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.

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.

being happy often feels like pushing a boulder up a hill

Why does being happy – at times – feel like such hard work? Instead of an easy path to a relaxed and consistent glow of contentment, it often feels like pushing a boulder up a hill; a brief moment of satisfaction at the peak before it rolls back down the other side and we start all over again.

Parts 1, 2 and 3 of The Spark’s ‘How to Be Happy’ series considered some scientific, psychological and philosophical perspectives on happiness. In the final part of the series, our focus turns to the metaphorical boulder referred to earlier.

being happy often feels like pushing a boulder up a hill

The ‘boulder’ is the common myths that either block our view of the path to happiness or make achieving it a constant, arduous uphill struggle. By dispelling them we hope to offer you a clearer view of the path to lasting happiness.

Myth 1: Finding ‘true’ love will make me happy


A cursory glance at any of the music charts from the last 50 years would give the impression that the way to happiness is to find your ‘true’ love.  The myth is that in finding ‘the one’ we will be blissfully happy. Not just happiness for a temporary, passionate romance but one that will last the rest of our lives.

In his book, ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’, Jonathan Haidt dispels this myth.  The passion characteristic of the early stages of a romance is very real.  Indeed, Haidt points out that the euphoria can be as addictive as heroin or cocaine.

What happens when the passion fades?


However, like a drug, its effects are temporary and eventually wear off.  So, what about those relationships that are long-lasting and seem to the external observer to be mutually satisfying?

Older couple happy together

Haidt argues that these lucky couples experience something quite different from ‘true’ love. In the early days of their relationship, they may well have experienced the seemingly magical effects of romantic love. As this fades, those that become long-lasting are based on what Haidt calls ‘companionate love’: caring for each other and building a life-long, trusting relationship.

It may not be the basis for a catchy pop song but it is a more reliable basis for happiness than the romanticised concept of ‘true’ love.

Myth 2: I will only be really happy when I am free


Ever wondered what it would be like to leave your troubled life behind and move to the other side of the world?  Surely, away from the stresses and strains of debt, conflict and obligations, you would be truly happy.  You would be truly free to satisfy your every whim and live in perpetual happiness. Lottery tickets are sold in their millions based on this belief.

Over 100 years ago, sociologist, Emile Durkheim, actually found the opposite to be true.

He researched the factors that affect the suicide rate in any given country and made an important discovery. Durkheim found that the stronger social relationships are, the lower the suicide rate.

Relationships make us happy


Ties to family, work and home keep us ‘grounded’ and give structure to our lives.  A life without strong ties becomes meaningless. Here at The Spark, we find in our daily counselling of adults, children and couples that Durkheim’s insight is as true today as it was a century ago; relationships make us happy.

spend time with people to be happy

There are often stories in the media about the stresses of isolation.  You may have seen for yourself the tendency for older people to become unhappy as their contemporaries die around them. For them, it is not only the challenge of spending so much time alone but the feeling of loneliness.

It is possible to feel desperate and lonely even in a busy city when you have no long-term friendships.  A feeling of belonging helps us to feel happy.

Myth 3: The pursuit of fame and fortune will make me happy


In the past, only the most brazen would admit to life goals consisting of money and fame. The ‘Instagram generation’ brought up on Big Brother and Love Island, is the first to openly admit that the pursuit of fame and fortune – a drive that exists in most of us – is their chosen path to ‘happiness’.

How many times have we all whispered, internally at least, ‘if only I was world famous then everything would be very different’?  We persist in doing the lottery despite never winning, dreaming that the jackpot will change everything.  (Of course, it rarely does. Studies dating back as far as the 1970s indicate that lottery winners may experience a temporary increase in happiness levels but this tends to return to previous levels after a short time).

The Hollywood sign: does fame and fortune make you happy?

Ask yourself the ‘deathbed question’ and you are less likely to be attracted to money and fame.  How many of us are likely to say on our dying day: ‘Oh, I wish I’d worked harder to get that promotion,’ or ‘I should have spent more time in the office and made a name for myself?’  If we are more honest we are more likely to say ‘I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.’ Or ‘I should have spent more time with my parents before they passed away.’

Stay connected to be happy


In one of the longest studies of happiness ever conducted it is relationships that seem to have the greatest effect on human happiness.  The Harvard Study of Human Happiness has been running for over 80 years and has tracked happiness levels of over 1,500 people.

