How to keep the kids’ busy during the Easter school holiday

The Easter school holiday is nearly upon us. Parents can look forward to asking the same big question a dozen times: what do I do with the kids today? To help ease the pressure on stressed-out parents, here are our top 5 things to do for the Easter holiday.

1. Have your own bake off

Easter school holidayBaking is a great way to get kids involved in the kitchen and help them understand what goes in to preparing any kind of food. It is inevitably messy (which kids love), teaches them how to follow instructions and rewards patience (a much sought after character trait amongst the IPad generation!)

There are thousands of simple baking recipes available for free online. YouTube also offers helpful videos if you are not a natural Nigella or Mary Berry.

Plus baking with the kids is easy on the bank balance as ingredients are likely to be some of the cheapest on your weekly grocery shopping list.

Easter school holiday2. Use your local library

Libraries often provide free or low cost activities during the school holidays. They are also a great place to encourage and cultivate imagination. Amongst all the smartphones, YouTube and PS4 kids of any age love to sit down with a good book.

Local libraries often have a big selection of children’s titles to suit all reading abilities and interests. From kids classics and modern characters like Katie Morag and the Gruffalo, libraries are a brilliant way to spend a few mind-broadening hours.

Find your local library’s website or your local council website for details.

3. A (cheap) trip to the cinema

Easter school holidayTaking kids to the cinema can be a very costly affair. Thankfully, both ODEON and Cineworld offer morning screenings of top kids films during the Easter half-term holidays. Tickets start from as little as £2.00 and it is a great chance to catch up on some recent favourites.

Stock up on popcorn and drinks from your local shop to avoid paying premium prices at the cinema. Alternatively take along some homemade treats made earlier in the Easter holiday during your family ‘bake off’!

4. Create a fairy castle or superhero hideout


Easter school holidayNo doubt there will be loads of cardboard boxes in your garage or loft. And no doubt you’ll be keeping them because they will ‘come in handy’ one day. The Easter school holiday is that day!

Kids love nothing better than combining their amazing imagination with arts/crafts and creating their own wee space. Grab the boxes plus all the crafting bits and pieces you have (pens, pencils, glitter, paper) and build a castle or hideout with them.

Thanks to Frozen and Beauty and the Beast many kids would love a fairy-tale castle. Others a secret base for The Avengers or their own Batcave. The biggest problem you’ll have is trying to get Elsa or Bruce Wayne to leave their hideout for dinner!

Easter school holiday5. Take day trip by train

Thanks to Scotrail’s Kids Go Free ticket you can explore Scotland during the Easter school holiday at low cost. Two children aged between 5 and 15 can travel for free with 1 paying adult during off peak travel (and who wants to try and coral the kids somewhere during morning rush hour?!).

But the great value does not end there! The Kids Go Free package also offers discounted admission to some of Scotland’s top attractions. From the Aberdeen Science Centre to Culzean Castle, the Hampden Stadium Experience and the historic RRS Discovery in Dundee, great low cost days out are ready and waiting.

Making relationships work

The Spark’s mission is a simple one: to make relationships work.

Through counselling – for couples, individuals, families and children – and support services The Spark aims to make relationships in Scotland work. We operate from 17 locations providing local counselling and support.

Whether you need help with parenting, overcoming family issues or dealing with the normal pressures of being part of a family, The Spark can help.

Find out more about our counselling services or take a look at our free resources for couples, parents and families.

We also provide a free Relationship Helpline for anyone coping with relationship problems.

social media

3 tips to stop social media wrecking relationships

Social media is becoming ever more intertwined in our lives and relationships. In an earlier blog we looked at the concept of the ‘digital shadow’ and the risk to relationships between parents and children. The conclusion being that parents who share every aspect of a child’s life on social media risk damage to their future relationship.

social mediaSocial media and relationships

Social media can of course enhance and advance good relationships. The opportunity to connect families living thousands of miles apart in shared experiences is just one example of the positive impact of platforms like Facebook. However social media has created a whole new type of risk to positive relationships amongst families and friends.

A virtual ‘sharing’ society has been created by social media. In that process we have all – willingly – opened up aspects of our lives that were previously hidden. Dates, family gatherings, nights out and the like are now all open to anyone who is interested. With that accessibility comes some risks.

I know what you did last Friday night

For example, recruiters are now using social media extensively to vet potential candidates. Suddenly that picture from last Friday night of your cousin, drunk as a skunk and fast asleep in the pub is not so funny or harmless.

