Saturday, 30 November 2013

Mood managing.

Battling, and benefitting, from bipolar all my life (undiagnosed until I was in my 40's, when I finally understood what was 'wrong'), the drugs, without doubt, literally saved my life – but cured the symptoms but not the cause.

Over 10 years or so, the chems saved the day, but I kept having to go back on them from time to time.

My enlightened GP suggested CBT, and I tried to engage with the philosophy. I understood the how, but I had no structure to benefit from the technique.

He became aware of Moodscope, and suggested this as a way forward.

3 years and 1000 scores later, what do I know?

Essential to do it every day.

Quite permissible to slightly change one's interpretation of the cards – not frequently though.

Dwell on each answer and analyse the cause – some easy, immediate, some tricky and convoluted.

Over time, it becomes much easier to take an emotion by the scruff of the neck and challenge yourself to do something about it, or if positive, do more of it.

In my case, through intensive analysis over those 1000 scores, I have identified dominant ladies and a hatred of raised voices and arguments, possibly caused in my formative years, as having a huge, lastingly destructive effect on me.

So, I gradually got braver, started to stand up for myself, and I am now far better able to marshall my thoughts and argue right back when the tirade starts.

Which in turn brings pride.

And practice makes permanent – the more I deal with issues as they arise, the less angst and grief I suffer.

So now I am free – my confidence has enabled me to give up both the 'props' of alcohol and SSRI's.

Thank you to the Moodscope team for enabling me to look forward to the rest of my life in a positive manner, re-enforced every morning.

A Moodscope user.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Appreciating my medication.

When I saw that moodscope were looking for contributions, I decided it's my time to speak up. There have been so many days when my daily e mail from moodscope has picked me up and given me the inspiration I needed to muddle through my day.

Now I've finally made it to a brighter place, I want to share and hopefully help others in the same way.

I want to talk about medication.

My problem has been post natal depression, I am very sensitive to hormonal changes and the process of pregnancy and childbirth really emphasised that.

After my daughter was born, it was really tough for me to admit to not coping but I knew it wasn't just about me anymore, so I took the medication, grudgingly. The moment I felt better, I considered myself cured and stopped the pills.

More recently, I had my son. I knew the signs of PND, I was expecting it, but I was still mad about it. I was started back on the same pills, the same dose but this time I was somehow wiser, I was more honest with myself, more honest with the GP, and instead of resenting the medication, this time I appreciated it. Being honest led to the dose being doubled, and wow - I can honestly say I feel like a new person. I'm not talking about someone who walks around on cloud 9 all day, I'm talking about being the old me, the me that can function, the me that doesn't feel completely overwhelmed by the thought of putting a load of washing in the machine.

If I had a physical, visible problem I know that I never would have had a problem taking the required medication. Yet somehow because I felt like a failure needing medication to be 'normal me', I resented it.

It might not seem the perfect solution in the beginning, but to feel happy and balanced is not something I will take for granted again.

A Moodscope user.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Napping is for life not just for babies!

Living with an inconvenient illness called narcolepsy, I know a thing or two about the art of napping. It's a frustrating necessity that my life revolves around little sleeps so that a) I remain well and b) so that I don't fall asleep at inconvenient times. This is a non-negotiable way of life for me and so I sometimes forget that the rest of the population don't need naps. Still, I believe that in the sleep deprived, don't-stop-until-you-drop-culture in which we live, napping ought to be embraced!

Scientific studies have shown that naps can have a positive impact on our mood and performance. Sadly though, we seem to struggle to overcome the judgment that napping is only for babies or lazy, idle folk.

If Richard Branson or some other entrepreneur out there should ever be in need of a new incongruous brainstorm with bravura, oh please, please, could there be something called "The Somnolent Saloon" in shopping malls or department stores? I would happily, gladly, gleefully pay for this service! (For me, finding a safe napping ground is as important as finding a public convenience when needed.)

It could be something akin to what Selfridges, London, launched earlier this year - The Silence Room. The idea is that there is a room with soft lighting, away from all the hustle and bustle, where one can sit quietly (shoes and technology are put in a locker before entering), relax and if you so wish, nap.

I was excited to check out this new concept during a recent visit to London. Alas, alack, it is no more. How sad and shortsighted.

Harry Gordon Selfridge was the first to initiate a silence room back in 1909. Yes, perhaps it was ostensible - he knew that by providing a resting place to re-coop energy, customers would stay in his store longer - but still, I feel he was on to something. It would surely have enhanced the customer's shopping experience.

If Napping will enhance and sharpen our working performance and daily efficiency, let's not hide our naps or be ashamed of napping. Ask your family, boss or co-workers not to disturb your 40 winks. Assure them you'll be the better, happier worker for it. Embrace the nap!

A Moodscope user.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Escape or Escapism.

We all have our addictions. With any luck these are what are known as "soft" addictions: that is – they harm nobody. A friend of mine has a particularly soft addiction – to cashmere. Hey – I can sympathise. But I hope she's exaggerating, because the point of an addiction surely is that you are no longer in control – your addiction is controlling you.
I trust she is in control of her cashmere purchasing.

My addiction was to romantic fiction. A Mills and Boon book was my way of opting out of a life I couldn't cope with. I remember once reading seven in one day. As an addiction it was less harmful to my liver and waistline than alcohol or chocolate, but while subject to it, I was no longer in control. The house remained dirty, the laundry unwashed, and my accountancy studies (oh yes, that was what I was supposed to be doing) totally unstudied.

