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.

Lifestyle fashion magazines

Imagine a new product is about to be launched. This product has amazing capabilities. It has the power to make you dislike at least one aspect of your lifestyle intensely. Chances are it could leave you feeling deeply unhappy about your appearance, clothes or body shape. And using this product might cause you to feel like everyone else is doing life well and you are definitely not.

Would you use this product?

What if I was to tell you that this product, in various formats, shifts over 150,000 units per week. Would that change your mind?

How about the fact you need to pay for it. Yes, you get all the goodness mentioned above in exchange for some of the cash you have worked hard to earn. Would you buy it now?

It will probably come as a surprise but a good number of us have probably bought this product at least once in the past two weeks.

Lifestyle magazines are bad for your health


lifestyle magazinesI am talking about lifestyle magazines. You know the kind: fashion, gossip, celebrity and my personal favourite – titles that claim to have your ‘health’ as their focus.

Loaded with ways to get a six-pack or legs like a supermodel they are strong on physical wellbeing but shaky on what ‘get bikini fit in 6 weeks’ does to our mental health.

How we view ourselves – and how we believe others view us – are significant contributors to our mental health. For good or bad, self-perception plays a role in influencing mental health. Lifestyle magazines provide a way for readers to compare and contrast themselves to celebrities consciously and unconsciously. The outcome of that comparison is usually unfavourable.

Airbrushed, Photoshopped, nipped, tucked and squeezed


Regularly the images of celebs presented by lifestyle magazines are doctored. This is not limited to physical manipulation of everything from skin tone to waist size. Even when stars have not been airbrushed and their thighs shrunk via Photoshop, their glamourous lives are in effect airbrushed too.

Few realities of day-to-day living make it on to the glossy pages. Money concerns are never mentioned and neither is the stress of balancing work and home life. Nor the challenge of coping with the rising cost of living despite not having had a pay rise in years. It is rare to read such articles and simply think ‘that’s nice for him/her’. Instead we are left with feelings of inferiority, low self-esteem and jealousy.

Lifestyle magazines are not real life


Lifestyle magazines of the past
Women’s lifestyle magazines: different decade, same issue.

It takes a strong person to leaf through pages and confidently assert that this is not real life. For decades women have been subject to page after page of unrealistic expectations.

The picture perfect vision presented is one of looking fabulous, slim, fit and successful. Mother to adorable children but strong and feminine at the same time. An independent women but still smitten with their partner. Basically a montage of all the best bits from Beyonce’s music videos throughout her career.

Men now face a similar onslaught. To be a successful man requires the combination of a ripped body, rugged, macho strength but the sensitivity of an adoring husband. The modern man should be a captain of industry but weak at the knees when it comes to his child. Always looking spectacular but 100% committed to his partner.

Assured self-confidence or crippling disappointment?


When our own reality falls short of the airbrushed perfection on the page how are we likely to respond? With assured self-confidence or crippling disappointment? Consider going through this process regularly as you read through a magazine and ask yourself this question: is this good for my mental health?

There is an inherently cruel paradox about how lifestyle magazines present celebrities to readers. Publications place them on a pedestal for us to admire and worship. Then they take delight in seeing them fall and fall hard.

What are we getting from this?


What do we take from reading lifestyle magazines? They help us to idolise individuals, their success and lifestyles. Then they knock them down and delight in their failure. The sensationalist headlines are familiar:

“Singer bares the bikini flab on holiday”

“Married TV hunk slept with co-star”

“Shocking post-baby pics”

Cigarettes come with a warning about how bad they are for your health. Unhealthy foods come with warnings about their fat and sugar content. We are clearly getting better at promoting good physical health as not just good to have but vitally important. By contrast mental health still sits somewhere in the background – a nice to have have but not essential.

If as a society we are serious about mental health – and we absolutely should be – then lifestyle magazines should probably come with a warning too.


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 local counselling centre or make an enquiry.

Being a parent to a teenager is tricky at the best of times. High school exams are barely over when attention turns to the next stress-triggering milestone: exam results day.

Parents can end up just as distressed as the kids who sat the exams. The near constant squeeze on prospects for an increasingly disadvantaged millennial generation has ratcheted up the pressure to ‘do well’. Both parents and young adults can end up believing their results will either make or break their future.