It used to be a joke to say that families out for dinner do not talk as everyone is just scrolling through Instagram or Facebook on smartphones. Now it is a depressing reality; mum, dad, daughter and son wired to their social media feeds. Often son/daughter also have their headphones in – literally present in body but not mind.

Some words cannot be deleted

social mediaA distressing by-product of social media can be its power to create feelings of jealousy, envy and low self-esteem. As a friend or family member captures every moment of their ‘perfect’ life on Instagram, others genuinely struggle to get by.  It is not inconceivable that relationships might be irrevocably damaged because jealousy leads to hurt, anger and eventually boils over in to harmful words/actions that cannot be deleted as easily as a post or tweet.

Relationships are what make humans tick. The belief that they keep us happy and healthy is now a proven fact. They need to be protected and looked after (a bit like a Tamagotchi – remember them?!).

But social media is here to stay so how do we enjoy the benefits of what it has to offer without compromising our most important relationships? Here are 3 tips.

Social media tip 1: Be in the room

It will sound ridiculously simple but spend time with the people you are physically in the same space with. When you are visiting family or spending time with friends, be present. Leave phones at the door or put them on flight-safe mode.

Talk, enquire, respond, laugh and cry with the people in the room. Be ‘social’ with the people right in front of you. Make that network the one you focus on during your time with them. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram will still be there when you head home after visiting your family.

Social media tip 2: Think before you post

A concept wasted on many people (high profile world leaders included). Before tapping the post button ask yourself: who might see this? In the context of work emails the aphorism has been ‘don’t send something you wouldn’t like your boss to see’. For the social media sphere we can adapt to ‘don’t tweet/post something you wouldn’t want… mum/dad/husband/wife/friends to see’.

It is not a call to censor what you do on social media. Consider it an opportunity to be empathetic and considerate to your network of friends. You may love your new-born baby and want to share pictures of them every day but what about your friend who is going through infertility treatment?

social media switch offSocial media tip 3: Do social media then switch off

A radical thought but set time aside to be social online and then switch off. Enjoy the opportunity to be social with the people around you as much as those you only know by their Instagram handle.

Social media has given us a severe case of FOMO – fear of missing out. What is he/she saying? Did you see her pics on Instagram? Why are people tweeting about Boaty McBoatface? The cure is of course to switch off and spend less time online. Occupy your mind (and those twitching thumbs) with a book, exercise, or – shock horror – actually using your smartphone to call your mum for a chat.

Soon you will realise that the world will not stop turning if you ignore Twitter and spend an hour having coffee with a friend. Donald Trump will still have offended a person/city/gender/country when you check in later.

Related article: Social media and celebrity

Making relationships work

The Spark’s mission is a simple one: to make relationships work.

Through counselling – for couples, individuals, families and children – and support services The Spark aims to make relationships in Scotland work. We operate from 17 locations providing local counselling and support.

Find out more about our counselling services or take a look at our free resources for couples, parents and families.

We also provide a free Relationship Helpline for anyone coping with relationship problems. Find out more about the Relationship Helpline which offers telephone and online support.


Poor communication can be a starting point for relationship problems. Whether between married couples, parents and children, amongst friends or work colleagues, bad communication helps no one.

Even amidst the rise of social media our primary means of communication remains the same now as it was before the telephone (let alone the mobile phone) was invented: the humble conversation.

A conversation may seem like a simple thing to do. And therefore impossible to get wrong. I talk, you listen, then you talk and I listen. It is of course much more complicated than that, especially when it is an important one.

In this inspiring talk, Celeste Headlee takes us through her top 10 tips on how to have a better conversation.

cram our relationships

Humans love to cram. We cram for exams, cram for interviews and cram before that big presentation at work. A whole 24-episode TV boxset gets crammed in to a weekend and we cram our plates at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Our modern lives are often described as ‘time poor’ leaving us more inclined, or feeling we have no option other than to cram. Which lays the foundation for an important question: can we cram our relationships?

Can we cram our relationships?

Cramming works in many situations. I recall university friends reciting the ‘C’s get degrees’ mantra as they crammed for exams after a semester of bunking off lectures. The ‘night before’ cram for an interview can often lead to a job offer. And it is nigh on impossible to find anyone who does not enjoy cramming ‘just one more episode’ of Game of Thrones or Homeland in before bed.

