Mental ill-health - Sweet But Psycho single by Ava Max

We are what we eat. That is the simple truth that has launched a thousand cookbooks. Eat unhealthily, expect to be unhealthy. Slowly we are starting to realise that the same applies to our minds and mental ill-health. We are what we consume and what we consume nowadays is social media, films, streamed boxsets, the occasional book and of course music.

What do trends in pop music say about our attitude to mental ill-health?


Determining what is ‘hip’ in the music world (or whatever the new word for hip is) has long been the preserve of the young. Now that the UK Top 40 is decided by streams and downloads it is absolutely the domain of millennials and generation Z.

If what we consume is a true reflection of who we are and what we believe, then the most recent UK number 1 hit single serves as a warning. Particularly for organisations like The Spark that are trying to change attitudes to mental ill-health and help future generations.

‘Sweet but psycho’: the UK’s favourite song


For most of January, the UK’s number 1 single was an infuriatingly catchy pop song by Ava Max called ‘Sweet but Psycho’. Aside from the stigmatic language of the title, the narrative of the song makes for rather depressing listening if you are, like us, working to change society’s attitudes to mental ill-health.

Mental ill-health - Sweet But Psycho single by Ava Max

This is a tale of a young woman who is labelled a ‘psycho’ according to those around her and centres on the can I/should I conundrum facing her lover. It is a desperately damaging perspective on relationships; championing that the sexual promise of the encounter is the primary consideration and little else about the relationship matters.  Indeed the song debates whether potential sexual satisfaction is enough to outweigh the attendant ‘baggage’ of her being a ‘psycho’.

To say the lyrics somewhat trivialise mental ill-health is an understatement. Hoping for some form of alternative explanation I did a bit of research into the origins of the song.

Trivialising mental ill-health?


In an interview with website Idolator, singer Ava Max offered this insight which left me feeling rather despondent: “she’s a girl who’s misunderstood in the relationship, and she’s basically being told she’s psycho and she’s out of her mind when she’s feeling it, but really she’s an outspoken girl and she’s speaking her mind.”

According to the artist, the message to young girls and women is clear:  if you choose to be outspoken or speak your mind expect to be branded a psycho, but hey, that’s ok. Nothing in the song suggests it is really about empowering women or fighting back against misogynistic use of terms like ‘psycho’ to describe women who are not compliant to the wishes of men. Quite the opposite; it implies that being perceived as sexy or promiscuous matters more and the label ‘psycho’ is almost something to be proud of.

At a time when we know how fragile the mental health of young women can be – from the pressures of social media perfection to early sexualisation – this feels like entirely the wrong kind of message.

Breaking news: old person gets wrong idea about number 1 hit single


Am I sounding like an old prude? Quite possibly. Seeing a risk where it doesn’t exist? Maybe.

Older generations have always feared what the young enjoy, listen to and consume. As Grandpa Simpson explained to Homer: “I used to be with ‘it’ but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it’, and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you!”

Taking a different tact for a moment, pop music is littered with songs that possessed a subtle, more complex meaning. By way of a defence of millennials and generation Z, how many of their grand-parents bought The Eagles ‘Hotel California’ without knowing it was really about the hedonistic, drug-fuelled lifestyle of the band? A fair few of their parents sang along to the Boomtown Rats’ ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ without knowing it was inspired by a deadly US elementary school shooting.

‘Sweet but psycho’ however is no Hotel California and the message is certainly not ambiguous. If we allow society at large to feed the minds of younger generations with such messages is it any surprise they are struggling? It should come as no surprise that youth mental ill-health is often characterised as an ‘epidemic’.

What can we do in the battle for good mental health?


Progress has been made in dragging mental health out of the shadows. We are steadily embracing its significance and the importance of breaking down stigmas, providing support and getting discussions out into the open. But there is much work still to be done.

Collectively we must provide alternative, strong voices valuing mental health and advocating healthy and mutually respectful relationships. Voices that de-stigmatise mental ill-health and champion the cause of those coping with it right now.

But perhaps most of all, we need strong voices that make clear that mental ill-health can happen to anyone and is not something to be celebrated or trivialised.


Struggling with mental ill-health?

The Spark has been providing counselling for individuals, couples, families and children for over 50 years. We offer a safe, private place to work through the issues that are causing you distress and unhappiness like relationship problems, depression, anxiety, stress or family conflict.

Find out more about our counselling services for individuals, couples, families and children or call us on freephone 0808 802 0050 to discuss how counselling could help you.

To meet a growing demand for counselling services in Edinburgh, The Spark is set to open a new location in the city this month. Complementing their 13 locations across Scotland, the country’s leading counselling provider will open The Spark Counselling Edinburgh this January 2019.