Do exam results define your future?

exam results day stressWhich is a nice segue in to our first recommendation: to read one of our earlier articles – Do exam results define your future? The good news (spoiler alert) is that they do not but that might not pacify a distraught teen immediately after they open their envelope or read their text alert.

So the team here at The Spark have put our heads together to come up with some advice for parents waiting for exam results day. As one of the leading providers of counselling to pupils in Scottish schools, we know what makes teens tick. And the first tip, like most things in life for parents, is to plan ahead.

Tip #1 from our school counsellors – it is all about planning


Like most things in life for parents it is all in the planning.

The process starts before exam results drop through the letterbox or pop up on a smartphone screen.

Before exam results day…

First and foremost, try not to get sucked in to the role of ‘competitive dad/mum’; comparing your child to their classmates and setting unrealistic targets. Parents will often offer rewards conditional upon certain exam results. This can be a great way to motivate young people to study but it can be counterproductive if, to coin a phrase, they don’t make the grade.

Focus instead on celebrating what they do achieve. Deep down you will know whether your son/daughter gave it their best shot and if they did, recognise and reward that. They might never have been school dux material even if they gave 100%. Therefore defining them simply by the grades they receive belittles the time and effort invested in sitting the exams.

Surviving the pressure-cooker environment of exams itself is worthy of celebration and reward.

Tip #2 from our school counsellors – is your child a big ball of anxiety or cool as a cucumber?


exam results day stress anxietyThe character of each child will differ markedly on how they view exam results day. Some will be beside themselves with anxiety (again we suggest a look at ‘Do exam results define your future?’ ). Meanwhile others will be confident and assured whatever the outcome.

Talk to them about how they are feeling. Ask them to be honest about how they feel in terms of your role but be prepared to take it on the chin.

Do they feel like there is a huge, scary expectation from you and your partner? Are they mostly anxious about disappointing you or is the pressure coming from within themselves? How do they feel about their prospects compared to their friends and peer group?

Help your child unwind

Discussing this can help them to unwind. It can also help all of you understand how best to approach the final few days before results arrive. Will time spent with friends eliminate their anxieties about poor results or accentuate them? Is it time to enjoy a Netflix comedy boxset binge or tune in to a chill out playlist on Spotify? Or is it better to let them enjoy their last few days of ‘freedom’ before returning to school, starting further education or getting a job?

One thing that is essential in any scenario is to assure them of your love and support. Emphasise that your relationship with them and care for them is not contingent upon achieving certain exam results.

Tip #3 from our school counsellors – let them decide


In advance of exam results day agree with your child how they want to receive their results. As their parent you want to and have a right to know. But this is their day, their exam results and the next step in their future. Give them the space and time they need.

Some kids will want to ‘rip the Band-Aid off’ and get it over and done with at home. Others might prefer to receive their results in the company of their friends. Conversely some might prefer a quiet, private place to find out how they’ve done.

Parents can help by listening and respecting their decision. It is also important to be available to share the experience and prepare for different outcomes. Your child may feel they really struggled during exam time in which case expecting straight A’s is not going to help anyone. Managing your own emotions is important too.

For example, anger directed towards an already disappointed son/daughter will be very unhelpful to both of you. Equally a response of indifference from you can be as damaging.

The days after exam results day

exam results day - successCelebrating good exam results is of course important. But so too is celebrating the achievements we mentioned earlier: completing the exam digest; investing their best efforts in study and receiving qualifications in various subjects.

In most cases your daughter/son will be happy and relieved about their exam results. Where there is disappointment they will need your support and encouragement.

A bit of creative thinking might be required to consider alternative routes to their preferred career. Encourage them to access further support and information wherever possible and options available to them.

Skills Development Scotland run an exam results helpline on the day exam results are received. The service aims to assist young adults in their post exam results decisions. If your child had intended to go to college or university contacting the institution is worthwhile. Their preferred college/university may still be able to offer them a place even if they did not get the result they were hoping for.


If the stress of exams is causing relationship issues for you as a parent – perhaps between you and your child or you and your partner – The Spark can provide counselling and support for couples, individuals  and families.

Freephone 0808 802 0050 to find out more about counselling and support or complete a counselling enquiry form.

kids activities

One thing guaranteed to create tension in a family is the long summer holiday and kids with nothing to do. Bored kids and parents trying to juggle time off with work commitments can be a recipe for a stressful summer.

Kids activities like trampoline parks, cinema trips and ten-pin bowling are all great but could end up breaking the bank. To help out we are offering up some kids’ activity ideas for the summer that should not leave parents needing to re-mortgage the house.

