Friday, 31 May 2013

Avoid the news.

We live in a culture obsessed by news. But is it really good for us to be constantly exposed to world news 24/7?

Studies show that it's generally not a great idea, which isn't really surprising when you think about it.

Mankind spent many, many more years (thousands of them) living in small communities of a few hundred at the most, receiving news from a geographical area with a radius of, say, five to ten miles. That's the level of news we are designed to cope with. When an event occurs the news is immediate and we can respond in a meaningful manner.

When terrible things happen on the other side of the world, we generally feel powerless. We may be able to contribute funds to help, but we can't really do anything. It's not a particularly positive place to be.

The feeling is even more acute if we are exposed to visual content. For the past couple of years I have made a point of avoiding the news if I can and never watching it on TV. If something important happens, I reason, someone will let me know. But the last time a neighbour rushed round with a "have you heard…?" it was regarding a neighbour who had broken her leg. Now that was something I could take action on. I could visit and take her flowers. I could offer to help.

We need to take responsibility for our wellbeing, and often, being well-informed is counterproductive to that wellbeing. Is the price too high to pay?

Mary
The Moodscope Team

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Life as an accomplished marathon runner.

Our first posting from Dan, another Moodscope user. I hope you enjoy it. Best wishes. Caroline.

If you think of yourself as a marathon runner, you think of pushing through, of putting one foot in front of another, again and again, despite any pain you may be in.

That is not how the elite runners and their coaches approach things. According to many running authorities including running and triathlete author Matt FitzGerald: 'You must never ignore pain.'

When your pain is sharp, or stabbing or changes your gait, the best thing to do is to stop.

When you are in pain, it is because you are injured, not weak. If you keep on running you will injure yourself more, perhaps permanently. If you stop, rest, strengthen and stretch the injured parts over days or sometimes weeks, you will heal to run again. You will be frustrated but you will not be re-injured.

For a serious, dedicated runner, it is sometimes necessary to push through discomfort, but unless you are leaving a burning building, pain is never something to ignore.

Perhaps your life is a bit like training for a marathon and when you are in pain you should stop, rest, strengthen and stretch.

Dan
The Moodscope Team


Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Turning black thoughts into a different colour.

Recently, I did a course in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT, as it's often known. One of the most useful things I learned was about patterns of thinking. Until then, I'd assumed there was nothing I could do change my thinking; my thoughts controlled me, rather than the other way round. What I discovered is that actually, the opposite is true – our thoughts control us, or more specifically, our moods, and if we change the way we think, then, eventually, our moods can change too.

It can be hard to grasp that thoughts and emotions are something we have power over, so to help explain, permit me to use this analogy. Several years ago, I had my 'colours done'. I wanted to know if the clothes I was wearing suited me, and friends advised having my 'colours done' would reveal if this was true.

So I spent an afternoon with a lady who wrapped me, at great speed, in various coloured scarves, to ascertain which did most for my skin tone and hair. Prior to this, I'd always worn black. Many of us have clothes we especially like; shoes we wear daily, jeans we live in, t-shirts that are almost welded to our chests. An afternoon with the scarf-wrapping lady revealed that black, in fact, did nothing for me, and when she draped me in alternative shades, I could see that bottle green and brown suit me far more.

It's no coincidence that it took someone else to help me appreciate this. Because I'd got trapped in black thinking, I couldn't see a different way.

So today, instead of choosing thoughts that are negative, allow yourself, for a second, to consider there may be a positive option. Rather than 'I'm going to have a rubbish day', you could venture to think 'today might be OK after all' for instance. Sometimes it feels like there's no alternative, but trust me, there often is.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Holi-hour

When is the last time you gave yourself a holiday? Not a vacation, but a day that, according to my dictionary, is a "day on which work is suspended; a day of recreation and amusement".

Theoretically, we had the most recent in the UK on Bank Holiday Monday, and yes, I took time out with my family to visit a castle where they were having a Medieval Day. It was great fun.

But it wasn't really a day on which work was suspended because, in addition to running my own business, I am also Mummy. So the day of recreation and amusement at the castle was also rather hard work packing up lunch, organising two children and supervising them all day.

A concept to which I was introduced recently was the idea of giving yourself a "holi-hour"; just one hour in which you suspend work and take that time to do something which fulfils you and gives you joy.

Would you go for a leisurely walk in the park and watch the birds and squirrels? Would you find a quiet corner and curl up with a good book? One of my friends says that she would love to give her bathroom that deep cleaning she's been longing to, but never has the time. Hey, whatever works for you!

The point is that taking just one hour away from your normal routine provides real refreshment for your spirit. It gives you increased energy and resilience when you return. And couldn't we all do with more of that!

Monday, 27 May 2013

Don't look back in anger...

Isn't it amazing how some songwriters have an uncanny knack of summing up how you feel in a single sentence?

I've always loved the lyrics of Ian Dury. And one song title always springs to mind whenever I think of the people who are no longer around but with whom I've shared part of my life. It's called 'Really Glad You Came'.

The song reflects upon a past relationship, with all its ups and downs. It embraces the tears and tussles, smiles and good times, and simply sums it all up by saying, 'Thanks for looking in on me, I'm really glad you came.'