Partnering with the Eric Liddell Centre, The Spark Counselling Edinburgh will provide individual, couple, marriage and family counselling services and support.

The perfect location for The Spark Counselling Edinburgh


“The Eric Liddell Centre is the perfect location for The Spark offering clients a safe, peaceful setting in Edinburgh for counselling and support”, says CEO Stella Gibson. “This expansion reflects increased demand across the board for Edinburgh counselling services and particularly in the west and south-west of the city.”

Explaining the decision to open the new location, Gibson said: “Our ethos is to provide access to counselling for all, irrespective of circumstances or means. This new counselling location offers individuals, couples and families across Edinburgh access to affordable therapy and support services.”

The Spark partners with the Eric Liddell Centre


Established in 1965, The Spark provides counselling services for couples, individuals and families across Scotland. Providing counselling and support interactions for thousands of people each year, The Spark is one of the largest providers of therapeutic services in the country.

The Eric Liddell Centre – named after the Scottish Olympic champion and missionary depicted in the film ‘Chariots of Fire’ – provides specialist caring services. It was founded in 1980 by four local Edinburgh churches including the Morningside Congregational Church where Liddell was a member and taught Bible class.

counselling Edinburgh - exterior image of the Eric Liddell Centre in Morningside, Edinburgh
The Eric Liddell Centre in Morningside, Edinburgh.

The care charity’s mission is to be at the heart of the local community – enhancing health & wellbeing and improving people’s lives and continues to do so nearly four decades after its launch.

The CEO of the Eric Liddell Centre care charity and community hub, John MacMillan, said: “We are thrilled to welcome The Spark to the Eric Liddell Centre and I am delighted that they will base their team in our community hub.”

“I’m sure they will be a great asset to local communities and their presence will enhance the range of excellent services that are based here.”

Additional counsellors for The Spark Counselling Edinburgh


As part of the expansion, The Spark will be continuing to increase its roster of professional counsellors working with existing staff working in the Eric Liddell Centre.

For more information about The Spark Counselling Edinburgh or counselling services provided by The Spark, freephone 0808 802 0050 during opening times. Alternatively, visit the dedicated Edinburgh counselling page or complete an online enquiry.

The Spark is also the largest provider of school-based counselling and therapy services in Scotland, supporting 4,000 children and young people each academic year. Find out more about our counselling services for children and young people.

Les Gray Mud Christmas songs

It’s the fourth and final part of our Christmas playlist, ‘The Twelve Plays of Christmas’. Christmas is only days away, Santa is readying his sleigh and lists of presents (demands?) are being ticked off.

Which means it is a good time to remember that Christmas can be about more than accumulating more ‘stuff’.

Greg Lake, ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’


‘And I believe in Father Christmas
And I looked to the sky with excited eyes
Till I woke with a yawn
In the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise’

What age were you when you stopped believing in Santa?  Was it a shock or the conclusion of a long-held suspicion? For ‘grown-up’ kids a more pressing question might be: how do I comfort my child when they find out the truth about Santa?

Some people suggest that finding out the truth about Santa can be turned into a positive experience for a child.  Instead of being distraught at the loss of a much-loved fantasy, your child could be encouraged to view the experience as an important part of growing up.

They are no longer just a receiver of presents from Santa. Now they are part of a centuries-old quest to keep the magic alive for younger siblings, cousins and friends. Furthermore, it represents a perfect opportunity to encourage older kids to consider being less self-centered and a little more interested in the needs and happiness of others. This is especially important in the lead up to a season that has become – in the western world at least – synonymous with selfish excess.

The singer of ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’, Greg Lake, was part of a 70s prog-rock ban Emerson, Lake and Palmer that were noted for their excess.

Keith Emerson stood behind an array of keyboard instruments while Carl Palmer was known for his lengthy drum solos and the size of his drum kit.  You might think that Greg Lake as bass player had little opportunity to be grandiose but he made up for it by purchasing expensive Persian carpets to stand on when he was on stage.

If you are breaking the truth about Santa to your child this Christmas, be gentle but also consider using it as a way to explain why no one really needs an expensive Persian rug or this year’s ‘must-have’ toy.

Mud, ‘Lonely this Christmas’


Christmas is all about friends and family, right?  When you think about Christmas you probably picture an endless whirl of social gatherings, office parties and family get-togethers that start in early December and end on January 2nd.  This is the reality for many of us but loneliness at Christmas is sadly also a fact-of-life for many people.

Loneliness has reached epidemic proportions in the UK, particularly amongst older people.  According to Age UK, two-fifths of all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company. For those of us lucky enough to have companionship at home, in work, in study or with friends it is hard to comprehend.