Swim and sprint through summer at a local sports camp


kids activities
We can’t promise your little star will learn how to hit freekicks like Ronaldo…

Local authorities across Scotland will be running summer holiday activities and sports camps during July and August. From swimming and football, to dance and gymnastics there are camps to suit most sporting abilities and interests.

Many camps run across the course of the day. Giving parents a chance to avoid using up all their annual leave entitlement in one go. Alternatively kids can take part in shorter half day programmes or classes that only run for a couple of hours each day.

Find your Scottish local authority website.

Kids activities at your local library


In this era of Netflix and toddlers with iPads, the library is relegated to last-minute rainy day backup. That is to underestimate what your local library can offer to keep kids occupied during the holidays.

Gone are the days of just shelves of dusty old books. Throughout school holidays libraries often provide a range of free or low-cost kids activities. Plus the topics and interests covered are as diverse as the books available to lend.

This summer libraries in Scotland are offering everything from making instruments and writing your own music to learning computer coding and summer reading challenges.

Explore a Scottish museum


kids activities the art of comicsSummer in Scotland’s museums is packed with special exhibitions, classes and interactive programmes. Many activities and displays are free and paid exhibitions are relatively low cost.

Superhero fans can enjoy a special exhibition ‘The Art of Comics’  in Glasgow. Featuring the work of Scottish artist Frank Quitely it includes artwork from Batman, Superman and X-Men.

In Edinburgh kids can meet clockwork characters and mechnical marvels at ‘It’s Alive’. Or why not be part of Paisley’s bid to become the UK’s city of culture in 2021. The city is running a range of kids activities throughout the summer.

Check out our other blogs on kids’ activities including our Top 5 free things to do during the summer school holidays.

breaking bad news

Escaping bad news and tragedy feels like an impossible task in 2017. War, terrorism, racism, persecution and fear dominate the news. Thanks to digital technology we are stuck on a 24-hour a day loop of breaking news and broadcasts from the scene of the latest tragedy.

Even those of the most cheerful disposition are finding it hard. Spare a thought then for the many men, women and children suffering from anxiety.

Bad news and the media


breaking bad newsAt no point in modern history has society been as exposed to or as well informed about tragedy. The old adage goes that ‘bad news sells’ and it has found a new lease of life in 21st century Britain. News media in this country is obsessed with bad news. For those suffering from anxiety it is adding yet more reasons to be fearful.

Anxiety can be summed up in two words: what if. These small, seemingly insignificant words can wield a devastating power. Anxiety sufferers worry over future possibilities: what if this happens? What if that happens? Will I be able to do this and what if I can’t? What if I try to do this and fail? The scenarios are only limited by our own imagination.

Bad news and ‘what if’


Suffering from anxiety means you are not short of things to worry about. The mind can generate a range of crippling ‘what if’ scenarios within seconds. News media’s obsession with bad news is akin to pouring petrol on the fire of anxiety.

Escaping bad news and tragedy can seem impossible. But it does not have to be that way. There are ways to take back control and break the link between bad news, the media and anxiety. Here are a few suggestions from us.

Decide how to consume news media


Digital media has given us more ways than ever to keep up to date on current events. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it has also given us ways to control how we consume news media.

bad news social mediaThese days the ‘ding’ of a news notification on your smartphone can trigger a sense of impending doom. If that is the case for you, disable notifications from your news apps. Or better still, delete them all together.

Lots of people follow news channels on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Consider unfollowing them and taking a break. A sort of mini digital detox can be helpful, particularly if the news is being dominated by a particular bad news story.

Finally, if a tragedy has occurred consider whether it is good for you to spend time consuming news media at all. Anxiety sufferers can benefit from a self-imposed news blackout. That means avoiding bulletins, staying off 24 hour news channels and taking a break from social media.

Bad news will always exist in the world but that does not mean you are obligated to hear it, see it or read about it.

Seek out good news


Mainstream media or MSM as it has become known as on social media, sticks rigidly to the mantra that ‘bad news sells’. Suffering from anxiety and keeping up to date on the news can become a toxic combination.

Though it might be hard to believe there are sources of good news out there. Have a look at websites like Good News Network, Positive News and the ‘Good News’ section of Huffington Post. Each one covers good news stories that rarely get a mention on mainstream media.

