Excited about psychobiotics?

gut brain connection

If not you might be at some point in the future – there is a lot of hype about the psychobiotic revolution at the moment and in order to help you understand it a bit more, I will summarise the article in the Psychologist this month by Professor John Cryan:

  • Mums with high perceived stress during pregnancy have children with a different microbiome (the vast army of microbes found in our gut) from those whose mothers don’t…
  • Babies pick up microbes from the birth canal when born normally and babies born under C-section don’t – as a result they are more likely to develop autism and have an increased stress response…
  • We now have an explanation for why breastfed babies can have a higher IQ – the microbes are breaking down the complex sugars (only) found in breast milk and the microbes extract sciatic acid from these sugars which helps in brain development…
  • His studies showed that in a group of 180 old people, health outcomes were better in those who had a more diverse microbiome….and this diversity came from a diverse diet…
  • People with resistant major depression have a reduced diversity in their microbiome…
  • Healthy volunteers taking probiotics for a month, when stressed, had a different EEG signature and had a reduced positive behavioural response…
  • So we have to feed our microbes to feed our brain…
  • Unanswered (as yet) questions include – can we design interventions that improve people’s microbiome and also (as a result) improve their psychological well-being?

So, I don’t know about you, but I am going to continue to have an actimel every day (so don’t be vegan!)


HyggeMy husband would probably say that at this time of year I become a bit too fond of this Danish word! But it does seem a good way of making the most of the cold nights and dark evenings, especially during Advent and Christmas and even afterwards (unless you believe in dry January!) The nearest English translation is “cosy”- but it is more than that, as it also includes a sense of well-being with yourself and with others. E.g. Hygge for me would include a wood burner (with wet or snowy weather outside the window) flickering candles, warmth, simple but tasty food, red wine, lovely background music and good conversation with those I care about – in other words Hygge is better shared…So don’t worry if you haven’t got a Christmas or New Year’s eve party to go to; just snuggle up on the settee, put down your phone, light a candle, be grateful for the little things and enjoy the Hygge… Perhaps it is also about the contrast between light and dark, as well as the contrast between cold and warmth ? Which after all is what many of the Winter festivals are partly celebrating…


My view on dreams, as a psychologist, is that they are just the brain tidying up at night. However The Psychologist this month has an article (written by Christine Parsons and Melanie Rosen) who claim that when we share dreams we’re trying to construct a self-image for the listener; i.e. they think that by sharing complex dreams we make ourselves seem more interesting and creative.

Here are some of the other interesting points they make:

  • If you know someone who can’t stand it when you share your dreams, then just tell them you had a dream about them last night and they might suddenly be interested in hearing more!
  • We are selective about who we report to and what we choose to share.
  • Our dream-self might have a different personality!
  • Some believe that dreams can tell us hidden truths about ourselves and that certain objects symbolise people or emotions.
  • Others believe that dreams are meaningless cognitive rubbish.
  • Reporting a dream requires more than just recollection, as we have to impose a story-line onto it.
  • There is always a temptation to filter and fabricate the dream stories!
  • Dreams of sexual infidelity can correlate with lower feelings of intimacy towards our partners over the next day or so.

So perhaps the most interesting thing about dreams is not what happens in them, but who we share them with and how we share the “story”?


Golden-Retriever-1  The Psychologist for October did a feature on animals this month and I particularly liked the research about dogs. I guess I am biased, as my daughter has a dog and my son has recently got one too. (I grew up with dogs, but cannot have one now as I am allergic). Also many of my clients say that some of their best times, when they are feeling depressed, are when they take their dog out for a walk. Anyway here are some of the summary points:

  1. Stroking a dog can lower your heart rate and blood pressure when you’re stressed.
  2. Taking a dog for a walk can facilitate social interaction with other dog walkers.
  3. They are very good at understanding human communication, including tone of voice and even the point of an arm.
  4. Like humans they sleep better when they have had an active day.
  5. They know that you can’t see them when your back is turned!
  6. They have evolved over 1000s of years alongside human beings and this is why they have some social and cognitive skills similar to a 3 year old human child.
  7. People living with Williams-Beuren syndrome have some similar genes to dogs, which results in them being extremely gregarious and treating everybody as their friend.

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.