Little changes can, however, make a huge difference. For example, instead of stuffing a Christmas card through your neighbour’s letterbox and trying to slip away unnoticed, ring the doorbell and have a chat. Visit your elderly neighbour or aunt/uncle instead of staying in the house and watching yet another Christmas movie on Netflix.

Even when it might feel like you don’t have the time or inclination, you can be sure that your efforts will be appreciated.

A little bit of trivia for ‘Lonely this Christmas’ is that Les Gray’s vocals are so reminiscent of Elvis Presley that there is a version of the record on YouTube, attributed to Presley, that has received 11.5m views.  Believe us, despite releasing a whole album full of Christmas songs, Elvis never sang ‘Lonely this Christmas’ (apologies if that news, combined with confirmation that there is no Santa, has come as a terrible shock!).

Celine Dion, ‘Don’t Save It All for Christmas Day’


Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a power ballad.  While Maria Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas’ is said to be the best-selling modern Christmas song of all time, we prefer ‘Don’t Save It All for Christmas Day’ by fellow diva, Celine Dion.

This song has a very simple message: if you can spread good feelings at Christmas then why not try doing it all year round.

We are often encouraged or taught to believe that Christmas is about ‘peace and goodwill to all’ and to focus on giving as much as receiving. Despite the best efforts of retailers, this is supposed to be a time for putting aside selfish interests and spending time considering the needs of others.

Allegedly, one year Carey was asked to turn on the Christmas lights at Westfield Mall in Los Angeles.  Apparently, she agreed to do it but only if 20 white kittens and 100 white doves were released as part of the event!

While such behaviour might be synonymous with Ms Carey, it is the polar opposite of the true meaning of Christmas. Spreading peace and goodwill is what we should try to get back to this Christmas and for that matter, every day of the year.

As Dion sings:
‘Don’t save it all for Christmas Day
Find a way
To give a little love every day’.

#12PlaysofChristmas

Christmas songs FairyTale of new york by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl

Welcome to the 3rd part of our series exploring the lessons that can be learned from well-known (and some not-so-well-known) Christmas tracks.  Today we are looking at relationships during the festive period and ways to keep them in good shape. 

Shane McGowan and Kirsty McCall, ‘Fairytale of New York’


Our first track is the well-worn soundtrack to many Christmas parties.  Although released back in 1987it is still the most played Christmas track with a BBC poll naming it the UK’s favourite Christmas track of all time.

The popularity of this track, which appeared on The Pogues album,‘If I Should Fall from Grace with God,’ may strike you as strange given the subject matter.  The Pogues’ lead singer, Shane McGowan, spends most of the time lyrically sparring with guest vocalist, Kirsty MacColl, reaching a crescendo of insults half way though the song.

Christmas is often heralded as the season of ‘Peace and Goodwill’ but sometimes these expectations can be unrealistic.  If you have had a challenging year in your relationship marked by rows and splits then spending long days with your partner can seem like one challenge too many.

Some friction is natural even in the best of relationships and disagreements can be positive if they lead to constructive problem solving.  However, if your relationship has been tough going for a while, it might be a good idea to sit down before Christmas and agree some ground rules so that you both make it through the holiday period.  For example, decide that if you feel tensions rising you will take some time out and come back to any point-of-conflict when you’re both feeling calmer. 

Aim to keep things as amicable as possible while you navigate the visits to the in-laws, the long lost friends and seldom-seen relations.  Try to avoid falling into the trap of expecting Christmas to provide a band-aid for your troubles. 

If things have been difficult for some time then a Christmas break is unlikely to make things better and spending more time together may make things worse.  More effective would be to put a date in your diary for the New Year so that you can plan constructive ways to deal with your relationship difficulties.

Joni Mitchell, ‘River’


‘River’ is a less well-known Christmas track although it is set during the holiday period and the strains of ‘Jingle Bells’ can be heard in the piano accompaniment to the song.  Joni Mitchell sings of the end of a relationship, associated regrets and the desire to move on:

‘Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby that I ever had

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.’

Joni Mitchell is one of the giants of rock music’s golden age with a creative output covering folk, pop and jazz. She has broken many barriers for women in the music industry as an archetypical 70s singer/songwriter with much of her output from that decade earning critical acclaim.  She is the highest ranking female guitarist of all time according to Rolling’s Stone magazine and is also an accomplished poet and artist.

‘River’ is the second most widely covered Joni Mitchell record(after ‘Both Sides Now’) having been recorded a staggering 432 times by artists as diverse as Barry Manilow and Sarah McLachlan. It documents the break-up of Mitchell’s relationship with Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fame.  In turn, Nash wrote ‘Our House’ about happier times together. 

