Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The holiday challenge.

I can't be the only one who finds holidays challenging. In fact, I think I read somewhere that holidays (vacations) are some of the most stressful things that people experience.

Just think about it; you're out of familiar surroundings, possibly in a foreign country where you don't know the language and you're frequently in much closer proximity to your loved ones for longer periods of time than usual. No matter how much we love our spouses, significant others, parents and children, there's no denying that these are the people who can annoy us the most.

Before embarking on this holiday I wrote a list of promises to friends (and, yes, my therapist). These promises are a way of ensuring that I return healthy and that these weeks do not pitch me into a downward slide (as it has done before).

I have promised to eat sensibly, drink alcohol only in moderation, do my mental health exercises every day, do Moodscope whenever possible, walk 10,000 steps each day, find time to be creative and exercise my prerogative not to be sociable.

In practice this means I'm in the chalet writing this, watching the rain on the window and the waves rolling in outside while the rest of my family are all over at the yacht club chattering away as they do their sailing club thing.

Some people might see it as sad that I'm not over there too, being a "sailing mum", but thankfully my family and friends have realised that not everyone is cut out for that form of torture!

So if you find holidays stressful, it might be helpful to sit down and compile a list of promises you might make to protect your mental health. No more than two hours in the car at a time, making sure you carry on any daily mental health practices like meditating, ensuring your diet and alcohol consumption stay within healthy parameters, that kind of thing.

Oh, and keeping up the Moodscope if you can. That's the only excuse, as far as I can see, for still having access to the internet on holiday.

A Moodscope Member

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Pins and prickles

A short bus ride from Piccadilly Station in Manchester, up past the colourful curry mile, lies a gem of a museum. It is the Gallery of Costume at Platt Hall.

Housed within is a poignant, unexpected exhibit by Manchester born artist, Susie MacMurray. On first glance it's easy to think you are seeing a beautiful silver evening gown, with shimmering fabric that dances in the light.

There is a sharp intake of breath when you realise that you are in fact looking at a sculpture made up of over one hundred thousand long pins. It's both stunning and startling in equal measure.

My first thought was: 'Crumbs, that looks how I sometimes feel!' It was moving to read then, that this "dress" is actually entitled 'Widow' and it represents Susie's grief on being widowed.

Sometimes we may feel that if we could see our feelings they would look akin to a cactus or something equally as prickly and untouchable. We may feel that the feelings are so angry, sore, difficult and messy we could not even touch our feelings let alone cherish, nurture or embrace them.

Pondering on it though, a cactus, or that "dress" could be touched, or even held, if handled with great care. When it comes to our feelings then, if we can learn to take care of them, treating them gently instead of berating them or speaking kindly to the feelings rather than becoming impatient with how we feel, the feelings may just lose some of their prickliness.

Our "cacti" may even sprout a delicate flower or two.

'Widow' by Susie MacMurray:

A Moodscope member.

Monday, 29 July 2013

The power of intention.

I love to exercise with Elise Gulan. Not in person, alas, but to her ballet conditioning DVD. It's a fabulous work-out, not just because I admire the graceful, strong limbs of a ballet dancer but also because it's set in a beautiful, lush garden that sits alongside the Pacific Ocean. Clever location, very calming.

Don't fret, this isn't a reminder about exercise. Although c'mon now - you all know how it can lift our spirits.

Whilst talking us through an exercise which involves lifting our leg off the floor Elise says:

'It doesn't matter if our leg is one inch off the floor or fully extended. The power and the work comes from the intention of lifting the leg. Our flexibility will build with practice. Eventually, the energy will translate from the mind to the body.'

This morsel for the mind gives me hope. It's a reminder of how powerful the connection is between the mind and the body. On my bad days then, when my energy levels are low and my mood score has slumped, I can try to reassure myself that my intention to be well and happy holds no less power than on my good days.

So, if life seems all too much just now, and our many worthy intentions (oh if only others could see all the good intentions we have), and admirable goals seem a tad out of reach, that's ok.   know the wise words of Elise Gulan are chiefly concerning exercise but we must surely be able to apply it to the intentions we hold in our mind also. As Elise says, whatever we can manage today 'is beautiful because it is the honest expression of where you'

Even if it's only managing to brush your teeth this day, be gentle with yourself. Please?  It's temporary. It will pass. Don't underestimate the power of the intention to be well.

A Moodscope member.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Now breath deeply.

You might not be conscious of it, but there's a good chance you are shallow breather. People who are depressed or anxious often have tight chests which makes it difficult to do full, easy breathing.

Here's an early morning routine that will really help. Lie on your bed on your back so that you head is hanging over the edge. Hold a small (5/10 lbs - 2.2/4.5 kgs) dumbbell in both hands. Extend your arms behind your head so that they are hanging down towards the floor. Take a dozen deep breaths. Try to expand your rib cage as much as possible. If you don't have a dumbbell, improvise with a another object.

Release the weight. Move fully on to the bed so yours head is supported. Take another dozen breaths. Repeat the whole routine three times.

Enjoy your breakfast.

The Moodscope Team

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Beating the dragons.

"Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." ― Neil Gaiman, Coraline.

So what does your dragon look like? Mark has referred to his as the black dog. I think mine is more a leviathan as I seem to get swallowed up in it like Jonah. And is it even helpful to see depression as a dragon?

