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.

Christmas stress can often feel like an inevitable, unavoidable part of the festive season. A time to just batten down the hatches and power through. But it does not have to be like that!

25 ways to deal with Christmas stress

We have put together an advent calendar of tips for a festive de-stress. Simple ways to help you enjoy Christmas from start to finish. Throughout December we will be adding a new tip every day that can help make for a less stressful and happier festive season.


Christmas stress - set a budgetDay 1: Set a Christmas budget and stick to it

We are encouraged by retailers to spend our way to happiness at Christmas, often leading to debt and relationship problems as a result.

Agree a budget with your partner/family for gifts and entertaining and stick to it.

Check out our blog on Christmas finance tips for more advice.


Day 2: Plan ahead

No matter how much we might wish to put it off, Christmas is coming. In the midst of busy modern life it might feel like too much to think about.

However planning out what you want to do, who you (really) want to buy gifts for and sort who is hosting who on Christmas Day will make things a lot less stressful.

So grab that Christmas tress by the branches and get planning!

christmas-presents-giftsDay 3: Do a bit at a time

Instead of having to blitz your Christmas gift shopping in one weekend, do a little bit at a time.

Similarly, if you are hosting family and friends during the festive season start stocking up gradually with what you need to avoid that nightmare supermarket mega-shop on 23rd December.

To do listDay 4: The Christmas to do list

To do lists can be very helpful, especially at Christmas. They can also be a cause of stress if we aren’t realistic about those lists.

Before you start one think for a moment about what you will realistically be able to achieve in the time you have available. Separate out the ‘must dos’ and the ‘would be nice to dos’. You’ll quickly see that your real to do list is much shorter, meaning you have time and more enthusiasm for the nice to dos.

christmas-angelDay 5: Perfect Christmas or good enough?

The odds on a ‘perfect Christmas’ for any individual, couple or family is probably as good as snow on Christmas Day in Dubai. So embrace the imperfection of the season and stop looking for ‘perfection’ in every meal, gift and decoration.

For couples with children the same applies to parenting – look for good enough, not perfection from yourself and your kids.

Day 6: Dear Santa…

Help with the Christmas stress of gift giving by dropping some hints or pointing out the things you like.

Encourage friends and family to do the same for you. And for grown-ups, why not write your own letter to Santa? It might sound cheesy but it’s really helpful (and fun!).

hug-cuddle-winterDay 7: Remember what Christmas is about

Christmas is a time for family, for friendship and spending time together.

When the Christmas stress levels start to rise thinking about what present to get Aunty Mary, remember what it’s all about.

Christmas stress

Day 8: Ignore the Christmas TV adverts

Whether it is the John Lewis advert making us cry or the ‘perfect’ Christmas presented by every shop in the country, TV adverts can be a source of Christmas stress.

Make a cup of tea during the ad break or mute the sound and free yourself from the ads that often leave us feeling like our Christmas will never be good enough.


christmas stress listen to musicDay 9: Enjoy simple things

December will be a busy month for pretty much everyone.

Give yourself a break and enjoy something simple like a hot cup of cocoa or tea, listen to some of your favourite music and chill out for 15 minutes.

Feeling recharged you’ll be more effective at ticking off that to-do list.

Christmas stressDay 10: Get some Christmas helpers

Encourage the whole family to get involved in preparations.

Decorating, coming up with gift ideas, tidying the house for Christmas visitors.

Not only will it ease the burden for the person who usually does it all, it will help make everyone feel included and part of the Christmas build-up.

winter-walk christmas stressDay 11: Enjoy the build-up to Christmas

We focus so much on Christmas Day itself that the rest of the festive season passes in a blur.

Instead, enjoy the moments before Christmas Day: a walk in the crisp winter air; the pleasure of getting a gift for someone you love; the Christmas lights.

christmas stressDay 12: The ghost of Christmas past

For a lot of people Christmas is a difficult time because of past experiences, bereavement or major life events. There is pressure to be happy at Christmas which can make you feel a lot worse.

Consider talking about these issues with a professional counsellor or a loved one about how to manage those difficult emotions.

walk-nature-winter-christmas-stressDay 13: Take a long winter walk

Walking is a great way to de-stress.

Get out and enjoy some time away from the TV, present wrapping, Christmas card writing and games consoles. Consider leaving mobile phones on silent and enjoy the natural world around you.

With a rosy glow in your cheeks, head home and indulge in number 9 of our earlier tips.

painting-drawing-christmas-stressDay 14: Indoor hobbies

The weather during December (and January, February and probably March) is not always great. Dark mornings and nights cut down on opportunities for outdoor time.