Like Joni Mitchell you may be facing Christmas ‘singing songs of joy and peace’ but may be filled with thoughts of what might have been. Perhaps even blaming yourself for your relationship break-up.  You may find yourself thinking like Mitchel who sings ‘I’m so hard to handle, I’m selfish and I’m sad, Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby that I ever had.’ 

Regardless of your current view it takes two to break a relationship just as it takes two to make a relationship. Don’t lose faith in yourself or your ability to form a happy relationship.  Above all, look after yourself over the holidays, eat as well as you can, exercise and make sure you get plenty of rest.  Sometimes we forget to look after ourselves during tough times and end up making ourselves feel even worse.

Ron Sexsmith, ‘Maybe This Christmas’


The festive season has a bad habit of turning us into a bah-humbug Grinch. The high street crowds, the TV ads, the endless Christmas songs on the radio (how ironic) and Christmas parties. Add in endless trips to see relatives, a touch of credit card debt and we have the recipe for a bad-mood-inducing festive season.

Thankfully we can turn to this wonderful, little known Christmas tune by Ron Sexsmith. It unashamedly asks us to consider the real reason for the season; peace, love and forgiveness.

As the lyrics suggest, maybe this Christmas we might all step out of long-held grudges and offer the olive branch of peace. Or maybe we might allow Christmas to challenge us to find a deeper meaning than the consumption of gifts, food and drink.

Counselling and support services


The Christmas period can be a difficult time for many of us. Whether it is due to a difficult relationship or memories of a lost loved one, we understand that not everyone is going to have a ‘happy’ Christmas this year.

At The Spark, we have been providing counselling and support to individuals, couples, families and children for over 50 years. Our aim is to help clients to better understand their emotions and experiences, and to find ways to deal with them.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for individuals, couples and families.

Contact us via our contact form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.

12 plays of Christmas - Band Aid

What is the real meaning of Christmas?  In the second of our #12PlaysofChristmas series we are highlighting a couple of tracks that remind us that Christmas can be about more than consumerism and overindulgence.

Band Aid, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’


For those of a certain age, the Band Aid single of Christmas 1984 and Live Aid concert the following summer were era-defining moments. The recently released film, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ ends (spoiler alert!) with a rousing finale as Freddy Mercury and Queen reunite to perform at Live Aid; an event that sees their reputation resurrected.

There is no doubt that fading pop stars and their careers were reinvigorated by Band Aid. However, putting cynicism to one side the efforts of Bob Geldof, Midge Ure and others did highlight the problems suffered by the Ethiopian people as well as galvanise support to do something about it.

A ‘turkey’ of a Christmas hit

The song is fairly standard fare with NME famously labelling it – rather mischievously – a ‘turkey’. Despite a poor critical reception people were encouraged to donate to the cause and the impact has been long lasting with cover versions, further concerts and additional charitable efforts like Comic Relief resulting in a significant charitable legacy.

We are often reminded that Christmas is about giving as much as receiving and rightly so. Not only does the concept of helping our fellow humans underpin every major religion, but giving is also a feel-good experience.  We are social creatures and doing something charitable, however modest, can be very satisfying and contribute to positive mental health.

Why not consider a way to benefit others this Christmas and help out those less fortunate than yourself with these gift ideas? (https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/deals/charity-gifts/.)

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’


By listening to our second track we are hoping to encourage some quiet self-reflection during the holiday period.

John and Yoko spent several years on peace campaigns and protesting against US involvement in the Vietnam War.  This included highly publicised ‘bed-ins,’ a large-scale poster campaign and full-page adverts in major newspapers in the USA and UK.

Protest songs were a characteristic of John and Yoko’s earlier work together including such tracks as ‘Power to the People’ and ‘Give Peace a Chance’.  It is difficult to estimate the long-term impact of this work but, as an ex-Beatle, anything Lennon said or did was bound to be listened to by a large number of people.

Time to reflect on the year passed and the one yet to come

The opening lines of the song were always intended to challenge us to consider the impact of our own activities:

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun.

Many of us have a few days off work at this time of year and while we can be busy preparing food, visiting relations and catching up with friends, there is usually some downtime. This can be a great time to take stock of the previous year’s ups and downs.

It is worthwhile to ask ourselves: what did I do that I’m pleased with?  What were my disappointments? What would I like to do differently next year?

If New Year is the time for making resolutions, Christmas is the opportunity to consider our contribution to family, friends, work and community. This may be a new approach for you and so you may find it challenging. Like many things, however, practice makes perfect, and the tougher tasks are usually the most rewarding.

