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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Five Easy Tips to Help Relieve Depression


Dark purple and blue grey clouds with light filtering through to symbolise how to relieve depression

Start to relieve the dark cloud of depression.

When depression strikes, everything feels overwhelming, whether you experience symptoms for the first time or as part of a larger pattern. How can you start to relieve mild to moderate depression? Put these five tips into action.

1) Get Active

Even if it is just a 10-minute walk around the block, build it up to 20 minutes over the next few days. As NHS Choices says, exercise can be beneficial for those with mild to moderate depression.

Exercise shouldn’t replace talking therapy or medication, but can be used alongside those strategies to nurture your mind and body and possibly relieve depression symptoms. Gentle exercise could include walking the dog, doing a Pilates or yoga session, or (in the case of bad weather) trying an exercise DVD at home with a friend.

2) Connect with Nature in Your Own Way

This might mean stroking an animal, which can trigger the brain chemical oxytocin (lowering stress) and dopamine, or spending time by the sea, where the sea air helps produce endorphins, the feel-good hormones. Fortunately, nowhere in the UK is more than 70 miles from the sea.

Being outside in the fresh air and an open space can make a world of difference to your stress levels, as National Geographic proves. In the UK, we’re lucky to have brilliant landscapes right on our doorstep – yes, even those of us living in towns and cities; 47% of London is green space.

Furthermore, according to a government report in 2016, half of the people in England live no more than 300 metres from a green space. Let’s not take it for granted. If you choose to explore this green space with your own pet, or you join a pets-as-therapy scheme, a dog sitting or dog walking initiative, you could reap the benefits of animal therapy as well as being in nature.

3) Eat a Bright Salad or Soup for Lunch

Pack it full of tomatoes, red peppers, sweetcorn, and so on. These foods are visually stimulating and good for you, too. Unsaturated fat and foods rich in Omega 3 oils can also support your mood, as Blurt explains.

Keep an eye on your sugar intake, as high quantities can exacerbate depression, especially when post-eating sugar crashes hit. You may want to seek out foods with a low GI (Glycaemic Index), which can reduce slumps caused by sugary or refined carb foods: low GI choices include sweet potato, nuts, eggs, cheese, kidney beans, oatmeal, yoghurt, and most fruits.

4) Spend Just 10 Minutes on an Absorbing Low-Cost Hobby

Your hobby might be maintaining your garden, doing Sudoku puzzles, or sketching. A 2011 study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that gardening can improve your mood and lower your stress levels more effectively than reading. However, if reading is more your thing, by all means crack open a book to try and relieve depression: for less of a challenge, pick a shorter read, like a novella, or revisit an old favourite. Do remember that depression can affect your concentration and ability to process information: if you’re a puzzle fan, you might need to move to the ‘easy’ or ‘moderate’ Sudoku puzzles, instead of the ‘hard’ option.

Be aware that your usual hobbies might fall by the wayside when depression hits, and you feel unfulfilled or lose interest in them altogether. This is a symptom of depression, called anhedonia. If you’re affected by anhedonia, try a new or less challenging hobby, and don’t put any pressure on yourself to enjoy or maintain it. So, don’t sign up for a year’s worth of French lessons in one go – instead, opt for a taster course or download a free app.

5) Say “Hi” to a Neighbour or Colleague and Add a Smile

It will probably be reciprocated and could help to lift your low mood. Perhaps you could try smiling at a stranger on the commute to work; what’s the worst that could happen?

Low-level contact and interaction doesn’t have to involve excruciating small talk or a long lunch together. Science has found that the act of smiling at others makes us feel more positive, too; it releases neuropeptides, plus serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. This powerful combination feels calming and relaxing.

Putting Tips to Help Relieve Depression into Practice

Remember these are very small but powerful techniques to help relieve depression, and each tip will make a difference.

When we are depressed, even small things can feel like climbing Mount Everest. If you set your goals too high, it is easy to fail and harder to start again. Make goals small and achievable and you can build on these as you feel better.  The most important thing is that you make your goal small enough to achieve.

These techniques can easily be combined with your current depression treatment, such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).