For me it is. In the old days, before I knew what was going on, I would be riding on the crest of a wave, effortlessly on top of everything and then, without warning, the lights would suddenly dim, the world would retreat behind a plate of thick plate glass (fogged and obscured glass at that), sound would become distorted and dim and all I could feel was lethargy.

I would drag myself to the doctors and get yet another diagnosis of over-work or post-viral exhaustion or – occasionally – depression attached to whatever events were going on in my life at that time.

So now, seeing it as being inside a metaphorical whale is quite helpful. There's not much to do, there's not much oxygen, so I couldn't do it anyway. Yes, it's very dark and smelly and generally unpleasant. But, eventually, if I just sit tight and wait, after a few months, the whale will vomit me out again. He's done it every time before; he'll do it again. I have to have faith.

The secret is to make it harder and harder for him to swallow me. Now I know what's happening I make sure I don't ride that wave too high and hard (he's waiting the other side of it). I make sure I'm rested and strong and I've done my mental balancing exercises.

The last time I fell into his mouth I think I got stuck in his throat: there was still some daylight and fresh air around and it wasn't quite so smelly. He spat me out too after six weeks instead of six months. Now, that was a result.

I don't ever want to make a pet of this Leviathan; he's the enemy and getting too comfortable with him would be a mistake. But I do want to study him, learn about him, treat every interaction with him as a chance to weaken him and strengthen myself. One day I will defeat him. Dragons can be beaten.

The Moodscope Team

Friday, 26 July 2013

The missing factor.

They are the mantras of every health and fitness book. 'It's all about diet and exercise', 'Eat less, do more', 'Calories in, calories out', 'No pain, No gain' - but there's something missing. I am talking about the third, and critical factor, rest.

Rest is everything from allowing yourself a good nights sleep and doing things you enjoy, to taking a bit of time for yourself everyday.

In our modern lives there is a social stigma attached to taking rest. People brag about their hectic schedules, their all-night work benders that justify a quadruple espresso come morning. We see rest as failure, but it's a fact of life - if you want to be happy, sometimes you just need to take some time for yourself. This time should be embraced, not criticised.

Not many people are aware but, exercise is a stress on the body. After exercise, you are less fit than when you began. Its only through adequate nutrition and plenty of rest that your body uses that stress to build something better. Without this rest you run yourself down. This is true in all aspects of life, this chronic stress (including too much exercise) can increase inflammation in the body.

The Chinese view of Yin and Yang explains this concept well. You have things that take it out of you such as work, money worries and exercise to name just a few, and things that bring it back such as a good nights sleep, cooking homemade food and taking a few minutes out of each day to read this blog. These things nourish your body. A simple expression might be that every time you work 'out', make sure you work 'in'.

If you wake up and that gym class seems too hard, it's ok! Your body is trying to tell you that the balance isn't right. A useful tip is the 2% rule. If you feel you cannot improve on your previous gym session by 2%, give it a miss. Exercising whilst exhausted is a sure fire way to get injured and lose motivation.

Sometimes, when everything except for your moodscope score seems too much, just remember life is a balance. Take some time out, treat yourself and get some rest.

Personal trainer/lifestyle advisor

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Vincent van Gogh.

Given that Vincent van Gogh suffered so much with his own mental and emotional well-being and that the anniversary of his death looms, (July 29 1890) it seems only right to dedicate a Moodscope post to this great artist.

Vincent, a prolific letter writer, who expressed himself beautifully, wrote to his beloved brother, Theo, just two months before he died. The letter was never sent but in part, said:

'I feel a failure. That's about it as regards me. I feel that that's the fate I'm accepting and which won't change anymore.'

Listening to those words on the audio tour, at the spectacular Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, whilst gazing at his final paintings, moved my heart to tears. I wonder who of us have not thought or uttered those very same words at some point? Who of us have not crawled into bed and prayed that we don't wake up? Or worse.

What was so touching about Vincent's thoughts, his low self-worth, was that literally, just a few months previous to Van Gogh's suicide, he'd painted a beauteous painting for his new born nephew. The exquisite and soothing almond blossom against a blue sky being an apt choice to mark the beginning of a new life. Just one example showing that even despite his own mental anguish and emotional pain, Van Gogh was thinking of others.

As Don McLean's moving tribute song to Van Gogh says, we too maybe feeling like there is 'no hope left inside.' We may feel we don't fit cleanly into the jigsaw around us.

Van Gogh felt a failure and yet his qualities, the overall goodness of his heart, his appreciation of beauty and his efforts to keep trying, make the moving lyrics of that same song stand out anew:

'This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.'

I think that maybe said for a great many of you too.

The Moodscope Team


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Books to boost your mood.

Can reading books help you cope better with depression and anxiety? The Department of in the UK clearly thinks so and is backing a nationwide Books on Prescription scheme. Now, people in England with mild to moderate mental health concerns can be prescribed self-help books that they can borrow from their local library.

Among the 30 prescription titles to be stocked by libraries across England are books like The Feeling Good Handbook, How to Stop Worrying and Overcoming Anger and Irritability. The scheme has been developed by the Reading Agency charity and is based on a similar scheme in Wales pioneered by clinical psychologist Professor Neil Frude. In Wales today, three of the country’s 10 most borrowed books are self-help. Denmark and New Zealand run similar initiatives.