So consider trying something indoor instead: creative paper crafts (helpful for DIY Christmas cards); knitting (bizarrely still very cool); reading a good book or picking up that musical instrument that is gathering dust in the corner.

christmas-stressDay 15: Spend time with people

If you live on your own the festive season can bring about feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Try to take an active approach to avoiding this. Accept invitations to parties and get togethers. Why not organise something for other people you know who are in the same boat. Ultimately just try and be sociable.


candles-christmas-stressDay 16: Christmas candles

As the nights draw in candles can be a nice way to brighten up your home and provide a relaxing atmosphere at home.

Remember however to always extinguish candles and never leave them unattended.

Check out Scottish Fire and Rescue’s Festive safety guide for candles.

volunteerDay 17: Consider helping others at Christmas

It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘I want’ mind-set of Christmas. After all, it’s what shops want us to do! But it takes away from the themes of love, peace and goodwill at Christmas.

Get a little perspective by helping out a charity at Christmas. You’ll be helping people who need it most and will get a more grounded perspective on the whole festive season.

board-game-2Day 18: Play more games than just Charades

Charades is a Christmas party staple but think outside of the box this year. There are literally hundreds of (free) games from around the world that are great to play at Christmas.

From the delightfully bonkers Danish game Pakkeleg (Google it!) to The Drunken Artist (a twist on Pictionary) there is plenty of fun to be had!


christmas-baking-stressDay 19: Favourite Christmas memories

Think about the things that have made Christmas special in the past for you individually, as a couple or a family.

Chances are when you really think about it you’ll rediscover things you haven’t done for years which will make for a great festive season.


christmas stressDay 20: Say please and thank you

For a time of year that is supposed to be about goodwill to all, Christmas stress seems to up people’s rudeness levels.

In the busyness of the season we often forget our manners and, without intending it, are rude to family, friends and strangers.

So this festive season commit to always saying please and thank you.


christmas stressDay 21: It’s ok not to be ok

We often feel like we have to be happy at Christmas. That is not always possible and it is absolutely and totally ok not to be ok at Christmas time.

Speak to a close, trusted friend about what you are experiencing or better still, look in to counselling.


hug-cuddle-winterDay 22: You do not have to spend all of Christmas with family

The festive season is definitely an opportunity to spend time with family. But that does not mean we have to spend all of our time with them.

Carve out some time for you or you and your partner. For families it is important to have mum, dad and the kids only time too.


sledging-christmas-stressDay 23: Fun with the family doesn’t have to cost money

Ice skating, festive films at the cinema, shopping trips, panto – the list of festive season activities which are not cheap is almost endless. But having quality time together does not have to cost.

Try a good old fashioned board game that has been gathering dust in the cupboard. For parents remember what you enjoyed most about Christmas during your childhood. Surprisingly, children wired in to the digital world tend to really enjoy simple things that offer actual and not virtual interaction.

combat-christmas-stress-with-sleepDay 24: Get some sleep

This probably sounds silly but with the usual ‘running around like a headless chicken’ pre-Christmas followed by late nights and early starts (especially if you have kids) sleep often gets forgotten about.

Missing out on a proper night’s sleep is bad for us physically and mentally so make sure you are getting your zzzz’s.

snowflake-christmas-tree-christmas-stressDay 25: Just enjoy Christmas Day

On Christmas Day forget about the ‘perfect’ day and enjoy the special moments.

Savour the smiles of loved ones receiving gifts and forget about whether the turkey will be moist or not. Laugh as the kids try to teach Grandpa how to play Call of Duty instead of worrying about whether you got everyone a ‘perfect’ present.

Merry Christmas!

Support this Christmas

Stress, anxiety, depression and relationship issues are very common at Christmas and during the festive season. The Spark offers counselling and support for individuals, couples, young people and families across Scotland.

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

Christmas and New Year opening hours:

The Spark Counselling (enquiries team and appointments) will observe the following opening times during the 2016 Christmas and New Year holidays.

22 December 2016: 11am – 12.30pm

23 – 28 December 2016: closed

29 December 2016: 10am – 2.00pm

30 December – 3 January 2017: closed

Services return to normal hours on Wednesday 4 January 2017.

Nearly half of all Scots surveyed in a recent YouGov poll are already in debt before they spend on Christmas. Nearly 20% said they were struggling to cope and feeling stressed by personal debt on credit cards and loans.