Important: If you experience suicidal thoughts or an urge to harm yourself, it is important that you speak to your doctor or mental health provider quickly. Contact your GP or community mental health team during working hours and ask for an emergency appointment. Outside of working hours, call 111, contact the Samaritans on 116 123, or call 999.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (

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Family atmosphere and impact on children’s diet


A child’s diet can be negatively impacted if there is an unpleasant atmosphere around mealtimes. This is the suggestion of new research from the University of Edinburgh, which highlighted numerous meal habits that have a similar influence, including snacking between main meals, eating in the living room or bedroom and failing to consume at regular times.

Using data from the Growing Up In Scotland study, the investigators considered the eating habits of more than 2000 five-year-olds and discovered children who eat the same food as their parents tend to be the healthiest.

In comparison, youngsters who rarely or never have the same meals as their mum and dad were found to have the poorest diets.

Valeria Skafida, research fellow at the university’s Centre for Research for Families and Relationships, said: “Offering separate children’s food for a main meal may often result in children missing out nutritionally … in cases where children eat different foods, they are eating a less nutritious option.”

Chartered Psychologist Dr Helen O’Connor comments:

“Modelling appropriate behaviour to children is as important at mealtimes as it is in other daily activities. In today’s society with the demands and pressures that families face it has become even more difficult for families to sit down and eat together or eat the same things, but these findings suggest it is ever more important that quality time is spent together as a family.

“Certainly these findings support observations of young people with eating problems in clinical practice, and trying to implement strategies for families to consider how they eat and what they eat is crucial.”

Courtesy BPS

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Testosterone and choice of colour of sports strip


Sports competitors may be more likely to choose a red kit due to their high testosterone levels, new research has suggested. Published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the study revealed those who opt for a red shirt on the sports field tend to have higher testosterone levels than those who select a blue one.

Led by Dr Daniel Farrelly, a Psychological Scientist at the University of Sunderland, the investigation included 73 men, who gave saliva samples to measure their testosterone levels before being asked to choose colour symbols to represent them and questioned as to why they selected these.

Dr Farrelly said: “The research shows that there is something special about the color red in competition and that it is associated with our underlying biological systems.”

He explained choosing red might signal something about a person’s competitive nature on an unconscious level, while it may also affect how their opponents respond to them.

Chartered Psychologist Iain Greenlees from Chichester University comments:

“To many sportspeople and coaches it may seem counter-intuitive that something as arbitrary as kit colour may be associated with testosterone, dominance and performance. However, Farelly and colleagues’ work adds to the growing body of research that suggests that there is something about the use of colour in sport that requires further exploration. We are far from being able to draw firm conclusions but, slowly and surely, we are starting to discover more about the psychology of colour.”

Courtesy BPS

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New research: What happens in soldiers brains with PTSD in the absence of external triggers.

May 18, 2013 — Chronic trauma can inflict lasting damage to brain regions associated with fear and anxiety. Previous imaging studies of people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, have shown that these brain regions can over-or under-react in response to stressful tasks, such as recalling a traumatic event or reacting to a photo of a threatening face. Now, researchers at NYU School of Medicine have explored for the first time what happens in the brains of combat veterans with PTSD in the absence of external triggers.

Their results, published in Neuroscience Letters, and presented today at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatry Association in San Francisco, show that the effects of trauma persist in certain brain regions even when combat veterans are not engaged in cognitive or emotional tasks, and face no immediate external threats. The findings shed light on which areas of the brain provoke traumatic symptoms and represent a critical step toward better diagnostics and treatments for PTSD.

A chronic condition that develops after trauma, PTSD can plague victims with disturbing memories, flashbacks, nightmares and emotional instability. Among the 1.7 million men and women who have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an estimated 20% have PTSD. Research shows that suicide risk is higher in veterans with PTSD. Tragically, more soldiers committed suicide in 2012 than the number of soldiers who were killed in combat in Afghanistan that year.

“It is critical to have an objective test to confirm PTSD diagnosis as self reports can be unreliable,” says co-author Charles Marmar, MD, the Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Psychiatry and chair of NYU Langone’s Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Marmar, a nationally recognized expert on trauma and stress among veterans, heads The Steven and Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center for the Study of Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury at NYU Langone Medical Center.

The study, led by Xiaodan Yan, a research fellow at NYU School of Medicine, examined “spontaneous” or “resting” brain activity in 104 veterans of combat from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars using functional MRI, which measures blood-oxygen levels in the brain. The researchers found that spontaneous brain activity in the amygdala, a key structure in the brain’s “fear circuitry” that processes fearful and anxious emotions, was significantly higher in the 52 combat veterans with PTSD than in the 52 combat veterans without PTSD. The PTSD group also showed elevated brain activity in the anterior insula, a brain region that regulates sensitivity to pain and negative emotions.

Moreover, the PTSD group had lower activity in the precuneus, a structure tucked between the brain’s two hemispheres that helps integrate information from the past and future, especially when the mind is wandering or disengaged from active thought. Decreased activity in the precuneus correlates with more severe “re-experiencing” symptoms — that is, when victims re-experience trauma over and over again through flashbacks, nightmares and frightening thoughts.

Key scientific contributors include researchers at NYU School of Medicine, the University of California at San Francisco, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, and the Center for Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases at the VA Medical Center in San Francisco.

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Links Between Unemployment and Poor Emotional Health

Desk with empty calendar and chairs suggesting unemployment and emptiness in blank space

Unemployment and mental health: when you’ve got no work on the calendar, it can affect your mood and wellbeing.

Unemployment and living in situations of social adversity are among the main mental disorder contributory factors. This is according to new research led by Jorge Cervilla of the University of Granada Department of Psychiatry, which found being a woman is the other strongest trigger influence on subjects with a genetic predisposition to mental disorder.

A pilot study has been completed by the researchers – which include representatives of the University Hospital, the Andalusian School of Public Health and the Mental Health Program of the Andalusian Health Service – with the full study to look at 4,500 households in Andalusia.

It was found that 20 per cent of the population present a mental disorder at one time or another in their lives, with the most common of these including depression and anxiety disorders.

What do these findings mean for mental health?

Mr Cervilla said the findings “will be of great use in helping identify people at greater risk of suffering the onset of a mental disorder or of having a relapse”.

Chartered Psychologist Micheal Gallagher adds:

“This research takes place in the context of an official unemployment rate of 27 per ent in Spain, compared to just under 8 per cent for the UK. The nature and direction of the relationships between unemployment, social adversity and mental health have been matters of intense debate whenever unemployment increases substantially.

Two studies by Butterworth and colleagues have helped to clarify such relationships. Analysis of two waves of data from a large community survey (in Australia) showed that current financial hardship was strongly and independently associated with depression, above the effects of other measures of socio-economic position and demographic characteristics. In contrast, the effect of prior financial difficulty was explained by baseline depression symptoms. There was some evidence that current hardship was more strongly associated with depression for those who were not classified as depressed at baseline than for those identified with depression at baseline. The contemporaneous association between hardship and depression suggests that addressing deprivation could moderate socio-economic inequalities in mental health.

“More recently, Butterworth et al. found that baseline mental health status was a significant predictor of overall time spent unemployed for both men and women. However, this overall effect masked gender differences. For women, but not men, baseline mental health was associated with risk of experiencing any subsequent unemployment, whereas for men – but not women – who experienced unemployment, mental health was associated with the duration of unemployment.

“The Spanish finding that being a woman increases the risk of mental health problems (in those with a genetic predisposition) may need to be analysed carefully: in my experience of various community mental services in Ireland and the North of England, women make up 60 per cent or more of referrals, but the Mental Health Foundation website provides an excellent summary of the factors – positive and negative – influencing women’s mental health. Because they are more likely to be carers, to deal with the family budget on a daily basis, and more likely to work in part-time and/or low paid jobs, economic recession may have a greater psychological impact on some women.

“The findings of the main study in Andalusia will be awaited with great interest by social psychologists, sociologists and mental health professionals who subscribe to a biopsychosocial model, but I hope that clinical psychologists will also consider the relevance of the findings for greater understanding of the experiences of many of their clients.”

Courtesy of the British Psychological Society.

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