Now if you, like me, have a tendency to look at the downside, it's not always easy to take the positives from the past. And it can be so easy to give ourselves a hard time over things we 'woulda, coulda, shoulda' said or done.

The truth about the past is that it is gone and there is absolutely nothing we can do to change it. Much as we might like to. But what we can do is see it for what it is. And we can choose to be grateful for the good times.

So I love Mr Dury for reminding me to remember with fondness and gratitude for all the people who have 'looked in on me'.

If someone you cherished or still care for is no longer around, you too can choose to remember the good things you shared. (If it makes you smile, all the better. Because research shows smiling helps makes you just that little bit happier.)

So whatever next prompts you to reflect on a friendship - whether it's a photo, a sight, a sound or a smell - do yourself a huge favour and focus on those Reasons To Be Cheerful.

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Taking Control.

Here's a thoughtful post from Lexi, another Moodscope user. I hope you enjoy it.
Best wishes. Caroline.

It's tempting, when things go wrong, to point the finger. It means that the event is the fault of whomever or whatever the finger-of-blame is pointing at. The benefit of this is that we get a sense of temporary relief when we have convinced ourselves that it is someone or something else's fault. If we ruled the Universe, things would be different, wouldn't they?

Well there is hidden power beneath the finger-of-blame.

When you take a good long look at the finger-of-blame, you'll notice three fingers below pointing back at you from your own hand. These are not fingers-of-blame, but rather they represent a reminder that three opportunities are at hand.

These opportunities are a reminder that at least 3 times as many aspects of our lives are under our own control. Yes, things do happen to us that are outside our control - but no more than 25% of the time - considerably less in fact.

At least 75% of what happens in my life is directly under the influence of my own decisions, my own actions, and my own beliefs.

This means that even on the most annoying, irritating day, where I would give 'Hostile' a '3' on the cards, I can still look at my own hand and realise I've got the odds 3:1 in my favour. Then I decide on 3 actions I will take to improve my day, and I feel the power of control through taking action.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Purring and wagging.

Theory has it that some of us are cat people, others dog people. Though of course it's possible you are neither, nonetheless I think there's something to be learned from our furry friends. As I write this, I do so with a small black moggy curled up under my desk lamp. Sunbathing, or so it seems, but without the Factor 15.

Arguably, because they're less intelligent than us humans – they have, so I understand, smaller brains – both cats and dogs seem more inclined to live in the moment. A cat is happy: it purrs. A dog wants you to throw a ball: it comes running up, wagging its tail. Neither creature (unless I'm missing something) is worried about work on Monday, or an argument they had last week with a feline or canine chum. They just are as they are.

Hungry, playful, growly, hot, sleepy. They express it, and move on.

There's a lot to be said for living this way. Put simply, too much living in the past, we can end up maudlin at best, depressed at worst. And too much living in the future can make us anxious and scared.

So today, how about channelling some kitty or canine laissez-faire? Give yourself permission not to worry so much about what's gone before or what's coming up in the next few days or weeks. After all what's done is done, and what will be will be. Regretting one or fretting about the other won't change either.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Hello, I'm Mary and I'm bi-polar.

Here's a great post from Mary, another Moodscope user. I think you'll enjoy it.
Best wishes. Caroline.

You're quite right. That's not the way I normally introduce myself. While I do try to be as open as possible, there's always this little pause when you tell people, while they calculate how best to respond.

My favourite response from one of my business colleagues, a fairly whacky person herself is "Oh, are you? I thought you were just mad!" That was a good one. But most people seem to withdraw slightly while they try to work out if you will suddenly rip off all your clothes and dance naked round the car park or if you will equally suddenly slump into a heap on the floor groaning "I'm SO depressed!"

So I guess most of us keep it pretty quiet and just get on with it. We don't want to worry anyone, especially if we care about them or value their good opinion.

But Moodscope is different. I read a quote from CS Lewis the other day. "Friendship is born at the moment one person says to another: 'What? You too? I thought I was the only one.'"

Moodscope provides us with that supportive community – the comforting knowledge that we are not alone; there are others out there who are going through this too.

Our Buddies are also different. My buddies keep an eye out for when I'm going too high (anything over 85% is concerning) and when I haven't actually registered a score for more than a couple of days (have I crashed and totally withdrawn?) My Buddies are invaluable, if irritating at times ("I'm fine. Honestly. Just too busy...OK – I'll do it. Thanks for caring about me.")

We can be open and honest with Moodscope. In fact we have to be. And that in itself is priceless.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The blue train. Metaphor 3.

Negative thoughts can drive us down. Negative thoughts beget more negative thoughts and we are in a vicious downward spiral to depression.

But hard as it seems we have a choice.

Think of your thoughts as trains and you are on the platform. Negative thoughts like blue trains (the old favourites like 'I am a failure' and 'life is not worth living') come along but you don't have to get aboard. Observe them but let them leave without you. You can get on the positive thought pink train instead!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Managing thoughts. Metaphor 2.

Ignoring our negative thoughts is tough and can be very difficult to do. Using a metaphor can help. Why not see if this one helps?



