emotional first aid guy winch

When we experience aches, pains or a chesty cough where do we head? Straight to our local doctor of course. When it comes to emotional pain – guilt, loss, loneliness – what do we do? Most of the time we try to sort it ourselves.

We (try to) keep calm and carry on. Instead of seeking the help of a professional – as we do for physical health problems – we soldier on. Often with wildly varying degrees of success or failure.

The concept of emotional first aid


It is this preference for dealing with mental health challenges on our own that has inspired the concept of emotional first aid. In this thought-provoking talk, psychologist Guy Winch encourages us to stop trying to cope on our own and practice emotional first aid instead.

Based on an attitude that views physical, emotional and mental pain in exactly the same way, Winch suggests we treat all these ailments with professional help.



The Spark Counselling

Are you dealing with emotional or relationship issues at the moment? The Spark’s counselling and relationship support services offer the opportunity  to speak to a professional counsellor about the difficulties and challenges you are facing right now.

We provide counselling services to individuals, couples, children and young people, and families. To find out more freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an online enquiry.

Dementia

According to the Alzheimer’s Society over 850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia. The impact of dementia on sufferers and their carers is deeply upsetting. In particular the effect on their relationship is a very emotionally and mentally painful feature of this illness.

The symptoms of dementia and the inevitable loss of the sufferers’ personality can push relationships to breaking point.

Losing the person you love to dementia


DementiaTypical symptoms can include impaired decision-making and problem solving. Meaning previously simple tasks like cooking a meal or going to buy groceries become very difficult. A dementia sufferer’s personality can change quite rapidly. Thus individuals who were once happy and relatively care-free can become easily frustrated, angry, anxious or depressed as a consequence of the illness.

Sufferers can in some cases experience delusions which result in them falsely accusing loved ones of stealing. The belief that their nearest and dearest are taking money, clothes or family heirlooms is a common symptom associated with certain kinds of dementia.

Can relationships survive dementia?


Common to all of these is the pressure it places upon relationships. Spouses, children and grand-children often take on responsibility as a primary carer.

Cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and the like tend to fall solely on the shoulders of the carer. Mood changes, accusations of theft and worsening memory take an emotional toll on both the sufferer and carer. The deterioration of the relationship can be as painful for the carer as watching a loved one they once knew intimately, slowly drift away.

Dementia effects relationships within the whole family


But it is not only the relationship between carer and dementia sufferer that can be compromised. Relationships between the carer and their own partner, children and wider family can also be damaged. Increasing amounts of time spent caring for an elderly relative leaves little time to maintain a marriage or family relationship. The stress of caring can also easily spill over in to those relationships.

Dementia can appear like a life sentence for carers. The illness forces us to watch a loved one disappear. Meanwhile the pressure and responsibilities upon our own shoulders increase. There are thankfully ways to help ease the burden and make the best of your associated relationships.

Hurtful comments are not deliberate


It is important to understand that your loved one cannot control this process. Changes in mood, delusions and at times nasty and hurtful comments are not of their choosing. Dementia is the result of diseases and conditions that damage brain cells. The hurtful words may come from the mouth of your loved one but they are not deliberate.

Focus on positives and not dementia


DementiaFocusing on the positives can provide a break from the negativity that often surrounds dementia. Place your attention upon the things your loved one can still do as opposed to the things they cannot do. As a child grows we celebrate what they can do and almost entirely ignore what they are yet to learn. A similar approach can be beneficial when dealing with dementia.

Similarly, pay close attention to moments of positivity during your time with them. For example a kind word, smile or a time of laughter are the moments to take away from each visit. Not the repetitive conversations or forgetfulness.

Make time to deal with your own emotions


As a carer it is important to confront rather than ignore the feelings and emotions you are experiencing. Talking about your situation and how it is impacting upon you can help deal with difficult emotions.

