Awakening experiences…

Chapel-History429x313This is a picture of Kings College chapel, University of London, where I sang during my first degree. In 1985 I went on a tour of the South West of England (ironically) and we sang at Downside abbey. This is where I had an amazing awakening experience (The Psychologist, September 2018, Steve Taylor). The choir were practising with the organist, i.e. there was no congregation and yet I felt myself being filled with the most ecstatic joy and at the same time was hyper aware of everything around me and every voice and note. Unfortunately I cannot remember now so many years later what piece of choral music we were singing, but it is not the only awakening experience I have had. I have only had a handful, but they are quite common and now being researched by psychologists such as Steve as part of the positive psychology movement. They usually only last a few minutes  and mostly happen with music or nature or during meditation, or surprisingly during grief or depressive episodes. They are similar but different from “flow”, which happens when concentrating on something and being so involved e.g. in sport or exercise that the moment feels effortless; and also similar but different from the small awakenings you get when practising mindfulness. Nevertheless they are moments to be cherished and I would like to hear about other people’s experiences. Apparently the three key characteristic are:

  1. Positive emotional states (including a sense of elation or serenity).
  2. Intensified perception.
  3. A sense of connection (to nature or others).

Time again!

Most people who know me well will find it amusing that I am writing a blog about time, as when I was at school I was known as “Jacquie Tait is always late.” I think that was because I am an optimist! My husband Kevan wrote about time on this blog about 3 years ago – it was about the idea that time is precious, so we should seize the moment. I am going to write about a different way of viewing time – not the Stephen Hawking’s way, but the psychologist’s way – the mindful way. I was inspired to write this by an interview with the author Matt Haig in The Psychologist this month. (He has talking about his latest book “Notes on a Nervous Planet” which I am going to add to my to-read list).  He ends by saying:  “Time is everything. It is how we measure our lives and our loves and our illnesses…” i.e. sometimes time can seem the enemy in that we have to endure things we don’t like and we can also worry about spending time in the right way and time running out. However if we flip that coin, then we can recognise (as mindfulness teaches us) that everything is impermanent and that the bad things will pass and we can savour the good things. Time can disprove pessimistic attitudes…

Wear sunscreen…

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of  2018:

Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth; or never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing
Bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that
Never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts; don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself

Remember the compliments you receive; forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements


Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your
Life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t

Get plenty of calcium

Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t
Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t
Maybe you’ll divorce at 40
Maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary
Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance; so are everybody else’s

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them

Do not read beauty magazines; they will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents; you never know when they’ll be gone for good.
Be nice to your siblings; they are your best link to your past and the
People most likely to stick with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you
Should hold on.Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young

Live in London once, but leave before it makes you hard

Live in Bath once, but leave before it makes you soft


Accept certain inalienable truths: prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old– and when you do, you’ll fantasise that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you.
Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you have a wealthy spouse; but you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair, or by the time you’re 40, it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it.
Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the rubbish, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth

But trust me on the sunscreen.

Health Anxiety…


So many of us get a touch of hypochondria occasionally, but health anxiety is worse than that. It can appear on its own or attached to other types of anxiety disorder. It is when someone obsesses about possibly having an illness that they don’t actually have and quite often that illness is life threatening e.g. cancer. Like most obsessive behaviour it gets in the way of the person living their life, as it often involves constant checking. Fortunately GPs are becoming more aware of this now and if they suspect someone has it will refuse to collude, by limiting that patient’s appointments and they may suggest they have some CBT. Dr Google does not help though! So checking behaviours have to be extinguished, the patient/client will need to learn relaxation techniques and both exercise and mindfulness can help. These techniques can help with hypochondria too. And as with other types of anxiety – working on your mental health to improve it should be no more stigmatising than working on your physical health!


whitesnake-lovehunter-frontNot surprising really that a lot gets written about porn! Some of the  articles in Psychology Today are quite good and as with most psychology subjects there is not a complete consensus; the prevailing opinion seems to be that it is not good for relationships, unless of course the couple are using it as a way of broadening their sexual experiences together. There is also the danger that it can become addictive. Most porn is aimed at men. Which is perhaps why the 50 shades trilogy became so popular, as it was clearly aimed at women. The main male protagonist was quite handsome – no awful moustache; and the background music in the films was apparently quite good! Religions obviously frown upon it, but then most religions are out of date with people’s sexual experiences anyway. I do tend to have concerns for the actors appearing in porn films though – do they live to regret it? Do they get paid a decent wage? Do they get lunch breaks?! And the feminist view is that it is disrespectful to women…

The truth about dance…


So did any of you see the BBC programme “The Truth about Fitness”? As a health psychologist who tries to keep up with research through continuous professional development (CPD), it included a great deal  I already knew; such as HIT (high intensity interval training), the idea that will-power is like a muscle that gets fatigued, 30 mins of brisk walking being better than 10,000 steps etc. However I was pleased to learn that we release natural cannabinoids into our blood stream when we exercise and also that running is not so bad for our knees after all.  I was also pleased to know that I can do 10 sit-to-stands in 10 seconds (rather than 15 which is the usual for a woman of my age).

I was not surprised at all about the research on dance being good for our brains as well as our body. This obviously does not include doing your own thing at a night club; it refers to partner dancing or any other type of dancing when you have to follow a pattern and use memory, quick thinking and observation. This will therefore include Zumba, line dancing, ballet and circle dancing… And it is not true that some people have two left feet (just as it is not true that some people are tone deaf.) It may take some people longer to learn how to dance if they are poorly co-ordinated and maybe find it hard to hear the rhythm in the music, but they can still have a go… And men – if you can dance it is a great way to impress a woman!

So get your dancing shoes on and improve your cognitive skills as well as getting fitter.

Do emotional experiences get better with age?

M_Id_259923_Old_people In Gloria Luong’s article in the Psychologist this month she attempts to answer this question. So forget Victor Meldrew (“I don’t believe it” fame) and comedians posing as grumpy old women; rather research shows  that across adulthood negative emotions (like hate) tend to wane and positive emotions (like joy) become more prominent. In much later life (80s and 90s) this pattern reverses slightly, usually due to chronic health conditions, but not to the low levels found in people in their 20s and 30s.

Maybe because there are fewer stressors in later adulthood – such as less hours to work? And people get better at managing their stressors perhaps. Also because their emotional goals change? In other words they are more realistic with their goals… And Gloria thinks that older adults are more likely to be forgiven for making social transgressions, but I am not sure I agree with her on that one! However it is probably true that older adults are more likely to have a smaller social network that is more tightly knit and therefore people around them that are warmer and more understanding; i.e. the quality and not the quantity of friendships makes social relationships, and therefore emotional experiences, more rewarding. The thing is I am not sure  whether I am getting better at regulating my emotions because I am getting older or because I am a psychologist!?!