What does that mean for our relationships? Are they the next thing to be crammed?

Sadly the truth is that whether we made a conscious decision to or not, we are already guilty of cramming our relationships.

cram our relationships
Sometimes it feels like 6 hands are just not enough…

Get ready to cram some more

Britons are working longer hours than ever before due to economic uncertainty, the rising cost of living and falling incomes. The net result is a sense that we must cram domestic duties, leisure pursuits and relationships in to whatever time remains after work.

This is compounded by the messages we are bombarded with about self-improvement and how to ‘be happy’. Eat well, keep fit, expand your horizons, get up early, sleep for at least 7 hours a day, watch the latest show, read more, tweet, post, become an Instagram star and a lot more besides. Add that up and we inevitably cram our relationships.

Cramming sometimes works

Occasionally cramming for relationships can work. For example when a couple have both been working long hours for several weeks or hardly see each other, a night away can be an excellent relationship booster. But it is not a long term solution.

Why? Simply put, when we cram our relationships we send a message:  what I am doing when I’m not with you is more important.

Cramming couples

There is no way around it. Cramming relationships for any extended period of time sends out that message. Rarely is it intended but it gets through.

The Spark Counselling works with many couples who drift apart because their relationship has been crammed. In the majority of cases neither party has ever uttered the words ‘my time spent on [insert your particular relationship issue here] is more important than you’. But one or both have ended up feeling like it was said every single day.

For [insert your particular relationship issue here] there are an infinite number of possible problems. The one you placed there could be unique to you but it is just as important and worthy of discussion as the common ones like work, alcohol, drugs or other people.

cram our relationships
Could we squeeze in an extra hour?

So can we cram our relationships?

Of course we can. But hopefully in reading this post you will have realised the more appropriate question is this: should we cram our relationships? And the answer to that is a resounding no.

Instead we should focus on setting time aside every day to properly accommodate our relationships. To achieve that the first step for many individuals and couples is to examine what they do with their time.

We only get 24 hours each day to work, rest, play and spend time with those we care about. Contrary to what self-help books, life coaches and management gurus say, we cannot ‘make time’. We can only allocate time.

Does something need to drop off your priority list in order to make that time for your partner? Are you guilty of being a ‘cramming couple’? Perhaps tonight instead of cramming in ‘just one more episode’ it would be worth allocating that time to be with your loved one.

Making relationships work

The Spark’s mission is a simple one: to make relationships work.

Through counselling – for couples, individuals, families and children – and support services The Spark aims to make relationships in Scotland work. We operate from 17 locations providing local counselling and support.

Find out more about our counselling services.

We also provide a free Relationship Helpline for anyone coping with relationship problems plus our free Relationship MOT quiz.

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day balloonsThe cards are in the shops. The adverts for champagne and chocolates are on the TV. Pink love hearts are popping up everywhere. We cannot fail to notice it is Valentine’s Day very soon.

The annual celebration of love puts high value on grand ideas and romance. Couples that have been together for a long time can naturally feel a bit removed from this. Life gets in the way and spontaneity can begin to decline. Grand gestures make way for a simple exchange of cards and little else.

Does that mean Valentine’s Day is unimportant when you have been together a long time? Definitely not.

Valentine’s Day is still important

Everyone has an opinion on 14th February. Some think it is romantic and a date to be strictly observed and never missed. Couples can spend hundreds of pounds on gifts, a romantic meal or getaway. Others are horrified at the commercialism of your favourite restaurant charging double for the same meal you had last week. Whatever your opinion on Valentine’s it is important to ask whether it is the same as your partner’s perspective?

Valentine’s is only for ‘young love’

It is not unusual to meet couples who have been together for a while saying that they “don’t celebrate Valentine’s” and that it is “only for young love”. But behind the seeming disapproval of its commercialisation and contentment not to be involved there can be an individual who is secretly coveting a bit of attention.

On this one day of the year they might actually be desperate to get a surprise or enjoy a day that is not just like every other Tuesday. The bottom line is this: ask and do not assume, even if you have been together for 20 or 30 years.

Valentine's Day cuddly toyRemind them how valuable they are

Just because Valentine’s Day has not been a big deal for you and your partner in the past couple of years does not mean that is still the case. Where an individual has experienced a difficult time – perhaps due to the loss of a parent or loved one – they might really need a day of being reminded how valuable they are.