Share your situation with other family members or friends. Join support groups and meet with fellow carers. Try your best not to bottle up how you are feeling.

At times carers may experience feelings of anger and resentment towards their loved one. Admitting having such feelings to a family member for example can create other emotions of shame and guilt.

When talking to family is not enough


Those feelings are completely natural under the difficult circumstances of dementia. But talking about them to family members can sometimes be impossible. Counselling can provide a safe place where you can talk freely and openly about how you feel.

A counsellor has no emotional ties to the situation which allows them to be impartial and fair. Unlike a family member who is emotionally involved in the situation, a counsellor is completely removed from it.

Look after yourself as well as your loved one


Finally it is important to look after yourself. Carers can feel duty-bound to be on call 24/7. Often that creates intense feelings of guilt at taking a day off or spending time doing something purely for themselves.

In reality not taking time out can lead to carers being emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted, consequently unable to look after their loved one.

Dementia is a tragic illness but it need not be the case that carers have to suffer alone and in silence. Organisations like Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer Scotland, Dementia UK and Age Concern offer help, support and advice for carers. Counselling charities like The Spark can also help address the complicated relationship issues that emerge when dealing with dementia.


Are you a carer looking after a loved one with dementia? Could you benefit from talking to a counsellor about your relationship to talk to someone?

Life can be challenging at times. And speaking to a loved one or friend sometimes is not enough to help overcome those challenges. Speaking to a counsellor can help you understand the problems you face and decide how to move forward positively.

Find out more about our counselling services for couples, individuals and families on freephone 0808 802 0050. Alternatively find your nearest counselling centre or complete an enquiry form.

male postnatal depression

The idea that male postnatal depression exists has long been considered in the same terms as man flu. Reactions can vary from a raised eyebrow to thinly veiled contempt when the subject is broached. Familiar gender stereotypes entrench the belief that a dad ‘can’t get’ postnatal depression. A viewpoint justified on the basis of a perceived limited role in pregnancy, childbirth and the early months of life.

The reality is that male postnatal depression is real. Why? Because new dads go through a similar emotional, physical and mental rollercoaster as new mums. The upheaval, trauma and radical change that comes with parenthood affects both men and women. In the case of new fathers this might be the combination of new/expanded responsibilities at home plus the pressure of potentially becoming the sole bread-winner for the family.

What have the dads got to be depressed about?


male postnatal depression Monty Python
What have the Dad’s got to be depressed about?

The situation could be likened to the classic scene from the infamous Monty Python film ‘The Life of Brian’. The Peoples Front of Judea (or was it the Judean People’s Front?) lament ‘what have the Roman’s ever done for us?’

They could easily be swapped for a council of mums debating ‘what have the dad’s got to be depressed about?’ The punchline – spoiler alert – is of course that the group begin to rhyme off a list of very robust rebuttals.

A ground-breaking study in New Zealand revealed that while men are less likely to seek help, they are just as likely as women to experience postnatal depression.

Other data suggests this can mean as many as 1 in 10 new dads experience postnatal depression and research by NCT suggests more than 1 in 3 new fathers are worried about their mental health.

Misunderstanding postnatal depression


Postnatal depression is not completely understood. Previous theories believed it an entirely hormonal issue. This has been widely discounted. In turn that has undermined one of the primary arguments against male postnatal depression. If men do not experience the same hormonal changes as women, there is no trigger for postnatal depression.

Current thinking considers any form of postnatal depression to be a combination of birth trauma, changes in the relationship between mum and dad, isolation and financial pressures. Whilst the experiences of new mothers and fathers differ, they share almost all of these challenges.

Trauma, isolation and anxiety


Infant mental healthA traumatic birth is an horrific episode for any mum. The experience for dad is distressing for different but no less significant reasons. Many men who suffer from postnatal depression can trace its origins back, in part, to a traumatic birth. The associated feelings of fear and helplessness during a difficult labour can remain long after the child is born.