The thinking is straightforward. There is plenty of evidence that reading self-help books can be very beneficial, the latest being a study published in the online science journal Plos One which showed that people who used them over a year had measurably lower levels of depression.

The problem is that while some titles contain nuggets of gold, others aren't so good, and could be potentially harmful. A search for 'self help' on Amazon throws up 250,000 results. Professor Frude likes an American system of rating self-help books, from five-stars down to a dagger for books that actually make you feel worse.

The prescription scheme is being run in parallel with the Reading Agency's promotion called Mood Boosting Books. The idea is that as well as self-help titles, people should also read books that can put them in a better mood directly because they are funny or describe breath-taking experiences. Two recommended books are Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden and Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island.

The Moodscope Team

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

That's not my therapist!

Have you seen those books for very young children; the 'That's Not My...' series? They are very simple board books with the repeating refrain (with appropriate kinaesthetic pictures) 'That's not my bunny: its tail is too woolly/That's not my tractor: its wheels are too shiny.'

When you get to the last page 'That's my bunny' there doesn't seem to be a necessarily logical reason behind the ownership claim; 'its ears are so soft', but there is nevertheless recognition, resulting in resolution (and, of course, finishing the book).

It can be like that with therapists. There's a saying that one day you'll get your prince, but you have to kiss a lot of toads first. And one person's toad is another person's prince in chartreuse doublet and hose!

I've lived with depression for 43 years and, oh boy, have I seen a lot of counsellors and therapists.

Did any of them help? Mmm, some of them did – a bit. Did any of them hinder? Oh yes! But the woman I have worked with over the last three years has done the most amazing job. I have my life back and I have control. Now I manage my condition, it doesn't manage me.

So there will be 'your' counsellor/therapist out there, but you may have to turn a lot of pages to find them. You may have to pay for a few sessions to see if they are right for you – and don't be afraid to say 'this isn't working for me'. Your therapist may not even be a therapist yet. Fifteen years ago when I first met Rosalind, she was a landscape architect – she only trained as a therapist a lot later on.

And don't expect the recognition to be (recognisably) logical. 'That's my therapist – he wears such a nice tie' may not make sense to your left brain, but the right side of your brain knows exactly what's going on. You may need a different form of therapy to your friend, just as you may need different drugs. It's different strokes for different folks. But don't give up – and keep on kissing those frogs!

The Moodscope Team

Monday, 22 July 2013

The humble golf ball.

Apart from the odd fun game of crazy golf on holiday when I was young, I've never enjoyed a real game of golf. I know nothing of this popular sport and yet, I think the golf ball can teach us a powerful lesson.

The golf ball originally started out life smooth. However, it was found that the more the ball was used and the more dents, bumps and lumps it collected the higher, truer and faster it flew. Thus, eventually, a ball was designed with all the dimples, or indentations, that make the golf ball we know today. What's the lesson?

As we fly through life we may take a great many knocks and blows. These trials and tribulations can actually help us to fly higher and with greater success. Challenges can shape us and mould our characters for the better.

Ah now, I can hear a cacophony of voices shouting: 'I'd prefer to have less problems, even if it means my character is a little less for it.' Or maybe, 'If you only knew what I'm going through I doubt you'd dare infer that it is, at least, character building.

Yet, if we can, even on the darkest of days, remember somewhere in a back corner of our mind that this current crises or problem may just be teaching us more empathy, humility, patience, understanding, wisdom or courage, then surely, that is something positive to cling to.

So, what do you say?  Shall we play golf?

The Moodscope Team

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Try things you think you don't like.

I never wanted to go to Spain. Actually, I was a huge fan of northern countries: they are cleaner, more organized, more beautiful. As for Spain - I thought it was too hot there, the cities seemed to be not so clean, the people - too talkative and a bit weird. On top of that, they kill bulls. And I am pretty sure I wouldn't have gone to Spain if I hadn't received an invitation for a long-term business trip.

Now, it's been two months since I came to Barcelona. Almost everything I had thought I knew about Spain turned out to be wong. Barcelona is an awesome city. The nature is amazing - Spain has stunningly beautiful mountains with green forests and waterfalls. And, most important, the people - they are friendly, open and nice. I don't speak Spanish, and people here rarely speak very good English, but with many of them I have had better conversations than I usually have with people who I have known for years, the people who speak my native language.

Now I'm wondering, what if I hadn't gone to Spain? Well, I would have kept living in my stereotyped world. I wouldn't have encountered these amazing people, and I wouldn't have experienced something new.

And now I am sure that sometimes we have to try the things we think we don't like. Not only because this way you can discover something new that you actually do like - but also because it is the way to keep learning new things about the world, and about yourself.

By the way, back to bullfighting. It turns out that many Spaniards hate it and feel ashamed because of it. And in some regions of Spain it's already banned.

The Moodscope Team

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

I've said before that I'm a bit hazy about heaven. But an image that does keep on reoccurring for me is one of a five barred gate set in a stone wall, a lush meadow with cows grazing on the other side. Fat cows, with udders swinging and tails swishing, their coats gleaming in the sunshine.