The findings are conclusive showing that close relationships rather than money or fame are what provides long-term happiness. Once again this chimes perfectly with our own experience providing counselling and support for over 50 years. Difficult and broken relationships are often the root of unhappiness and pain in our lives.

So what do we do now?


Across a variety of studies and a number of experts, there is a consensus that close and long-lasting relationships are the surest route to happiness.  So, what do we do if we are unhappy with our lives or despair that we will never find long-term contentment?

On his website, Jonathan Haidt suggests that you do ‘A Relatedness Check-up’.  The questions are simple:

  • Who are the people in your life you care about?
  • Who cares about you?
  • Are there at least a few people?
  • How often do you see them?

Humans are social beings and valuing relationships is a well-evidenced route to happiness.  As Haidt himself says, ‘We were made for love, friendship, and family, and when we spend a lot of time alone or free ourselves from the “constraints” of relationships, it is generally bad for us.’

Catch up on part 1, part 2 and part 3 of The Spark’s ‘How to Be Happy’ series.


Counselling and support services

Relationships are the key to happiness in our lives but they can be challenging, tough and painful at times. The Spark has been providing relationship counselling to individuals, couples, families and children for over 50 years. Helping our clients understand what can be done to improve their relationships.

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.

the pursuit of happiness - is it wealth and gold bars?

According to American pundit William Bennett, the pursuit of happiness can be thought of this way:

‘Happiness is like a cat, if you try to coax it or call it, it will avoid you; it will never come.  But if you pay no attention to it and go about your business, you’ll find it rubbing against your legs and jumping onto your lap.’

Many of us will be able to relate to this message about the challenges posed in the pursuit of happiness.  At times it can seem that the more you understand what makes you happy, the more elusive it becomes.

In pursuit of happiness


This is no more apparent than in our collective pursuit of wealth and possessions.

As a society, we have greater wealth and more material possessions than we know what to do with. Cars, gadgets, jewellery – if you can think of it, the developed world sells it and we can buy it.

So why aren’t we happier?

the pursuit of happiness - is it wealth and gold bars?

Psychologists came up with the ‘Hedonic Treadmill’ theory to explain why the pursuit of happiness via material things tends to be futile.

The more money and possessions we accumulate, the greater our expectations are of the happiness they will bring. Soon we find ourselves running faster and faster ‘on the treadmill’ only for our happiness to stay in the same place.

Money = happiness


Often the pursuit of happiness, by way of ‘things’ and ‘stuff’, is a never-ending marathon of unfulfilled expectations. That is not to say it is always that way. For example, purchasing a holiday is something that can create joy and happiness in our lives.

However, when we link our happiness with the ability to accumulate wealth, trinkets or gadgets we are likely to be disappointed.

Consider for a moment the many stories of individuals who after winning huge sums of money via lottery tickets, ended up wishing they never had. For them, the accumulation of wealth and possessions created the exact opposite of the desired effect.

It seems that the ability to manage expectations deserts us when it comes to money and material possessions.

Managing expectations in pursuit of happiness


Professor Dan Gilbert has an interesting slant on managing expectations that offers cause for optimism.  In his TED talk, The Surprising Science of Happiness, he relates a number of examples of seemingly unfortunate people who claim they are happier having suffered their misfortune than if it had never happened.

One example is from the most famous drummer you have never heard of: Pete Best.

Best was the drummer for The Beatles until 1962. He left the band, was replaced by Ringo Starr and the rest is pop-cultural shaping history.

I could have been Ringo Starr…


Far from being resentful of the situation, Best was quite content with his lot. Despite the global stardom, Best considered himself happier out of The Beatles than if he had been in.

The Beatles (not featuring Pete Best).

Gilbert’s interpretation of this surprising outcome is that we have a ‘psychological immune system’ that, if we allow it, can protect us from difficult events and help us to find a way of being happy with what we have.

Now that we have come to the end of our whistle-stop tour of psychology’s work in the field of happiness, what have learned?

Is this really going to make me happy?


In the pursuit of happiness, it is worthwhile focusing on what we have, as opposed to what we might get from wealth or possessions. Ask yourself: is this really going to make me happy or do I just think it will?

For example, many of us dream of being wealthy enough to stop working and enjoy our hobbies and passions full-time. But it can be a lonely existence when there is no one to travel with or play golf with because our friends are still tied to working 9 to 5.

