life hacks for better mental health - eat well

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

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

Life hacks number 1 – Slow things down


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

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

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

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

Life hacks number 2 – Talk to someone about your feelings


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

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

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

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

Life hacks number 3 – Eat healthily


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

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

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

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

You've Got a Friend

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

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


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

You’ve got a friend

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

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

Supporting them uplifts me

You've Got a Friend
Carole King

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

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

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

From Fire and Rain to You’ve Got a Friend

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

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

Don’t worry, you’ve got a friend

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

‘You’ve Got a Friend’ by Carole King

 

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

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

Stevie Wonder I just called to say I love you

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

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


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

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

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

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

The life affirming songs of Stevie Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

have it all

As part of Mental Health Awareness week we are considering this year’s theme: surviving or thriving? 21st century society leads us to believe that we can ‘have it all’. Where all is defined loosely as everything an individual might desire at some point in their life. The reality – and whether we end up surving or thriving in life – is somewhat different.

How to have it all in the 21st century

Rather unfairly society encourages us to believe – via social media, magazines, TV and more – we can ‘have it all’. Generally it goes something like this…

A successful career coupled with happy, adorable and well behaved children. A beach-body combined with age-defying looks. Enough spare time to do our bit for charity whilst crafting our own greetings cards sold in boutique shops. Living in a home straight out of an interior design magazine bought and furnished with the kind of financial frugality that would make Martin Lewis proud. Weekends are spent with a wide and loyal base of friends and family whose only concern is which fabulous party to attend with us. All the while supported by our devoted partner who confidently asserts that our relationship ‘could not be better’.

Stressed, depressed and in debt

have it allReality is of course far removed from the picture that is often painted. Worryingly the desire and drive to ‘have it all’ is taking its toll on our mental health. As a nation we are stressed out, depressed and worried about rising debt and falling incomes. Four in ten of our marriages will end in divorce whilst our kids are becoming increasingly anxious and fearful. Meanwhile the car in the driveway is too expensive for us to afford and the monthly repayments keep us awake at night along with a multitude of other concerns.

When it comes to the concept of ‘you can have it all’ it seems clear that many of us are surviving, not thriving.

Can we have it all and good mental health?

Is it possible to have it all and maintain good mental health? Yes but that is the wrong perspective. Like landing on the moon, it is possible but it is also incredibly difficult. Much like becoming an Olympian, it is possible but it also takes sacrifice and being very particular about what ‘all’ is.

Aspiring Olympians know that in pursuit of excellence, other things they might wish to do or achieve need to be put on hold or dropped. Ambitions in other areas of their lives such as starting a family are put firmly on the back burner. They demonstrate sacrifice and control in relatively mundane things too. Like eating only the healthiest food instead of stuffing themselves with pizza and chocolate.

Have it all but narrowly define it

have it all - narrowly define what your 'all' isElite athletes also provide a stark illustration of the need to narrowly define what your ‘all’ is. Time with family and friends is reduced in favour of punishing training regimes. Why? Because in their minds they have a crystal clear vision of what they want: a chance to qualify for and compete at the Olympic Games. Adding more things to the ‘all’ reduces its chances, dilutes focus and creates inevitable incompatibilities.

The pressure to subscribe to and ‘live’ the ‘have it all’ life takes its toll on our relationships and mental health. At The Spark we regularly help couples and individuals who, for example, find that spending long hours at work and less time with their partner damages that relationship. In a similar vein the stress of debt from over-ambitious spending can cause marital breakdown and/or stress, anxiety and depression.

We live in a world where we believe the ‘have it all’ Instagram personas of celebrities. But we gloss over the fact their relationships, marriages, health and more regularly end up damaged in the process of trying to have it all.

Mental Health Awareness Week

This Mental Health Awareness Week we encourage you to think about whether you are on the having it all rollercoaster. Are the things you want to have, be or achieve in life compatible and realistic? Is the pursuit of having it all causing problems in your relationships with your partner, family, kids or friends?

If you need someone to talk to about how you are feeling or issues in your relationships past or present, The Spark can provide confidential counselling and support services.

