Healthy Living…

The Psychologist has issued a leaflet on healthy living for positive mental and physical health; so here are ten top tips:

  1. Small changes in our diet can add up, but don’t over do it, otherwise it becomes impossible to maintain those changes, so look for several methods that are lasting, sustainable and even enjoyable!
  2. Beware emotional eating and make “if-then” plans to have healthy snack alternatives available for when you are stressed (O’Conner)
  3. Eating well is not only about what, but also about when, where and how you eat. Meals should be eaten at regular times and in specific places, preferably at a table and not on the go or in front of a computer. If it is called a meal it is more likely to be eaten mindfully (Ogden).
  4. Get it off your chest – talking therapies  such as CBT help with emotional and mental health problems, but also writing it down helps too. Writing about your emotions for about 15 minutes a day can improve well-being (Pennebaker).
  5. If a smoker, pick a day to stop completely and then stick to it; and if you fail try again – successful quitters have usually had several attempts.
  6. Physical activity doesn’t have to  involve an expensive gym, if that is not your thing – just moving more and sitting less is a good place to start.
  7. Problems sleeping? Don’t snooze! (Ellis). Lying in too long, going to bed too early and napping can disrupt our sleep patterns. However for most of us a short period of bad sleep is natural and should correct itself.
  8. Stress management theory says that the relationship between stress and performance is bell-curved. Too little can cause boredom and too much can make us ill – so find your sweet spot at the top of the curve, but keep levels in check (Thomas).
  9. When drinking alcohol don’t try to keep up with your peers! 14 units a week on average is the recommended amount for both men and women now – spread over 4-5 days with at least 2 dry days a week.
  10. Careful, specific planning for things that you really want to do with monitoring and realistic goals can help in any behaviour change (Abraham).

healthy me!

Public speaking…

So Mark Twain said  that there are two kinds of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars!

Most people do get nervous when they have to speak in public and some people will just do everything they can to avoid it, but lots of us will have to do so occasionally, either at a funeral, a wedding or in a job interview. I have had to do so on many occasions now: I was a teacher; I did a speech at my second wedding; I was a researcher and spoke to several audiences including about 100 people at an international conference; I have lectured to BSc and MSc students; and now I can add doing a sermon to my list.

So here are some tips to help you, if you find yourself in that situation anytime soon:

  1. Talk slowly and fall in love with the full stop!
  2. If nervous get rid of the excess adrenaline in advance by either shaking out your hands or by doing some rhythmic breathing (longer on the out-breath).
  3. An old cliche, but true – speak to the person at the back of the room, especially if not miked up.
  4. Don’t worry about people’s hearing aids – that is their responsibility not yours!
  5. Move around a bit and use hand gestures to keep them on their toes.
  6. Modulate your voice.
  7. Don’t be afraid to use notes – but do look up at your audience at regular intervals.
  8. Don’t tell jokes if that is not your forte, but do use humour when appropriate.
  9. Don’t speak for too long – shorter is normally better and if asked to speak for more than 15 minutes, include elements of interaction.
  10. If using PowerPoint, include pictures when you can and if using written slides follow the 666 “rule” ( 6 slides per 10 mins, 6 lines per slide and 6 words per line).

The church and sexuality…


Most of you who read this blog know that I normally write it as a psychologist. Today I am writing it as a Christian. So if you are not interested in the shenanigans of the Church of England you may as well stop reading now!

The church seems to be split at the moment between those who approve of gays getting married in church and those who don’t. It is mainly evangelicals who are against homosexuality and therefore against any sort of gay marriage. They argue that the church does not need to keep up with the times, as we have to follow the Bible – yet the Bible is a collection of books that often contradict each other. And Jesus didn’t have much to say about sex and sexuality, as he had more important things to be concerned about. They also argue that Christianity is not about just helping people, but also about doing what God wants – yet how do we know what God wants? Well we could start with the Ten Commandments – four are about our behaviour towards God and six are about our behaviour towards each other. The only one that refers to sexual behaviour is the one about not committing adultery. And it should be obvious why that is not a good idea.

It seems to me that many of the Jewish laws were originally based on practicalities e.g. eating shellfish could make you ill and marriage was supposed to protect women and children from irresponsible men! Homosexuality was frowned upon in those days because the Jews needed to procreate and expand their tribe. So maybe when the early Christians decided that we did not need to be circumcised and we could eat pork, they could also have decided that men and women were equal and that homosexuality was okay. Unfortunately they didn’t and it has taken the church 2000 years to agree to women bishops. I believe that the church will eventually agree to marrying gays in church and also to allowing lay readers and gay priests to marry too. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 2000 years! After all, isn’t it all about love?

In the words of Gerard W Hughes (from God of Surprises) “We need to love and be loved, because it is only through these relationships that we can come to know God, who is love.”