My point is not actually about addiction but about escapism. Those books provided a place for me to be where I could avoid responsibility for life and the things that needed doing.

Most of the time, thank goodness, things are more under control. I still love a good bodice-ripper, and the bedside table is still piled high with books (and that's before we count the e-reader), but reading time is severely limited; most of the time I'm doing what I need to be doing, not escaping somewhere else.

We all need a place of escape sometimes, but that place only provides succour without danger of entrapment when it's scheduled and limited; when it's half an hour before bed, or forty minutes while tea is cooking. We need to enter that place with a timer because the air in there can be a slow poison.

A Moodscope user.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Is yours a full and happy life?

We often operate on auto-pilot and then can easily overlook the blindingly obvious. The following  story serves to remind us to check why we do what we do and begs the question 'is yours a full and happy life?'

A businessman on holiday in an African fishing village watched a small fishing boat dock by the quayside. Noting the quality of the fish, he asked the fisherman how long it had taken to catch them. 'Not very long' answered the fisherman. The fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The businessman asked 'But what do you do with the rest of your time?' 'I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, have an afternoon rest under a coconut tree. In the evenings I go into the community hall to see my friends, have a few beers, play the drums and sing a few songs...I have a full and happy life' replied the fisherman.

The businessman ventured 'I have an MBA and can help you. You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring you can buy a second and third boat and so on until you have a large fleet. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to a city here or maybe somewhere further afield, from where you can direct your huge enterprise.'

'How long will that take?' asked the fisherman.

'Oh ten, maybe twenty years' replied the businessman.

'And after that?' asked the fisherman.

'After that? That's when it gets really interesting' answered the holiday maker, laughing. 'When your business gets really big you can start selling shares in your company and make millions!'

'Millions? Really? And after that? pressed the fisherman.

'After that you'll be able to retire, move to a small village by the sea, sleep in late every day, spend time with your family, go fishing, take afternoon naps under a coconut tree and spend relaxing evenings having drinks with friends...'

Now with that story in mind maybe ask yourself a few questions:

Do you live to work or work to live?
Is your life full and happy?
Have you a healthy and fulfilling balance in your life between work, rest and play?
Are you operating on auto-pilot most of the time?

At this time of year, with Christmas approaching and New Year resolutions soon to be considered perhaps, like me, you will be reflecting on your life and what you spend your time doing. I hope this little story will help you make better sense of where more of your time should go and make 2014 a full and happy year.

A Moodscope User.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Playing the 'Interested' card.

Here's the eleventh in the series of excellent blogs by Lex covering the adjectives on the 20 Moodscope cards. Please don't forget we'd love you to add any ideas, tips, insights or advice you may have that you'd like to share with other Moodscope members that might be of help. Many thanks. Caroline.

'Interested' - defined by Moodscope as: 'wanting to be involved in something'.

This is a lean-forward, edge-of-the-seat, cock-your-head-to-one-side type of mindset.

Notice how many of those phrases are physical. When we want to be involved, we naturally incline our body forward. When we want to listen attentively, we most often move our heads to an angled position – perhaps to get a better 'stereo' sound reference. Why we do it is not as important as the fact that we do it instinctively.

Psychology and Physiology are the best of friends. They 'agree' with one another. Every time you shift your posture – you have to change your mind. Why? Well I'm playing with words but what I mean is that you are triggering a different pathway – a different pattern of neurons. These patterns of 'thoughts' group together in clusters of associations. So, your body knows what position it should take if you feel uninterested just as much as your body knows the position it should take when you're interested.

So what? Well we do the Moodscope cards because often we are not interested in being involved in something. We've lost our Oomph! Our get-up-and-go, got-up-and-went!

My suggestion (and I'm looking forwards to your suggestions) is to run after our get-up-and-go! How? By moving. By moving our posture forward towards something. By breaking any pattern in our body posture that 'says' "I'm not interested."

Practically, if I'm finding it hard to stay engaged in a conversation, I deliberately sit up, move forward on my seat, lean forwards, and put my head to one side as if listening more attentively. I don't know how it works. I don't know why it works. But I do know that it does work.

When you change your (physical) attitude and position you change your (mental) attitude and position.

Assume the position!

A Moodscope user.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Do or do not.

"Do or do not...there is no try." Yoda - The Empire Strikes Back.

I just love when great films offer real human truths, in a way that is often less threatening than a friend or parent's advice.

There are so many - Good Will Hunting (Emotion over Intelligence)/Dead Poets Society (real education - over schooling)/Patch Adams (an alternative to the US's financially 2 tier driven healthcare system) and yes, I am a Robin Williams fan.

The Star Wars trilogy offered many great human wisdoms - especially through the small diminutive Yoda. A small fragile creature, in amongst all these huge war machines and deathly weapons where he would seem to have no influence at all.

Instead, due to his wisdom, rather than his cleverness he plays a crucial role in enabling Luke Skywalker to 'see' things differently - to become far more 'self- aware' (the start of all personal, family or organisational learning) and that shift of his self- awareness opens new doors and new opportunities to alter the old world view.

There is no truer statement than the above quote.

As soon as you use the word 'try' in any sentence, you have already subconsciously said 'NO'.

Someone asks you to a party and you reply "I'll try and make it". Do you go? My money is 100% on no - and what's worse you know that and just don't want to 'upset' your friend by telling them the truth!

