Four Reasons Why Our Friends Are Important

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A recent survey by the counselling organisation Relate reported that 1 in 10 of the people questioned did not have a close friend and that 1 in 5 of us feel unloved. 81% of people who are married or cohabiting feel good about themselves compared with 69% who are single.

Friendships are important, but it is often a part of our life that we just don’t give enough attention to. It sits in our ‘would be nice to do if I had enough time’ pile rather than our ‘essential’ pile.

There are lots of reasons why we should be investing the effort in making and maintaining good, supportive friendships. Here are just four:

1. Friends Make you Happy
People who have close friends are happier. People who consistently rate themselves as ‘very happy’ have more rich and satisfying friendships; they spend least time alone and more time socialising. Great relationships might not guarantee you great happiness, but the evidence is that you cannot achieve great happiness without them.

2. Friends Lighten the Load
Having your friends with you either in your thoughts or in person helps us to negotiate life’s challenges. Researchers found that people accompanied by a friend, or who thought of a supportive friend saw a hill as less steep than people on their own or thinking of someone who wasn’t a friend. Having a friend by your side or in your thoughts quite literally “lightens the load’ and helps you to manage life’s difficulties.

3. Friends Increase Our Resilience
Having the support of friends increases our physical and our mental resilience. Social connection protects us from stress related illness and symptoms and boosts our immune system providing resistance to infectious diseases. It also protects us from the vagaries of life. The greater the network of people we can call on when life is dealing us a dud-hand, the greater our ability to cope.

4. Sharing Good News With Friends Boosts Your Feel-Good Factor
Sharing good news with others helps us to savour the experience. Research has shown that when good things happen, sharing the news with friends helps us to experience even more positive affect than could be attributed to the event alone. Telling someone else about a positive event increases your happiness and life satisfaction. When it comes to good news, it is definitely positive to share.

For further information:

1. Diener, E., Sligman, M.E.P., (2002) Very Happy People Psychological Science. 13:1

2. Schnall, S., Harber, K.D., Stefanucci, J.K., Proffitt, D.R. (2008) Social Support and the Perception of a Geographical Slant. Journal of Exp Psych 44

3. Cohen, S., Doyle, WJ., Turner, R., Alper, C.M., Skoner, D.P., (2003) Socialbility and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Psychological Science 14:5

4. Langton, C.A., (1994( Capitalizing on coping and daily-life events: Expressive responses to positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 67.

How To Manage Anxiety

All of us experience anxiety in our lives; sometimes we experience it more strongly than at other times. That feeling of dread that builds from your gut towards your throat, the sensation of nausea, and the sense of impending doom.

Below we have listed 5 techniques to help you cope with anxiety. If your anxiety is impacting on your life speak to your GP, they can help you to check out whether there are physical causes for your increased anxiety, prescribe medication and/or sign-post you to talking therapies.

laughing1. Learn to Relax
Learning to relax is an essential technique to help you to manage your anxiety. Our blog Tried and Tested Breathing and Muscle Relaxation Techniques describes in detail deep breathing, meditation and muscle relaxation exercises that you can complete to help you to relax. Remember to include every day something that gives you pleasure; whether it is meeting with friends, enjoying a warm bath, a lunchtime stroll in the park, or watching a funny film. Laughter continues to be one of life’s great medicines – choose to bring laughter and happiness into your life; our blog 10 Top Tips For Achieving Happiness will help you to discover how.

kidwithapple2. Eat Well
You are what you eat! Avoid stimulants such as alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and sugar. All these foods can raise your anxiety levels for the rest of the day, or stop you being able to sleep or relax at night. Our blog 10 Foods To Make You Happy will give you tips on food that will help boost your happiness – yes we all know we should be doing this, but often our good intentions go out of the window. This time give yourself a couple of weeks on a new improved healthy diet and see what changes it can make to your feelings of anxiety.

bodybuilder3. Exercise
Another thing that we all know we should be doing more of but often feel that we are just too busy to fit it in. Make time. Exercise is essential to your physical and mental health. It helps to lower stress hormones and increase feel good endorphins. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy, and that you can easily incorporate into your life. Create a routine around it; doing it at set times during the week. If you find it hard to motivate yourself join a group exercise or sign yourself up for a fun run or other organised event to give yourself something to aim for. Get yourself a pedometer to help you increase the amount you walk everyday. If monitoring your improvement motivates you then check out the numerous exercise apps that help you to monitor your fitness.

balloon4. Learn to Let Go
There are very strong links between a ruminating thinking style and depression and anxiety. Rumination describes a tendency to compulsively focus on things that are causing you anxiety and stress; to become fixated on problems. We describe the best ways to break the ruminating habit in our blog on rumination. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness both teach us that our thoughts are just our thoughts. Just because we think them doesn’t make them true. We can learn to change or let go of our thoughts, seeing them float away on the wind like a balloon.

raining5. Set Yourself a Time to Worry
Some of our anxieties deserve our attention, and needs us to focus our energy to find a solution. Set yourself a worry-time: 10 or 20 minutes to focus on the things that are causing you anxiety and most importantly to plan a solution to the problem. If you find yourself focusing on your anxiety outside of your planned worry time, remind yourself that you have set yourself a time to focus on your worry and let go it until then. Confronting your worries head-on and planning a solution can help keep your anxieties in check and stop them spiralling out of control.

Top Five Regrets of the Dying

Living a life that reflects your personal values can act as a buffer against psychological and physical stress; but often in life we become detached from our values, we forget the things that are really important to us, the things that give our life meaning.

Nothing focuses your mind on the things that are most important, than knowing your time is running out. Bronnie Ware, a nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last weeks of their lives, recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, her writing has now been put into a book the Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Here are the top five regrets of the dying as witnessed by Ware and taken from an article written by Susie Steiner for The Guardian.