I think I shared this image with my uncle, who died yesterday. A gentle, unassuming man, he left quietly, in his sleep, causing as little inconvenience to anyone as he possibly could. He even timed it perfectly, attending his youngest brother's 70th birthday celebrations the previous Sunday, but ensuring that he departed well before the busyness of harvest: a farmer to the last.

I loved my uncle. We lived with him after my father (the middle brother) died. He helped bring me up. He was always there, a faithful, steady and wise influence in the background. And the glory of being well at the moment is being able to feel the love and the grief, the sorrow and the loss.

Many people mistakenly believe that depression is feeling miserable all the time. Often it's not being able to feel anything at all. But sorrow is the counterpoint to joy and grief is a natural part of our human experience and emotional repertoire. It's right that we should feel it.

So I am thankful to be able to grieve and to fully experience the whole mix of emotions that bereavement brings. Because there's joy and gratitude too: not just for the man he was, but that he was allowed to go with dignity, without having to leave his beloved farm, to suffer the indignity of hospitals or a residential home.

And because he was a deeply devout man, I have no doubt that he is now, with his Saviour, leaning on a five barred gate in the sunshine, contentedly looking at cows.

The Moodscope Team

Friday, 19 July 2013

Press Pause and 'Mind the Gap'.

When I teach people how to think clearly under pressure, I talk about the need to 'press pause'.  Most people's minds go blank under pressure because this is the natural reaction of their nervous system to a perceived threat. Our brain is designed with a fight-or-flight-or-freeze response to danger, just as we see in Nature. Under pressure, the logical part of the mind is by-passed and we react instinctively.

This helps get us out of danger, but it is not always appropriate - sometimes we need space to think, to gather our thoughts, and give a considered response.

Our nervous systems are filled with tiny gaps between the nerve cells. This is where a message is passed from one nerve cell to the next - allowing us to think. It is the structure of communication. It doesn't take long, but it does take some time for the message to cross the gap. In fact it reminds me of the encouragement to 'Mind the Gap' that I hear on the London Underground.

If you are feeling under pressure, you need to 'mind the gap' and 'press pause'. This is a helpful hesitation - empowering you to 'respond' to situations rather than give a knee-jerk 'reaction'.

The best way to 'mind the gap' and 'press pause' is to take a brain-break. This means to walk away from the situation for a couple of minutes - long enough for your mind to fill the gap with fresh inspiration. Worrying at something and throwing more effort at it is often counter-productive. Press pause and then press play again, and notice that life plays out in a fresh way.

The Moodscope Team

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Beautiful daily rituals.

My late dad would always endeavor to find beauty amidst the tedium of every day life. Probably one of the biggest parts of my life, for example, was sitting around the table for dinner every evening.

For dad, every evening meal was a beautiful daily ritual to be relished and enjoyed. His insatiable enthusiasm for life manifested itself in this special part of the day.

So whilst mum was cooking up a delectable dish, dad would pootle about lighting candles, flicking on fairy lights, hiding away the indomitable clothes maiden or folding up any items that hung on the radiator to dry, indeed, tidying away anything that upset the tidiness or caused the dining area to look unseemly.

He would peruse through his music collection and put on some cool, chilled jazz sounds and then, having seen to it that everyone was in receipt of a pre-dinner drink of some description, he'd perhaps pour a golden Belgian beer into one of his favourite, freshly polished glasses. Then, he'd step outside, whatever the weather, and meander about the garden in his own meditative silence until dinner was declared ready. This was dad's custom whether it be a good day or a bad day, a Saturday or a Tuesday.

Like anyone, dad had his fair share of problematic times when he felt under tremendous pressure. Even on those days though, it was important to dad that the day ended with some kind of beauty and not merely in a functional, slob-in-front-of-the-TV kind of a way.

If we were to ask ourselves, what part of the day could I make more beautiful? Or, what daily ritual could I be more mindful about? I wonder what moments of beauty we could add to life's daily routine?

The Moodscope Team

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


Ah yes, Pride. It's my bug-bear. No, no. Not that I am woefully arrogant and steeped in it like some vainglorious peacock, but the other way. When it comes to 'Pride' on the Moodscope cards, I always mark it zero before moving swiftly on.

The explanations have helped a bit. 'Feeling a sense of achievement', say the words. Well, there's a sense of relief if I've finished something. Maybe a slightly pleased feeling if it's good and people like it, but achievement? No.

You see, to have achieved or accomplished something requires ownership, and I never feel I can take the credit. When one of my clients turns up at a meeting, utterly comfortable and happy in clothes that really suit her (in colouring, body shape and personality) I can jokingly say "You make me very proud!", but really I am just incredibly happy that she has had the confidence to take my professional advice and run with it. She's done herself proud, not me.

If I make a beautiful birthday card for somebody, or create a fabulous celebratory cake or even write an article that people like to read, it's just using the talents I was born with, I did nothing to earn them.  How can I be proud of that?

On the other hand, it would be shameful and a dreadful waste, not to use those talents, not to practise them and to hone them so it gets easier and easier to get a good result, and give that result to the world. Yes, I can understand the potential shame, so maybe I should revisit this pride thing.

Is there something that you do well? That you know you do well, but for which you are reluctant to take the credit? Just think about the vacancy that would exist if you didn't do it – because nobody else can do it quite the way you do (and I feel a song coming on there). It's alright to claim it, to accept the praise of others. Like an Oscar winner, you can always thank "everyone who made it possible" in your turn.