I would respect my friends FAR more if they told me the truth e.g. "Les, I would like to come but I already have another commitment that night." or 'Honestly I'm not up to it at the moment.' My trust in that friend would also increase due to their commitment to follow through on what they promised someone else.

My trust in them will actually be diminished by them saying "I'll try" and then not turning up!

Obliterate the word 'try' from your vocabulary.

If depressed, are you going to 'try' and get better - or are you REALLY aiming to get better?

Ahh - the power of words...  ;-)

A Moodscope user.

Friday, 22 November 2013

A sense of humour.

I was pondering about this expression the other day. Why is humour referred to as a sense?  The word 'sense' is defined as an ability to understand, recognise, value or react to something.

If our sense of humour has suffered a little redundancy recently, how can we sharpen our ability to laugh at (or to recognise) the humourous side in the everyday tedium?

The great thing about humour is that, unlike the five physical senses of sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste, which deteriorate with age, we can sharpen and finely tune our sense of humour with each passing day. We may get older but our humour need not.

If you have ever laughed heartily at a stand up comedian, the chances are, the material that had you laughing out loud is all about the everyday stuff. A comedian often becomes an absolute master at taking a relatively mundane story, subject or quirk of human nature and turning it into something we can chuckle about. Michael McIntyre, for example, has this down to a fine art. He can even find humour in the herb rack. For two minutes of smiles go to:

Yes, this is undoubtedly a gift and takes great skill but it is something we can all train ourselves to become better at.

According to scientists, a spontaneous burst of laughter is comparable to three minutes of aerobic exercise and ten warm smiles equal ten minutes of intensive rowing. Furthermore, laughing aids digestion, brain function and circulation.

With health benefits like these, we surely need regular belly laughs! So, what circumstance will you 'sense' the humour in today?

A Moodscope user.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

We've been listening to you...

Moodscope was created to help people manage their mood better and we are committed to continually improving the Moodscope offer, driven by our members feedback.

Many of you have told us you'd really like the facility to view your graph over a longer time span so that you can learn from your long-term mood trends, but that you don't feel the need to use the Affectogram and Triggergram features offered by Moodscope Plus.

Other's have said they'd really like to subscribe or make a contribution to Moodscope to help others, can't afford to pay for Moodscope Plus, but would subscribe if there was a lower subscription option.

So, to address these needs, on Saturday 23 November, we're introducing Moodscope Essential.

For just £2.99/$4.99/€3.49 Moodscope Essential will help you get a better insight into how your moods fluctuate over time. Flexible graph controls enable you to view your progress over just about any period you choose rather than only ever seeing a month at a time, and with the facility to add twice as many notes to each daily score, you'll have more information at your finger tips. It also includes an unlimited amount of buddies.

At the same time we're redesigning your home page to make it clearer and easier to use.

We are also offering the option to subscribe to Moodscope Plus on an annual basis at a reduced rate and the option to make this as a one-off payment for those of you who don't like ongoing subscriptions.

We continue to work on new features such as a mobile app.

Please remember every Moodscope subscription enables us to continue to provide Moodscope Lite to the many thousands of people who can't afford to subscribe.

We hope you like the changes and hope that Moodscope continues to be of help.

Caroline and Adrian
The Moodscope Team

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

I want to be Alone!

Parties: loathe 'em or hate 'em, you can't enjoy 'em!

Or perhaps I'm alone here. Maybe you would, in the words of the Beastie Boys, "Fight for your right to PAAARTY!" Different strokes for different folks and all that.

It has always confused me that, in every personality analysis I've ever done, I come out as an extrovert; as someone who is the life and soul of a party, when actually, I'd far rather stay at home with a good book.

But staying at home with a good book tends to disappoint the people who've invited you. Presumably they included your name on the invitation list because they actually wanted your company. It's an honour to be asked, and really, you don't want to let them down.

And it's the party season coming up. It's time to get on those glad rags, to pin on your happy face and go to face all those people with similar happy faces.

So how do we get through the party season?

I do have a few tricks to share with you. First of all, I always volunteer to drive. That way I don't lose count of the glasses of wine and end up embarrassing myself and my host (oh, yes, it has happened).

As I find "working the room" an excruciating ordeal, I look around for the shy/older/disabled person sitting in the corner and go to sit with them. It's normally a quieter corner, so one can actually hold a reasonable conversation rather than shouting inanities and often this person is so fascinating the majority of the time can be spent with them until it's an acceptable time to make one's adieux and leave.

Finding the kitchen and doing some washing up for one's host is a good option too – although you may have to do some fast talking to explain that yes, you really do prefer to be out in the kitchen instead of "enjoying yourself" at the party proper.

It is difficult to be with people when you're going through a tough time; you probably want to hole up like an animal in pain until it all goes away. But, hard though it is, it does normally do us good to be with other humans; their energy feeds us.

So I'd say accept all the invitations; go to the parties. Put all the survival techniques into practise, and – you never know – you might even enjoy them; just a little.

A Moodscope User.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Safety zone.

Throughout evolution, the human brain has developed ways of stopping us doing things that are likely to get us killed. This evolutionary trick served us very nicely throughout history; using intuition and a dose of experience, we build up an idea of what is safe in our world. For most of human history, what is unsafe, often led to death, which is widely agreed to be an unfavorable outcome.

This concept is commonly framed in the ideas of Comfort zone and Safety zone. Your comfort zone is the little zone within which you can go about your daily life without feeling you are going to take on any risk, like going down to your local hairdressers. This is the level to which your prehistoric mind is happy that you're unlikely to take on any real risk, you've got your hair done in the same way for a while and its therefore not something to get worked up about.