After birth, women with postnatal depression often experience exhaustion, feelings of isolation and a sense of being overwhelmed by the demands of their new-born. Once again the experience of a father is not too dissimilar.

Whilst a mother is exhausted from feeding and sleepless nights, a father can be exhausted by managing an increased workload around the house and caring for his partner. A new mother may feel isolated as she stays home with her baby but a father can experience similar feelings of abandonment and rejection as his partner focuses her attention on their child.

Slow acceptance of male postnatal depression


We are reaching a critical point where it is understood that male postnatal depression exists. However the glacial speed at which it is being accepted is significant for two interconnected reasons.

Firstly the traditional structure of support services in the postnatal period is geared towards mother and baby. Slow acceptance of postnatal depression in men will translate to slow change in how we support fathers. Our society needs to take a more family-focused approach to perinatal and postnatal care. Only then will male postnatal depression be treated on equal terms.

The impact of male postnatal depression on children


Secondly we need to actively consider the impact of paternal postnatal depression on the development of babies. Research in the field is increasingly demonstrating a direct link between a child’s psychosocial and cognitive development and the influence of their father. Consequently we cannot continue to write off male postnatal depression as simply a sign of ‘weakness’ or a myth.

The alternative is to continue leaving men with postnatal depression to fend for themselves. Not only will that harm parents but it will also create more mental health issues in the future. Sons and daughters will suffer as a result of undiagnosed and unsupported paternal depression.


Counselling and support for new parents

Are you or your partner struggling to cope with parenthood? Is it causing tension in your relationship and leaving you feeling isolated and anxious? The Spark’s counselling services are available to help you and your partner cope with the challenges of becoming parents.

Our couples counselling provides an opportunity to talk about your experiences and perspective with a trained counsellor. To find out more freephone our team on 0808 802 0050 or complete a counselling enquiry form.

You can also review our free resources for parents with tips on bonding with baby and maintaining your relationship with your partner.

life hacks

In the final part of our life hacks series we are looking at how doing what you are good at, keeping in touch and asking for help can set you on the path to good mental health.

Catch up on part 1 and part 2 of the life hacks series.

Life hacks number 7 – Do things you are good at


life hacks - do something you are good at and enjoy
Good at cooking? Cook lots.

These days it feels like criticism is more common than praise. As a society we celebrate a child doing anything well but once they hit adulthood we seem to flick the switch from bravo to blame. Thereafter it is a life of appraisals, 360 degree feedback and assessments – which all tend to focus on what you are not doing well.

None of that is good for our mental health. A simple life hack to improve that situation is to spend as much time as you can doing things you are good at.

It might not be something celebrity websites or Instagram suggest we should be good at, but that does not devalue it. In fact it probably makes it more valuable. Good at cooking? Cook and enjoy preparing a great meal for yourself or others. Green fingered? Fill your home with blooming plants or help a neighbour who kills cactuses. Good at building Lego kits? Build a Lego kit.  You get the idea.

There may be 101 things you are not particularly great at but there will be at least 1 (and usually more) that you are good at. Find it and do it. And do it lots.

Life hacks number 8 – Keep in touch


Humans were made to interact with each other. Relationships are fundamental to our wellbeing and mental health. Scientific research has proven that interaction with other humans keeps us healthier and happier.

Life hacks - spend time with people who are good for you
Spend time with people who are good for you

Isolation can be a cause of poor mental health. It can also be a symptom of poor mental health if we deliberately choose to isolate ourselves. That is why keeping in touch, keeping in contact is so important.

Keep in touch with friends and family, particularly the ones who are good for you. You know who they are: the people that make you feel good about yourself, have you laughing and leave a smile on your face. Instead of getting sucked in to the trends of communicating only via WhatsApp or text, do something radical with your smartphone and call them. Better still call them to arrange a time to meet up in person.