To find out more complete an online enquiry or freephone us on 0808 802 0050. Alternatively find out more about our services for couples, individuals, parents and families.

unhappy men

The theme of 2017 Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘surviving or thriving?’ In the context of men’s mental health in the UK in 2017 it feels like a perfect question to pose. Data – and there is lots of it – points to only one conclusion: many men are, at best, just about surviving and we are creating a nation of unhappy men.

Creating a nation of unhappy men

unhappy menResearch published at the end of last year highlighted that men are 3-times more likely than women to take their own lives in the UK. Suicide remains the single biggest killer of British males under the age of 45. Furthermore a longstanding inability of men to openly discuss their problems was highlighted as a significant contributing factor.

The study shed light on some of the underlying causes of what amounts to a burgeoning epidemic of unhappy men. In particular the role of traditional gender stereotypes remains significant.

Even as recently as 25 years ago, gender roles remained relatively clearly divided. The male would be the main breadwinner and the financial strength of a family. Along with it came other masculine stereotypes like status and standing in the community being determined by employment and income. Women would be the home-makers and child-bearers with all the limitations of opportunity that entailed.

Female gender roles reshaped

unhappy men
Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

Rightly feminism has reshaped society in to one where women are encouraged and able to do, achieve or be anything they want to be. Whilst we have yet to achieve true gender equality great progress has been made. Feminism has given women the opportunity but not necessarily the requirement to strive for positive life goals.

By contrast no proactive steps were taken to educate boys and men. No one thought to teach them that they no longer ‘had to’ fit in to traditional gender roles. Instead those stereotypes like being the main breadwinner remained. Even in 2016 their perceptions remain tied to the old stereotypes of what they should and should not be, as the research confirmed:

  • 31% of men surveyed said they felt pressure to be the main earner (19% of women surveyed)
  • 25% of men surveyed said that losing their job would make them feel less of a person (17% of women surveyed)

“…financial problems and relationship break ups are behind many suicides… (having a job and financial issues) can really weigh heavily on men if they are not fulfilling the traditional masculine role.”

Professor Damien Ridge, University of Westminster

What does it mean to be a man in the 21st century?

unhappy menThe purpose and role in society that was familiar to previous generations of men effectively no longer exists. Many men do not know what they are supposed to be or do in 21st century Britain. A growing and silent generation of unhappy men should perhaps come as no surprise.

This is born out in more data from the 2016 study which revealed a significant disconnect between what men believe prospective partners are looking for and the reality. Attributes such as masculinity, physical attractiveness, confidence and financial dependability were perceived by men to be important. Instead prospective partners rated other features – compassion, intelligence and work ethic – much higher and considered attractiveness and financial stability less important.

“Men can have ideas about what they lack, why they’re a failure. And yet it may not fit with reality.” Professor Damien Ridge

Without addressing the issue of out-dated gender roles society will continue to create generations of unhappy men. The current generation are depressed and confused about their role and purpose in the 21st century. But there is hope.

Evidence suggests that when opportunities are created to help men open up about their thoughts, fears and problems progress is being made. Part of this process is understanding that men will, for the foreseeable future, remain reluctant to talk about their mental health. As a result they require a different approach compared to women.

At The Spark we consider providing such opportunities for men to be a central part of our work. Through our counselling and support services, any individual can confidentially seek help with overcoming the challenges of modern life.

Find out more information about counselling, finding a local counsellor or how to access our free helpline.

 

Red Hot Chilli Peppers - Under the Bridge

Songs for Sound Minds #10 – ‘Under the Bridge’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers

The song that propelled Red Hot Chili Peppers to superstardom is a poignant story of broken relationships and finding the strength to overcome addiction.


Red Hot Chilli Peppers - Under the BridgeWasting love for time ‘under the bridge’

Under the Bridge originally started out as a poem written by Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman, Anthony Kiedis. Having maintained his sobriety for nearly three years, Kiedis was feeling isolated and alienated from his bandmates. Their continued drug use drove a wedge between the band and left Kiedis feeling like he was in a different world to them.

Recalling his time struggling with heroin and cocaine addiction to Rolling Stone magazine, Kiedis explained how he was moved to write his relationship with former girlfriend Ione Skye that was wrecked by drugs:

“the loneliness that I was feeling triggered memories of my time with Ione and how I’d had this beautiful angel of a girl who was willing to give me all of her love, and instead of embracing that, I was downtown with gangsters shooting speedballs under a bridge.”