Is this the authentic painting of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci? Most of you who know a little about art will recognise that it is not. Apparently it was painted by one of his pupils, but of the same woman. We can all change our outward looks depending on our hairstyle, our physical health etc. But how often do we put on a virtual mask to disguise ourselves, because we maybe don’t want others to know what we’re really like?  It is very easy to think of people we know who come across as fake or phony, but not so easy to think of people who are authentic all the time. For example we may have to put on a mask at work, but if we’re not careful, we may find that putting on a mask too often will have a detrimental effect on our mental health.

Professor Stephen Joseph, in his book “Authentic: How to be yourself and why it matters”  talks about the authenticity formula; where to be authentic means knowing yourself and then owning yourself and then being yourself. All of these can be difficult and sometimes people who are not authentic have a problem with people who are. However it is not a state of mind that we achieve one happy day; instead it is a constant process that goes on throughout our lives.

Love is…


Remember the 70s/80s when there were lots of “Love is…” quotes on the underground and everywhere you looked? Well according to my friend Tracey she has read lots of books on love and I am sure there are many out there. I mostly remember the one called “Four Loves” by CS Lewis which uses the four Greek words for love: storge (family love), agape (unconditional love), eros ( romantic love) and philos (friendship). There is also a popular book about the 5 languages of love, which suggests that different people like to receive love in different ways from each other e.g. by receiving presents ( I do actually know someone who doesn’t like getting presents!) Or by someone giving them their time or affection or help etc. According to positive psychologists love is one of the ten positive emotions that we need to invite into our lives on a regular basis (see my other blog on this) in order to improve our mental and physical health.

The media tries to portray love as all-consuming and feverish, but many of us know that when that adorable toddler turns into a stroppy teenager, or when our partner/spouse of many years has irritated us with all their bad habits, that love does not feel like that! In brief my idea of love is: doing what the other person wants you to do (within reason), being kind, being interested in what that person says and does i.e. giving them your attention. For example really listening when they want to talk about their day, instead of thinking about something else! And also by being open – sharing with them all your character traits, including the not so pretty ones. After all St. Valentine did that for his God.


Bullying can be at school or at work and even within families; it may be verbal, physical or cyber bullying and it will effect your mental health and sometimes your physical health too. In the workplace it is often more subtle, but can still make you miserable and may well effect how you are at home as well.The definition of bullying is when someone or some people make you feel bad, just because they are somehow in a position of power over you.So here are some things to think about if you are being bullied:

  • Remember you are not weak if you are bullied – most probably you are a kind person and some people will try to take advantage of that, but don’t let it stop you being who you are.
  • Use the broken record technique i.e. keep on repeating what you have to say in the hope that they will get bored e.g. if someone is trying to prevent you going through a door just keep on saying “I need to get past” ad infinitum.
  • Try ignoring them – sometimes this works.
  • Be assertive – this doesn’t mean being aggressive or even passive-aggressive, but it means using the ABC of communication i.e. you acknowledge what they have to say, you give your opinion, then you suggest a compromise, e.g:if your boss asks you to work on a report over the weekend and you can’t do it because you have family commitments then say  “I acknowledge this report is important, but I have a lot on this weekend, so as a compromise I will stay late on Monday if necessary in order to make sure it is done.”
  • Log what happens as evidence and get witnesses if possible  (although most bullies will find a time when you are alone).
  • Tell someone – if you are a child then tell your teacher and your parents; this feels counter-intuitive, but from personal experience as a child who was bullied too – often when the teachers are informed the bullying stops. If it is at work then you may be able to tell your union or HR (although if it is your boss doing the bullying, HR will often be on their side and not yours. But you may be able to get help through counselling from an EAP scheme). If it becomes harassment and you are being targeted because of your race or gender, then you may be able to involve the police.
  • If the worst comes to the worst then remove your self from the situation:take time off, get another job (easier said then done), leave the relationship, move schools, block people on Facebook and change your phone number/email address.
  • Remember, this too will pass.


What about Father Christmas…

…And I am English therefore will use his proper title: – Father Christmas and not Santa which is American!  It seems that the newspapers are in disagreement about whether belief in him by children is a good thing or not; and both newspapers in question quote from psychologists (obviously different ones); it is the Guardian versus the Telegraph!

The Telegraph thinks it is a bad idea to encourage your children to believe in Father Christmas, as it may mean they will lose their trust in you when they find out the truth. Whereas the Guardian thinks that it is harmless and encourages pro-social behaviour e.g. if Father Christmas and his elves make a limited amount of presents then it will encourage children not to be so greedy. Also there is the question of whether if children stop believing in this benign man will they also stop believing in God too?

Apparently my mother told me at the age of 3 that there was no such person – it was all based on the church’s myths of St Nicholas and that it was actually the parents delivering the presents. She told me this because she didn’t want me to think that the world was such a great place! I don’t remember this conversation and I must have chosen to believe my friends instead, as I grew up believing in Father Christmas until I was about eight years old. It wasn’t traumatic when I found out the truth and neither was it for my children. I do remember a little boy at our school (when we were about 9) who was absolutely sure that we were wrong and that his parents would not lie to him – I think he knows the truth now and still has a good relationship with his parents!

So readers what do you think we should tell our children?