It is easy to slip in to a mind-set that ‘no one is interested’ in you if the mobile is not ringing. Instead flip it around and consider that a friend could be sitting at home thinking exactly the same thing. Give them a call, get together and you will both feel better.

Life hacks number 9 – Ask for help


A particularly Scottish trait is to soldier on, suck it up and push through difficult times. Self-reliance and resilience are good skills to develop. But not when they begin to harm your mental health and wellbeing.

life hacks - keep calm and carry on
Keep calm and carry on: not always the best option…

Stubbornness is probably up there with soldiering on as a famous Scottish trait. It often manifests itself as an unwillingness to ask for help when we know deep down, that we really need it. Meaning we try to fix relationship problems and struggles with mental health ourselves.

There are problems we cannot solve ourselves, despite our best efforts. Unless you are a qualified plumber you will not be able to fix a broken boiler. So why would we expect to solve significant life issues ourselves with no help or support?

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness in mind or spirit. It is a demonstration of strength and intelligence. The Spark is an organisation ready to help with the big life issues and challenges we all face. Through counselling or just discussing a problem on our free Relationship Helpline, you can confidentially begin to address the issues causing unhappiness in your life.

Speak to our counselling enquiry team on 0808 802 0050 or complete an online enquiry.

Find out more about the free Relationship Helpline and our services for couples, individuals and families.

bending the truth fingers crossed

In a society increasingly dominated by ‘alternative facts’ it is beginning to feel like bending the truth is replacing good, old-fashioned honesty. More alarming is the implied acceptance that bending the truth or even lying outright no longer carries with it consequences.

“People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.” Otto von Bismarck.

Politicians, business leaders, adults and kids may believe the consequences of being economical with the truth do not outweigh the benefits. More seats in parliament, more money or more sweeties might seem like a good reason to bend the truth. Of course that is as untrue as many of the alternative truths being peddled today. When it comes to relationships in particular the consequences of bending the truth can in some cases be devastating.

Bending the truth – the first step on a slippery slope


bending the truth fingers crossed
“It was only a few quid darling…”

Lying is easy and it is addictive. The idiom goes that ‘lies breed lies’ and experience suggest it is pretty much spot on. Couples coming to counselling often find that a few seemingly inconsequential acts of bending the truth have started to snowball in to something bigger.

Medical research is starting to conclusively prove that lying is addictive and leads to a gradual increase in the scale of the lies being told. Research by University College London found that our brains can become desensitised to lying. In practice this can lead to lies escalating over time and the act of lying itself to effectively become a habit.

Therefore when your partner asks how much you spent gambling and you ’round down’, it sets in motion something that could become a habit. Similarly bending the truth about how attractive you find a work colleague could be the start of a slippery slope.

The irreparable damage of lies and bending the truth


“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Charles Spurgeon

Spurgeon was ahead of his time when he wrote this. The advent of social media has facilitated the world-wide spread of alternative facts at an alarming speed. Within an hour bended truths can become ‘fact’. Whether a tweet from a questionably coiffured President or unfounded gossip about a friend, bending the truth can cause irreparable damage.

It is impossible to put a cost on the impact lies have on the mental and emotional wellbeing of an individual. Our counsellors work regularly with individuals coping with the aftermath of dishonesty in relationships. From deliberate office gossip to bitter words amongst family members that are eventually exposed, the damage caused by lies can be irreparable. Relationships are built on care, mutual trust and empathy. Lies undermine and, in time, can destroy those foundations.

Can trust be fully recovered?


“A liar will not be believed even when he speaks the truth.” Aesop

You can probably remember the story your mum told you about the boy who cried wolf. Despite the best efforts of parents, teachers and we humans can all too easily fall in to the role of the shepherd boy. Nowhere is this more apparent in relationships than when infidelity has been discovered.

Sadly we know this because relationship infidelity remains a common issue our counsellors tackle with couples every day. Where a couple decide to remain together, the ability of an adulterer to regain their partner’s trust is a massive challenge.