My only friend

Feeling abandoned by his ‘family’ of bandmates, Kiedis came to believe that the city of Los Angeles was in effect his only companion:

“I felt an unspoken bond between me and my city. I’d spent so much time wandering through the streets of L.A. and hiking through the Hollywood Hills that I sensed there was a nonhuman entity, maybe the spirit of the hills and the city, who had me in her sights and was looking after me.”

Despite the distance between him and his bandmates, Kiedis remained convinced that life without drugs was far better to when they dominated his every thought.

A million percent better

“I started thinking about my life and how sad it was right now. But no matter how sad or lonely I got, things were a million percent better than they were two years earlier when I was using drugs all the time.”

Lyrics throughout the song recount Kiedis’ experiences horrific experiences of drug addiction and its role in destroying many of his relationships. The verse of Under the Bridge in particular illustrates the lengths he was prepared to go to feed his habit:

Under the bridge downtown
Is where I drew some blood
Under the bridge downtown
I could not get enough
Under the bridge downtown
Forgot about my love
Under the bridge downtown
I gave my life away

Although it deals with a very difficult subject – addiction and wrecked lives – Under the Bridge is a song of redemption. Redemption from destructive relationships to instead turn towards better, healthier ones.

I don’t ever want to feel
Like I did that day
Take me to the place I love
Take me all the way

Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers

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

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

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.

Teenager mobile sexting

Raising children in the digital age brings with it a host of challenges previous generations never faced. One such high profile and extremely distressing issue – sexting – features in the final series of ITV’s Broadchurch drama.

Spoiler alert

Broadchurch series 3 features sexting(If you are yet to watch series 3 of Broadchurch and want to be kept in suspense, head back to our blog page!)

A significant sub-plot in series 3 has revolved around the difficult subjects of sexting and revenge porn. David Tennant’s DI Alec Hardy is faced with a revelation that his daughter Daisy has been ‘sexting’. As a result she has been subject to an act of revenge porn: an explicit image of her has been shared without her permission online. Hardy’s reaction is what you would expect of any parent: anger, confusion and extreme concern.

Sexting is an issue that is fast becoming a common problem. As the lives of young people become ever more embedded in social media, its significance and the number of incidences will only increase. This is perhaps why the issue has been deftly woven in to the storyline of Broadchurch. All of which of course begs an important question: how can parents protect their kids from sexting?

Sexting advice for parents

Revenge porn typically – but not exclusively – occurs following the breakdown of a relationship. During that relationship ‘sexting’* – the sharing of explicit images/video/text via online messaging tools or apps – has occurred.  The content is then used against the former partner.

Online shaming is sadly becoming mainstream. Consequently new legislation in England and Wales has come in to force with Scotland following suit this year.

Sexting and how to protect your child

Best practice suggests that parents need to be taking a proactive approach. As with drugs and alcohol, the best form of defence is to proactively educate children about issues like sexting before they become a part of a child’s relationships.

1. Speak openly and as early as possible

Speak to your children openly about sexual issues, including sexting. Yes it is uncomfortable and awkward. Undoubtedly part of you will feel that your child is ‘too young’ to be exposed to such issues. Sadly if you do not educate them someone else will. Or they will turn to unfiltered sources on the Internet or their peer group for answers.

2. Never assume “it’ll never happen to them”

Be careful not to simply assume ‘my son/daughter’ would never do that. Peer pressure in particular can be immensely powerful. We can all remember the pressure to ‘fit in’ at school and sexting is now just another way for young people to experience that pressure.  Just as many parents assumed incorrectly that their children would never drink alcohol under age or take drugs, the same must apply to these emerging issues.

3. Talk about the emotional and legal implications of sexting

Teenager mobile sexting

Discuss the risks associated with sexting and revenge porn. Encourage them to think about how they would feel if an image of them was shared at school/ amongst their circle of friends. Ask them to consider whether the hurt and embarrassment of this happening is worth taking the risk in the first place.