That of course is not to say that valuing your partner equates to how much you spend. Despite what jewellers, restaurants and travel websites tell us, a genuine demonstration of love is far more precious. Simple things mean the most like preparing a meal on Valentine’s Day at home or booking him/her in to a local spa for a massage.

In making an effort to celebrate your love as a couple, it is the little gestures that mean the most. A kiss, a hug, a rose picked from the garden are the kinds gestures that hold our partners close and keep the spark alive. Whether it’s your 1st, your 15th or your 30th anniversary this year, celebrate your love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Relationship tips and advice

The Spark is a leading relationship counselling and support charity. We exist to help make relationships work for everyone in Scotland.

You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter for tips and advice on making your relationships work. We also offer a range of free relationship resources on our website to help with the problems we all face in life.


Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is meant to be about love and relationships. For couples just starting out in a relationship it can end up feeling like an obstacle course full of opportunities for misunderstandings, overblown efforts and underwhelming gifts.

To help couples navigate that first Valentine’s Day we have 3 simple tips to help you both enjoy your day.

1. Talk about Valentine’s Day in advance


Valentine's Day heartTalk to your new partner about what you should do as a couple for Valentine’s Day. Communication is the foundation of a good relationship no matter how long or short it has been. In the build up to Valentine’s Day, particularly for new relationships, it is essential.

The 14th February is a potential banana-skin for any relationship. It is loaded with expectations and often, assumptions. Not to mention the peer pressure of what his/her friend’s boyfriend/girlfriend did for them/bought for them being broadcast on social media.

If you like your new partner a lot but are not quite madly in love yet you might feel a card is sufficient. When you turn up to your work to a bouquet of roses, a giant novelty card, cuddly toy and an invite to dinner at the priciest restaurant in town, you might wish you had talked about it beforehand.

Valentine's Day -James Nesbitt Cold Feet Rose
James Nesbitt’s Adam serenades Rachel (uncomfortably) in Cold Feet.

2. Romantic gestures in the movies and TV rarely translate well into real life

Whether it was Adam wearing nothing but a single red rose for Rachel in Cold Feet or Colin Firth proposing to Aurelia in Love Actually, we love sweeping, romantic gestures. But in real life they can sometimes be, at best, embarrassing or, at worst, a relationship breaker.

If you have had a discussion with your new partner in advance you should be clear on where they stand. For some a grand romantic gesture on your first Valentine’s Day would bring them nothing but joy. For others it will be mortifying. Knowing how you both feel about the day and your relationship will avoid any potentially painful (the thorns on that rose – ouch!) embarrassment.

Few relationships blossom or whither on the basis of a single Valentine’s Day so really think about what your new partner would enjoy most.

3. Agree on gifts or no gifts (and no surprises)


The question of gifts and their value is another minefield for that first Valentine’s Day together. Initially there is the stomach churning awkwardness of saying “you shouldn’t have” as you exchange your £1.50 card for a bracelet and a first edition of the Velveteen Rabbit. Then comes confusion and hurt from a complete misunderstanding of the status of your relationship and its perceived value.

Agreeing whether to get gifts or not and a price limit is a great idea. For that first Valentine’s Day agreeing no gifts but to share a night out/night in is a good starting point. If one of you is excited to give a gift (“I’ve seen something you will really like!”) then agree a realistic price limit. Once that is agreed, stick to the agreement! Do not ‘just get something anyway’. Instead of your partner feeling great they are likely to end up feeling guilty for not surprising you.


These conversations might feel awkward at the time but they are a good way of avoiding more difficult ones later. And they can go a long way to helping keep expectations in check and avoid the hurt of Valentine’s Day disappointment.

Relationship tips and advice

The Spark is a leading relationship counselling and support charity. We exist to help make relationships work for everyone in Scotland.

You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter for tips and advice on making your relationships work. We also offer a range of free relationship resources on our website to help with the problems we all face in life.

A recent TV series on mediation for separating couples reminded me how distressing the breakup of a relationship can be. The person you planned to spend your whole life with has become someone you do not know. Sometimes you are left wondering if you ever knew them.

Who am I now?

Counselling and mediation in divorceA break up is a time when you analyse who you are. Personal identity and perhaps even status change as you move from being part of a couple to being single. Even if there is a sense of relief at the ending of a relationship, there is inevitably a sense of loss. When we lose something we love or have worked so hard for we need to grieve. The bitter irony of separation is that in such a moment of great loss we would usually turn to our partner for comfort.