1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it”.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

Each one of these regrets resonates with me. it is as if a precious pearl of wisdom has been handed down to us, words so wise we would be fools to ignore them.

Imagine yourself facing your final days; what regrets might you have and what can you be doing now to change those regrets before it is too late?

Is Love Important?

waltervalentineAt this time of year our thoughts begin to turn towards romance and love. For those of us in a relationship we may be thinking about whether or not we buy into the commercialisation of romance, or we may be flinging ourselves into the sentiment of the day whole heartedly.

For those of us not in an intimate relationship we may be feeling that the day is irrelevant, or that February the 14th is a national conspiracy highlighting the fact that the world evolves around ‘smug’ couples.

But does love make us happy?

I’m not sure if it makes us happy, but close relationships certainly give us a solid foundation from which to live our lives. Not just intimate relationships – love and companionship in its many forms: friends, family, even pets – connections, community and bonds that make our world a happier place.

Human beings are innately social. We have evolved to see loneliness as a threat. Social isolation raises levels of cortisol and other stress hormones, raises blood pressure and weakens our immune system.

Conversely, the presence of supportive others have been shown to alter our perceptions of everyday challenges so that they are perceived as being less threatening, as well as acting as a buffer protecting us from the negative effects of stressful events.

But of course it has to be the right relationship. Recent research has shown that the fear of being single often results in people settling for less in relationships. The fear of being single can lead people to prioritise being in a relationship above that of the quality of the relationship.

So as we approach Valentine’s Day what steps can you be taking to boost your emotional relationships?

Be honest with yourself
Many of us are perfectly happy being single. It is a good place for us to be at this time in our lives. But for others it can be a cause of unhappiness. Be honest with yourself. If you would like to increase your chances of meeting someone begin to broaden your social circles, and explore ways of increasing your chances of meeting someone romantically.

Whether you are entering a new relationship or reflecting on a long-term relationship ask yourself whether the driving force is your fear of being single. Are you making decisions based on that fear rather than on the quality of the relationship?

Celebrate the connections you have
Whether you are in a romantic relationship, or whether you have supportive friends or loving family. Celebrate the connections that you have got. Just because it is Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean you have to make a grand gesture. But just a hug, a text, a phone call, or even a card will let the people close to you know that you are thinking of them.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

10 Top Tips For Achieving Happiness

top10Happinessweb

There is strong evidence that happier people are more creative, healthy, productive, wealthy and successful, they live longer and they develop a greater number of significant, lasting relationships. Plus, research shows that this is a two-way relationship; it isn’t only our success that creates happiness, our happiness creates success. Here are our ten top tips for creating a sustainable boost to your levels of happiness:

1. Appreciate the sad times
Sad times are important. If we didn’t experience sadness then we wouldn’t appreciate the things that make us happy. It is often through the sad things in life that we find the greatest life meaning and wisdom.

2. Focus on your strengths
We all have our own personal strengths. Strengths are traits such as curiosity, wisdom, honesty, kindness, courage, perseverance, forgiveness and enthusiasm. Understanding and using our strengths in all elements of our lives help us to feel more energised, effective and happy. It is not enough just to recognise our strengths we need to be putting them into practice, and finding new ways of using them.

3. Learn to be grateful
People who practice being grateful become significantly happier than people who don’t. Try it for yourself. Over the next 8 weeks, once a week, spend 10 – 15 minutes writing down 3 – 5 things that you are grateful or thankful for. By spending just a few minutes a week counting your blessings and focusing on the big and small things that you are grateful about you can sustainably increase your levels of happiness.

4. Adopt the ‘As If’ Principle
Research has shown that by acting as if you are experiencing an emotion, you are more likely to experience it. By adopting a powerful pose (think of an athlete expressing triumph) you are more likely to behave in a powerful, confident way, (you don’t need to do this in front of people, you can hold the pose for 2 minutes in private and still feel the benefits). By smiling, even if you don’t feel like it, you will feel happier. Sitting up straight will help you both appear and feel more confident.

If you want to feel enthusiasm, confidence, bravery, or happiness act as if you are experiencing them and the feelings will follow.

5. Be kind to others
Committing acts of kindness and helping others can boost your levels of happiness. Try it for yourself. Over the next few weeks, for one day a week, complete 5 acts of random kindness. Examples include, donating food to a food bank, cooking a meal for someone, smiling at others, or buying/picking flowers for someone. Vary your acts, so you are not completing the same ones every week.

6. Practice meditation
Meditation has been shown to decrease feelings of anxiety and depression and to boost levels of wellbeing. There are lots of books, CDs, and YouTube videos that can tell you more about meditation. WorkGuru has three Mindfulness meditations that you can download.

7. Share with others
There is a lot of evidence that having the support from people close to you, whether they are a supportive partner or family, or close friends, has a positive impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. Keeping your friends in your thoughts as you face a challenge has been shown to help you meet the challenge more easily, and sharing news of a positive event with others will give you an extra boost of happiness beyond that of the positive event itself.

8. Improve your physical health
Our mental and physical health are deeply entwined. Happiness is good for our physical health, and our physical health is important for our mental health. What small steps could you be taking to begin to improve your physical health?

9. Pursue goals that are important to you
Having a life goal that is positive (focusing on what you want to achieve not what you want to stop or prevent), important, meaningful, and focused on personal growth, is linked to long-term levels of happiness and life satisfaction. Spend sometime thinking about life goals that are important to you.

10. Live by your values
We all have core values. Values are the things that give our life meaning, a map by which we navigate the world. Our core values are the values that we just would not want to compromise on. Sometimes in life we lose sight of our core values. Spend some time thinking about the values that are really important to you.