So, given that this particular blog was more difficult to write than most, do I feel a sense of achievement about it? Well, maybe, just a little. Would that be a '1' then? Well, better than a zero, isn't it?

The Moodscope Team

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Fake it to make it.

It's said the way to greater contentment is accepting the things we can't change, and giving the ones we can a bit of a push.

On an off-day, it's not always easy to lift yourself long enough to see the division between the two. Let alone change anything for the better.

A good way to begin feeling different is to fake it. Start thinking, behaving or saying the opposite of how you're feeling. Go wild. Give yourself a bit of room, even just for a moment or two, to elevate your thinking out of the same old, same old.

Recently I've been working under rather trying circumstances that have left me feeling less than happy for a while. Thankfully, the lovely Ivor who sits next to me, delivers a Masterclass in fakery just by the way he speaks.

'Morning, mate.'


'How are you doing?'

'Truly beautiful,' he says with a genuine smile that belies the rubbish we've both had to put up with.

(Even better is the absurdity of his 'living the dream' response, which by anyone's standards, we're not.)

What's great is that his repetition is rubbing off on me. Now I'm faking it. It's getting quite tricky for me to deliver the line without smiling. And we know how infectious that is. Before I know it, faking it takes me off on a journey through my little grey cells for other things that make me smile.

Yesterday it was comedian Les Dawson. Gurning. Tinkling the ivories of the grand piano, smiling Liberace-style at the audience whilst smashing out all the wrong notes. One-liners like 'I can tell when the mother- in-law's coming round…the mice throw themselves on the traps'.

Suddenly, I have another perspective. A different take on things, a break from making heavy weather of every day and a desire to stop fighting the things I can't do much about right now, to have a pop at something I can. Now that's what I call truly beautiful.

The Moodscope Team

Monday, 15 July 2013

Keyboards and keypads to the rescue.

Feeling isolated from other people can be a particularly difficult symptom to deal with. It's one of the Catch-22s of coping with and recovering from low mood. The things that help the most are the things that are the most difficult to do. But always remember, there's a huge difference between difficult and something impossible.

We all know that we should try and interact with other people as fully as possible. It's well known that cutting yourself off from the outside world can only make your situation worse. Maintaining your close relationships and being socially active are vital.

Well meaning friends say things like, get out more, meet more friends, join a club. Very difficult, but possible, and worth the investment of effort (and pain). On your own it can be difficult to maintain a positive perspective and sustain the effort required to beat depression or anxiety, but the very nature of your low mood makes it difficult to reach out for help.

If the thought of talking with people feels overwhelming, try phoning or emailing instead. Both have particular advantages.

Surveys have shown that around 50% of the population find it easier to have 'difficult' conversations on the phone rather than face to face. One reason is that you can't see the other person, and therefore don't react to the visual triggers that might inhibit your willingness to talk - the other person's facial expressions and body language for instance. Likewise, the other person can't see see you and pick up on visual clues about your state of mind.

Emails have turned out to be a very effective way of having extended 'helping' conversations. In the US in particular, counselling via email is now well established and works well for many people, partly because of its semi-anonymous nature.

So why not get in touch with one or two old friends and start an email dialogue? Begin small with some pleasantries and see if it blossoms into a more substantial conversation.

The Moodscope Team

Sunday, 14 July 2013

They are my everything.

'They are my everything' - those were the words said by a homeless man, the words that touched me deep inside.

Every day on my way to the office I see many beggars. Some of them sit quietly, others try to catch people's attention. Most passers-by are trying not to notice them, and I have to admit that I am no different.

But one day I saw a man sitting on the pavement, drinking coffee from a paper cup. I noticed him not because of his coffee, but because of his cat: a big black cat wearing a collar. Looking at the cat you'd never have known it was owned by a homeless person. It was a big, clean and beautiful cat, a capital C kind of a Cat.

So I stopped and walked up to the man. I gave him a Euro coin and we talked for a couple of minutes - he told me that his name was Matthias, he was German, but had lived in Spain for the last three years. Only at that moment did I notice a dog lying in the shade behind the man. I asked where he had found his pets. It turned out that two years ago Matthias heard a small kitten crying at the bottom of a trash container. Naturally, Matthias took it. And 6 months later he found the dog.

I used to see Matthias a couple of times a week, and almost every time I'd stop and talk to him. Two weeks ago he told me that he was going to Northern Spain as it was not so hot. On his last day, we spoke as usual, and I gave him some money and said 'Take care of your cat and dog'. And he replied 'Of course. They are my everything'. And these words made me think.

Most of us have much more than this man. We have families, friends, homes, jobs, new fancy gadgets. And we think it's not enough. I may be wrong, but I think that for Matthias his dog and cat are enough. He is quite happy. And I am sure there is something for us to learn here.

The Moodscope Team

Saturday, 13 July 2013

The Five Languages of Love.

My mother never goes anywhere empty–handed. In fact, it's a family joke with my husband and my sister's husband: "Oh, you were mother-in-lawed" – meaning that they've come home to find something in the house that wasn't there when they left. It's the opposite of being burgled.

