket science, but it’s always best to look at the some of the most common contributory factors before we look at other ways of modifying our eating and drinking behaviours.

Five golden rules to boost your mood


  1. Eat regularly to avoid peaks and troughs in blood sugar – food fuels the body and without it we cannot function properly.
  2. Eat more carbohydrates – carbohydrates help your body produce serotonin which makes you feel ‘happy and healthy’. But make sure they are 'complex' carbohydrates from wholemeal foods rather than carbohydrates from refined foods, which will result in peaks and troughs in blood sugar (see point 1)
  3. Eat plenty of fish to make sure your levels of omega oils are topped up – a deficiency has been linked to low mood.
  4. Eat plenty of iron to keep energy levels up – without iron we can feel fatigued and preoccupied.
  5. Eat less fat – it quite literally weighs us down and leaves us feeling sluggish.

According to mental health charity Mind, improving our diet can lead to greater positivity, more energy, clearer thinking and calmer moods. They outline eight tips on how to improve your mood through food -  – including drinking more water and making healthy choices

Unfortunately, there is no one rule fits all when it comes to ‘clean’ eating and drinking habits that will improve our mood. Our bodies are all different and as such, we will each react differently when we consume certain food and beverages. What we can do, however, is get to know how our bodies react to what we put in our mouths and make more mindful decisions about what we consume in order to keep our spirits high.

Friday, 3 March 2017

The benefits of living a simple and minimalist life


The first of March marked the meteorological start of spring and the time of year when we start to think everything is possible with the promise of longer days ahead. Very often we mark the start of Spring with a good old clear out – to wipe away the Winter cobwebs and enter the season with a clean slate.

There’s a saying that most of us have everything we need, if not everything we want. This suggests our desire to have things surrounding us often detracts from what we need to really make us happy.

Minimalism is the practice of living with only those things you need. It is said to enable you to focus on what you most value in life, without being distracted by things.

Some practising minimalists claim that getting rid of 'stuff' can actually set us free. So, this March why not take the opportunity to go to town on your Spring clear out?

For every item you remove from your house, you release trapped energy. People often talk about feeling as though a weight has been lifted when they've got rid of some of their things, so we’ve developed some tips for getting started:

Break it down into chunks


If your house is like most others, your clutter will have built up over years, rather than weeks. So sometimes the thought of trawling through it all can be quite daunting. Don’t let this put you off. Simply break the big task down into smaller chunks. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, every step towards a more minimalist environment is a step forward. Set yourself a time – once, twice, three times a week – to get stuck in and peel off the layers of clutter one at a time.

Sell, sell, sell…


It can be hard to simply give away all the stuff you’ve spent your hard earned money on and that’s one of the reasons we hold onto things for longer than we need to. Don’t despair, there are loads of ways of making cash out of your old stuff. As well as eBay, there are Facebook groups, car boot apps, companies that buy unwanted CDs and DVDs, etc. Remember, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so if you’ve got the time, make the effort and get some cash back for the things you no longer use or need.

Charity begins at home


Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to offer things you don’t need to friends and family. Look out for small charities or organisations in your local area that are in need of a helping hand. Give old toys to nearby schools, nurseries or children's charities; books and DVDs to the library. It feels good to know that the stuff you no longer needs is being valued by someone else. Charity shops are also always on the lookout for quality donations, with pretty much all of the money they raise from your goods going to a worthy cause.


The transition from living a life of plenty to living a more minimalist life doesn’t happen overnight – and we’re not saying you need to rid yourself of all your worldly goods in order to live a long and happy life. What we're suggesting, however, is that we recognise the difference between the things we want and things we need, then try to separate the two.


For more tips on making the move to minimalism, read this: http://www.becomingminimalist.com/creative-ways-to-declutter/

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Reflection and contemplation in everyday life

There’s a saying that: if you do what you always do, you’ll get what you’ve always got. So today, we thought we'd encourage you to reflect on your lives; to take stock on where you are right now and the changes you would need to make to get somewhere else.

Self-reflection is as it suggests: taking a look at yourself, your actions and behaviour and being honest about what you see. ‘Reflection’ is the practice of thinking about things and assessing where improvements could be made. We’ve defined three key areas where self-reflection should be focussed.

Strengths


What are you good at? Where do you excel? Which tasks do you complete easily and without hesitation? You may find you have to look at your perceived weaknesses in order to establish where your strengths really lie.

Skills


What specific skills do you have? How do these compare with the tasks you are often asked to perform? Self-reflection is about recognising what we can do readily and the areas where we need to improve.

Successes


Our successes are a great way of establishing the areas in which we shine. Self-reflection and self-improvement are as much about what we have achieved already as they are about how we can improve. It's only by examining the two areas hand in hand, that we will get a true reflection of who we are.


The main benefit of self-reflection is that it helps us to notice – and put an end to – negative patterns and behaviours that are holding us back in life. The hardest part is identifying these patterns. Once we have done this all we need is perspective to put solutions in place.