Will I ever trust them again?


bending the truth can i ever trust them again?On an emotional level there are doubts that are fundamental to what their relationship had been built upon in the past. Will they ever truly believe a partner is remorseful about their actions? Will ‘I love you’ continue to mean I love you or something else? Can they reach a point where it is not the first thing they think about upon seeing their partner?

Even the most basic and day-to-day actions can become fraught with doubt, anger and hurt. When a spouse says they are going to meet friends, will their partner be able to believe them? Are they just popping down to the shops or doing something else?

“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Looking through social media, the news and political soundbites you would be forgiven for thinking that consequence-free alternative facts are here to stay. It is hard to stomach the idea that the truth will forevermore be subject to manipulation. When it comes to relationships the consequences are massive and can be life shattering.

Relationships are of course the building blocks of society. Therefore the significance of a growing acceptance of alternative facts as appropriate is one we should not ignore.

Have you been hurt by lies in your relationships?


The Spark is available to help individuals, couples and families coping with the consequences of lies and broken trust. As a COSCA-accredited counselling provider our counsellors are highly experienced and skilled in working with individuals, couples and families.

Find out more about counselling for couples, individuals and families.

For more information or to book a counselling session freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an online enquiry form.

life hacks listen to relaxing music

Welcome to part 2 of The Spark’s life hacks for mental health series. This time we are looking at how getting active, putting the cork back in the bottle and looking out for others can boost mental health.

Catch up on part 1 of the life hacks series – covering healthy eating, slowing life down and talking about your concerns.

Life hacks number 4 – Care for others


It might not seem particularly intuitive but a simple way to boost your own mental health is to care for someone else. Previously we looked at the idiom ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ and its scientific foundation. Taking a different perspective, offering to help a friend with a problem can be almost as rewarding.

life hacks be a listener and help a friend instead of focusing on yourselfThere is little doubt that sharing wisdom, expertise or previous experience to benefit someone else creates a natural ‘high’. Being the listener/helper can also bring you closer to your friend/loved one and boost your own self-esteem as you help them tackle a problem. Furthermore it provides the opportunity to put our own struggles in context and offer perspective on our individual life challenges.

And it does not need to be another human. A pet can create a strong bond similar to one between humans. The opportunity to care for another living creature plus the structure of a daily routine can be hugely beneficial.

Life hacks number 5 – Get active


A little bit of exercise can go a long way towards improving mental health. There are in fact pages and pages of research documenting the benefits of exercise in terms of mental health and wellbeing.

Issues like depression, stress, anxiety and low self-esteem can all be helped by getting active. The best news is that we do not need to be exercising like an Olympic athlete to feel the benefit. As little as 10-15 minutes exercise per day like a brisk walk or swimming can help you achieve the recommended level of physical activity.

Physical activity can be anything that gets us moving and expends energy. That means making even simple changes like walking to the shop instead of taking the car can make a difference. Exercise provides opportunities for human interaction too – like going for a walk with a friend – and exposure to new activities (e.g. trying a new sport) which help boost wellbeing.

Life hacks number 6 – Be sensible about alcohol


Alcohol is a depressant – a substance that disrupts the balance of chemicals in the brain that determine our mood and personality. In small quantities alcohol can create feelings of increased confidence and reduced anxiety. However over time alcohol lowers our mood and it can increase feelings of anxiety and depression. This is due to it decreasing levels of the chemical serotonin in the brain – the substance that regulates mood.

A simple way to give your mood a boost is to limit your intake of alcohol. You can do this by reducing your typical consumption of alcohol or scheduling in alcohol-free days. These can help reduce the chance of your body building a tolerance to alcohol – basically having to drink more alcohol to achieve the same effects.

life hacks put the cork back in the bottleAlcohol and stress-relief

If you use alcohol as a stress-reliever, try to substitute it occasionally for alternative methods of relieving stress. Do some physical activity, meditation, breathing exercises or listen to calming music instead. Another great option is to talk to someone about the issues that are creating feelings of stress for you.