Buy this to be happy


This is a big challenge for all of us as we live in a consumption-driven society. Being bombarded daily with hundreds of ‘buy this to be happy’ messages makes it tough to find the satisfaction in what we have.

In our experience, however – that’s 50 plus years of counselling – it is the relationships, friendships and shared experiences that tend to help us find the finishing line in the pursuit of happiness. Not the money or stuff that we accumulate along the way.

Counselling and support services


Catch up with part 1 and part 2 of our ‘How to Be Happy’ series.

Find out more information on The Spark and our counselling services for individual, couples, married couples and families.

Alternatively contact us directly via our enquiry form or on freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could benefit you.

Starting secondary school - back to school image

Starting secondary school can be daunting for children and their parents. To help smooth the transition our team of Children and Young People Counsellors have put together their top tips on helping your child prepare for starting secondary school.

Ask: how are you feeling about starting secondary school?


Every child is different when it comes to starting secondary school. Some will be champing at the bit, others will be anxious about the transition. This is why it is important to ask them – gently and non-judgementally – how they are feeling.

Where there are anxieties comfort them that such feelings are completely natural. Work with them to come up with coping techniques to deal with their specific concerns.

Starting secondary school - image of child with backpack

Remind them that they are not alone in feeling anxious about starting secondary school. Reassure them that many of their peers will be feeling exactly the same way.

Sharing your own experiences can be helpful, especially if you can demonstrate how you overcame your secondary school anxieties. Alternatively, enlist the help of an older cousin or family friend that has successfully managed the transition to high school.

Ask yourself: are these my fears or their fears?


Having a child is a bit like a long journey towards redundancy. In those early years, you are indispensable but as time progresses your child grows in their independence and detachment from you. This is, of course, a wonderful journey but starting secondary school can be a difficult milestone for some parents.

Starting secondary school - anxiety

Take time to consider how your emotions might be influencing their preparations. Often disagreements about clothing and how they travel to school are really a parental reaction to realising their child is accelerating towards adulthood.

Be sure that you are focused on the real concerns and fears of your child.

Buddy up


Many kids will start secondary school with a group of friends from primary school. The close bonds of friendship will help reduce anxieties about getting to and from school or the fear of not knowing anyone.

If your child is going to a different secondary school from their friends, find out which children nearby are starting in their school. Most secondary schools have social media pages where parents can communicate or do it the old-fashioned way and speak to your neighbours.

Having someone else to walk into secondary school with on day 1 can make a huge difference.

Don’t organise them, help them organise


Starting secondary school brings with it changes in how your child will need to approach their education. They will have to become more responsible as they attend their timetable of classes, manage homework and (hopefully) remember to bring the correct books.

Starting secondary school - image of school back and school pencils

It can be tempting to do this for them. However, the transition to secondary school is about increasing their independence and self-reliance. Therefore help them to get organised by planning a night before routine or make up a checklist of what they need each day based on their timetable.

Then step back and let them back their bag and prepare their kit for the school day.

Practice their route before starting secondary school


Starting secondary school often means travelling further from home. Now public transport or walking with friends to school will be their preference or a necessity.

Help calm any new term jitters by travelling the route with them in advance. Show them the route via car or take the public transport they will need to use to get to school.

After they are familiar with the route, encourage them to take responsibility for having the right money or travel card for a final couple of practice runs.

Expect a messy first few weeks


For even the most confident child, starting secondary school is a lot to handle. Managing a timetable of classes, completing more and varied homework, getting to know new people are just a few examples of the challenges they face.

Thus it is important to cut them some slack in the early days and weeks. Be prepared for tired, hungry and potentially grumpy children coming home each day. Expect some “I forgot my gym kit” incidents too.

starting secondary school - image of messy child's bedroom

At home help smooth their transition by giving them some leeway on the usual household chores. Try as best you can to be patient if you get a lot of moody-teenager replies.

Parents also need to stay calm during this time. A seemingly unhappy child might be cause for concern. However be mindful of the fact it will take time for them to adjust to this new way of life.

Talk to them at the weekend about how they are settling in. Ask if they want to talk about anything or need a bit of help. Ultimately, be there for them.

Encourage them to join groups/clubs at secondary school


We all know how tricky it can be to make new friends. Striking up a conversation is challenging enough without the added pressure of trying to ‘fit in’.