Self-refection requires us to have an idea of where we want to go in life and what we want to achieve – without this, we are unable to consider alternative solutions to our actions. Without an overall goal in mind, our daily tasks do not hold the same purpose and the need for self-reflection diminishes.

We must remind ourselves of where we are going, in order to get there. Having a destination helps us keep a positive mindset and helps prevent us focusing on matters that lie outside our control. It is only by looking at what we have done before, that we can really establish what we need to do differently in order to succeed in future.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Relationships are for life, not just for Valentine’s Day

Next week it’s Valentine’s Day. The day when we shower our loved ones with cards and gifts to show them just how much they mean to us.

It’s really important to tell other people that we love and appreciate them and, in today’s busy world, sometimes we need a nudge!

However, romance is for all year round – not just for Valentine’s Day – so here are our top four fabulous ways to keep the romance alive every day.

Show your appreciation


It’s the little things that matter – rather than the grand gestures – when you have been together for some time. Very often couples fall into the trap of taking each other for granted and forget what their lives were like before they met. Sometimes taking the time to remind your partner that you're glad they're there is all your relationship needs to keep the romantic feelings alive. An unexpected text message or a note in a workbag or under your partner’s pillow are little ways to show that you're thinking about them – and that makes people feel good. The main reason people leave their job is because they feel undervalued and unappreciated. The same is true in relationships, so remember a little bit of effort goes a long way.

Surprise each other


Marilyn Monroe sang 'diamonds are a girl’s best friend' and while it is nice to be showered with expensive gifts, just as much joy can be gained from little surprises. In a long term relationship or marriage, this could be as small and insignificant as emptying the dishwasher or putting the washing away when it’s not 'your turn’. It is surprising how quickly we fall into roles when in a long term relationship with jobs beings seen as ‘mine’ or ‘yours’ – doing one of ‘their’ jobs is not only a lovely surprise for your partner, but also a way of demonstrating that you acknowledge and appreciate the role that they play in the relationship. Don’t get us wrong though, surprise weekends away without the kids are likely to incite favourable reactions too!

Book time in your diary to be together


Have you noticed how important scheduling is in today’s busy society? We don’t often have the time to simply ‘be’ and without our diary and to-do list we are scared that something important will fall through the cracks. Think about it though – how much ‘relationship time’ do you schedule into your diary? The answer is likely none, and as a result, your relationship will be the first thing to suffer when time pressures get the better of you. Carving time out in your diary to be together legitimises it, makes it valuable, and this makes you less likely to reschedule. Just an hour on a Wednesday for a coffee and a natter, for example, or a Friday evening once a month to do an activity together is all the time you need to nurture your relationship. Who knows, maybe these ‘together times’ will become the highlight of your busy week, however contrived and unspontaneous they may feel at first.

Make the everyday things special


After a while all relationships calm down into a humdrum and monotonous routine of daily life. What we need to do is put in the effort to make the everyday more appealing. Instead of Thursday night dinner in front of the tv – make Thursday your dinner date night, where you need to dress to impress and sit at the table as you would if you were out or rather than vegging out to watch a film while catching up on your email – make it a movie night, with popcorn, fizzy pop, dimmed lights, the works. Invest in your time together and your relationship will thank you for it.


Relationships are precious, yet they often bear the brunt of our busy schedules and complicated lives. So make a deal with yourself – and your partner – that this year Valentine’s Day will mark the start of a year of romance…

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Tips for building trust in your relationship; can weather affect your mood

After a cosy, family-oriented festive season, January can sometimes fall a little flat. Often the pressure of holding it all together over the holidays can impact on our personal relationships in the New Year – add to that the miserable weather and it’s easy to see why we need to spend more time nurturing our relationships with those we hold dear.

For us, January is about two things relationship-wise: taking the time to build trust with your partner and understanding the impact that the weather can have on your mood.

When there’s trust in a relationship you know that whatever bickers and squabbles the winter months bring, it won’t impact on your relationship in the longer term.

You can build trust in a number of ways:


Building boundaries


Having clear boundaries together is a crucial part of building trust. Boundaries can be about all kinds of things, including how much time you need to yourself. If you find the need to spend more time alone during the winter, be open with your partner so they know up front what your expectations are. If your partner understands why you need these boundaries in place – as well as some of the things that you’re willing to be more flexible on – it will make it easier to navigate through the difficult winter months.

Clear communication


It’s important that you’re able to talk about any worries, doubts and hopes openly, as this will help you negotiate your expectations and move forward together. If the winter months have proved difficult for you in previous years – or relationships – tell your partner, so they can understand your behaviour and minimise any impact your actions and mood will have on your relationship.