It's never anything expensive; some food she thought we might be able to use, some article she picked up at a car boot sale and thought we might like, but it's what she's saying with the gift that's important.

Like a lot of people, she's not very easy with saying "I love you" in words so she says it with food and car boot bargains instead.

It can be really helpful to know how you say "I love you" and how your loved ones say it.

Sometimes we can be yelling "I love you – I care about you" as loudly as we can, but we're not saying it in a language that can be understood by the recipient. More often, people around us are saying "I love you" and we can't understand them.

Words are my thing – obviously. I have no problem with using words to express my love. But I'm lousy at spending time with the people I love; it's not my language.

What about the other ways? One of my daughters needs touch; cuddles are really important to her and she automatically nestles in if you sit next to her. My other daughter only wants to be hugged if she's ill or really upset. The rest of the time – she'd like it in words, please.

Then there are deeds. Some people just seem to notice what needs doing, what you're having problems with, and they'll quietly step in and do that task for you. That's love expressed perfectly.

So gifts, words, time, touch and deeds: all languages of love. Consider which ones you speak fluently and which it might be useful to learn; not necessarily to use yourself, but certainly to understand so you know when people around you are letting you know they care.

The Moodscope Team

Friday, 12 July 2013

Check the Brakes.

I decided to surprise my dad by transforming his lawn into beautifully mown stripes. So I dusted off his antiquated but posh roller-mower and set about the task enthusiastically.

The mower was very heavy - necessary to get the proper striped effect. It had powered cutting blades but required manual pushing to propel it forwards - hard work, but immensely satisfying! I felt like I'd really mown the grass and the result was worth it!

Dad was very impressed.

Later Dad asked, "Do you know about the other lever"? I'd only noticed the complex safety system controlling power to the blades. Dad explained that the roller was also powered and had its own dedicated brake lever!

We laughed! I had worked hard - with enthusiasm - achieved a great result, and all with the brakes on!

This is a great metaphor for the limiting beliefs that sometimes hold me back, making life unnecessarily hard work. My erroneous belief here was that the roller mechanism was not motorised.

I'm currently looking for a new job. In my 50s, my limiting belief was that employers prefer younger applicants. The truth is that this is entirely dependent upon the role!  For many jobs, a mature outlook and experience suits the requirements perfectly.

So, if you have a thought today that weighs heavily on your heart, it's likely to be a sign of a limiting belief putting the brakes on your energy. Examine that thought - and remember that it is often just enough to ask yourself, "Is this really true all the time?"

Look for another lever and take the brakes off yourself!

The Moodscope Team

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Voyager.

The very cool, chilled sounds of 'The Voyager' by Paul Hardcastle immediately transport me back to BBC 1's 'Holiday' programme. The music would conclude to a sparkling 'Hello and welcome to 'Holiday'. And there would be the enchanting Jill Dando sauntering along white sands in some far away land.

I love to travel but I often find that as the trip draws near any feeling of excitement can be replaced by one of daunting. Ongoing health issues can make the mere packing of a bag seem an insurmountable task. Perfectionist tendencies can mean that I go overboard on leaving everything 'just so' and traversing security and lengthy queues at airports can leave me almost craving the safety and peace of home. Even during my first couple of days away I can feel insecure and less robust than I do at home.

I hope I'm not the only one to feel like this? It does sometimes make me wonder why I attempt any kind of foray away.

Well, here's two reasons why...

1)  A complete change of scenery, even if only for a day, really can recharge the batteries of our soul. It stretches the mind and enables us to see life from a different side of the room.

2)  Going away can put us out of our comfort zone. For example the endeavor of trying to communicate in a different language can be excruciatingly embarrassing. We may feel like a fish out of water. However, having tried new things, learned fresh stuff and seen different sights we have actually grown as a person. So much so, that when we return to our pond, our comfort zone, we actually stand that bit taller. I even walk differently after I've been away!

What was all that anxiety about?

I'd best keep listening to The Voyager. It helps me remember the reasons 'Why'.

The Moodscope Team

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Genetic Inheritance.

My mother's family carries a gene for an exotic eye shape. My sister has it; her eyes are almond shaped, tip-tilted; "faerie eyes" as a rather romantically inclined boyfriend once called them.

It skipped my mother and it skipped me, but it's come out in my eldest daughter. We've no idea where it comes from, but's it's interesting to look back in the family and try to find out.

In my father's family it's lungs. We were at my Uncle's 70th birthday party yesterday, celebrating the amazing fact that he has actually reached 70, while he sat, constantly short of breath, with his oxygen cylinder at his side. Little Max, at two, was running around the garden playing, but has just had a four day stay in hospital with his asthma. There ensued much discussion about who in the family has the lungs, how many times they have had pneumonia and who's escaped.

And then there's the other thing in my father's family. That's the illness we don't talk about. My father died from it. I've nearly died from it (twice). My sister has had a bout or two of it and it's hit at least one cousin (that I know of). The Victorians didn't seem to have the taboo that we do – they called it "Melancholia" and seemed to accept that some people were affected by it while others escaped.

But I can't be the only parent who anxiously watches their children for signs that they have inherited this melancholic gene. With two academic, ambitious, high-achieving girls, my concern is surely valid.