The break up process creates a time of hyper-arousal. It means we are sensitive to every trigger; a comment, a look, even the inflection in someone’s voice can create distressing feelings. If you have experienced this or know someone who has, you will be familiar with feelings of bitterness, anger and frustration.

Mediation for separating couples

However for many of the couples in the TV series mediation on its own was ineffective.

Mediation tries to avoid what can be costly and often bitter legal battles between separating couples. Determining the division of financial assets and custody of children through mediation can help settle arrangements out of court.

Related post: Divorce is not the only option

The effectiveness of mediation relies on the couple reaching a stage where negotiation is possible. The animosity that comes from the emotional hurt, distrust and hyper-arousal can stymie the mediation process. Combining couple counselling with the mediation process can facilitate a more effective negotiation.

Counselling at the end of a relationship

Combining counselling with mediation can be highly effective for 3 particular reasons:

1. Separating amicably

Counselling can help couples to stop, listen and talk about their distress. Acknowledging the joint sadness that their relationship has ended helps each individual create an emotional connection with the other that is not driven by negative emotions.

By jointly analysing and taking responsibility for the relationship breakdown, counselling can help can take the animosity out of the separation and help the couple to begin to end the relationship on better terms.

2. Parenting apart

Mediation and counselling for divorcing parentsParticularly where there are children involved, partners can develop such a narrow focus that everything else is out with their perspective.  Separating couples often talk about their children but they can be very angry (though of course behind that anger is huge hurt). For some, this can stop them being ‘there’ for their children. Others want to cling to their children and keep them safe, shutting the other parent out: “They left me and the children! How can they be any good”?

For couples with children it is important to jointly parent their children. Deepening their understanding of themselves and their ex-partner through counselling begins this process. Animosity that remains following the separation/divorce will make the process of parenting apart incredibly difficult for each parent and most importantly, for their children.

3. Future relationships

Couples who undergo counselling at the end of their relationship often find that the issues that contributed to the separation date back many years. Counselling aims to pinpoint such issues and help couples properly understand them.

Working with a counsellor can lead to a better understanding of how those issues negatively impacted upon their current relationship. In doing so couples can prepare to make the best of their future relationships with a new partner, their former partner and their children.

Combining counselling and mediation

Mediation is a useful intervention to steer a couple through the immediate arrangements to settle the ending of their relationship. The effectiveness of mediation however can be determined by the ability of the couple to negotiate amicably.

Counselling for separating couples can help them build communication and empathy to smooth the end of a relationship. Thus helping to get the best out of the mediation process. In addition, counselling can enhance personal development for each party, therefore supporting future separated parenting stability and successful relationships in the future.

Counselling and mediation

If you are in or about to enter in to mediation and feel that counselling could be of help, The Spark is able to help.  We provide expert private counselling for couples working through mediation and help achieve an amicable separation.

Find out more about relationship counselling or complete an enquiry form. You can also call our enquiries team on 0808 802 0050.

january blues

The January blues or winter blues are something we are all familiar with. Gone is the colour and excitement of Christmas leaving behind credit card bills, cold weather and long, dark nights.

Here at The Spark we are saying ‘no’ to the January blues in 2017. We want to help you make the most of January!

Beat the January blues this year!

We have put together 10 great ways to help you beat the January blues. Each day we will be posting a new tip to help make the best of the first month of the New Year.

January blues messy kitchenDay 1: Expect a lull after Christmas and New Year

Even though we know it is coming we still go in to January unprepared and almost shocked by its lack of fun. After the excitement of Christmas and New Year, returning to the mundane aspects of everyday life – washing dishes, paying bills, going back to work – catches us by surprise and lays the foundations for the January blues.

Instead of wallowing, accept that January will be less fun than the festive period. Look at January as an opportunity for some self-reflection and take advantage of a quieter few weeks.

Use that extra time to consider what you would like to do, learn or achieve in 2017. Think about a New Year resolution – read our blog on how to set and keep a New Year resolution – or consider what you want to make 2017 like for you.

hug-cuddle-winterDay 2: Consider what you have right now instead of focusing on what you don’t

Even if we did get what we wanted for Christmas, in our era of consumerism the chances are we will still end up wanting more. There can be a sort of ‘Christmas present hangover’ when we realise someone else got a bigger, faster or more expensive version of whatever we received.