Alicia Keys, ‘Blended Family (What You Do For Love)’


You are unlikely to hear our final track on any Christmas Greatest Hits selection.  There is only a passing mention of Christmas and the track wasn’t even a big hit (although it did reach the lofty heights of 79 in Scotland’s official charts!).  Nevertheless, we believe this Alicia Keys track from 2016 contains some useful messages for a happy and positive festive season.

The song was based upon Keys’ relationships with her rapper husband Swizz Beatz (real name Kasseem Dean) and his previous marriage to singer Mashonda Tifrere.  Keys and Dean have two sons and the rapper also has 3 other children including a son with Tifrere.  Keys and Dean contributed to Tifrere’s book, ‘Blend: The Secret to Co-Parenting and Creating a Balanced Family’ and Keys’ subsequent track follows the book’s recommendation for creating a positive environment for children within blended families.

Families come in all shapes and sizes

You may find yourself in a similar situation to Keys, Dean and Tifrere this Christmas.  Blended families are common and it is entirely possible you may be welcoming stepsons and stepdaughters along with your own children over the holiday period.  Perhaps this is your first Christmas as a stepfamily and you are approaching it with some trepidation.

As our free parenting guide ‘Families Come in all Shapes and Sizes’ suggests, be prepared for everyone to feel a little unsettled. In particular, if this is your first Christmas together as a new, extended family.

It takes time for people to get to know each other, to start feeling comfortable and find a new family identity.  Everyone should have their own space, however small. Try to set aside time to get to know new arrivals and be patient with challenging emotions.

Christmas is a great time for doing things together – going for a long walk in the park or watching an old Christmas film– and this can help to forge new bonds and new traditions.  Above all, parents should try to work together like Alicia Keys has through her own blended family and hold true to the positive affirmation that ‘love could bring us closer than blood.’

Counselling and support services


The Christmas period can be a difficult time for many of us. Whether it is due to a difficult relationship or memories of a lost loved one, we understand that not everyone is going to have a ‘happy’ Christmas this year.

At The Spark, we have been providing counselling and support to individuals, couples, families and children for over 50 years. Our aim is to help clients to better understand their emotions and experiences, and to find ways to deal with them.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for individuals, couples and families.

Contact us via our contact form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.

Christmas music

It’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas (to paraphrase the song). To help get you in the mood we’re doing a playlist of well-known festive hits. Plus one or two Christmas-related tracks that may have passed you by.

If you have checked out our #SongsForSoundMinds playlist you will know that we like to mix a bit of music trivia with some suggestions for good mental health.  Our new playlist #The12PlaysOfChristmas is no different.

Alongside some slightly nerdy music facts, there will be tips for staying positive through what might be a difficult holiday period. We start with 3 Christmas hits from the early 1980s.

Wham, ‘Last Christmas’


Pop superstar George Michael penned this perennial festive hit, ‘Last Christmas’ in 1984 and it was released by Wham, the band George played in alongside Andrew Ridgely. To this day it is the biggest selling UK single never to reach number 1.

In the year of its original release it was held off the number 1 spot by Band Aid’s all-conquering, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’  Wham mirrored the stars of Band Aid and donated the royalties from ‘Last Christmas’ to the charity efforts in Ethiopia.

Coping with a broken heart at Christmas

The song itself is a poignant tale of frustrated love; a man ditched by his sweetheart after expressing his love. If you are recovering from a relationship breakdown yourself you may be wondering how you are going to cope with the hustle and bustle of Christmas. Especially when everyone else seems happily coupled.

However, as the song’s story relates, a failed romance can be a step to finding ‘someone special.’  It is possible to put regret in the past and to move on.  Indeed the end of a relationship can be a liberating experience.

Rather than fighting for something that was hurtful and time-limited it is possible to look forward with hope and make plans for the future.

Paul McCartney, ‘Pipes of Peace’


Christmas isn’t mentioned in the lyrics of this Paul McCartney track from 1983.  The main reason ‘Pipes of Peace’ takes its place in every self-respecting Christmas Greatest Hits compilation is the accompanying music video.

In it, we are transported to Christmas Day in 1914 when an impromptu football match took place between the British and German armies during the First World War. The news has been full of stories of the end of the First World War and that Christmas truce was a rare moment of humanity in a brutal campaign.

Macca is one of the most successful pop artists ever.  One of his many claims to fame is that he is the only person to have number one singles as a solo artist, a duo (with Michael Jackson among others), a trio (Wings), a quartet (The Beatles) and a quintet (‘Let it Be’ was credited to The Beatles and Billy Preston).

Tell stories, play games and be together at Christmas

 Family get-togethers over the Christmas period can be a good time to tell family stories, tragic as well as funny.  Storytelling can help everyone feel part of something bigger which is an important part of giving life meaning.