Do you ever feel you are being carried away by a swirling river, struggling to stay afloat among mud and debris? The stuff in the river is our thoughts, sensations, events and feelings. The river is our distress as we drift helplessly downstream. But that's not the only option. We can get out of the river and stand on the bank, watching as those thoughts, experiences and feelings go by, disappearing into the distance. It might be helpful to note individual items as they pass - a log representing some thoughts, a rubbish bag of bad experiences which you can throw away.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Looking at things differently. Metaphor1.

How do you make yourself see things differently? How do you see light when it feels dark? How do you see a clear way forward, when everything feels confusing? How do you change your mood?

An approach common to every culture and religion is to use stories, analogies and parables to illuminate understanding, make points more memorable and help us make positive changes.

You can use metaphors to create alternative ways of looking at things, to see the world in a different light. Just that alone, seeing your thoughts differently, will help you to create a distance between you and your thoughts that will help you to stand back, observe more objectively and make wiser decisions about how to react.

Today and over the next few days we explore 3 metaphors that people have found useful to manage their thoughts. Here's the first one.

Picture yourself driving a bus which is full of noisy passengers (your thoughts), doing their best to distract you with comments about your poor driving and giving you competing instructions on where to go. Does that mean you can't drive the bus safely and in the right direction? Of course not. You concentrate on the road ahead (the task in hand) and let the passengers chatter away. As you focus on your task, their voices fade into the background.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Your flexible friend.

When Mark introduced himself a couple of days ago, he referred to his good friend Sarah, another Moodscope user who also kindly wanted to contribute to the Moodscope messages. Here's Sarah's first message. I do hope you enjoy it. Best wishes. Caroline

I have several friends who use Moodscope, and we each do so differently. One or two find simply reading these daily emails provides sustenance enough. Some do their chart occasionally to touch base with they're at. Whilst others, like me, find regular scoring most useful.

Since I joined two years ago, I've flipped the cards 352 times. My score has ranged from 7%, on a day I felt so hellish my every thought seemed to hurt, to 90%, the day I got married. (If the 7% had been for the day I got married then I really would be worried.) My moods swing from periods when I score in the 30s and 40s to – thankfully longer – periods when I score much higher. When we're down, one of the worst aspects can be feeling we'll never get out of that hole. Here I've found seeing my history heartening – it reminds me I won't be there forever.

I've also shared my chart with others – my doctor, for instance. It provided something tangible to demonstrate what I meant by 'very up and down' and helped him get a picture of my overall mental health. Someone else I know found doing the test regularly revealed her dips were unmistakably linked to her monthly cycle – one week in four, she'd drop from 60% to 35%. Now she's opted for hormone treatment, and lo, her scores are over 60%, 100% of the time. That she's happier thanks to a few cards is flipping wonderful.

If you're someone who only ever reads the emails, perhaps doing the test occasionally might help boost your mood even more. Though feel free to ignore this suggestion. The real joy of Moodscope is its flexibility – it's a tool that adapts to every user. How ingenious is that?

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Tricks with quicksand.

Language is always revealing. We talk about being mired in our problems. A mire is a swamp or bog. The image is of being trapped, sucked in, impossible to extricate. Quicksand is the most terrifying form of mire.

Steve Hayes, an eminent psychology professor in the US, uses a metaphor about quicksand to introduce an approach to healing he calls acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

When we're stuck in quicksand, our immediate impulse is to struggle and fight to get out. But that's exactly what you mustn't do because as you put weight down on one part of your body (like your foot), it goes deeper.  So the more you struggle, the deeper you sink – and the more you struggle. It's a no-win situation.

With quicksand, the way to survive is to spread the weight of your body over a large surface area by laying down on the quicksand. It goes against all our instincts to do this - to get into as much contact as possible with the very thing that is threatening us. But that's exactly what we have to do.

It's the same with distress. We struggle and fight against it. But perhaps we've not considered just letting it be, of being in direct contact with the distressing thoughts and feelings. If we did, we'd find that we'd get through it and survive more effectively than if we'd fought and struggled.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Knock knock…

Something different for you this morning... I'd like to thank everyone who has offered to contribute to the Moodscope blog and I'm very pleased to be able to publish the first one today. I hope you enjoy it. Best wishes. Caroline.

We don't know each other but I'd like to introduce myself, I'm Mark.

I've been a Moodscoper (a description that surely deserves a cape and an ability to fly) since my friend and fellow Moodscoper, Sarah, told me about it a couple of years ago.

I've always loved Moodscope's simplicity. And I've always loved Jon's daily emails. Like a friendly neighbour's knock on the door, his thoughts were a welcome interruption to my morning.

Often, his missives offered a much-needed crumb of comfort on an otherwise grey day. Sometimes, Jon's words inspired me to throw a stick for that damned black dog to make it go away. But mostly, his messages of empathy were a gentle reassurance that I'm not alone in how I feel.

Whether you religiously read every email or opened just the odd one or two, no doubt the news that he was moving on came as quite a surprise. It did to me. Actually, more than that, it left me feeling really pretty sad.

So much so that I shunted the so-called important tasks of the day down my 'to-do' list to write and let Jon know how important he'd become to me – even though we'd never met.