When the news feels like one bad news story after another, visit these sites and read, watch and listen to stories of care, love, selflessness and compassion.

Look at the flip side of bad news


bad news good newsA tragic event can define and scar a date permanently. Mainstream media’s coverage of such events leads us to believe that nothing but hate, destruction and pain happened that day. That is fundamentally untrue but it can be hard to see beyond the sensationalist headlines.

The same day that a small number of people sought to spread fear and hate, couples were falling in love for the first time. Babies were being born to delighted parents. Strangers were starting down the road of lifelong friendship. That same day a tragic accident occurred, cancer patients were given the all-clear and scientists made breakthroughs in curing diseases.

It may not seem like it but there is a lot of good news in the world to celebrate. Besides the media’s obsession with bad news, such tragic events dominate the headlines because they are rare. Taking the time to move your point of focus away from infrequent tragedies can be really beneficial.

Here to help with anxiety and worry


Coping with anxiety can leave you feeling alone and isolated. Anxiety often causes sufferers to become insular and withdrawn from relationships with loved ones and friends. If you are suffering from anxiety The Spark can provide support and counselling to help you address the issue.

Speaking to a professional counsellor offers an impartial and safe way of starting to deal with your anxiety issues. To find out more and to book a counselling appointment freephone 0808 802 0050. Alternatively complete an online enquiry form and our team will be in touch.

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.

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.

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.

relationship issues

Holidays are important. Especially since we only get a few each year. They can be fabulous times packed with great memories we will cherish forever. Whether we get to enjoy some family fun over Easter or a summer vacation, holidays are one of the biggest (if not the biggest) motivation for working 9 to 5.

But at the end of them, The Spark often sees an increase in demand for counselling and support services. Why? In modern society holidays highlight relationship issues. It’s that simple.

Relationships, holidays and unrealistic expectations

exhausted by relationship issuesTo start with we often have unrealistic expectations. We pack everything we want to accomplish in to our time off whether it is a realistic ‘to do’ list or not. Important things are put on hold until time off in the hope of finding time or even just headspace to deal with them. We do DIY, daytrips, visit family, try to broaden our minds, get some sun and keep the kids occupied. Basically we compete to see who can be the busiest or do the most with our time off.

Related article – Can we ‘cram’ our relationships?

On top of all of this we are bombarded with messages and images that suggest everyone is having a great time during Easter/summer/Christmas and so should we. Is it any wonder that come the end of our time off we are exhausted, disappointed and angry?

Our relationships take a battering as a result. Couples feel the tension, families fight and tempers flare. Unrealistic expectations do their damage but holidays tend to highlight something more significant: underlying relationship issues that have been left unchecked.

Relationship issues rarely fix themselves

relationship issues fighting in front of the children

There is often a common thread running through the backgrounds of couples reaching out to us for help. Specifically that they had ‘put off’ having difficult conversations. Conversations about starting a family, finances or what they wanted from the relationship never took place. Instead many couples simply crossed their fingers and hoped time off work together or a vacation would ‘fix’ their relationship problems somehow.

Many of the really important relationship issues in life are highly emotional. As a result we naturally tend to avoid them. But they do not go away when we take time off. Strangely we often know this deep down but still find it difficult to start that conversation.

Sometimes a vacation or dedicated time together can fix things in a relationship but underlying problems rarely sort themselves. Leaving them unchecked can lead to further problems with resentment and bitterness. Ultimately eating away at a relationship that is already under strain.

Take action to address relationship issues

There will be underlying relationship issues for any couple. The key is to avoid putting them on hold. Instead take time to reflect upon where you and your partner stand on those issues. Naturally there is a reticence in raising the subject for fear of upsetting or even scaring our loved one away. But talking about it honestly and calmly can represent a big step towards a solution. Only when a couple are communicating on these key issues can they find a way forward.

The alternative option – to leave them to grow and fester – is, in our experience, a far worse option.

Relationship help from The Spark

If you feel like starting that conversation is too difficult on your own, The Spark can help. Our whole purpose is to help individuals, couples and families make their relationships work. Talk to us on freephone 0808 802 0050 or make an enquiry online to find out how we can help.

And when it comes to planning what to do during the Easter, summer or Christmas holidays remember that it is ok to leave time unallocated. The house and garden – much like the Forth Rail Bridge – will always need maintaining no matter how much you do. By contrast we have precious few holidays each year to do the things we love with the ones we love.