Your safety zone on the other hand is that feeling you start to get when you're stepping outside of that comfort zone. For example, visiting a new hairdresser. That voice in your head starts to tell you that perhaps this isn't such a good idea. You can think of many reasons how it might all go wrong and why you should have just stuck with the one you usually go to. What you often find though, is that you walk away from the experience realizing that there was not a real need to be that nervous in the first place, your hair looks nice (might even be nicer than usual) and perhaps unsurprisingly, you did not die. Your comfort zone has now adapted and more opportunities are now available to you because you are not scared of taking them.

There is of course an element of danger in our everyday lives (so don't close your eyes and cross the road) However, the honest truth is that most of the things we are scared of; public speaking, visiting a new hairdressers are unlikely to end in death. That interview you're nervous about might have some consequences if you mess it up, but its unlikely to have all the negative consequences you convince yourself it will.

Perhaps think about some of those things you've been putting off and ask yourself what opportunities might present themselves if you just went ahead and did it.

"Do one thing every day that scares you." – Eleanor Roosevelt

Jake O'Gorman
Personal trainer/lifestyle coach.

Monday, 18 November 2013

The Enthusiastic card.

Here's the tenth in the series of excellent blogs by Lex covering the adjectives on the 20 Moodscope cards. Please don't forget we'd love you to add any ideas, tips, insights or advice you may have that you'd like to share with other Moodscope members that might be of help. Please add them to the comments at the end of this post. Many thanks. Caroline.

Enthusiastic – defined by Moodscope as 'showing eagerness'.

I've saved this one up as it is one of my favourite words... and "Wow!" does it show!!! I can't hide it.

If I'm enthusiastic about something – it 'leaks' from every pore and broadcasts from every muscle. Just look at those exclamation marks!!!

It says, "Let me in there, Coach! Don't leave me on the bench!" And yet "Enthuse" is even more exciting than the feeling of that inner puppy in me that's about to go for a walk.

The roots of the Greek word mean "God within" (en Theos). Whilst the use is not always positive, the intention of the Moodscope card is totally positive. It's about having drive and movement towards something – it's a momentum word.

Herein lies one secret of stirring up enthusiasm if it is lacking today. Get some momentum going – some movement. For example, I really don't have much 'enthusiasm' for vacuuming.  I like the result, but not the process – not when there are so many other exciting things to do. But once I get moving to a rhythm, my enthusiasm comes upon me as if moved by the Divine! My secret? Wagner!!!

Nothing gets me to wield the vacuum cleaner more vigorously and effectively than a good blast of "Ride of the Valkyries" – after all, wasn't that why the Walkman and then the mp3 players were invented! It works for washing up too! In this case "Ride of the Valkyries" is too dangerous – more a case of, "I'll do the washing up, if you'll pick up the pieces..." So for washing up, a good bit of crooning works well (for my tastes) – a bit of Julie London, Bing Crosby, Matt Monroe, and, of course, Nat King Cole.

A Moodscope user.

PS. sometimes enthusiasm can come with a still small voice – being a bouncy puppy like me is not a requirement!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Who are Moodscopers?

I thought you might like a little insight into fellow Moodscopers. Based on a sample of 1500 that responded earlier this year to the question "How would you describe your current state of mental health?":

34% were diagnosed as depressed
12% were diagnosed as bipolar
15% suspected they were depressed
30% felt they had low self confidence
25% felt very stressed
27% did not feel they had any problems with their mental health at that time

Interesting to see a broad mix of people all interested in improving their mood.

Seems we are in good company.

The Moodscope Team

NB: Percentages add up to more than 100% because participants could select more than one response.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

...look at it.

So reads the title for chapter 11 in his book The Yellow World by the quirky and quick minded Albert Espinoza.

That title truly resonated with me. In the last couple of weeks I've been perusing hundred's and hundred's of photo's on my computer, going back six or seven years. What really stood out to me, was that despite the fact those years have been glutted with sadness and disappointments, my photograph's did not reflect that.

I'd captured, often on a daily basis, chance, random, sometimes odd but always beautiful, pretty things and moments. My photographic library documents not the quotidian garbage but the beauty.

Due to recent surgery I've been somewhat incapacitated and was initially in much discomfort and pain. During those days, there was little to be done but to 'find what I liked looking at and then, well, to look at it.'

It was then I realised that I'm quite good at (and I don't utter those words often) tuning into and observing pleasant things; The coloured wool piled into pigeon holes in the living room, a lamp with colourful crystals dangling and casting rainbows on the wall, the intricate folds of a rose standing regally in a vase, the flicker of a scented candle, little things can deliver a lot of comfort in our darker moments.

Whilst in hospital, I stumbled on a huge patchwork quilt that depicted some of the famous sights of Liverpool, mounted and framed on a wall. The workmanship was breathtaking such was the intricacy and detail. Alas, I didn't see anyone stop and stare. That made me sad.

So, today, fight the torpor, find something you like looking at, perhaps something no-one else has noticed and photograph it. Stare at it.

A Moodscope user.

Friday, 15 November 2013

What ever happened to the mirror that showed me a happy face?

I work in a big company. It is a successful, innovative and profitable company. My co-workers are bright and nice people in their late twenties or early thirties. Some of them have started working here recently, others have been around for three or more years.