I know wasn't the only one who'd felt compelled to write to Jon that instant. Sarah has done the same. And given that we both write for a living, we felt we could do more. So we offered to help with these Moodscope emails. This is my first – Sarah's will be another day soon.

The truth is, I'm honoured to carry on Jon's work and check in with you now and then. Because it's good know someone cares, isn't it?

Even if it's someone you've never met.

Friday, 17 May 2013

What is happiness anyway?

One view of happiness, often called hedonism, is that happiness is simply a matter of subjective feeling. A happy life is one that maximises feelings of pleasure and minimises those of pain. But it can't be as straightforward as that.

Professor Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness and pioneer of positive psychology, offers the following insight.

In happiness studies, researchers contact people at random during the day and ask how much pleasure or pain they are experiencing at that very moment. The researchers then extrapolate their data and calculate an approximate total for the amount of happiness experienced by that person over the week.

Afterwards, they ask the same people 'how happy was your week?' Time and again, people's retrospective view of their happiness differs greatly from the extrapolated total of experienced happiness. How was your holiday? 'It was great,' you reply, honestly. Yet if the researchers had contacted you at various times on your vacation, you would have reported all sorts of miseries - the sunburn, the squabbling kids, the overpriced drinks, and so on. Which is the more meaningful measure of happiness - what you feel at the time or the retrospective view?

As Seligman points out, when we wish someone a happy life (or a happy childhood, or even a happy week), we are not merely wishing that they accumulate a pile of pleasurable moments, irrespective of how they are distributed across one's life-span. We can imagine two lives that contain the exact same amount of momentary happiness. One life, however, is a story of gradual decline from blissful childhood to miserable old age. The other is the reverse  - a tale of gradual improvement. The same amount of happiness but vastly different lives. The difference between the two lives can only be discerned by a retrospective examination of the the life pattern as a whole, not simply by the total in the happiness ledger.

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's was by all accounts a miserable man, whose life was full of negative emotion, yet his last words were: 'Tell them it was wonderful!' Whose life is it anyway?

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Breaking the worrying habit.

'Normal' worrying serves a useful purpose. It can spur you into taking action and dealing with problems. But when you become weighed down with 'what if' fears and worst-case scenarios, unrelenting worrying can become paralysing. Non-stop doubts and fears can drain your emotional energy, elevate anxiety and get in the way of everyday activities. It can keep you awake at night and make you tense and edgy during the day. No wonder we get worried about worrying.

But remember, chronic worrying is, after all, only a mental habit and like every habit it can be broken.

The starting point is to realise that anxious thoughts are driven by the beliefs, negative and positive, you hold about worrying.

On the negative side, you might believe that your constant worrying is going to drive you mad or make you physically ill. You might even believe that you will eventually spiral out of control and that worrying will take over your life.

More positively, you probably believe that worrying is a form of self protection, helping you to avoid bad situations and preparing you for the worst. Ultimately, you believe that worrying is the first stage to fixing things. Worrying, in this view, leads to solutions.

Clearly, your negative beliefs add to your anxiety. But your positive beliefs about worrying can be equally damaging. The point is that it's extremely hard to break the worry habit if you believe that your worrying is protecting you in some way. To put a life of chronic worry and anxiety behind you, the key is throw away your belief that your excessive worrying serves a positive purpose. You need to accept that worrying is in fact the problem, not in the solution.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Who can I talk to?

We know how powerful talking can be at lifting our mood. Here are three qualities associated with people who are especially good to talk with.

Are they non-judgmental? Some people just can't resist sitting in judgment on what you say. You are right or wrong. They agree or disagree with you. Sometimes, they express their criticisms explicitly, other times by giving unwanted advice, often starting with 'If I were you, I'd ...' People who are non-judgmental make good conversational partners.



Do they share? We all know people who'll happily listen to what we say but rarely share the details of their own life in return. They may be good listeners as such but it's a one-way street. This sort of one-sided conversation may be satisfactory while you 'unload' but ultimately it's like talking to a tape recorder rather than a human being. It's good to share.

Do they challenge you? For a conversation to have therapeutic value, your partner must feel free to challenge you when you say something that deserves to be reality-checked. For example, if there's a discrepancy between what you say you believe in and how you behave in practice, then they should point this out to you and you should respond with honesty and openness. Remember, change comes from challenge.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Smiling inside and out.

We smile because we are happy, but do we feel happier when we smile? A spate of recent studies suggests that our emotions are reinforced - perhaps even driven - by their corresponding facial expressions.

No one yet fully knows why our facial expressions influence our emotions. Nevertheless, our faces do seem to communicate our states of mind not only to others but also to ourselves.

More than 150 years ago, Charles Darwin proposed that emotional responses influence our feelings, writing 'The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it.' The pioneering 19th century psychologist William James went further. He said that if someone does not physically express an emotion, he or she has not felt it at all. Although few scientists today would go this far, there is plenty of evidence that emotions involve more than just the brain. The face, in particular, appears to play a big role, acting as a feedback loop. The theory is that the facial changes involved in smiling have direct effects on certain brain activities associated with happiness.

So the moral is, smile even if you don't feel like it. The results may just surprise you.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Different strokes for different folks.