Try going back to basics and consider what you have right now. And not just in terms of ‘stuff’. What about your health, your family, good relationships with friends or your steady job? Consider how much you enjoyed the Christmas break and what you have to look forward to in 2017.

A different mind-set can go a long way to tackling the January blues.

Day 3: Have a realistic New Year resolution or resolutions january blues motivation

We have all fallen victim to making bold New Year resolutions that evaporate by the end of the first week in January. Consequently we add more negative energy to the January blues by using our failure as a stick to beat ourselves with.

Take some time to decide on your New Year resolution. There is no law that states it has to be sorted before midnight on 31 December!  Read our article on sticking to your New Year resolutions and set a resolution or resolutions that are realistic in terms of time, finances and other commitments.

For example, setting out to ‘join a gym, work out 3 times a week and lose half a stone in weight by February’ is likely to fail. For starters that 1 resolution actually incorporates about 8 pretty tough resolutions within it:

  1. Join a gym
  2. Get in to a habit of going to the gym at least once a week
  3. Don’t quit the gym after 2 weeks like most people do
  4. Create enough space in my week to go to the gym 3 times per week
  5. Build up to going to the gym consistently 3 times per week
  6. Get a healthy eating plan
  7. Start the healthy eating plan
  8. Stick to the healthy eating plan for more than 2 weeks
  9. Cut out sweets, chocolate and sugar.

Be realistic and consider setting out smaller, more achievable goals to get you started towards your ultimate goal.

january blues divorce-papersDay 4: Don’t give up on relationships

Sadly January is the peak month for couples beginning divorce proceedings. Often the pressure of Christmas and New Year leaves one or both parties to a marriage waving the white flag.

Before Christmas we encouraged couples with relationship problems to seek marriage counselling/ couple counselling in advance. In January we ask that couples consider counselling as a way to heal their relationship wounds before opting for separation.

The emotional, mental and financial cost of divorce or separation is immense – more so when children are involved. Counselling is a genuine alternative to accepting divorce is the only outcome. All too often couples will try to resolve issues privately but counselling is a better alternative. Working with a professional counsellor can provide couples with the opportunity to work through their problems instead of heading straight to court.

Day 5: Commit to an exercise planjanuary blues beat them with exercise

Exercise is good for us, plain and simple. The endorphins and other chemicals released by exercise are the body’s natural way of making us feel good. Beyond that exercise can help with weight management, reduce our risk of serious illness like heart disease and can be a great way to socialise.

Banish the usual ‘it’s too cold, wet and dark outside’ January excuses and get some back up plans in place. Swimming, gym classes or yoga are perfect indoor activities for colder months when a brisk walk or jog is less appealing.

talking-coffeeDay 6: Which relationships do you want to improve in the New Year?

Scientific research is piling up every week to confirm that good, healthy relationships are key to our happiness. More than wealth or status, strong long-lasting relationships are the key to good mental and emotional wellbeing.


In January consider which relationships you want to improve or enjoy more of. Instead of dwelling on how those relationships might be in a bad place or have been neglected, consider talking to a relationship counsellor about how to approach key issues in those important relationships. Then you will be able to take some positive and proactive steps towards improving them.

Day 7: Get some daylightjanuary blues beaten with a winter-walk

Though it might not feel like it, from around 22/23 December the days actually started getting longer. Admittedly by only a few seconds at first but by the time we reach late January the days are nearly 4 minutes longer (and lengthening!).

Instead of staying indoors from January to April, plan in a regular lunchtime walk during work or get out at the weekend while the sun is up. Even low intensity winter sunlight can positively impact our mood and January tends to be drier than November and December too! (we didn’t quite believe it either but its true!)

As Billy Connolly always says: “In Scotland there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” Wrap up and get out there.

whats-next-blackboard-schoolDay 8: Work on one aspect of your life at a time

Self-reflection at the start of a new year is a valuable thing to do. But it can often become a stick (or several) with which we beat ourselves with. We can end up analysing all aspects of our life and come to the depressing conclusion that everything needs attention. Overwhelmed we do nothing and feel even worse about ourselves.


Pick one area of your life and focus on that. Is it your relationship with your partner? Is it a desire to spend more time with your kids? Do you want to get more exercise or learn a new skill? Do you want to socialise more with friends? Pick one area and work on that.