Christmas debt and relationship breakdown

Debt is a major cause of stress and relationship problems for individuals, couples and whole families. The pressure to spend towards a ‘perfect’ Christmas on gifts, decorations, food and drink can have a damaging impact financially and emotionally.

We caught up with Sharon MacPherson, Chief Executive of Scotcash to get some advice on avoiding a Christmas debt hangover this January.

Sharon MacPherson blogs on Christmas debtWhat can you really afford this Christmas?

“It is important to know how much you can afford to spend this Christmas. We are encouraged to spend a lot of money on gifts and celebrations for a fun and enjoyable Christmas. For many this is short-lived until the credit card bills land in January.

Setting a budget can help you avoid spending more than you can afford. The Christmas Budget Planner tool is a good way to set your budget. Once set try and stick to it during December.

You are not alone

If you are struggling to manage the rising cost of Christmas it is important to know that you are not alone. It can be hard to admit that you are not coping with debt and Christmas can cause extra stress and worry. 1 in 4 people will still have outstanding Christmas payments in February. For some this financial hangover will last well in to April.

Research indicates that the average person spends nearly £470 on gifts, food, drink and socialising at Christmas. A third of people polled thought that they might have to make cutbacks to other non-essential items to be able to pay for the cost of the previous Christmas.

Many people end up being taken advantage of as a result and are lured into taking out high interest loans or expensive credit cards to pay for Christmas. The growth of pay day loan providers provides added risk as their interest rates can be crippling. Wherever possible try to avoid using such lenders or credit cards as a means to support Christmas debt.

christmas debtAlternatives to high interest loans and credit cards

Organisations like Scotcash can provide advice and access to affordable loans and savings accounts. We want to make sure that people we support no longer feel trapped by helping them to manage their debt in an affordable way. Some people are stuck in a cycle of debt. Others are just one step away from it happening to them. Scotcash alongside other providers offer products to change that and help people break free from high cost borrowing.”

For more information on products from Scotcash visit their website.


Is debt harming your relationships?

Debt is a major cause of stress and relationship problems for individuals, couples and whole families. Counselling can help you deal with the emotional and mental issues around debt and to rebuild relationships.

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

For counselling enquiries complete an enquiry form or freephone 0808 802 0050.

Before the advent of social media, parents had an easier time keeping track of the teenage celebrity crush. Celebrity crushes used to be someone from music, TV, sport or film. By virtue of their prominence in mainstream media, parents had a better chance of monitoring who their son or daughter adored. Plus those stars always seemed safely unattainable despite the manner in which they could influence impressionable teens.

In our second blog on social media and teens, we look at the growing sub-culture of social media stars that rarely feature in the mainstream media.

Social media and the teenage crushsocial media selfie-teens-mobile

Social media has fundamentally and rapidly changed those circumstances. It has become more complicated and more risky for teens and parents as recent news reports have demonstrated. Three things in particular have changed.

Firstly there has been a redefinition of who a celebrity is and what they are famous for. Secondly, the opportunity for celebs and their fans to interact, one-to-one, has never been so easy. Thirdly, these stars that often command the attention and adoration of tens of thousands of teenage fans are no longer unattainable. In fact they can be living just around the corner.

Anyone can be a social media star

The exponential increase in ‘user generated content’ means a celebrity could be someone parents have never heard of, let alone know anything about. In 2016 anyone who can post videos on YouTube, do their own vlog or post to Instagram can become a celebrity and potentially garner thousands of adoring fans.

Anyone can interact with a social media star

Before the advent of social media, the closest a fan could get to their star would be waiting at a stage door or joining their fan club. As covered in the first blog of this series – Social media and the celebrity crush – the new breed of social media stars can interact directly with their fans. Instant messages, private messages and the like have pushed the celebrity crush in to new realms.

Fans, social media stars and ‘meet ups’youtube social media

Unlike the teenage crushes of the 70s, 80s and 90s the new breed of social media stars are not necessarily distant from their adoring fans.

The stars of these sub-cultures do not ride in limos. They are not surrounded by security. They do not live on millionaires’ row in London. Outside of the online world they are – to all intents and purposes – ordinary people living in pretty ordinary places around the country.  This is where things become complicated.

‘Meet ups’ generally refer to opportunities where the stars of social media – those generating the videos, pictures or blogs – will get together with fans and other content creators. Like all celebrities, the stars of social media have significant power and influence over teenagers. The combination of influence, accessibility and now geographical proximity can be a risky combination.

What can parents do to educate, support and protect their children in this new digital landscape?