I try not to let it be a forbidden subject. We talk about when "Mummy is poorly" and how we manage it in the family. We talk about the importance of talking about how we're feeling and that sometimes those feelings might be a sign that we are really poorly and we might need some medicine.

Forewarned is forearmed and I want my girls to know what's happening if it ever does. I also want them to know that it is just the same as getting the lungs, the eyes, the milk allergy; it's genetic and it can be managed.

And it might not happen. But I'm going to stay vigilant – just in case.

The Moodscope Team

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Quick, clean up before the Cleaner arrives!

I've never employed a cleaner, but my old landlady did. One of her most endearing characteristics was her regular panic to clean up before her cleaner arrived! 

She had very messy children, and her thought was that it was not fair for the cleaner to have to clear up after her kids. General cleaning was right and only fair, but she drew a line when it came to child-created chaos. She felt the children's mess was a reflection on her, and she needed to keep up appearances.

This reminds me of my own attitude to Moodscope. I suspect the vast majority of us use Moodscope because life is less than we hoped it would be. Life is challenging - sometimes too challenging. So it's time for me to confess!

When I'm having a really bad time, I'll read the blog, but I won't do my score for that day! The blog is regularly a comfort, but I don't want to mess up my stats - how crazy is that? It's like keeping up appearances. I think it's as crazy as rushing around cleaning the house before the cleaner gets here, don't you agree?

So let me encourage you as I encourage myself. Moodscope is here for us to track the ups and the downs - that's its whole purpose. It doesn't judge us - it just helps us observe.  As such, its usefulness and accuracy are dependent upon honest reporting on a regular basis – it is not about appearances.

Don't delay, plot your score today!

The Moodscope Team

Monday, 8 July 2013

You can handle more than you imagine.

Look Good...Feel Better. This is the name of a fantastic charity that operates in 21 countries worldwide. It is a free service that helps women with cancer fight the visible and often distressing side effects of treatment.

I became acquainted with this charity whilst dancing to the sombre tune of cancer myself just recently. After receiving Radio-Active-Iodine treatment for thyroid cancer my doctor told me that I was entitled to a free skincare and makeup workshop.

It was an extremely touching experience. After we had all arrived, one of the volunteers suggested that we may wish to remove our wigs or hair pieces, not just because it gets very warm in the small room we were sat in but also so that we may see the full benefit of our make-over at the end.

Now I was fortunate, my cancer treatment did not involve hair loss and so I was quite taken a back when, one by one, every woman in the room removed her wig. I get choked whenever I remember that moment. It taught me that whatever horrendous things we face in life, often our imagining them is worse than actually going through them. These women were full of good-humour and grace. Perhaps twelve months previous, these women did not imagine the courage, tenacity and strength that they had within them.

I always remember this marvelous sentence from Professor Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness: "When experiences make us feel sufficiently unhappy the psychological system cooks the facts and shifts the blame in order to offer us a more positive view." Great words.

Our psychological defenses can be a powerful weapon in times of adversity. We may not quite appreciate just how much of buttress they are though until we face great challenges.

The Moodscope Team

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Muppets in your mind.

How many unhelpful or distressing thoughts pass through your mind on a bad day? More than you'd like, that's for certain.

Some people find it useful to visualise or even personalise their mental monsters (which is where these negative thoughts come from). There's a long tradition of this approach. For example, Native American Cherokees use Bad Wolf, Good Wolf to describe the sources of positive and negative thinking.

Being monsters, resisting sometimes seems futile. They are too strong. When we confront our monsters, we might win for a while, but they just keep coming back for more.

But there are other ways of killing monsters besides fighting them. Monsters need food and what they live off are our reactions. Starve them of food by not reacting, by not being upset by them, and they will get weaker and weaker.

We often react to our monsters automatically and without thought. So if you want to starve your monsters to death, it's a good idea to be able to identify them individually. For instance, learn to recognise the Life's Not Fair Monster, bright red with anger and the Victim Monster, with its slumped shoulders and grumpy voice.

The Moodscope Team

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Something to chew on.

What you eat (or don't eat) might have an effect on your mood. Here are some food tips reminders.

Eat seafood at least twice a week. Studies have found that people who have diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids (found in cold-water fish like salmon and mackerel) were less likely to suffer from depression than those with low omega-3 diets. Some researchers believe depression has skyrocketed because we get so little omega-3 fatty acids in our modern diets. Flaxseed is also an excellent source.

Consider taking a chromium supplement. This mineral may improve the function of insulin, which in turn can normalize levels of the mood-boosting brain chemical serotonin. Talk to your doctor first.

Are you getting enough folate, an important B vitamin that some researchers believe may help lift depression? Folate and other B vitamins are essential for the production and function of various mood-changing brain chemicals. In one study, participants with the lowest folate consumption turned out to be at the highest risk for depression. Avocados are one of the richest plant sources of B vitamins.

The Moodscope Team

Friday, 5 July 2013

Exercise. Not so tough?

Feeling down can sap your drive. Exercise can help to build up your drive.  Here are some tips on exercising.

Try lots of different activities until one of them clicks. A friend of ours was so bad at football and other school sports that he was excused games and allowed to do music practice instead. He left school with the label 'No Good At Sport' firmly attached.

Over the following years, he tried his hand at many different activities and was equally useless at all of them, confirming his self-belief that he just wasn't the sporting type.