Advice on how to cope with depression and anxiety isn't in short supply, but it's unrealistic to think that everything works equally well for all people. This isn't just true for self-help of course, but for a huge range of human experiences.

Take sport, for instance. A coaching tip that connects with one person might have no impact on another. As our friend told us, after years of struggling, his skiing was immediately improved when his instructor explained that turning required the same shift of weight you use to dodge around an opponent in rugby. It worked for him but not for anyone else in the group.

The moral is, try lots of different things until one connects directly with you. You don't know what it's going to be until you give it a go. One Moodscoper told us that for her, the best coping mechanism is a particular form of exercise, not exercise in general. Her guaranteed antidote her is circuit training - a gym session where you go through a prescribed set of exercises, moving from one routine to another without break, followed by a period minutes of stretching and relaxation.

She's tried many other forms of working out but none came close as a mood-booster. She's not exactly sure why circuit training is her thing. Perhaps it's because you have to follow a set routine, with no room for decisions. In a way, it doesn't matter why it works so well. She's just glad that she discovered an infallible method of lifting her mood.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

You are what you don't eat.

Sugar, apparently, is the new food villain. Over the past years, a stream of books have linked excessive sugar intake to all kinds of physical and mental ailments. According to this view, sugar is toxic. The problem is that most of the sugar we eat isn't the nice white stuff we spoon into our tea or coffee, but fructose put into manufactured foods (particularly low fat products) to add flavour. While some of the claims are over-the-top and not supported by science, there seems to be little doubt that reducing your sugar intake can reduce mood swings, give you more energy and help you sleep better - things we'd all like.

While looking into the subject, we came across a useful psychological insight from Rick Foster, co-author of an excellent book called How We Choose To Be Happy. According to Foster, 'Years of research tells me that going straight to 'intentionality' is the best first step to happiness.'

Foster says that what he has learned from extremely happy people is that they actively choose how they're going to react to situations. They choose what attitude they're going to have and how they're going to behave.

When Foster decided to live a zero-sugar life style, he drew on his own happiness studies for inspiration. Instead of setting himself a goal (such as losing 20 pounds over six months) he crafted a set of intentions. For example: 'I'm going to be the kind of person who takes care of himself by not eating sugar.' 'I intend to be mindful of what I eat.' 'I'm going to identify all the sources of sugar I ingest daily.'

Foster points out that there is an orthodoxy in the diet world that insists we need goals. But while some people seem to need goals, that was very much not the case with him. As he says: 'My intentions worked just fine. They were more like having an internal picture of how I wanted to be as an 'eater' and how I saw myself as being healthy over time.'

For the record, Foster lost 25 lbs-11.5 kgs and now sleeps more soundly than ever before.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Why trying to stop anxious thoughts doesn't work.

We all know that telling yourself to stop worrying doesn't work, at least in the long term. In fact, the opposite often happens. Trying to banish worrying thoughts often makes them stronger and more persistent. You may be able to distract yourself or suppress anxious thoughts momentarily. But thought-stopping doesn't work because it forces you to pay extra attention to the very thought you want to avoid. Because you are always looking out for it, this very emphasis makes it seem even more important.

But there is something you can do. You can try the strategy of postponing. Rather than trying to stop or reject an anxious thought, allow yourself to have it, but put off further thinking until later. Here's some practical advice on how to go about it.

Create a worry period. Allocate a set time and place for worrying. Say 30 minutes at the end of the afternoon. During your worry period, allow yourself to worry about whatever's on your mind.

Make the rest of the day a worry-free zone. If an anxious thought or worry comes into your head during the day, write it down and postpone it to your worry period. Making a record of the thought is important because it means you don't have to try and remember it, which would only bring it back to your conscious attention. Remember, you are not abandoning the worry, simply saving it for later consideration.

Reflect on your anxiety list during the worry period. When you read through your list, if a particular thought is still bothering you, allow yourself to worry about it, but only during the time you've allocated. If certain worries don't seem important any more, drop them from your list and enjoy anxiety-free living for the remainder of your day.

Because postponing breaks the habit of dwelling on worries, it's an effective form of anxiety relief. And because there's no struggle to suppress thoughts (only save them for later), you'll start to realise that you have more control over your anxiety than you thought.

www.moodscope.com

Friday, 10 May 2013

Message from the Moodscope Team.

Adrian and I would like to thank Jon for his inspiration and all of his hard work over the last few years. We also are sad to see Jon go and wish him well with his new project which we are sure will be a great success.

We'd like to reassure you that we are determined to continue Jon's work and we are committed to the continual improvement of the Moodscope offering and to help people positively manage their mood.

You may know that we carried out some research amongst Moodscopers in January. We had an amazing response and have been reviewing them to find out what features and changes are most important to our members.

Some of the changes that were requested we are implementing now, the rest we are still working on and you will see them in the near future. We are trying to make sure that the Moodscope we build is the Moodscope our members want.

We would also like to make two requests:

1. Many people offered to help us or put us in touch with someone that could help when replying to the survey. Unfortunately, because of the way the question was worded, it wasn't clear what people wanted to help us with. So if you were one of those people who did offer to help, would you mind emailing support@moodscope.com with your details and in which area you could help.