Investigate your issues


Even great relationships experience problems from time to time – that’s life! The way we deal with these issues are what sets the great relationships apart from the rest. It’s important to take time out to analyse how you’re feeling and think about how this may be influencing your behaviour. Take ownership for the part that you play in any disagreements. We’ll usually be able to see there are things we could have done better if we’re honest with ourselves. Talk about what happened and how you’re feeling and really listen to what your partner has to say.


So why exactly are the first few months of the year so problematic for some relationships? Can we really blame the weather?


Sunlight and serotonin


Serotonin is a chemical found in the human body that carries signals between nerves, contributing to wellbeing and happiness. Some scientists believe a lack of sunlight associated with rainy days can cause serotonin levels to dip – that’s why we often crave stodgy food at this time of the year. Rather than carbs though, we should be reaching for the starchy vegetables and supplements to lighten our mood during the long winter months, as well as spending as much time as possible outdoors in natural light.


Don’t be SAD


Seasonal Affective Disorder is a depressive illness caused by a lack of natural sunlight. It can leave people feeling lethargic and suffering from noticeable changes in mood. Approximately 20% of people in the UK experience some SAD symptoms, while another 8% suffer more seriously to the point that it affects their daily lives. There are two proven ways of relieving the symptoms associated with the change in the seasons. The first is natural light and the second is exercise.

More information about SAD and how to relieve the symptoms >

Rain and rage


There is also research that draws a correlation between the levels of rainfall and people’s aggressiveness. While these findings are not specific to winter rain, they found that the more it rained (especially when the rain wasn’t expected or forecast), the more aggressive people seemed to get.

So whatever the reasons for your irrational and irritable behaviour this winter, understand that the weather could be contributing – and be prepared to put the work in up front to build up your personal relationships so they’re ready to weather the storm!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Who needs the gym? Alternatives that will benefit both mind and body

Nearly two weeks into 2017 and it’s time to review how much headway we’re making with our resolutions…

Joining the gym is a popular resolve after the excesses of the festive period. It is a grand gesture – but one of the resolutions most likely to fall by the wayside by the end of January. There are a variety of reasons for this: going to the gym requires a change in behaviour that many of us just can’t maintain in the long term, plus we often don’t have the spare time to go once we’re back into the daily routine after the holidays. In fact, gym owners actually rely on us not maintaining our new exercise regime – that’s how they can keep prices low for everyone!

All resolutions are made with the best of intentions. Exercise keeps our bodies - and our minds - in tip-top condition, so anything we can do to increase the amount of exercise in our lives is to be applauded. However, rather than signing on the dotted line at the gym, the key to making this resolution stick is to keep things simple.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists believes that the mind can’t function properly if your body is not looked after – the reverse is also true. The state of your mind affects your body. So, if for whatever reason, you started the year with high hopes of exercising and it hasn’t quite materialised, don’t beat yourself up or you’ll end up in a vicious cycle of inactivity and low mood.

We’ve been looking at alternatives to the gym that will not only help keep your resolution alive, but also have a positive impact on your brain and your body!

The great outdoors


Outdoor exercising is not only free, but you’re more likely to stick at it. That’s because the preparation time is minimal and you’re less likely to get bored (indeed, your ‘gym’ can change according to your location and depending on your mood). You could also argue that you’ll burn more energy outside than in, due to the natural resistance provided by the wind and changing terrain.

Walking is a great way to kick start your outside exercising regime. It’s low risk and – research shows – can not only improve someone's daily positive emotions but also provide a non-pharmacological solution to serious conditions like depression.

Meditation in motion


There is evidence that shows that tai chi – the art of combining deep breathing and relaxation with slow and gentle movements – has value in treating and preventing many health problems. Originally developed as a martial art in 13th-century China, tai chi is today practised around the world as a health-promoting exercise. In fact Harvard described the practice as ‘medication in motion’.

If a formal class is not for you, it can be practised anywhere, at any time and you don’t need any equipment. This makes it an ideal addition to any exercise regime.

Say ‘yes’ to yoga


Yoga has its roots in Hindu spirituality. It involves breath control, simple meditation and the adoption of specific body postures and is widely practised for health and relaxation. Although it won’t count towards the 150 minutes of moderate activity recommended, it is an excellent way of strengthening your muscles which can help manage conditions such as arthritis and back pain.

If you’re new to yoga and would like to give it a try, do a bit of research on the type of class that would best suit your exercise needs and fitness abilities. For most beginners a hatha or vinyasa class will provide a good introduction.

Whatever activity you plump for, it’s important that you choose something you'll love – this is key to unlocking the mental benefits that exercise can deliver, alongside the physicsal benefits.

recent study from a university in the Netherlands found that the more absorbed individuals were in their chosen activity, the greater satisfaction they felt. It is this satisfaction that leads to us keeping up with our activities – or not!

So, if you’re finding your resolution to take more exercise hard to bear, maybe it’s time to review the activities you’re doing, rather than the resolution you made on the 1st January.

Best of luck – and keep up the good work!