My direct managers have worked here for quite a while - at least for four or five years, and obviously they are highly competent in what they do. One would think they should be happy - they have good jobs, they are still young, and they are successful. But when you talk to them, they seem to be tired, almost drained, like they don't have living power. As obvious as it may be, the reason is that they work really hard. But I think it's more than that.

A couple of weeks ago I was browsing through some old corporate pictures, and there were several shots taken four years ago. I recognized familiar faces among happily smiling bunch of people: my now-managers seemed to be very happy, energetic, and looked much younger than they do now. And it struck me: how come that their happy and almost boy-ish faces turned into the tired and always busy ones?

I may be wrong, but I think that four years ago they were happy because they were working on things that excited them. They were working with passion. Now they seem to have lost it. And now they are not ready to switch to something new, whatever it may be: another role in the company, or maybe even something completely different and not-at-all-corporate.

I am definitely not the one to judge. But I believe that each of us should at some point ask oneself: do I actually do the things that excite me? Do I work with passion? Am I being honest with myself? Of course, we all need security, and having a stable and a well-paid job is a blessing. But I believe that somewhere in the corner of our mind there should be a space for those lines from a song:

So if you're careful,
You won't get hurt.
But if you're careful all the time,
Then what's it worth?

A Moodscope user.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

5 (Essential) Tips for a Mindful Christmas.

Here's an extremely helpful message that has kindly been written for us by Shamash Alinda, author of Mindfulness for Dummies.

Okay, okay, I know it's only November, but the holiday season is not far away! And although some of you may not be celebrating, almost all of you will be very busy.

The Christmas period can be manic. You could find yourself running around trying to get the shopping done, worrying about all things from money to who you'll be spending the day with. This kind of pressure, on top of an already busy life, can lead to a miserable December full of anxiety and stress. If you're feeling the pressure here are some ways to help you have a mindful Christmas.

1. Try some mini mindfulness meditations. It might be difficult, but find some time to sit still and think about what is good in your life right now. Sit comfortably and focus on your breathing. Try doing this before you go Christmas shopping, as it will help you to stay calm.

Later, when you're queuing to pay for your presents and starting to feel the stress, focus on standing tall, and breathing slowly and deeply. Accept that it's okay to feel frustrated in the queue. Who likes queuing? It's natural to be annoyed. Try to realise you are annoyed, and then look around you to appreciate the present moment aspects of Christmas. Smell the pine trees and cinnamon.

Appreciate the colours – when else do you see so much sparkle and glitter?  Feel your breath filling your lungs, and appreciate how good it fees to correct your posture and stand still for a short while. Resist the temptation to get your Blackberry out and check your messages. Are your feet throbbing? Feel the throbbing, and visualise your blood pumping around your body and breathe deeply to slow it down.

2. Make giving more mindful. When you write your Christmas cards this year, take the time to include a few words that express the reasons why you love or appreciate the recipient. Thank people for what they have done, and show gratitude for any kindness.

Write them for those you have lost, or fallen out with too. This will help you to accept your life as it now is. Also, write a card for yourself, listing all the good things that you are experiencing in your life. You don't need to post this one of course, but keep it somewhere obvious, and read it when you feel anxious, or need a reminder about what is important here and now.

Write your cards slowly, and concentrate on forming each letter. Handwriting is usually rushed these days, if it happens at all, so take time to feel each curve of the pen and each full stop, be mindful of your handwriting.

3. Volunteer. You don't need to be a practising Christian to appreciate what the Christmas spirit is about. Practise mindfulness and help out at your local homeless centre, or offer your services to a charity. My co-author and I have put ourselves down to volunteer in a local soup kitchen for a couple of days after Christmas. There are many worthy causes, and in return, you'll find a sense of wellbeing that outshines any expensive gift you may receive. Keeping up this activity into the New Year will really help you to focus on what you already have, and highlight the good aspects of your own life.

If you don't have time to volunteer, then try little things such as feeding the birds in your garden, or the ducks at a local park because they will certainly appreciate it in the cold weather (unless you're in Thailand!). Which leads us nicely to...

4. Take a walk in the fresh air and live in the moment. Look at the leaves, are there any left at this time of year, what colour are the trees now? What are the clouds doing? When did you last look at the clouds? If it's raining, then wear a waterproof coat and take an umbrella. It may snow – after all it is Christmas! Just try to go out, the rain won't hurt you. Listen to the birds; they still sing in the winter. Breathe in the winter air. It's so clean, it will blow out all those central heating impurities.

If you have a child, take her/him with you. Don't tell them off if they get wet though, just try jumping in puddles or throwing snowballs with them. Chase the leaves and laugh. Appreciate them being this young, They won't be like this again. Create a moment and enjoy it.

5. Yes, you can enjoy Christmas dinner. Christmas dinner is often the climax of the Christmas period, but do you really enjoy it? Even if you had to cook this year, and are so stressed and sweaty that you don't feel like eating, try to sit back and look at each person around the table. Think of the ways in which you have been close to them, and the reasons you choose to spend time with them. Even if you don't get on particularly, there is a reason they are sat at the table with you. Think about them, appreciate their good points and accept their failings. Nobody is perfect.

Christmas is a good time to practice mindfulness. Your family may visit, you are seeking out gifts for your friends and relatives, and using a variety of decorations, fabrics, music and foods. Take notice of each person, material or sensation over Christmas. Each time you do this you will focus fully on the present. Each step you take is a step away from your former anxiety-avoiding self. Use this Christmas period to kick-start yourself into the New Year – a New Year where you practise mindfulness and feel happier and healthier!