It is important also to be clear about the legal implications of, for example, exchanging explicit images. Many 15 and 16 year olds today will be unaware that possessing explicit images of their boyfriend/girlfriend is illegal. The law is clear on this matter and it still applies even if the individual in possession of the image(s) is over 18 but their partner is not.

4. Do they know who they are sharing with online?

Talk about the importance of really knowing who they are sharing information with online. That goes for personal information about them as much as images. Again it will be a difficult subject to handle but it is important to talk openly and honestly about issues like grooming, sexual exploitation and paedophilia.

5. Give them someone to talk to

sextingSpecifically in terms of who the child can talk to about such issues. It may be that speaking to mum or dad regularly about these issues is too uncomfortable. In that case look for a suitable substitute like a trusted member of the family or an older cousin/family friend. It is critical however that they are fully aware of your perspective, educated about the risks and perhaps even able to offer cautionary stories from their own peer group.

Overarching all of these practical tips is a core belief about what makes a good relationship. As a society we want to give our children the understanding that a loving relationship does not require or depend upon the sharing of explicit content. We want to be instilling in them the belief that a good relationship is built upon self-respect and a respect and care for each other. Not the fear, power and control that can come from sharing explicit images.

My child has been sexting

If your child has been involved in sexting or sexting that has resulted in revenge porn/ threat of revenge porn, there is lots of additional advice online.

Young Scot, the NSPCC and ChildLine offer good online resources. Information includes how to get images removed if they have been shared on social network sites like Facebook or Twitter. Plus further advice on keeping children safe online.

*Sexting can also be known as ‘pic for pic’, ‘dirties’, ‘sending nudes’ or ‘trading nudes’.

life transitions death and taxes

Benjamin Franklin famously wrote: “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. Change is an inevitable part of life. It is as inescapable as the passage of time and is often the precursor to a significant life transition.

Life transitions - Ben Franklin
Ben Franklin: obsessed with death & taxes. Died, ended up on the $100 bill.

Life transitions are typically the most significant milestones in our lives. As a result they often become our greatest undertakings and may well figure in our lives forever.

Change can be something we excitedly look forward to, like getting married or deciding to move in together. Conversely it can be thrust upon us when we least expect it and be completely out with our control; like the redundancy or serious illness of our partner/spouse.

The one common feature of all life transitions is their ability to challenge, unsettle and sometimes unravel our relationships.

Life transitions and relationships

The emotional reactions to life transitions tend not to be black or white, despite what we might anticipate or believe. For example, a couple welcoming the arrival of their first child is expected to be a time of great joy, when an already loving relationship is strengthened and deepened.

But for many parents it actually places significant pressure and strain on their relationship. Post-natal depression, sleepless nights, financial burdens and a lack of time for mum and dad to spend together can damage relationships between them individually and their baby.

Counselling for life transitions

life transitions family
One of life’s biggest transitions: becoming a parent.

Usually we will work our way through these lifecycle changes with relationships remaining unharmed. Individually, as a couple or with the help of family and friends most of our life transitions will be successfully navigated. But in this increasingly pressured and stressful world it can be helpful to talk to a counsellor.

Working with a relationship counsellor can help with many of the common issues faced during difficult life transitions:

  • Understanding the situation and what has driven the emotional response(s)
  • Working on techniques and strategies to handle those responses and protect relationships
  • Techniques to cope with stress, anxiety and other physiological responses created by difficult life transitions.

Coping with big changes in your life

Relationship counselling can be a great support to individuals, couples and families going through difficult periods of change and transition. Counsellors offer a non-judgemental, neutral and professional perspective on the issues you are facing.

A clearer understanding of how you are feeling can make coping with changes in life easier. Resulting in a strengthening of the relationships many life transitions can damage.

The Spark provides counselling and support for couples, individuals and families across Scotland. Helping clients to work through life transitions is a major part of the work we do. We operate from 17 locations with a team of professional counsellors highly skilled in helping you cope with life’s changes.

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

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

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

1. Have your own bake off

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

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

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

Easter school holiday2. Use your local library

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

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

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

3. A (cheap) trip to the cinema

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

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

4. Create a fairy castle or superhero hideout

 

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

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

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

Easter school holiday5. Take day trip by train

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

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


Making relationships work

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

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

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

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

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