2. We have also had lots of requests from people who would like to contribute to the blog. We'd love to include your experiences/tips/support so if you would like to help in this respect, again, please email us at support@moodscope.com and we'll send you a few details of what we're looking for.

Lastly, we would just like to say thank you to all of you who continue to pay for Moodscope Plus. As you know from Jon's leaving message, we desperately need more subscribers to keep Moodscope going and for us to be able to continue to offer Moodscope Lite to those that can't afford to subscribe. The Moodscope Plus features are extremely helpful and will assist you to find out more about your triggers and in which areas you are struggling and in which you are strong. But even if you don't need them, perhaps you'd be prepared to subscribe just to support our cause.

Moodscope has helped thousands of people through some really rough times and we're very proud to be working on such a worthwhile project.

Although Moodscope is a great help to some people, we know that it takes a lot of resolve  to really turn your life around and we admire those of you who have, and will always be here for those of you who are still working on it.

We'll be sending out the normal Moodscope daily reminder message tomorrow.

Please keep in touch, let us know if you have any changes you'd like to see and most of all take care.

www.moodscope.com

Thursday, 9 May 2013

May our paths cross again soon.

Do you do what's expected of you, or are you true to yourself? I suspect that for most of us the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. It's not easy to progress through life without making the odd compromise.

I say this because as you probably know, today's my last day at Moodscope. Time to clear my desk, pack a metaphorical cardboard box, and set off into the sunset.

As I made plans to do so, I thought long and hard about what to say to you today, and wondered just what would be expected from me. In the end I've let my heart rule my head.

I leave with a complicated mix of thoughts.

Perhaps unsurprisingly I'm rather sad that despite all my efforts over the past five years, in the end it was largely a mundane lack of money that made it impossible for me to continue with Moodscope.

Despite this, I'm excited about the adventures to come (on which I'd love you to accompany me - so if you haven't yet done so, please register your details below so I can keep in touch - this is your final reminder):

http://www.joncousins.com

I'm really quite proud of what Moodscope has already achieved. What began as twenty handmade playing cards in my pocket has grown to help many thousands; it has gained clinical recognition; it has been featured in the news media around the world; it's been recognised by generous public funders.

I'm happy to wish Caroline and Adrian success in continuing to grow Moodscope, and thank them for their friendship over the years.

Most of all, though, I'm bowled over (and a bit emotional it has to be said) by the raw intensity of the support and affection I've felt from Moodscopers. When I started the project in 2007 I genuinely had no idea it would be like this. If you could run a business on love, Moodscope would be one of the planet's best-funded organisations.

So for all this, thank you. Thank you so much. Please let's keep in touch.

For now, though, it's goodbye from me, and it'll be hello from The Moodscope Team tomorrow. Treat them kindly.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Mars, one-way please.

In ten years' time four humans will arrive on the surface of Mars, never to come back again. A Dutch entrepreneur's project, sponsored by a TV company, is seeking volunteers for a one-way trip which will provide the red planet with its first human settlers. We're told that they won't be able to return to earth, as the mission will render their bodies incapable of life back home.

The 'Mars One' project sounds pretty far-fetched, perhaps one of those ideas that never quite sees the light of day. Who (on earth) would apply?

Well, thousands have already done so, each posting a video on the Mars One website in an effort to garner public support (apparently there's an element of X-Factor voting in determining who'll be packed off in the rocket in 2023). Who'd have thought it?

Consigning the rest of your life to be spent in the company of a handful of other people on the fourth rock from the sun seems a pretty extreme ambition to me but you have to admit, it is a goal - and in general, it helps to have things to look forward to.

Smaller things, though, I'd suggest.

The trouble is that when you're going through a difficult time, it can be hard to summon up even the slightest piece of anticipation, let alone a hunger for inter-planetary exploration.

Hard, but not completely impossible, so long as you set your sights realistically.

Maybe you'll look forward to a sandwich at lunchtime. Perhaps you'll put your mind to phoning a friend, simply to say hello. A book at bedtime? Or it could be that you'll anticipate the pleasure of listening to some favourite music later in the day.

My goal? As someone who really doesn't like goodbyes, it's to make it through my last day at Moodscope tomorrow with most of my emotions intact.

You'll make it easier for me (if you haven't yet done so) by registering your details at my post-Moodscope website, details below. That way, it won't be 'farewell' but simply 'see you later' (although not, I suspect, on Mars).

http://www.joncousins.com

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Wear sunscreen.

In a few days' time the Australian director Baz Luhrmann's new movie 'The Great Gatsby' will premiere at the Cannes film festival. Often described as a maverick, Luhrmann also directed 'Strictly Ballroom', 'Romeo + Juliet' and 'Moulin Rouge!'. The critics are saying good things about his new film.

Often forgotten, though, is that Baz Luhrmann was also responsible for producing the quirky 90s hit record 'Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)', an entertaining 'commencement speech' actually written as an advice column by a Chicago journalist.

I'm sure you'll know it, but whether you do or not, it's worth checking out YouTube for either a reminder or an introduction. Essentially, a wise male narrator reads a long list of pieces of advice for young people - things like 'Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements', 'Do one thing everyday that scares you' and - of course - 'Wear sunscreen'.