We enjoy being part of ‘the gang’ whether it’s with family, friends or work colleagues.  Feelings of togetherness and connectedness are good for even the most introverted of us.  Playing board games together, laughing at a well-worn Christmas DVD or going for Christmas Day walks all add to the fun.

The Pretenders, ‘2000 Miles’


The lyrics of this Pretenders’ track would lead you to think it’s an ode to long-distance love at Christmas.  Although this is not an uncommon theme for songs released at this time of year (‘Blue Christmas’ by Elvis Presley is only one example) it is not the motivation behind this hit from the Pretenders’ peak period.

The subject of this track, written by lead singer, Chrissie Hynde, is James Honeymann-Scott, the band’s original guitarist. Honeymann-Scott had died the previous year from drug-related heart failure at the age of just 25.  The track’s melancholic strains, together with the chiming lead guitar line, remind us that Christmas can bring sadness as well as joy.

It’s ok not to be ok at Christmas

Sometimes, the festive celebrations lead us only to thoughts of those who are no longer with us.  If someone close to you has died the prospect of Christmas may seem unbearable.  Grief takes its toll and it’s a process we all have to come to terms with.

Remember, it’s okay to feel sad, angry or upset. Even though you might experience great pressure to put on a happy face at Christmas time.  These feelings are natural particularly if the bereavement was recent.  Be aware that you may need to put time aside to look after yourself.

But this time of year can also be a positive opportunity. A chance to remember happy times you had with those who have passed away. Tell funny stories, share favourite memories and reflect on their importance in your life.

Christmas can be an opportunity to cherish and keep alive the memories you have of them.

Counselling and support services


The Christmas period can be a difficult time for many of us. Whether it is due to a difficult relationship or memories of a lost loved one, we understand that not everyone is going to have a ‘happy’ Christmas this year.

At The Spark, we have been providing counselling and support to individuals, couples, families and children for over 50 years. Our aim is to help clients to better understand their emotions and experiences, and to find ways to deal with them.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for individuals, couples and families.

Contact us via our contact form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.

an attitude of gratitude - image of a thank you card

Cultivating an ‘attitude of gratitude’ in the era of Brexit and austerity might seem near impossible. How do we say thank you or count our blessings when the world around us seems completely chaotic?

In many respects, you would be right about the challenge of being thankful. However many authoritative and intelligent voices are saying that being thankful is one of the best ways to increase your happiness.

Happiness and an attitude of gratitude


Dr Robert A. Emmons and Dr Michael E. McCullough are two psychologists leading the field of thankfulness and gratitude research. One of their studies found that after only 10 weeks, an attitude of gratitude left participants feeling more optimistic and better about their lives.

Deciding you want to have an attitude of gratitude is a good place to start. But that in itself is unlikely to improve your outlook on life. Waking up and just saying ‘I’m thankful for a sleepless night worrying about money’ or offering a superficial ‘thank you’ to an irate and patronising customer will not shift the needle on the gratitude meter.

An attitude of gratitude depends on whether you really mean it or not.

an attitude of gratitude - image of a thank you card

How to be happier, less depressed and more satisfied with life


Research shows that people with a genuine attitude of gratitude are happier, less depressed, less stressed and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships. The Roman philosopher Cicero said: ‘Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others’. A sentiment which echoed one of our previous articles discussing gratitude as one of the Character Strengths and Virtues that contribute to Happiness (see ‘How to be Happy, Part 2’).

November is an appropriate month to think about an attitude of gratitude. The 22nd of this month will be Thanksgiving Day in the USA. While we Brits don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, there are some similar festivals here in the UK.

Many churches held Harvest Thanksgiving on Sunday, September 23rd. Less well known is that Guy Fawkes Day on November 5th started as an annual Day of Thanksgiving for the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605.

But what have we got to be grateful about?


It is a tempting mindset to bemoan the state of the world. With the seemingly never-ending Brexit negotiations and constant cuts to public services, surely things are as bad as they have ever been. So what have we got to be grateful for?

This is the way the story we tell ourselves goes but, according to scientist Steven Pinker, there is extensive evidence that we are healthier, wealthier, wiser, safer and happier than ever before.

Imagine what it was like to live in the early 1900s and you will recognise the progress we have made in just 100 years. We take central heating and electricity for granted and need not worry about diseases like tuberculosis and influenza killing thousands of people. On its own, this presents plenty of material for our attitude of gratitude.

An attitude of gratitude is good for relationships


According to the charity Action for Happiness, gratitude sits at the heart of relationship building. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls it our ‘hive mentality’. We are as much like bees as we are like apes with an instinct for cooperation. Gratitude plays a role in oiling the machinery of the way we relate to each other. Remember how you felt the last time someone failed to say ‘thank you’ for one of your good deeds for a good example.