How will you ensure your Christmas is a mindful one?

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Emotional Withdrawal.

A couple of days ago, mid-afternoon, I received a call from a friend. She was in tears; tears of anger, frustration and disappointment. She had cooked a beautiful lunch for some people who not only failed to turn up but, when contacted, lied to her about why they couldn't come. Furthermore, this wasn't the first time this had happened with these particular people. And they were family! Nobody can hurt us more than family, can they?

Well, we're never ones to turn down a good meal (regardless of the fact we'd already eaten), so we promptly dropped everything, rushed round to her and we soon sitting down to a delicious lunch, at 3.30pm. Hey – I believe that's a fashionable time to have lunch in some circles.

I'm sure you can imagine how my friend felt. It took several hours of hugs, her eleven year old daughter saying "well, you're now spending time with people who want to be with you, mum", and, yes, a couple of strong G&Ts for her to feel validated and wanted again.

We can often put ourselves out for people and then find our efforts are entirely unappreciated. It's even worse when it's family and close friends where there is so much emotional investment. While we know that true love, in the words of the bible "always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres", there does come a time when we need to take some of the emotion out of that love.

There is a very strong argument for dropping those people in our life who are not positive, who do not contribute to us. It's more difficult if those people are family. We can choose our friends; we can't choose our family. What we can do, for our own protection, is withdraw emotion from that arena. It's their loss, not ours. We'll invest that emotion in reciprocal friendships where it will be returned tenfold.

My friend will not be cooking a lunch for these people again, although she'll meet them in a restaurant.  She can't cut them out of her life: they're family, but she can make sure she's not hurt by them.

Very much their loss, or maybe ours, as she's a very good cook!

A Moodscope user.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Alive again.

Here's a touching poem from Katherine a Moodscope user.

I used to think I liked a drink
Or did I drink to think?
I think I drank, and drank, and drank
To think about no drink
And then a light bulb flashed
And lit my reddened eyes
It shone a way to seize my life
Awake my feelings dulled by drink
To think in other ways
It was to be life-saving
As I was now to be
Sober and alive again
With glowing pride
To think without a drink
So, if you feel a little low
Or wonder from within your soul
Reach out for friends, for those around
Those who see through clearer eyes
The wonder of this person and what you mean to them
As others now can see the real and living me

Monday, 11 November 2013

Irritable – defined as 'Feeling Easily Annoyed'.

Here's the ninth in the series of excellent blogs by Lex covering the adjectives on the 20 Moodscope cards. Please don't forget we'd love you to add any ideas, tips, insights or advice you may have that you'd like to share with other Moodscope members that might be of help. Please add them to the comments at the end of this post. Many thanks. Caroline.

'Irritable' is a wonderful word – it even has a ratty rhythm to it – a kind of tetchy staccato beat! Irritability is an over-reaction to stimuli. Rat-ta-tat-tat! I'm going to speak auto-biographically here. I've noticed over the years that I tend to be irritable with those people I like most! It's almost as if I give myself permission to be ratty with those close to me, but I extend a greater tolerance to strangers. Does that sound around the wrong way to you?

So, for today, the key for me is focusing on the concept of an 'over-reaction'. Whether we're talking about psychological irritability, or physical irritability like IBS, there is some (over) reaction to a stimulus. Thus I take a two-pronged approach: 1) reduce the stimuli, and 2) challenge the type of reaction.

1. Reduce the stimuli. I am a massive fan of FABs. "FAB" stands for a 'Fluid Adjustment Break'. When I am over-stimulated and in danger of over-reacting, I excuse myself and pop off either to the loo or to make myself a drink. Both Fluid Adjustments seem to give me psychological fluidity too, and I can often recover and calm down. Distance gives perspective.

2. Challenge the type of reaction. 'Irritation is the beginning of a pearl!'  A pearl is the Oyster's response to an irritant in its mantle. By consciously seeking for some value in an experience, I can sometimes turn an irritating situation into a valuable lesson – a pearl of wisdom. It's sort of, 'Always look on the bright side of life!'  This doesn't mean that I am naturally optimistic – far from it. It does mean though that I invest energy into the thinking process used to find something useful in the scenario – and that, in and of itself, is a useful distraction!

A Moodscope user.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Cupcake land.

I was sitting on a train just this morning and caught myself re-living conversations and experiences from the extremely traumatic recent past. This happens several times daily and I can't seem to stop my over active and analytical mind doing this. But, I knew I had to think of positive and happy situations to stop it in its tracks and was struggling somewhat.

Then I remembered the text conversation in my mobile phone between myself and a very special friend of mine whom I affectionately call Debbie Cupcake. Each week, we exchange at least two very uplifting and encouraging texts with no pressure to respond or reciprocate in any hurry, so I decided to read them back to myself and in less than a minute, I was in 'Cupcake Land', feeling all uplifted, satisfied and smiling.

Mission accomplished!

A Moodscope user.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The gift of rain...

This title, from a book I read recently, got me thinking. I have always loved rain from my earliest memories. Something about being warm and secure looking out though the window with raindrops splattering in ever changing patterns. That little reminder seemed to grow again an appreciation of the ordinary aspects of my life that had faded.

I find a similar thing happens when I flip through the Moodscope cards. Cards like 'proud' or 'enthusiastic'. By simply noticing again that I have much to be enthusiastic and proud of seems to grow my appreciation of my mood and increase a sense of balance. Even noticing whether I am jittery or distressed also seems to bring a feeling of the full spectrum of 'the frailty of being human'.