Talking to a trusted friend or loved one can be very beneficial. Sometimes however is not practical or the issue is something you do not feel comfortable talking to them about. In those circumstances speaking to a counsellor can be great solution. It allows you to talk to a skilled, impartial and non-judgemental expert who can help you tackle the issues causing stress. Find out more about counselling and support services available from The Spark.

In the final part of our series we will be looking at how reaching out to others, finding your talent and keeping connected can boost mental health.

Remember you can catch up on part 1 of the series and read our first 3 life hacks.

Madonna Ray of Light Swim

Songs for Sound Minds #16 – ‘Swim’ by Madonna

There are times when we just want to find a place to switch off, take time out and chill. At the end of a hard day we crave the comfort of curling up on the sofa with a box set. Or soaking in a hot bath and letting our mind escape the hectic pace of modern life. Relaxing and unwinding is important for our wellbeing and so this week’s pick for Songs For Sound Minds is a perfect selection.

Music to unwind to

‘Swim’ by Madonna is a track that can take us to a place of relaxation. The lyrics encourage us to turn away from the bad things of the world and seek a safer space.

‘Swim to the ocean floor. So that we can begin again. Wash away all our sins. Crash to the other shore.’

More than just this, the vocals and electronically synthesised backing have the ability to transport us to somewhere more tranquil. Swim even has the sound of waves lapping on the beach; surely a certain pacifier of a troubled state of mind. Music can have that effect speaking directly to our emotions and bypassing the sort of thinking which sometimes contributes to our frantic feelings.

Ray of Light by Madonna

Madonna Ray of Light Swim

The song comes from Madonna’s critically acclaimed and multi-platinum selling album, ‘Ray of Light’. This was a record which helped to bring electronica to the mainstream when it was released in 1998. Electronica was a driving force behind chill out music recognised as the safe haven for clubbers relaxing after a hard night’s dancing in the 1990s.

Ray of Light was produced by William Orbit and most of the songs were co-written by Madonna and Orbit. Orbit was a pioneer of the sort of ambient music that could only be produced in the studio.  His most famous track is probably his version of Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ which you might recognise from the movie ‘Platoon’. Often heard at solemn occasions this classical piece can do much to calm us down despite its melancholic strains.

The health benefits of classical music

Extensive research has confirmed that listening to classical music can enhance feelings of joy, reduce stress and fight depression. When you next want to step off life’s treadmill why not explore some classical pieces instead of whatever disposable pop is flavour the month?

Try Edward Elgar’s ‘Enigma Variations, Op 36, Nimrod’ or Satie’s ‘Gymnopedie for Piano No. 1’.  Dust down (or download) that long-forgotten chill out compilation from the 1990s and listen to ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ by The Orb or ‘Come to Me’ by Bjork.

You might be surprised at the positive benefits.

‘Swim’ by Madonna


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

life hacks for better mental health - eat well

Mental health is just as important as physical health. Most of the time we try to keep our bodies healthy because we know it makes us feel better about ourselves and helps lower the risk of illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. Whilst we are busy pursuing the body beautiful our mental health can be something of an afterthought (or no thought at all).

In part 1 of a 3 part series we are offering up some practical life hacks you can use to boost your mental health. First up we are looking at how slowing things down, opening up about your feelings and eating well can help.

Life hacks number 1 – Slow things down


Modern life is fast. Simply keeping up can feel like an exhausting and endless task. We are encouraged to multi-task, work on the move and squeeze something out of every minute of every day.

life hacks for mental healthWith lots to do and lots to remember it is no surprise that our minds can feel like they are overloaded and overwhelmed. Many of us talk about ‘spinning plates’ and having ‘no head space’ to deal with anything new.