When we show appreciation for others we are acknowledging how much we value them and their efforts. A simple ‘thank you’ helps to build connections and overcome barriers to working together. As French author, Marcel Proust said: ‘Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.’

Is an attitude of gratitude just for the deluded?


You may say that practising an attitude of gratitude encourages delusional thinking and make us more likely to be duped by the unscrupulous. According to Steven Pinker, this sort of attitude leads to the view that we have no control over our lives and are at the whim of fate.

It is much more realistic to think that we have control over (at least some of) our actions. Therefore saying ‘thank you’ is an acknowledgement of the benefits life gives us rather than taking things for granted.

An attitude of gratitude is something that can be practised. Professor Haidt suggests we focus on those relationships which we value most. Write a letter to someone close thanking them for everything they’ve done for you. Or encourage acts of gratitude by being thoughtful to your nearest and dearest. Even if you find the thought a little bit embarrassing.

Try an attitude of gratitude. It might be a tricky thing to master but we call all gain from it.

Counselling and support services


Practising an attitude of gratitude can be an effective way of improving our outlook on life. Sometimes that is not enough and the issues we face in life need more than a change of attitude.

At The Spark, we have been providing counselling and support to individuals, couples, families and children for over 50 years. Our aim is to help clients to better understand their emotions and experiences, and to find ways to deal with them.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for individuals, couples and families. Contact us via our online form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.

beating the winter blues - image of woman watching a film with popcorn

In the final part of The Spark’s ‘How to cope with the winter blues’ series, we’re offering a few more tips on keeping your mood up when the sun is going down.

You can catch up with part 1 and part 2 where we looked at how a ‘sexy raincoat’, not being Gordon Gekko and embracing the opportunities of the winter season are essential to beating the winter blues.

Beating the winter blues – tip 7: Stay hydrated


Staying hydrated is crucial to maintaining the healthy function of every system in our bodies. From the brain, to the heart and muscles, hydration is vitally important. Water helps carry nutrients to your cells and flushes bacteria from your bladder. Not only that, dehydration is linked to anger, fatigue and mood swings.

To stay hydrated we are advised to consume around 1.2 – 2 litres of water each day depending on our local climate. In the winter the prospect of drinking 6-8 glasses of cold water is rather unappealing. Especially when you are already feeling cold!

Beating the winter blues - stay hydrated with fruit teas in winter

Try these tips on sneaky and easy ways to stay hydrated without having to actually drink 2 litres of water. Soon you will be beating the winter blues and feeling better.

Beating the winter blues – tip 8: Give yourself things to look forward to


In the darkest months, it can feel like there is not much to look forward to. Summer is a distant hope and January seems like a waste of a month. Beating the winter blues can often feel like a battle you cannot win. Fight back by giving yourself things to look forward to instead.

Making plans for the summer is an obvious one but also consider what you can look forward to during winter.

beating the winter blues - image of woman watching a film with popcorn

Make a list of favourite movies or albums and watch/listen to them, one per week, through the winter months. Plan nights out with friends (definitely including some funny ones as recommended in part 2) or spruce up your home with décor to make it a warm and inviting place to spend your evenings.

Counselling and support services


The winter months can be a difficult time for many of us. Practical tools and tips can often help but sometimes we need to dig a little deeper to understand the source of our unhappiness.

At The Spark, we have been providing counselling and support to individuals, couples, families and children for over 50 years. Our aim is to help clients to better understand their emotions and experiences, and to find ways to deal with them.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for individuals, couples and families.

Contact us via our contact form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.

beat the winter blues by laughing with friends - image of group of friends laughing together

Welcome to part 2 of The Spark’s ‘How to cope with the winter blues’ series offering our tips on ways to defeat the winter blues.

Catch up on part 1 of ‘How to cope with the winter blues’ where we looked at how embracing the winter season, taking up a new indoor pastime and ignoring your inner Eeyore is a great foundation for a happier you. In part 2 we will be looking at the importance of taking a lunch break, changing your coat and having a laugh.

Winter blues – tip 4: Laugh


Serotonin is the natural, feel-good hormone released by our brains when we are exposed to sunlight. This chemical makes us feel happy, calm and focused. But in northern hemisphere countries, our daily dose of serotonin takes a serious hit during winter.

Laughter, however, releases serotonin and a whole load of endorphins too. So when the sun is stuck behind grey winter clouds or you’ve not had the chance to get outside all day, get laughing.

Watch funny programmes and films on TV or online. Download comedy podcasts or pick up a funny book from the library. Pop along to your local comedy club or think of the funniest people you know and spend time with them.