Strangely comforting and enriching. Can even feel like something of a gift.

The Moodscope Team

Friday, 8 November 2013


I've been hearing a lot about mindfulness recently. To be honest I hadn't known anything about it or even been aware of what it was until a few months ago when a number of friends and acquaintances started telling me (with great enthusiasm) all about the mindfulness courses they were on and the benefits they were getting.

But I still wasn't that much interested until I heard that Mindfulness is being used very successfully to treat depression. Of course, I started listening then.

So apologies if you are all way ahead of me here already and know everything I'm about to say.

Although based in the concept of mindfulness in the Buddhist tradition, it can be practised independently of religion. Mindfulness is defined as the art of 'Paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment without making judgements'. Immediately we can see how anchoring ourselves in the present moment will automatically prevent our minds from sliding down the well-known habits and tracks of thoughts to those dark places (usually focussed on the past or future, very rarely in the now) which bring us right down.

There's a very interesting video by Mark Williams (Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University) on YouTube on the science of mindfulness. Apparently, regular and sustained practice of the discipline really does affect the physical construction of the brain, separating the part of the brain that experiences events with the part that makes up stories about them. I can see how that would be really useful.

With this in mind, I resolved to be more mindful in my daily walk home from the bus stop – and it's extraordinarily difficult! Not the least of my problems was dragging my brain back from this blog I was planning to write on the subject of mindfulness...

But I have to report on the basis of a couple of experiments that, yes, colours seemed brighter, the air fresher, I noticed things I'd never noticed before, and opened the front door feeling really charged up and ready for the day. So I think I'll start to learn more and add another skill to the depression fighting toolbox.

Now I wonder if someone has written a "Mindfulness for Dummies" book...

A Moodscope user.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Reflect, don't blame.

I have recently started to work for an organisation which has moved away from  the blame culture which is usually quite prevalent in this sector of work. Before I worked for them I worried endlessly about mistakes I had made and what the response would be and at times was tempted to try and cover them up. Also I adopted the same culture and passed it on down to the staff I managed. Working for this organisation has opened my eyes, made me feel more comfortable in my own ability and most importantly has helped me not to over think things. If I make mistakes or perform less well than I would like I reflect on how it could be improved and move on, much more satisfying and empowering. I hasten to add these are not life or death situations!

Be solution focussed and if there is something you cannot change talk to the people who can. If there is no-one who can make the change, learn to accept it and not worry endlessly about it.

A Moodscope user.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Futility of "Why?"

It's been a grim day; the kind of day when the bright sunshine is bitter personal betrayal because the whole world needs to be covered in a shroud of dark nimbostratus in order to reflect my mood. It's been the kind of day when I contemplate giving up the business I love just because I can't cope with its demands. The kind of day when all my enthusiasm has drained away somewhere far far away and I just want to cancel tomorrow – and the next day – and the day after that...

I guess this kind of day is not unfamiliar to most of us.

And it's always tempting to travel the route of "Why?" Why am I feeling like this? Is it that I haven't had enough fresh air recently? Had too much alcohol, too much junk food, not enough this, too much of that and nothing of the other.

But even if we come up with a probable answer it's not always helpful.

I think it was the Personal Development Coach Peter Thomson who said "The quality of the answers you get depends on the quality of the questions you ask."

Very wise. So the question I need to ask myself is not why I am in this state, but what I can do to get out of it?

That question reaps a far more positive harvest of answers. I can do some meditation. I could get outside and take a brisk walk; I could ring a friend whose upbeat nature always makes me laugh. Instead of pouring that glass of wine I can make a mug of herbal tea and spend some time doing something really rewarding which will give me something to show at the end of it (hey – I could write this blog!).

I'm not naive enough to think this always works. But it's nearly always more positive than shouting "Why?" at that indifferent nimbostratus.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013


It can be a daily struggle to achieve a healthy balance in our lives. I remember being told at school, some 40 or so years ago, that my generation was entering the workplace at just the perfect time as all the 'new technology' would mean far less time working and far more leisure time.....we all know what happened next! The technology - if you let it - simply serves to blur the boundaries between work and the rest of our life; wherever you are and whatever the time you can - if you let it happen - remotely connect with work.

Here is a reminder about the importance of striking an appropriate balance. Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends and integrity and you are keeping them all in the air. One day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls - family, health, friends and integrity - are made of glass. If you drop one of these it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered. Once you truly understand the lesson of the five balls you will have the beginnings of balance in your life.

A Moodscope user.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Playing the 'Guilty' Card.

Here's the eighth in the series of excellent blogs by Lex covering the adjectives on the 20 Moodscope cards. Please don't forget we'd love you to add any ideas, tips, insights or advice you may have that you'd like to share with other Moodscope members that might be of help. Please add them to the comments at the end of this post. Many thanks. Caroline.

Today, it's the turn of the 'Guilty' card, which Moodscope defines as, 'feeling regret for doing something wrong.'

Is our guilt real, or imagined, or somewhere in between? This is where the rational approach can be so helpful – guilt must justify itself to be taken seriously.

Inappropriate guilt, shame, and blame are an unholy trinity that torment many. Imaginary guilt that cannot maintain its case in the face of honest cross-examination must be banished immediately. Is this feeling based on your values, or someone else's imposed standards?