Starting a conversation with a like-minded individual, however, can be much less challenging, and more successful.

For that reason suggest your child looks into any school clubs or groups that fit their own interests. It can be a great way to meet new people and is especially helpful if your child is not graduating to secondary school with a group of friends.


For more advice on parenting and managing the tricky teenage years, The Spark website is packed with a wide range of free resources.

If you or your child is struggling at the prospect of starting secondary school, counselling can be a helpful way of pinpointing the issues and learning how to deal with them.

Talk – in confidence – to one of our team about counselling on freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an online enquiry.

Follow The Spark on Twitter or Facebook for tips, resources and advice.

fomo fear of missing out

FOMO – fear of missing out – is a concept that could have been created for the social media age. Essentially, it captures that internal sense that other people are having a better time right now than you are. Partnered with its sibling FoBO – fear of a better option – their impact on our lives today is startling.

FOMO made me do it…


FoBO and FOMO drive us to check Instagram, Twitter and every other social media app every few minutes. Collectively they create a burning desire to buy the gadgets, clothes and trinkets we never knew we needed. In our spare time, they push us to read the book, listen to the album or binge on the boxset that everyone else is talking about. FoBO could be the official sponsor of every online dating website in existence.

fomo Social media and the fear of missing out

The principle of ‘fear of missing out’ was first considered in 1996 by Dr Dan Herman, a marketing strategist and later popularised by Patrick J. McGinnis in a 2004 article for the Harvard Business School. FOMO’s ‘birth’ within the field of marketing is no coincidence. It is a widely used tool to sell us stuff we may or may not need. From the countdown timer on that furniture sale to the celebrity endorsement, it’s all designed to trigger your fear of missing out.

There is a tragic irony associated with the fear of missing out of course: when we become slaves to FOMO, we miss out on living the lives we have been given.

This is what we are really missing out on


In the rush to see what everyone else is doing or to stay “connected” to their experience via social media, we end up doing very little ourselves. While we may or may not be missing out on some fabulous experience, one thing is certain: we are missing out on what we could be doing right now.

fomo fear of missing out

When you stop and think about it, this collective phenomenon has crept into every facet of our lives: fear of missing out on other jobs or professions, fear of missing out on social engagements, fear of missing out on the latest gadget/car/trend.

Combined with – dare I say it – more genuine concerns like paying the rent or caring for elderly relatives that is a lot of fear to carry with us every day.

No Wi-Fi and my FOMO is off the charts


Recently I went on holiday with friends, camping in an area that had limited mobile reception and zero Wi-Fi. We are talking one or two bars of good, old-fashioned 1G signal. End result: no data, no streaming, no Instagram.

At first, my FOMO was bristling: what was going on? what was happening in the world? who was doing what? It was almost unbearable.

But after a few days passed, it lessened. Soon I found myself more focused on what was right in front of me: beautiful landscapes, meaningful conversations with friends, crystal clear (but cold) Scottish waters. By the end of the week what I feared missing out on had completely changed.

fomo missing out on the beauty of the world

Now I was more concerned about missing the full splendour of the sunset late in the evening: eager to enjoy every minute of the (unexpectedly) fine weather and the opportunity to properly catch up with friends.

Escapism into the lives of the famous or the fictional is fun and healthy at times. There are periods in our own lives – the daily humdrum – that are not that exciting or interesting. The chance to escape via social media, for example, can offer a valuable release. But the scales have tipped heavily in the wrong direction – towards consuming every image and video of someone else’s life.

A final thought on FOMO


In the UK we spend on average two hours per day glued to our smartphone or tablet. A proportion of that will, of course, be productive. Yet even if 50% of it isn’t, that’s seven hours per week we could be using to live our own lives.

Seven hours to invest in your relationship with your partner or your kids. Seven hours to enjoy your favourite pastime. Seven hours to read the books you really want to read. Seven hours to craft your own Instagram story.

Isn’t it time you focused on enjoying your own life?

Counselling and relationship support services


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

Alternatively contact us directly via our enquiry form or on freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could benefit you.

Follow The Spark on Twitter and Facebook.

how to be happy find your flow - child blowing bubbles

Picture the scene.  A teenager opens their exam results: an A in Art, two Cs in English and French and an F in Maths. The response from their parent is likely to focus on either the good bits or the not so good bits.

For example, their response might be:

‘An F in Maths. What went wrong?  I know you struggle with numbers but that’s why I paid for Maths tutors to help you.’