Our minds, just like our bodies, need to slow down from time to time. No one can sprint at their fastest indefinitely and neither can our minds. Ideally we need to set aside time to stop and rest our minds. By reading, meditating, going for a walk/exercising or just listening to music.

If you feel like you do not have time to stop and rest, try to slow things down. Focus on one task at a time and do it slowly and deliberately, taking your time. Commit to considering other thoughts only once you have finished the task in hand.  You will end up more productive and your mind will thank you for the chance to run at a slower pace.

Life hacks number 2 – Talk to someone about your feelings


It seems an obvious piece of advice but in practice it is a tricky thing to do. We are surrounded by images and messages about sucking it up, getting on with it and people pretending to play the world’s tinniest violin. Saying to someone that you are not feeling great mentally is a big challenge.

life hacks for good mental healthThe idiom ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is based in truth and fact. Sharing with someone opens up the chance to learn from their experiences and receive an empathetic response. Often it can lead to offers of help and support in the issue you are struggling with. Research has shown that the simple act of talking to someone about a problem reduces stress levels in the body.

Here at The Spark we can help by providing opportunities to talk about your feelings and the issues that are troubling you. Sometimes it is not possible or wise to discuss them with a friend or loved one. A counsellor is an impartial and skilled professional that is able to support individuals, couples and families through difficult times.

Find out more about counselling for individuals, couples and families. Make a counselling enquiry online or telephone 0808 802 0050.

Life hacks number 3 – Eat healthily


You are what you eat as the saying goes and this is definitely the case for mental health. Eating well is often overlooked as a way to help improve mental health. Research has shown that nutrition is just as important for mental health as it is for physical health.

Life hacks for good mental healthIt is easy when we are stressed, busy, tired or just struggling a bit to fill up on snacks and sugary ‘treats’. Compared with eating a healthy, balanced diet this leads to temporary sugar ‘shocks’ to our bodies. Thus follows a short term boost before a sudden drop in blood sugar levels leaving us feeling all the same feelings again.

Whilst eating well is not a single solution for mental health issues it can be a practical way to enhance our mood. Particularly when used in conjunction with other things like counselling and regular exercise. So ditch the chocolate and fizzy drinks in favour of fruit, vegetables and proper meals. Read more about healthy eating and nutrition.

In part 2 of our Life hacks for better mental health we will be looking at how being active, putting the cork back in the booze and looking out for others can boost our mental health.

You've Got a Friend

Songs for Sound Minds #15 – ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ by Carole King

Friendships lie at the heart of our latest pick in the Songs For Sound Minds series, Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend.


On the Mental Health Foundation’s website one of their tools to help us all achieve good emotional and mental wellbeing is ‘10 practical ways to look after your mental health’. Many of them seem like good, common sense.

You’ve got a friend

For example we all instinctively know that we should talk about feelings that are troubling us. The same too can be said for seeking help from a friend, counsellor or doctor (whether we do talk about our problems or seek help is of course a different matter!). In short, suggestions 1 to 9 all seem logical. The tenth and final recommendation may come as more of a surprise: care for others.

This seems to be counter-intuitive.  If we are not feeling great surely someone should be caring for us, not the other way round? The safety guide on an aircraft prompts us to fit our own oxygen mask before helping others, not the reverse. So what are our friends at the Mental Health Foundation getting at? Well if we dig a little deeper we find the proposal that ‘supporting them uplifts me’.

Supporting them uplifts me

You've Got a Friend
Carole King

Caring for others can have a profoundly positive effect on our own mental health. Some psychologists believe that recognising the suffering in a friend helps us relate more strongly to them. Thus counteracting the feelings of isolation experienced during period of poor mental health. It also talks to our common humanity and the need to support each other.

Research published last month highlighted the importance of friendships in helping us get through tough times and big life changes. Being a friend who gives as well as receives can actually make you both feel better.

Which is a lovely segue in to this week’s pick for our Songs For Sound Minds series: Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend.

