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 Religions obviously frown upon it, but then most religions are out of date with people’s sexual experiences anyway.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!?!

Family and friends…

On our doormat by the front door (one which my husband bought) it says “Friends welcome. Relatives by appointment.” Also I had a conversation with a couple of friends back in the Summer and they were of the opinion that family members are no more deserving of our time and care than our friends, and that family members who we value are those that are also friends. Whereas I would agree with the latter, I am not sure about the former? I certainly think that we are not obliged to like everybody in our family. It is too much of a heavy load to put on ourselves to expect to get on with everyone in our families. I know that there are a couple of people in my husband’s family and likewise in mine that alot of people don’t like. I think that is probably the case for most people. Mindfulness teaches us not to judge people, but we can’t help being upset by people when there is a clash of personality; we are human – not robots. So when we find ourselves in a toxic relationship, it is sometimes better for our mental health to distance ourselves from those people, even if they are family members. That is not the same as colluding in a pact to make them an outcast – that would be cruel. Jesus said we should love our enemies, but he didn’t say we had to like them!

Making the most of University…

The Psychologist this month has included a guide to university life and I have picked the best top seven tips, which I will summarise here. After all our first time at Uni is often a very memorable time – that we may look back at fondly ( I certainly do); but some people drop out and that is a shame. It is surely part of a parent’s responsibility to prepare their offspring for adult life, including doing their own washing and cooking etc.

  1. In the early days make sure you make an effort to make friends and a good way of doing this is to join student clubs.
  2. When reading around subjects – which is of course important, make notes at the same time, so that what you read is more easily understood and remembered.
  3. Try and keep on track with your money by following a budget and be careful how much you spend on drink! Research shows that students tend to drink more because they think their friends are and vice versa…
  4. Always attend face-to-face lectures as much as possible. Participating by asking questions etc makes learning deeper and more enjoyable.
  5. Don’t suffer in silence; most academics will run drop in hours and if you have mental health problems there will be a counsellor or someone in charge of well-being who will be able to help you.
  6. Put FOMO to bed; i.e switch off your phone before going to sleep! Blue light from a phone makes sleep more difficult and a lack of sleep leads to all sorts of problems.
  7. Don’t procrastinate – if a piece of work seems difficult and insurmountable, break it down into smaller chunks. Then start on task one without worrying about what the next task is and gradually it will seem easier.

After a suicide…

After a family member or a much loved friend has died by suicide, those left behind may feel shame or guilt, low self-esteem, fear, anger, a sense of abandonment and distorted thinking. Some of these feelings will be part of the normal process of working through grief, but may well be intensified in these situations. These feelings need to be worked through and sometimes it can help to talk to a close friend who is good at listening or a suitable talking therapist. Anger has to be allowed time to  fade and other feelings like guilt, rejection and blame can be reality-tested.  Fortunately the Church of England (since 2015) now allows Christian funeral services for people who die by suicide and eventually the Roman Catholic church may change their minds on this too. This is important as the funeral service is a helpful part of grief work: It helps people accept the reality of the loss and it can be an important opportunity for people to talk and express their feelings and memories of the deceased – although sometimes over-idealising people in this way is not  always helpful and as well as talking about the things they are going to miss, it could be helpful to talk about the things they are not gong to miss?  Also it may act as a social support network.