Or alternatively: ‘An A in Art. That’s fantastic! I wonder if we can help you use all that creativity and imagination to improve in your other subjects…’

How to be happy: don’t focus on your weaknesses


Being honest, which option would have been your default response?

Most of us would probably have focused on the not so good bits. Humans are problem-solvers by nature and society has conditioned us to focus on the areas that need work. Anyone that has experienced an appraisal at work will know how obsessed we have become with weaknesses.

If you were more likely to focus on the success in Art, then you are in agreement with one of the newer branches of psychology: the field of positive psychology.

Positive psychology


Positive psychology suggests that you can improve yourself, become more satisfied with your life and increase your happiness by working on your strengths rather than your weaknesses.

When Professor Martin Seligman became president of the American Psychological Association in 1998 he noted that much of the focus of psychology had been on mental ill health and diseases of the mind.  In fact, professionals in the field relied on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a comprehensive and regularly reviewed ‘bible’ for the diagnosis of mental illnesses, personality defects and behavioural difficulties.

Seligman’s view was that too little time had been spent looking at the positive side of human nature; its potential, talents and possibilities.  With colleagues, he resolved to fill this gap and in 2004 they published the seminal book, ‘Character Strengths and Virtues.’

You can find your own Character Strengths and Virtues by completing the questionnaires at authentichappiness.org).

How to be happy: develop your character


Commonly, we tend to think of character as something that is fixed and unchanging. For example, ‘he’s a shady character,’ or ‘she is always honest and straightforward’.  Positive psychologists view character in a different way.

Their perspective is that character and character virtues are something that can be worked on and improved.  Well-being can be promoted by working on 4 or 5 key strengths at any one time according to this nascent branch of psychology.

The following video by filmmaker, Tiffany Schlain, gives a little more detail on the science of character.

“The Science of Character” – new 8 min film from Let it Ripple on Vimeo.

How do we develop our character strengths and virtues?


Character is like a muscle; the more you use it the abler you become. Therefore by focusing on and enhancing your positive character traits, it is possible to further develop them.

Here are some examples taken from our own guide, ‘Relationship Tips for New Parents’ to illustrate positive character traits and ways to build upon them:

  • Take time to introduce children to their new sibling or step-sibling. (Fairness)
  • In the early days when you are both tired, take turns to look after your new baby. Give each other a break to sleep, shower, etc. (Kindness)
  • Be patient with each other and listen to each other’s perspective. (Perspective)
  • Talk about what you need to buy and what can be borrowed from friends and family. Talk about your finances and how you can realistically manage your budget. (Prudence)
  • There can be a change in the balance of your relationship if one person is staying at home to look after the baby. Be sensitive, talk about how this feels, and find ways to share responsibilities. (Teamwork)

 

How to be happy: find your flow


Jonathan Haidt, author of ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’ gives his explanation of the link between exercising our strengths and happiness.  He suggests that using our strengths encourages us to immerse ourselves in the moment, in what we are doing right there and then. Eventually losing self-consciousness and achieving a feel-good factor that psychologists call ‘flow.’

Being in the ‘flow’ – whether that be in your work, in your hobbies or time with friends – can create feelings of happiness and joy that we struggle to find in our normal, everyday life. Ultimately by doing more of the things we are good at and enjoy doing, the more we will develop our positive character virtures and therefore experience feelings of happiness and joy more frequently.

Check out this excellent talk by leading positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on ‘flow’ and how to be happy.

 


The How to be Happy series

Catch up with part 1 of our How to be Happy series and find out how post-traumatic growth can be the key to a healthier, happier life.

Believe it or not, there are two words in every language that should be considered the most dangerous in the world. With just over 700,000 words in the English dictionary, there are plenty of potential suspects.

In the era of Trump and global warming you would be forgiven for thinking they might be ‘launch missiles’ or ‘climate change’. The reality is, however, that the two words in question are far simpler and seemingly insignificant.

Simple words with great power


Despite their simplicity, they possess profound power. They have the ability to inspire, to challenge and to catalyse positive change.

They are the essence of Martin Luther King Jnr’s earth-shaking ‘I have a dream’ speech. Every piece of great (and not so great) fictional writing, song-writing and movie-making started with them. They were the driving force behind the likes of Mother Theresa, Winston Churchill and Maya Angelou.

what if we were positive in life

However, as every superhero/comic book fan knows well, the power to do great things comes with a risk of them being used for something darker. That is the problem with these two words. And in case you have not worked it out yet, the two words are ‘what if’.