What resonates with me most about the song is the idea of being sure to keep learning, and to do so each and every day.

When our emotional weather is good, I think we all like to acquire new knowledge. We like to be surprised, we enjoy being amazed, we're excited by new ideas. On a bleaker day, however, our appetite for everything can be diminished. We may find we're off our food, just as we lose our hunger for new ideas.

But learning is a great example of what I like to think is one of those 'what came first, the chicken or the egg' principles in mental wellbeing, for while it's certainly true that we like to learn when we feel good, it can also work in reverse: you can make yourself feel good by learning.

As I prepare to pass the baton over to the Moodscope Team in a couple of days' time, it's tempting to want to leave you with advice - and if I did, I'm sure that 'keep learning' would be one of my themes. But (a) I'm sure you already know this, and (b) although I'm leaving Moodscope, I hope you'll leave me your email address (and get a free ebook) at my website - so we'll still be in touch:

http://www.joncousins.com

Whatever you think of my suggestions, however, I'm sure Baz Luhrmann was right about one thing. Sunscreen. Definitely.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Pay attention and get a great return.

All things considered I'd say 'Rubber Soul' is my favourite Beatles album. Released in 1965, for me it marked their sublime transition from the 'yeah yeah yeahs' to the early stirrings of their fascination with the music of the East.

I was just nine when Rubber Soul came out, so I suspect I only really fell in love with it (if you can do that with an LP) some years later. Mind you, perhaps I shouldn't entirely underestimate my early precociousness, as a day or two ago I dug out my first autobiography which I wrote as part of a school assignment in the same year that The Beatles were recording 'Michelle' and 'Norwegian Wood'.

As you might expect, the life story of a nine-year-old is pretty unlikely to be full of extraordinary doings. Mine certainly wasn't. But what had drawn me to it was a question I had about what it might have been like for me to have had a spell in hospital as a fairly young child, and there was my young self leaving it in writing for my older self to read nearly half a century later.

Apparently my time in hospital had passed reasonably agreeably, with plenty of comics to read, in addition to a well-stocked book cupboard, but literally the most vivid recollection was how very bright, colourful and clear everything looked on the journey home when it was time to check out.

After long days and nights in a pastel-painted hospital ward, I'm sure the contrast had a lot to do with it, but that heightened feeling of awareness and consciousness still comes back to me decades later.

Fortunately you don't need to go into hospital to achieve this. I think you can summon up a similar state of attentiveness by simply willing yourself to notice everything around you properly and in meticulous detail.

It can be during as something as simple as a walk down the street, but who knows what you'll experience as you engage all of your senses? Look, listen, smell. Feel and taste, even. (Well perhaps not.) Mainly, though, just pay attention.

I'm making an effort to do so myself as my last week with Moodscope goes by in something of a blur. My last day is this Thursday so if you haven't yet done so please register your email address with me at my website so I can keep in touch with you (and also give you a free copy of my new ebook):

http://www.joncousins.com

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Please do it your way.

Some years ago, a well-known British funeral director's business published a chart of the most popular contemporary songs chosen to be played at funerals, and at the top of the list was the Frank Sinatra version of Paul Anka's song, 'My Way'.

'My Way', of course, is about someone looking back as they come to the end of their life, but I'm certain there's a lot to be said for a little reminiscence from time to time, anytime, as long as you neither become tied to the past nor stuck in it.

If you've been tracking your mood for a while, it can help to reflect on how far you've come - whether or not you've experienced a change over that period.

Sad though it may be, if a relationship has come to an end, there's a lot to be said for remembering the good times you did have. There are sure to be some.

And if you're moving on from a project or job, as I am, perhaps things are easier if you can focus as much as possible on the pluses rather than on the minuses.

Above all, please remember that you're unique. There's no one else on the planet quite like you. So rather than behaving as you think you're supposed to, or as you think others expect, be sure to be true to yourself.

Be sure to do things your way.

Please remember, things at Moodscope will carry on very much as normal after I leave next week, and I also hope you'll join me on the next stage of my own adventures too, by registering your email address with me at:

http://www.joncousins.com

I think you'll find I'm not quite ready to face that final curtain.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Dr Seuss had it right.

As I explained yesterday, I've had to take the difficult decision to leave Moodscope, which has pretty much been my life over the last five years.

Now, last April I blogged about Theodor Geisel, the author of the Dr Seuss books and the benefactor who funded the main library at the University of California, San Diego - in which I did much of the research work on which Moodscope was founded.

I mentioned him a year ago, and do so again, because of his inspiring quotation: 'Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened'. Actually his authorship of these words is disputed, but whether he originally wrote them or not, he certainly helped bring them to the public eye.

One thing of which there's no doubt is that I'm sad about moving on from Moodscope, and of course I'm disappointed that it has come to this - but I'm definitely also smiling about my incredible adventures during my time with it (and you).

More than 36,000 people read Moodscope's messages every day (we send out well over a million emails a month). The Institute of Psychiatry carried out independent research into Moodscope which shows it to have clinical potential. I've even lectured about my work at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Of course Moodscope is the sum of its parts rather than being the work of one, so I say this not to blow my own trumpet but to remind us both that there's usually more than one side to view most of what life sends our way.