But then he tried windsurfing and discovered that he had a natural affinity for it. He quickly became expert and was able to discard his non-sporting label once and for all. With this change in attitude and a renewed sense of self-belief, he then became adept at several other sports, and in his mid-50s actually qualified as a ski instructor. His PE teacher would not have believed it.

Try building exercise into your everyday domestic activities. An American friend has this down to a fine art. Waiting for the kettle to boil provides him with the opportunity for 30 sit-ups. Heating up a ready-meal in the oven creates just enough time to perform a 30 minute fitness routine. By the end of the day, he's packed in an hour's worth of exercise without even noticing it.

The Moodscope Team

Thursday, 4 July 2013

A million years. A million monkeys.

As an advertising 'creative' I'm paid to come up with ideas. Often, when I tell others what I do for a living the response is 'Oh, I couldn't do that'.

But everyone has an imagination and, with a little education and application, there's no reason why not. The industry is full of people who have learned the trade and competently do a good job. I trust I'm in that number.

However, there are occasions when I sit in awe at the work of others and think to myself, 'That's brilliant. I really couldn't do that!'. And I'm glad.

So much depression is linked to the sense that we should somehow be more, or better, than we are. And though I suspect, like many reading this, I get drawn in to that trap from time to time, it's truly a hiding to nothing.

And seriously, would we want to be perfect?

Imagine having all the talent to knock out a bestseller, leave Usain Bolt in your wake after a little light training and solve the climate change challenge in the space of a few days.

How underwhelming life would be.

Life's so much richer when we let ourselves be blown away by the brilliance of others. By the things we can never, ever imagine ourselves being able to do or be.

I've just finished reading The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of the Window. A kind of Swedish Forrest Gump. I smiled all the way through. I laughed out loud in public. I even spat tea out on the train. And I can't recall the last time a book had that effect.

Given a million years and the help of a million monkeys at a million typewriters, writing such a novel is beyond me. And though I still have ambitions (though the delusion of becoming the first fortysomething to win the Premier League with Arsenal is still among them) there are things I know will never be able to do or be.

And I'm glad.

The Moodscope Team

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Talking to the child within.

It was a curious and touching moment last week when my mum discovered an old cassette tape recording of me reciting poetry at the tender age of six. I read several humorous poems with confidence, poise and gusto. I really acted the part.

What was truly fascinating for me was that the little girl I was hearing isn't the woman I am now. In the years that ensued I lost all confidence and started to peep out at life from under the proverbial comfort blanket. (I have my suspicions about when things started to change and it was long before high school even.)

I've been engaged in some kind of inner dialogue with that six year old little girl since listening to those precious tapes. What would I say to her if I could? How would I reassure her? What did I love about that child? What words would have planted the seeds of inner-worth and security?

In her deeply cathartic book, The Artists Way, Julia Cameron encourages us to re-acquaint with the child within. Often, we've abandoned that child so many times in our adult life that it can be painful and sad to condescend enough to listen, and to hear, what that child inside us is saying.

By granting a gentle nod of acceptance to the loves, dislikes, sadness and insecurities of that inner child however, we take a powerful step towards understanding the enigma we may have become.

The Moodscope Team

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

How am I feeling?

The self-flagellating thoughts scurry through the dark alleys of the mind: Why do I feel so tired? Why haven't I accomplished more today? Why am I so sad? Why...? Dangerous word that.

It creates an immediate and condemnatory glance in our direction. Pressure. Guilt. It's perhaps a sign we are living in our head and not grounded in our bodies. What do we mean by that?

In both Person Centered Counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, if I've been running around my head like a demented hamster on a wheel, joking, talking rapidly, hyper-active, over-thinking, the therapist need ask only five little words: How do you feel now? Silence. Breath in. Hold it. Exhale. Head down. (When we look down we are more able to engage with our feelings.) I'm almost immediately calmer. More in control. Better connected with my body; my feelings.

It's such a simple tool we all have access to and yet, speaking personally, I all too often fail to pause long enough to just glance down and ask myself that simple question: How am I feeling?

It's oh so much kinder than "Why?" So why don't I always do it?

Oops! We're banning "why?" right?

The Moodscope Team

Monday, 1 July 2013

Look around.

We all know how intrusive and resilient anxious thoughts can be. The problem is that the more we try not to focus on a particular thought, the longer it stays trapped in our attention. There is a way around it. It's called distraction. Instead of trying not to think of something, force yourself to think about something else.

An effective distraction activity works by focusing your mind on another mental task. Not all tasks are as equally effective. For instance, watching television or reading are often not very useful because it's easy to lose concentration and drift back to worrying.

To find the right distraction activity for you, you need to experiment. Some people find puzzles like Sudoku totally diverting. It's quite possible, however, to distract yourself from worrying thoughts without any special materials.

One well known technique uses the world around you as your stimulus. Describe the view through your window or an object in the room as accurately and colourfully as possible, as if to someone not there. If you are out and about, focus on the people around you. Count how many men are wearing ties, how many passersby have blonde hair. Invent biographies for strangers. What do they do for a living? How wealthy are they? What's their house like? You get the idea. There are no limits other than your imagination.

You may well be surprised by how quickly distraction can reduce your anxiety levels. Often it's just a matter of minutes.

The Moodscope Team