If 'feeling guilty' – such a dominant human emotion – had a good intention, it would surely be to help Society and relationships function. In many senses we should feel regret for doing something wrong. However, many of us feel regret for errors of judgment and even misdeeds that were committed way back in the past. When this persistent guilt paralyses positive action in the present, it needs to go.

There are many pathways to free yourself from genuine, honest guilt. The most logical one is restitution – to do something to 'balance' the books. Whilst deeds cannot be undone, and words cannot be taken back, we can always introduce new deeds and words into our future history. I am a great believer that it is how we finish that matters more than how we start. When we are young and inexperienced, we are still learning – and I don't think we should ever 'punish' anyone while they are learning. Since I never intend to stop learning, I don't think I should ever punish myself! The flip side of the deal is to keep learning and to keep changing.

If restitution cannot be made to the parties we may have wronged, doing good to someone else is good for the soul. It is a healthy direction to go in. A fresh destination for our soul's Sat Nav.

I really don't like it when people say to me, "You haven't changed a bit!" I have. I am not the person I was even two months ago. I am constantly transforming. Nowadays, I treat guilt with as much respect as my Sat Nav. Sometimes it's accurate, and so I follow its guidance after checking the evidence. Other times it's just simply wrong! Sometimes I know a better way – and I take it, because, after all, "I" am more than the guilt I may feel.

A Moodscope user.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Each day we have choices.

Are you...

nurturing or nagging?

gracious or grumpy?

serene or stressed?

Be your own best friend and pick the positive choices.

A Moodscope user.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Highly sensitive people.

Growing up, my dad would exhort me time and again not to be so sensitive.  I now rather suspect that he was pretty sensitive himself and wished I could toughen up a bit so as to avoid the hurt he knew was to inevitably come my way, if I continued to feel so deeply.

The only way I can describe living life as a sensitive soul (and a great many of you will no doubt relate to this, as it is suggested that as many as 15 to 20 percent of the population are HSP's), is that it feels like all feelings are worn externally and they are permanently raw.  Horror, Thriller, or overly sad films are an absolute no. If siren's blast past I must put my fingers in my ears. And even in my most contented moments I struggle not think about mistreated donkey's, the countless number of displaced persons in refugee camps, the child that got shouted at very publicly in Asda this morning or The Big Issue I didn't buy today from someone in need, and the list goes on.

HSP's have an uncanny ability to pick up on things that go unnoticed by others - a look or glance, a feeling in a room - it's like having a sixth sense and it's not always a helpful skill. Oftentimes, ignorance must surely be bliss.

Of course, many feel that labels are unhelpful. Some may even feel that the term HSP is nonsense and merely an excuse for being an inept wet lettuce or a dreamer who can't face the harsh realities of life.

I personally feel that it serves us well the more we know and understand ourselves. For example, knowing I'm a HSP helps me realise that I need a fair amount of solitary and quiet time if I'm to keep my mood buoyant.

At the same time I really appreciate the attitude that the Navajo Indians cultivate.  Instead of saying, 'I am depressed.' they say, 'My spirit is accompanied by sorrow.' I like this. It means we are not made up of one sole trait, like depression, hyper sensitivity or anxiety. Our souls are accompanied by many things, none of which define us implicitly.

So rather than feel we must toughen up, accept that your soul may be a sensitive one and welcome the qualities that will surely accompany that.

Are you a HSP? Take the test:

A Moodscope user.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Go on a mental holiday.

I have battled with depression and emotional instability for a very long time and sometimes find it very hard to 'snap out of' a low mood.

I do have one trick up my sleeve though that the more I use, the more I enjoy. I'd like to share it with you, because it's easier to do than you think.

Basically I'm going to explain my version of a mental holiday. Not a holiday where everyone goes mad, drinks too much, and comes home with a random tattoo. My mental holiday is about a vacation from my tiring, negative, sometimes overwhelming thoughts, and it is free and easy, requiring only the smallest amount of effort.

What I do when things are unbearable is visualise myself packing all my problems into a suitcase and boarding an airplane. I visualise the plane taking off and ascending higher and higher. I look out through the window at the terrible dark clouds and rain (generally reflecting my mood) and I watch as the sky clears and the plane breaks through into beautiful sunshine, blue skies and calm. Higher and higher the plane goes and the dark clouds are no longer in sight, they are way below me now. I feel calmer and for just a few minutes I feel detatched from everything, safe, peaceful and calm.

I have a few different things I do on my mental holiday, each time I try something a bit different. In the early days I decided to press the button to call the air stewardess, have her come and then request she have my suitcase thrown off the plane. The technicalities of how she would do this mid-flight don't seem to worry me because she smiles at me and says "what a good idea, ill do that for you now" and then she offers me the nicest tasting cocktail ever.

On a recent mental holiday I decided the airplane kept on climbing higher and higher and it turned into space travel and my views of the earth were astonishing, I tried to locate my problems and zoom in on them back down on earth but I realised there was much more fascinating stuff to look at and consider.

My old favourite is to land my plane on a tropical paradise beach, sit on the shore in a hammock, and breathe deeply enjoying a sunset and the sound of the waves.

The trick is to let your imagination do the work, just get immersed in the holiday feeling you often get when you are taking off for a well earned break. It is rare these days I can afford a holiday but I don't let that stop me and since I learned this mental holiday was free and there any time I needed it, I enjoy my 5-10 mins out immensely.  Give it a try. Where will your imagination take you?

A Moodscope user.