When your mood is low, it's easy to see the negatives in what happens to you, but far harder to remember that there may also be positives - even if they're lurking beneath the surface.

As well as reminding me of Dr Seuss, it reminds me of one of cognitive behavioural therapy's thinking errors - 'all or nothing thinking' - which I write more about in my new ebook. Download a free copy:

http://www.joncousins.com

And let's make a deal today. Whenever there's a sunny side of the street, let's cross over to it.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Sad to say, I'm leaving.

Wow, this is a message I really didn't foresee myself writing. There's no easy way to say this but my time working with Moodscope is coming to an end. I'll be leaving in a week's time.

Let's get some important matters cleared up straight away, as I know they'll rightly be your first concerns.

1. Moodscope is of course more than about just one man, so it will rightly carry on operating much as it has, but from May 10th 2013 will be under the sole management and ownership of its two other directors Caroline Ashcroft and Adrian Hosford.

2. Moodscope's messages will continue to be published every day, but as of next Friday will come from The Moodscope Team rather than me.

3. Caroline and Adrian know how much the service is relied on by Moodscopers, so in the immediate future I'm sure Moodscope's operations will remain unaltered.

4. Sorry about this, but you've got another week of me before I head for the road. I'll be writing for the next six days.

Sadly, my reasons for needing to leave Moodscope are largely economic ones. Although I've immensely loved starting and working on the project over the last five years, the truth is that we've struggled on in poor financial health. The Moodscope Plus subscriptions just about cover minimal overhead costs, and we've been fortunate enough to benefit from two grants and helpful one-off contributions from Moodscopers, but there's never been the money to pay any kind of salaries - nor to cover the costs of bringing in freelance help.

While Caroline and Adrian have other ways of covering their day-to-day living expenses, I haven't. Although I've sold assets and had support from my parents and brother, I'm afraid it's no longer viable for me to carry on working full-time unpaid. Harder still for me has been the frustration of having no resources to move Moodscope on. I've been (and am still) full to the brim with ideas for mental wellbeing initiatives but have had no means of evolving the service into what I know it could have become.

Since the company has no financial reserves, I'm leaving Moodscope without payment, and giving my shares to Caroline and Adrian. From May 10th I will have no further involvement with the project.

I'm hugely sad to be leaving, quietly proud of what we've already achieved, deeply grateful to each and every Moodscoper who's supported the project (and me) and also very keen to get moving on my next project. More on this tomorrow.

I'd love you to register your details with me at my own site (details below) so I can keep in touch from time to time. When you've done so, you'll get a free copy of my just-completed ebook 'Twisted Thinking' as a thank you:

http://www.joncousins.com

Thanks for reading, and sorry for what may be to some the unexpected news.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Who writes this stuff?

Although some argue that technology spells the end for literacy - no more books, curtains for the written word - surely this is crazy. For example, from an early age children are now writing (or typing) more than they ever did: every day we send billions of text messages and emails, many of us write blogs and make comments online. Now, of course, much of this content isn't elegant prose - far from it. But what's important is that we now have another rich way to communicate with one another. Not - heaven forbid - a replacement for good old face-to-face conversation, but a great way to supplement it.

How good are we, though, at incorporating our true feelings into what we write? When you read someone's Facebook status update, can you genuinely gauge their state of mind? In fact, in the past week two different people have told me that it's not always easy to spot my own underlying emotions in the written work I share online. Now, this is partly deliberate. These daily mood nudges, for example, might not go down so well if I spilled my occasional personal woes and lows into them. (They probably wouldn't be much fun to write, either.) One place where tone of voice is crucial, though, is in the words you use when you're effectively writing to yourself. If you were to write a diary, what voice would you hear when you read it back? What type of person would have written words like that? Who were you when you wrote them?

My friend Annie has suggested that I read my own jottings as a detective might, and I must say that this has been enlightening. If you're writing something today, why not read it back to see if you can read your mood? It could be revealing. (Mind you, it probably won't be difficult if it's that letter you've been meaning to send to the phone company.)

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Mayday. Mayday.

May 1st. May Day. As well as a significant calendar date, Mayday, of course, is also the international distress signal in voice communications, inspired by the French m'aider (help me). Although we don't always actually do so, there are times when all of us might be well advised to ask for help. It makes sense to ask an assistant when you can't find something in the supermarket. If your car is making an ominous knocking noise, it's a good idea to take it to the garage.

It's much harder to seek help when you're struggling inside, however. Perhaps you're faced with making a difficult decision, for example. Alternatively, maybe you're battling an intransigent low mood, or are extremely anxious about a developing problem. Asking for help in such circumstances is never easy, in fact it might even feel like an admission of defeat or weakness. But it's neither of those: just think how you feel when a good friend asks for your help. You're probably pleased that they've 'chosen' you, maybe even a little honoured. You know that your clear head and sense of perspective will very likely help them make sense of things.

In the same way that it's not sensible to go on a wild goose chase in the supermarket aisles when you're looking for the raisins, neither is it a good thing to battle on with feelings of anxiety or low mood without asking someone to lend a hand. When you need help, just ask.