How you do it doesn’t matter as long as you laugh long and hard. To get you started here’s a gem from the nation’s favourite, Michael McIntyre.

Winter blues – tip 5: Use the daylight we do get


Gordon Gekko has a lot to answer for. Michael Douglas’ character in the film ‘Wall Street’ preached that “lunch is for wimps” something we all seem to have taken to heart.

Being chained to your desk is bad for your health even in the summertime when you can enjoy some late evening sun. In the winter months, it’s downright dangerous. There is nothing worse than watching the sunrise and then set again, from behind an office window.

the winter blues - don't be Gordon Gekko. Images of Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street.
Don’t be Gordon Gekko…

Take advantage of what daylight there is and get outside for a walk, jog or even a run at lunchtime. Meet a friend or colleague for a bit of company and make a point of using the daylight we do get during the winter.

Winter blues – tip 6: Get a sexy raincoat


When the winter weather is trying its best to make us feel like Noah watching the water rise, going outside is the last thing we’d like to do. But as Billy Connolly said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing. So get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little!”

Catch up with part 1 of The Spark’s ‘How to cope with the winter blues’ series and find out why embracing the winter season and taking up a new indoor hobby can make for a happier you.

Counselling and support services


The winter months can be a difficult time for many of us. Practical tools and tips can often help but sometimes we need to dig a little deeper to understand the source of our unhappiness.

At The Spark, we have been providing counselling and support to individuals, couples, families and children for over 50 years. Our aim is to help clients to better understand their emotions and experiences, and to find ways to deal with them.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for individuals, couples and families.

Contact us via our contact form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.

how to be heat the winter blues - take a walk in the winter sunshine

When the days start getting shorter and the nights longer, many people start to feel their mood drop. Unlike Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a form of clinical depression – the ‘winter blues’ is a general term for the feelings of sadness and lethargy we can all experience as the temperature drops and the memories of summer fade.

In this new series from The Spark, we are going to offer our advice on some great ways to cope with the winter blues and make the best of the season.


Winter blues – tip 1: Embrace the winter

Going into the darker months resigned to developing the winter blues rarely helps us get much out of the season. Surprisingly there are plenty of reasons to enjoy and embrace shorter days and longer nights and fight those winter blues.

Plummeting temperatures are perfect for winter sports. Dust off your ice skates, dig the sledge out of the garage or take a look at skiing/snowboarding lessons. Why not try out Scotland’s ‘other national sport’ curling and follow in the footsteps of world-beaters Rhona Martin, Eve Muirhead and David Murdoch.

beat the winter blues by taking up a winter sport like curling - image of curling stones on ice

Remember all those books you planned to read during the lazy summer months but never got around to? In Japan they are called ‘tsundoku’ and winter is the ideal time to knock a few off. While the snow is piling up outside, cosy up with a good read and be whisked away to sunnier climes.

Winter blues – tip 2: Take up an indoor hobby


Just because it’s unappealing to continue outdoor hobbies during the winter doesn’t mean the end of enjoyable pastimes. Pick up an old indoor hobby or find a new one to occupy your time on dark evenings.

Drawing, crafts, knitting, painting, cooking, board games, calligraphy, learn a new language or polish up on an old one.  The list of potential winter distractions is almost endless.

beat the winter blues - take up an indoor hobby like drawing or painting image of paints and paintbrushes

Sporting endeavours don’t need to take a winter break. Channel your inner Darcy Bussell or Bruno Tonioli and take up ballroom dancing lessons. Try yoga, pilates or indoor exercise classes. Hit your local pool or dust off the old badminton racquet.

Winter blues – tip 3: You don’t have to feel miserable


Much of the population turns into Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh around late October and stays that way until April. Committed to being miserable seemingly for no other reason than it being winter and that’s what you do.

When we believe we have to suffer through winter it is natural to look negatively upon opportunities to actually have fun. For example, instead of saying ‘I could go out and meet my friends’ we feel too miserable to go to the effort of leaving the house. Instead of going out for a walk in the bright (albeit chilly) winter sunshine, we stay at home and grumble about how short the days are.

how to be heat the winter blues - take a walk in the winter sunshine

Bottom line? Just because its winter doesn’t mean we have to feel miserable.

Coming soon: More tips to beat the winter blues coming up in parts 2 and 3. Stay tuned on Twitter and Facebook.

Counselling and support services


The winter months can be a difficult time for many of us. Practical tools and tips can often help but sometimes we need to dig a little deeper to understand the source of our unhappiness.

At The Spark, we have been providing counselling and support to individuals, couples, families and children for over 50 years. Our aim is to help clients to better understand their emotions and experiences, and to find ways to deal with them.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for individuals, couples and families.

Contact us via our contact form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.