Once you see positive signs of progress, consider adding one other aspect of your life you would like to work on but remember the principles of our Day 3 advice on setting resolutions and goals.

Day 9: Take a look at your jobjanuary blues at work

Few people head back to work in January with a spring in their step. Most of us would happily spend a few more weeks chilling out in our Christmas pyjamas watching our favourite movies. But if you are genuinely unhappy at the prospect of going back, it might be worth taking a look at your job.

It might be time to look for a new opportunity elsewhere. But also consider what you do like about your current job. Are there ways to do more of that? Similarly are there any ways you can think to make your day more enjoyable or interesting?

Alternatively could you move to a different team or department within your organisation? Could you learn new skills to broaden opportunities in your workplace?

You might be surprised how many options are available that could mean you do not need to find a completely new job to get more satisfaction.

Family beach walkingDay 10: Plan a holiday

Getting a holiday booked and in the diary is a great way to tackle the January blues.  And it does not have to be an expensive trip overseas.

Planning a few days off or a ‘staycation’ give us something to look forward to as much as a trip to the sun. The excitement and anticipation of the holiday is believed to release endorphins in a similar way to exercise.

While the January credit card bill might not allow you to book a trip away, there is nothing to stop you getting some ideas and starting planning. When the January blues start to kick in get yourself loaded up with travel brochures and start planning!

Counselling and support

January can be a difficult time for any of us. Relationship issues, financial worries and the winter blues are common at this time of year.

We provide expert private counselling and support for individuals, couples and families across Scotland.

Find out more about counselling or complete an enquiry form. You can also call our counselling enquiries team on freephone 0808 802 0050.

new year resolution staying on target

January is probably most famous for New Year resolutions. It is also famous for something else: the complete failure of New Year resolutions before the end of the month.

No matter whether your New Year resolution is to lose weight, keep date night with your spouse sacred or actually take a lunch hour, here are our 6 ways to help keep your resolutions.

new year resolution will power is like a muscle1. Willpower is like a muscle so exercise it

How often do we say ‘he/she has such great willpower’ or ‘I wish I had more willpower’? A lot. But willpower is not a static thing that we are either blessed with lots or little of. Like a muscle, it can increase with training.

You would not go from zero exercise today to running a half marathon tomorrow so do the same with willpower. In the build up to starting your New Year resolution (there is no law that says it has to start on January 1st by the way!) try some smaller, will power ‘gym sessions’.

Ahead of a healthy eating resolution try to ditch the chocolate biscuit with your morning cup of tea for 2 days, then 4, then a week. Or get outside and walk for 10 minutes each day as you build up to a ‘get fit’ New Year resolution.

new year resolution focus on one resolution2. Be specific about your New Year resolution

An important factor in sticking to your New Year resolution is to be specific about it. Something too general or non-specific can actually be demotivating. Or worse give you an easy way out that you will regret almost immediately.

For example swap ‘I want to spend more time with my partner’ for ‘I want to set aside 2 Wednesdays a month for a date night with my partner’. The specifics give you something detailed to aim for, make the resolution time limited and gives you a clear idea of what you need to do to achieve it (pick 2 Wednesdays a month and ring fence them from work, housework, football, running or a night out with the girls/boys).

3. Makprioritye only one change at a time

It can be tempting to set yourself a few New Year resolutions. Social media does not help as we are bombarded with images of people who have lost weight and got fitter, or spent more time with family and less time at work.

The upshot being we feel inadequate for not achieving any of these things and not having more than one resolution.

Decide what your top priority is and focus on that alone. Placing your efforts in one area will reap greater rewards.

new year resolution break it in to small sections4. Break your New Year resolution in to manageable chunks

If you are part of a couple that feels like they rarely spent more than a minute together in 2016, a resolution to spend an hour together each night sounds like a great idea. But if you were that busy last year, this oversized resolution will likely fail after a month or so leaving both of you feeling despondent. Breaking it down in to manageable parts would be a much more fruitful approach.

At first, aim to carve out 10 minutes a day to talk while phones, TVs, tablets and other distractions are switched off and preferably not even in the room with you. Gradually over time increase the amount of time and/or frequency by a realistic amount.

Eventually the time set aside will become habitual and the overall target of spending more time together will be achieved.

new year resolution do something rather than nothing5. If you can’t face doing it all, do something

There will be days when trying to keep the resolution to take an hour for lunch at work or exercise for 20 minutes will feel like a personal Mount Everest. Instead of giving in and beating yourself up about it, do something.