The darker side of ‘what if’


Imagine for a moment a ‘what if’ thought in the mind of a ‘born worrier’ or someone dealing with anxiety. For them, it will often turn towards something depressing.

‘What if’ accelerates the mind through multiple scenarios, decisions and outcomes; a single thought leading, almost endlessly, to successive bleak results. In their mind, a single thought can hurtle them hours, days, months and even years into an increasingly bleak future.

Consider this example of what happens in the mind of someone that struggles with anxious thoughts. Imagine for a moment that you are struggling with your workload in your job and have missed a deadline:

What if the boss thinks I’m rubbish at my job? What if they decide I can’t hack it? There were rumours recently about cutbacks – what if they use this to get rid of me? We can’t afford our mortgage payments if I lose my job. What if I can’t get a new job? What do I do when our savings are gone? What if my partner can’t handle it all? What if they leave me?

The unpleasant side of ‘what if’


This thought process can happen within a matter of minutes or even a few seconds and with it comes all the attendant emotions of what it would be like to be in each of those situations.

what if

A thought creates a feeling – good or bad – and that feeling is experienced even if it is a thought about something yet to happen. Though the body does not physically pass through these imagined scenarios in real time, both body and mind experience a sort of compressed reality. In this example, the emotions of several weeks/months are experienced in a matter of a few minutes.

Why ‘what if’ can be so exhausting


For mind and body that is an absolutely exhausting experience. We are not built to live through several hours – let alone days or weeks – of emotions in a matter of minutes. This is why anxiety has the potential to drain and, if left unchecked, debilitate an individual.

If you are experiencing anxiety and constant worry that is negatively impacting upon your health and wellbeing, it is important that you speak to your doctor. In the interim, there are some things you can do to reduce the impact of ‘what if’.

Focus on facts


The power of ‘what if’ comes partly from assuming thoughts to be true. This is often based on very little in the way of actual evidence. One way of reducing its impact is to focus your mind – and therefore your thoughts – on facts.

Using the example from earlier, the facts of the situation might be as follows:

  • Prior to this moment, you have been a model employee
  • Your boss has never raised any issues at appraisals in the past
  • There is nothing concrete to indicate job losses are going to happen
  • Right now you have a job, an income and savings in the bank.

Reviewing these truths compared to the assumptions of ‘what if’, the situation looks far more positive.  It can be helpful to write these truths down so you can refer back to them if/when ‘what if’ thoughts re-emerge.

Stay grounded in the present


Grounding, staying in the present and mindfulness are different ways to describe a simple concept: basically considering and thinking only of the things of the moment. Instead of beating yourself up over the past or worrying about the ‘what if’s of the future, focus on what is happening right now.

By staying focused on the present, another part of the power of ‘what if’ can be reduced. Returning to our earlier example, we cannot undo the missed deadline. Similarly, we cannot predict what tomorrow will bring or what our boss might decide.

We can, however, focus on today which might mean learning what we can about why we missed the deadline. Taking that and applying it to our work today, in order to do the best job you can.

what if

Mindfulness classes, meditation and guided meditation – audio tracks by the likes of Jon Kabat-Zinn – can be helpful in building your ability to stay grounded in the present.

Control what you can control


What gives anxiety its ‘punch’ so to speak are the associated feelings of helplessness and lack of control. When our focus is drawn to that – instead of what we can actually control – the feelings of worry intensify.

By focusing on what you can control, you take back control. Again using our earlier example, the individual can control what they learn from the situation. They can focus on the present, staying grounded in the facts of the present. Similarly, they can choose to be proactive and speak to their boss, rather than waiting for something that may never happen.

Start living for today instead of worrying about tomorrow


We spend a lot of time these days worrying about tomorrow, and when tomorrow comes, we are already worrying about the next day. Put simply, yesterday cannot be revisited or changed. Tomorrow does not exist beyond plans and intentions, therefore it is a waste of time, energy and creativity to try and second-guess it.

As Martin Luther King Jnr and Mother Theresa demonstrated, that time and energy could be much better spent looking at life positively and inspiring others.


Follow The Spark on Twitter and Facebook or find out more about The Spark Counselling.