1. Allow ‘meet ups’ but with limits

Putting a blanket ban on meet ups will either drive a wedge between the two of you or see your teenager agreeing to more secretive meetings. Instead offer to support attending a meet up in exchange for some limitations.

For example take them to and pick them up from the meet up (at a safe distance of course!) at agreed times. Expect them to attend with a close friend and ensure that overnight stays following a meet up are off the negotiating table.

2. Ask about him/her as a friend would

Try to take a genuine interest in what your teenager is passionate about as one of their friends would. This passion will be reflected in their social media interactions.

Ask them to tell you about it because you are interested – do not demand to find out. Tell them that you respect their right to privacy as they get older and reinforce that it is your love for them that drives your protection of them. Understanding what interests them will better equip you to be alert to issues that might be arising.

3. Share your own social media experiences

Few parents will not have dabbled with social media in some form. You may feel like (or be) a total technophobe but share your own experiences.

Tell them who you like to follow on Facebook or Twitter (or Instagram if you are a really cool parent!) and why. Talk about how the people you follow on social media might influence (or be able to influence) you, your thoughts and decisions. Use this as a way to help them understand that the influence celebrities have over their fans can be used in positive ways and conversely, for questionable motives.

Help for parents

For more advice and tips on parenting teens check out the Parents and Families section of The Spark website. There you will find a range of free resources, advice and tips for navigating the tricky teenage years.

You can also get specific advice for protecting children online from the NSPCC.

Youth counselling

The Spark offers private youth counselling in our Glasgow, Edinburgh and Paisley locations.

Freephone 0808 802 0050 for more information or complete an enquiry form.

Social media and the celebrity crush

Social media has made the ‘celebrity crush’ more complicated for teens and their parents. In the first of two special blogs we look at how social media has changed the nature of the celebrity crush and how parents can help protect their children.

A childhood rite of passagesocial media and the celebrity crush

A celebrity crush is something of a rite of passage for teenagers. For a while it is all-consuming but it sits firmly in the land of fantasy. Eventually we grow a little wiser and decide we are done with the ‘childish’ obsession. There is damage is done (barring a little embarrassment when it is recalled).

Social media and the teenage celebrity crush

Before the advent of social media, the closest a fan could get to their star would be waiting outside a stage door or joining their fan club. In the main communication between a star and their fans was filtered or managed through media. What they said on TV, radio, in magazines or newspapers was ultimately edited or controlled in some way – from the 9 o’clock watershed to the editor’s red pen. Social media changed all of that.

The ease of communication social media offers and its personalisation is unprecedented. It has never been easier for celebrities to interact directly with their fans, and vice-versa. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat all offer direct avenues for interaction, and the speed of innovation means the next medium of choice for celebs and their fans is probably just around the corner.

Influencing the decisions teens makeSocial media and the celebrity crush

As celebrities always have, they wield significant power and influence over teenagers. They are opinion leaders and opinion formers. With the ability to message and chat directly with their fans online, there is scope for at least misunderstandings around the nature of the relationship.

Stars talk about the love they have for their fans but that love is better classed as philia love – the Greek word for an affectionate love born out of friendship. The potential for this to be misinterpreted or worse still, deliberately manipulated is rightly a concern for parents.

The darker side of celebrity-fan relationships

Earlier this year footballer Adam Johnson was jailed for grooming and sexual activity with a girl aged 15. Johnson had used various social media apps during his relationship with the teenager. This along with other high profile cases demonstrate the ease with which celebrities can influence impressionable teenagers directly.

But what can parents do to help protect their children from these, thankfully, relatively isolated instances?

1. Be involved but not controlling

Try to take a genuine interest in what your teenager is passionate about. This passion will be reflected in their social media interactions and the celebrities and heroes they might communicate with. Developing an understanding of who and what they are interested in will better equip you to be alert to issues that might be arising.

2. Promote positive role models

Where possible promote positive role models to your children. Encourage a focus on celebrities who combine their career with charitable or philanthropic work, or individuals who maintain a more normalised approach to their life. Consider also who you admire and relate to within the celebrity world. Parents are a child’s primary source of learning and massively influence their decisions and attitudes.

3. Talk to them about the influence of celebrities

Use your own personal experiences to highlight how easy and normal it is to getting carried away with a celebrity crush. Do not be judgemental or force your opinion on to your teenager. Instead offer up your experiences as advice and guidance.

Ultimately it is about helping them realise the power celebrities have over their fans and thankfully the small number of incidences when that power is abused.