An early-morning 20 minute jog might be out of the question today, so do 10 minutes instead. If you genuinely cannot take your lunch hour, take at least 20 minutes away from your desk.

Doing something is better than nothing. With something rather than nothing achieved you will be in a better, more positive frame of mind to crack on with your New Year resolution again tomorrow.

new year resolution get a resolution buddy6. Get a resolution buddy

Even with a will power ‘muscle’ that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger blush, we all have days when the motivation needle is on empty. This is when having a resolution ‘buddy’ can help.

Pairing up with a friend or colleague on your quest is a great option. You can boost one another on difficult days and the personal commitment made to each other means you are less likely to skip whatever you are doing. It will be harder to stay in bed for that 6am run if you know your friend is waiting outside for you!

Is keeping a New Year resolution the least of your worries this January?

The Spark provides counselling to help individuals, couples and families work through the challenging issues they are facing in life. No matter whether you are looking for stress counselling, help with anxiety or marriage counselling you can access help from one of our 17 counselling centres around Scotland.

Find out more about counselling with The Spark or find your local counselling centre.

christmas holidays

For some couples the Christmas holidays will be considered a bit of a ‘make or break’ period for their relationship. We examine why it is better to seek professional counselling now than to place all your bets on a ‘perfect’ Christmas making things better.

christmas holidaysChristmas will make things better, right?

TV, social media, shops and magazines all present this wonderful, perfect scene of family Christmas holidays. Smiling children play with new toys as their parents look lovingly in to each other’s eyes – all sponsored by a department store or supermarket of course.

In reality it can be quite different: instead of helping bring a couple or a family together the Christmas holidays can put more pressure on already strained relationships.

Betting on perfect Christmas holidays

Where a couple’s relationship is already creaking under the pressure of existing issues, stresses like the cost of Christmas or failing to find time to speak about those issues heaps on more pressure. Naturally we all buy in to the perfect idea of Christmas and couples often place their faith in the festive season magically sorting things. Like kids on Christmas Eve, we keep our fingers crossed that everything will be better at Christmas.

Sadly the end of the Christmas holidays sees a rise, not a drop, in the number of couples and individuals coming to The Spark for counselling. This is why we encourage anyone with existing problems to seek support now and not after the Christmas decorations come down. Getting professional support and expertise now is more effective than trying to pick up the pieces later.

christmas holidaysSpeak to someone early

There is no right or wrong time to start counselling. It’s a big step for anyone to take. You might think time with the family or your partner at Christmas will help things improve. It may well do this but what do you do if it does not?

You might think it will be months to get an appointment and wonder whether there is any point in trying in the first place. Worst of all, you may believe that things have got so bad your relationship is beyond rescue. Leaving you to contemplate the emotional pain of separation/divorce, plus thousands of pounds of legal fees.

The good news is that The Spark is here to help.

Making Christmas more manageable

The Spark’s counselling centres operate as normal right up to the Christmas holidays, offering flexible options for individual counselling, couple counselling and marriage counselling.  95% of our clients are offered a first appointment within 2 weeks of contacting us compared to waiting times of several months on the NHS. We offer safe and confidential support through our network of accredited counsellors in Scotland. You can find your local The Spark Counselling centre online.

Find out more about our counselling services for couples and individuals.

The Spark offers the flexibility to start sessions before the Christmas holidays and return in the New Year. We also offer evening and weekend appointments in selected locations.

We have counselling appointments available across our regional centres as well as telephone and online counselling options for individuals.

I wish it could be Christmas…

Christmas can be a wonderful opportunity to spend time with your partner, kids and loved ones. A break from work might be exactly what you and your partner/family need to recharge and reconnect. But if you don’t think it will be, The Spark is here to help and our only request is simple: speak to us before things reach crisis point.

Counselling and support for relationship problems

If your relationship is feeling under pressure and you need someone to talk to, The Spark are experts in couple counselling and marriage counselling. To discuss counselling for you/you and your partner, freephone 0808 802 0050 in confidence or complete an enquiry form.

The Spark provides a free Relationship Helpline on 0808 802 2088. Speak to a member of our team in confidence Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: 11am – 2pm. Alternatively find out more about relationship counselling with The Spark.

The Spark also provides a range of free resources to help with life’s challenges.