From Fire and Rain to You’ve Got a Friend

King allegedly wrote You’ve Got Friend in response to a lyric in a song by her friend, James Taylor. In Taylor’s Fire and Rain the song goes: I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend. Written as a positive reply You’ve Got a Friend is also a perfect summary of the friendship between King and Taylor which stretches back to the early 1970’s. In fact it was Taylor’s encouragement that prompted King to start recording her own songs.

Carole King’s music career reads like one long list of hit after hit. One of the most successful female songwriters ever she has written, according to the Billboard Hot 100, a staggering 118 hit songs.  She became the ‘voice of bedsitter generation’ in the 1970s as well as the archetype for female singer songwriters.

Don’t worry, you’ve got a friend

You’ve Got a Friend is a powerfully emotional song. It encourages us not to worry, even when times are really tough, because our friend will be there to support us.  Or to take another viewpoint, we are saying to others that when they are struggling we will be there to support them.  And we can be confident that in taking this approach we are not only helping a friend in need. We are helping ourselves too.

‘You’ve Got a Friend’ by Carole King

 

Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

Stevie Wonder I just called to say I love you

Songs for Sound Minds #14 – ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ by Stevie Wonder

A little known story about a classroom and a mouse is the origin for our latest featured track in the Songs For Sound Minds series. Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’.


The story goes something like this. A teacher in Detroit was looking for help to find the class mouse that had escaped from its cage.  She enlisted the help of one of her pupils, Steven Morris. Morris had remarkable hearing. The teacher knew it would enable him to hear the mouse and catch it before any of the other children could. Young Steven credited this as a turning point in his life; when he received the appreciation and encouragement of his teacher for an innate talent rather than criticism for something that he lacked.  You may of course know him better as Stevie Wonder.

Stevie Wonder I just called to say I love youWe want to be thriving, not just surviving

During Mental Health Week we are highlighting attitudes and behaviours that will help us thrive in spite of the pressures of modern life.  As part of the theme for this year – surviving or thriving – we think Stevie Wonder is the ultimate Songs For Sound Minds writer.

Blind at birth Wonder has never let his disability affect his positive attitude to life.  Instead he has relied on his incredible hearing and musicianship to become one of the most successful performers and musicians of the 20th century.  Wonder has had 30 top ten hits in the USA, received 25 Grammy awards and has sold over 100 million records worldwide.  His success is not only based on his popularity.  Much of his considerable body of work has been critically acclaimed too.  Four of his 1970s albums are in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Records of All Time.

The life affirming songs of Stevie Wonder

When you listen to Wonder’s tracks it is hard not to be struck by their life-affirming qualities and infectiously upbeat attitude.  We have mentioned ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’ in one of our previous Songs For Sound Minds posts, a song that recounts the unalloyed joy at the birth of his daughter.  ‘Happy Birthday’ was written as a celebration of the life of Martin Luther King Jr who did so much to champion the rights of black people. His sense of humour and ability to laugh at himself was highlighted recently in James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke where he attempted to drive the car despite his visual impairment.

‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ is one of Wonder’s most well known tracks and undoubtedly cultivates a sound mind. This is an example of good mental health and positive relationships in action. A huge hit in the 1980s it featured in the 1984 film, ‘Lady in Red’ (which Wonder wrote the soundtrack for) as well as the Carpool Karaoke feature with James Corden.  As the song’s lyrics state, the reason for the phone call is not to celebrate any particular occasion.  It is not Christmas or New Year. It is not even Halloween.  The reason he is calling on this ‘ordinary day’ is simply to tell the person this: ‘I love you, I care for you and I mean it.’

The message that comes across is that we all need to value our relationships. Unlike the often superficial tone and meaning of ‘I love you’ in many top 10 hits, ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ emphasises that happiness can be gained (and given) as part of a loving relationship.

‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ by Stevie Wonder

Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds