The Promise Jar: Help your kids turn sadness into hope

Our kids may be expressing sadness about lots of things at the moment, in lots of different ways – through anger, clinginess, regression… So how do we help them process their sadness and turn it into hope?

In the below video, Caroline (our Clinical Superviser) talks about the power of a promise jar…

Mindfulness Resources: Recommended by our counsellors and you

Mindfulness is a great way of understanding and processing our emotions, particularly in times of high pressure, change and intensity – like this Covid-19 pandemic. These resources are a collection of recommendations from our counsellors, trustees and you! If you have a resource you would like to recommend, please get in touch with us on Facebook.

For Adults

  • 50 Ways to Feel Happy by Vanessa King. “There’s chapters on resilience and exercise and loads of fun things to do.” Recommended by Rachel, one of our trustees.
  • St Peter’s Centre for Mindfulness – purchasable podcasts on the practice of mindfulness. Recommended by Anna on Facebook.
  • Headspace for Adults – an app for Android & Apple devices. Recommended by Kerri on Facebook.

For Children

  • My Little Happy Book by Kikki K. Recommended by Max.
  • You Are Awesome by Matthew Syed. Recommended by Rachel,  one of our trustees.
  • Secret Science by Dara O’Briain. “Explains how stuff works like hormones and planes, deals with procrastination & what happens to your brain when you play video games!” Recommended by Rachel,  one of our trustees.
  • The Happy Self Kids’ Daily Journal by TheHappySelf. Recommended by Gemma.
  • Headspace for Kids – an app for Android & Apple devices. Recommended by Kerri on Facebook.

Negotiating Difference

A lot has been written about why people fall in love.  It’s the first question I ask couples that come to see me.  Sometimes it’s simple: “We’re good friends and it felt right to move to the next stage”.  For some it’s a physical attraction or finding someone they can talk to about anything. For others it’s that feeling that they are ‘safe’.

A partnership is two people coming together, both with their own personality. There are a few differences I’ve observed that can lead to misunderstandings and frustration. And right now, during lockdown, these can be even more obvious than they were before.

To help in understanding these differences I’ve used the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator, a well-known tool for assessing personality types (it’s important to focus on the descriptions rather than the definition of the words – they are different):

  • ‘Intraverts’: People who get their energy from being alone, sitting on the sofa, reading a book or going for a walk. They will leave a party early because they become emotionally tired & need to be alone; they aren’t anti-social!
  • ‘Extraverts’: People who get their energy from being with others. When extraverts are emotionally tired, they will suggest going to the pub or a club to relax and recharge. Much more comfortable in large groups it allows them to re-charge their batteries.
  • ‘Perceiving’: People who know what needs to be done and are happy to do it although will rarely have a plan as to when. They are much more likely to wait until the last minute as they will find more ‘interesting’ things to do.
  • ‘Judging’: People who love lists and hate surprises! There’s always at least a rough plan in their head for the rest of the week or the holiday.  They are methodical and get frustrated if their list isn’t completed in time or someone suggests at the last minute that they could do something completely different.

So, how does this play out in relationships?

Some time ago a couple came to see me …

He was an Extravert and Perceiving style with a senior job that involved a lot of daily administration.  If he didn’t do the administration every day, it would get out of hand and as a ‘P’ this was a daily challenge.  By the end of the week he would be emotionally exhausted and in dire need of meeting people to recharge his emotional batteries.

She was an Intravert with a senior job that wasn’t just emotionally exhausting but physically exhausting too.  At the end of the week when she wanted to recharge her batteries, she preferred to go home and be left to herself to read a book and let the world wash over her.

So, at the end of the working week, each wanted the other to join them in their ‘down time’ and it was causing conflict.  I explored their differences with them and they started to understand how their needs were the opposite of each other. They came up with their own solution: he went to the pub with his friends. She would go home and sit on the sofa chilling out.  He would come home after an hour or two and they were both to enjoy the weekend together.

If you’re experiencing conflict right now, consider whether it is to do with your personality types. How can you make space for one another’s needs during the current crisis?

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out – and that’s what we’re here for! Find out about couple counselling today and how it can help you overcome your conflicts – and emerge stronger as a result.

How things change: relationships under construction

I have a ‘postcard’ in my hallway that reads ‘The road to success is always under construction”.  I often tell my clients that applies to your relationship too.

Most relationships start off lighthearted, full of joy and expectation.  We ‘fall in love’ for all sorts of reasons and with that person everything is possible: sharing a hobby or travelling, enjoying sport together, amateur dramatics or gardening.  For some, it’s having a career, for others it’s getting married and having children.

Initially it looks like a straight road that you can choose to travel down at speed or just amble along and admire the view.  And then, after few years, the road begins to twist and turn and you find you must change gear, slow down or even come to a stand-still.

So, what twists and turns have my clients told me about?  Marriage, the first child, promotion, moving house, someone close dying, the ‘in laws’, redundancy, moving town, children leaving home, unfulfilled career ambitions and now the unexpected challenges that coronavirus has brought such as social distancing and limits on our day to day life.

Each one can change our perspective on life.    And all this happens alongside our own life-stages, our twenties and thirties, the big ‘0’ birthdays through to mid-life (crisis, what crisis!) and retirement.

The good news is that all these twists and turns can be negotiated with change, goodwill, generosity and patience.  However, we are not always prepared and able to fulfill the emerging needs in our partner or sometimes we simply don’t know how.  And that’s where help from a Relate counsellor can help couples emerge stronger and better placed for the future. Find out how we can help you and your partner.

Looking after your child’s mental health: Good mental health during coronavirus

We and our children are having to come to terms with not being at school or seeing their friends, being separated from vulnerable family members, and for some not completing qualifications they’ve been working hard on all year.

As parents, we can do so much to help our children develop good mental health practices. Here’s a few tips to get you started:

  1. We must look after ourselves. Children are like sponges – they often pick up on emotions and conversations around them without us really noticing. They look to their parents or carers to see how they should feel. If we’re taking care of our own mental health, we are signalling to them that they need not be worried or anxious.
  2. Make sure they have space to voice any worries or concerns they have. Often these are unfounded. Talk through the facts with them in an age-appropriate way. Talk about why we’re doing things a bit differently at the moment, so that they understand why they’re not going to Scouts or seeing their school friends.
  3. For younger children, why not start this week drawing pictures of different emotional faces? Talk about how our bodies feel when we experience these emotions and different words we might use to describe the emotions. Giving them language for their feelings can help start a positive conversation.
  4. Think creatively about your child’s social interaction. Make a plan with their friends’ parents for regular video calls, email communication or letters. Provide plenty of safe outdoor time in parks, woods and countryside trails. Set them challenges to stretch and occupy their growing minds.
  5. Children thrive on routine, so establish your own for them. It doesn’t have to be very rigid, but knowing how the day will start and end and what the set features of the day are will really help. Make sure to include plenty of simple reward moments so that they know when they are doing a good job.
  6. Make the dinner table a coronavirus-free time. Don’t allow it, or its impacts, to dominate the dinner conversation. If you’re in self-isolation and running out of conversation, get everyone to set a few questions like “if you were going to build a house on the moon, what would it look like?”. Put them a pot and draw one every meal time.
  7. Make sure that you and they understand this is not forever. Although we don’t know when things will return to normal, we know that they will. Help the whole family to find creative ways of enjoying the novelty of these strange times – while knowing that things will return to normal.

At Relate Northamptonshire, we are experienced in counselling children through difficult times. If you need help with your child, please get in touch. We aren’t meeting clients in person at the moment, but are holding telephone and webcam appointments. We’re here to help you support your child. Call us on 01604 634400.

Caring for your community: Good mental health during coronavirus

Anxiety has a powerful pull. It pulls us into ourselves and our immediate world. It occupies our energy and our attention, and becomes the lens through which we see everything else.

A great antidote to anxiety therefore is to look out for others. We all have vulnerable people in our communities, and a part of the purpose of social distancing is to protect the physical health of these people.

However, there is so much we can do from over 2 metres away that will also protect their mental health.
  1. Identify a few vulnerable neighbours you want to look out for. Drop a note through their door with your number inviting them to give you a call if they want a chat or need some help.
  2. If you pass them on the street or see them over the garden fence, make an effort to say hello and ask how they are from a safe distance.
  3. Do you know that Daisy at number 9 loves needlecraft? Pick up a craft magazine while doing your food shop. Perhaps Phil & Margaret love puzzles – give them one of yours so they’ve got something new to do.
  4. Make a list of those you know who are elderly or vulnerable. Every day, create something – a letter, a card, a picture – and post it to them. It can really brighten someone’s day to receive something in the post. It’s also a great activity to get the kids involved with. Have they created something as a part of homeschooling? Let them choose someone off the list to send it to.

Don’t overburden yourself with all the houses on your street. Choose your most immediate vulnerable neighbours and make it your mission to help them through the next few months. It will lift your mood too!

If you’re struggling, whether you’re vulnerable yourself and self-isolating, or feeling overwhelmed by it all, we’re here for you. We can’t see you in person, but we can book appointments for telephone or webchat. Get in touch to find out how we can help you through this time: 01604 634400.

Practice Peace: Good mental health during coronavirus

Just as much as bad habits can feed anxiety, good habits can build peace in us. When you start avoiding a fear-feeder, replace it with a peace-builder.
  1. Start the day the right way. Make sure that the start of the day isn’t a potential fear-feeder like reading the news or browsing social media. Meditate, do a simple Pilates or Yoga video, practice mindfulness techniques, write a list of 5 things that you are grateful for… There are so many ways to start the day the right way.
  2. Exercise is an excellent way to stay both mentally and physically healthy. Whether you go for a walk, a run or exercise at home, make the effort to do some exercise every day.
  3. For every cancelled social engagement, plan a phone call instead! Video chats are the next best thing to meeting in person, especially with a group.
  4. Get out into nature every day. It can just be a bit of weeding in the back garden – or a bike ride or walk further afield. Notice and enjoy the spring. Spending time in the natural world is proven to reduce stress and anxiety, so use it!
  5. Arts and crafts can be deeply therapeutic, whether it’s baking, sewing, painting, cross-stitch, woodwork, DIY… All of these things require focussed attention and are absorbing in their very nature. Is there something you’ve often wanted to try? Now is a great opportunity.
  6. When you are out and about, try to actively greet everyone you see: look them in the eye, smile and say hello. Simple connections like these remind us that we are not alone. And if you have time, stop to have a chat about anything and everything. It’s good for you and for them!
  7. You could even set yourself a challenge: learn a language or a skill, expand your knowledge on a topic, design something. Having a challenging but achievable goal gives a positive purpose and focus to your day.
  8. Dig out those books you’ve never had time to read. Reading is a great way to escape into a different world for a while, whether fact or fiction.
There are so many other things you can do to practice peace. Don’t try and do them all – choose a few that capture you. And share your methods with others to encourage them too!
We aren’t seeing clients in person at the moment, but you can book a phone or webchat consultation. We are here for you. Just ring 01604 634400.

Don’t feed the fear: Good mental health during coronavirus


Even for those of us who don’t generally struggle with anxiety, this is an anxious time. But there is so much we can do to support our mental health while also following social distancing and isolating guidelines.

Fear, worry & anxiety often cause unproductive cycles of thought that spiral out of control. It has physical as well as mental impacts on our health. It can upset our digestive systems or ruin our appetite; it can disrupt our sleeping patterns. But it can be defeated!

One of the best things we can do is not feed fear. Here are our top 3 worry-feeders and how to defeat them:

  • Too much information: the news and media are full of coronavirus hype and panic. These things usually don’t inform us more but they do make us more worried. When seeking information, visit government and medical websites, which will present you with facts and up-to-date advice. Choose when you’re going to seek this information and don’t look at any other time.
  • Coronavirus “gossip”: if all our conversations are about coronavirus, it will be the only thing our mind has to think about, especially when we go to bed. Limit your conversations about coronavirus – have coronavirus-free mealtimes, declare coronavirus-free spaces in the workplace and deliberately ask people about things other than coronavirus and its impact.
  • Social media: while social media is a great way of staying in touch with people, especially when we’re avoiding physical social gatherings, it also can a place where the politics, predictions and paranoia about coronavirus are given centre stage. Be mindful of your body when browsing social media. Notice the physical symptoms of worry: feeling hot and clammy, a headache or a churning stomach, for example. When you notice those symptoms, it’s time to do something else. Hop over to a messaging service for a coronavirus-free chat, or call someone, or go for a run instead.

It’s amazing what a few simple changes can do to improve our sense of mental wellbeing.

We aren’t seeing clients in person at the moment, but you can get in touch with us and book a phone or webchat consultation. We are here for you. Just ring 01604 634400.

Advice & Tips For Your Relationships During Coronavirus

Impact on relationships:
The coronavirus outbreak is leading to big changes in the way we live our everyday lives. Our relationships will be hugely important for getting us through self-isolation, social distancing and other concerns may also place them under added pressure.

Our counsellors have put together some tips for looking after your relationships with partners, family, children, friends, colleagues and yourself during this challenging time.

Staying connected
If you are self-isolating at home you may feel disconnected from others. Make use of social media, text, instant messaging, phone and video messaging as ways of keeping connected – even in the same house!

Get creative about how you connect online. You could arrange to video message your friends for a cuppa, play online games together or share amusing memes on social media.

Depending on where you work, meetings may still be able to happen via video or telephone conferencing. Try to pick up the phone and check in on how your team are doing throughout your time working from home.

If you have neighbours who are self-isolating, you might offer to go to the supermarket for them or drop off some books.

Starting a community WhatsApp group or Facebook group for helping each other out during this time will encourage people to ask for help when they need it. You can also post notes through people’s door with your contact details on, letting them know you’re free to help.

While it’s not advised to shake hands or hug, you could greet people with the Indian greeting of Namaste which involves holding your palms in a prayer position or bowing slightly. You could even have fun making up your own virus-proof greetings.

Help your children to video message friends and family if they are too young to do this themselves.

Supporting your kids
All children are different based on their experiences, upbringing, age and personality. Bear this in mind when thinking about how to talk to them.
You may both be parenting children with lots of questions and concerns. Try to be united in what you tell them. It can be a confusing time for them and this can be made worse if they are getting conflicting information from parents.

Stick to facts and communicate them calmly, consciously and responsibly, using simple language.

Dispel any myths to help reassure them. Depending on their age you could look up the true facts together from a reliable source such as the government website.

Talk to them about coronavirus during the day rather than close to bedtime so they can get a good night’s sleep.

Let them know they can come and talk to you if they are worried about things they have seen or heard from friends or on social media.

Continue to check in on how your kids are feeling. Things are changing and so may their feelings.

Get your kids outside in the garden or park to let off some steam but do follow government advice.

If you feel yourself getting irritated with your children, don’t be too hard on yourself. This is a challenging time for everyone.

Try to structure your day into manageable chunks. This will help to create a routine and reduce boredom.

Maintaining your relationship with your partner
Your routines and roles may change if one or both of you are working from home. This could be a challenge or an opportunity so try to make it work for you by checking in regularly about how this is working.

If you tend to argue or bicker then accept that you may transfer that onto what you each think about the virus. You may want to take a closer look at our tips on how to deal with arguments and apply these to the situation.

You may want to know as much as possible about the situation whereas your partner may prefer to take each day as it comes. Remember that there are many different ways of coping in stressful situations and your way isn’t the only way.

Something you usually find irritating about your partner may become useful in a crisis or they may surprise you by how well they are handling things. Let them know how much you appreciate this.

Big and difficult conversations may need to be put on hold while you deal with the current situation – this is especially true if one of you is ill or thinks they may have symptoms.

If you’ve been arguing with your partner over a particular issue, consider calling a truce during this period to make living under one roof more bearable.

You may have elderly parents or other family members with health problems and you may have particular worries about these people. Try to understand if your partner needs to prioritise these people at the moment.

You may need to get creative with the space if you are both working from home. Take turns to share the most comfortable spot.

You can leave your house once a day to exercise so try a short walk/run or walking the dog, to give yourself some space and help reduce any tensions. Do continue to follow government guidance and practice social distancing.

If you’re not in the same house, get creative about how you stay in touch. For example you could arrange a date night via video messaging where you both eat dinner together, have a glass of wine and chat.

If you were having relationship problems already, understand that being together in the same house may bring these to the surface. You may want to consider relationship counselling via webcam to help you work through things.

Avoiding fall-outs
Treat each other with kindness especially when the outside world can feel threatening.

If you are self-isolating you are likely to have a lot more time on your hands. Think about how you can use this time in a way that will help the family / you as a couple in the longer term.

If you’re getting frustrated with others in the house, it might be an idea to share how you’re feeling by getting in touch with a trusted friend.

If somebody says or does something to upset you try counting to ten and taking some deep breaths. It may be you no longer feel the need to ‘react’.

Choose your battles and weigh up if they are worth it at this time.

Remember that children will learn from how you deal with conflict. Keep this in mind when you are all under one roof together.

Understand that with the best will in the world, rows are quite likely in these circumstances. It’s how you deal with them that counts.

If you’re being abused or think you could be, make sure you get access to support to stay safe. More on this here.

Reducing anxiety
You might choose to start each day with a quick wellbeing check-in so everyone knows how others are doing and can be considerate. It will also help you to address any concerns so you can then focus on other things.

When somebody expresses a concern about coronavirus, or any other issue, listen to them and try to understand how they’re feeling. Avoid accusing them of over-reacting.

If somebody is ill or is anxious about coronavirus, avoid bringing up other tricky issues unless really necessary.

Take control of what you can control – your own behaviour and encouraging family and friends to follow the government advice.

Try to avoid using catastrophising language. Brushing things under the carpet can also increase anxiety so aim to strike a balance.

If somebody is worried, listen to their specific concerns and research the facts together.

Remember that self-isolating isn’t forever. You’re doing it to keep everyone healthy so give yourselves a pat on the back.

Think of ways you can unleash your creativity. You might want to get started on some books you’ve been meaning to read for ages, try drawing, or a spot of DIY.

If you’re not unwell exercise is a good way of relieving stress and staying healthy both mentally and physically. Whether it’s an online yoga class or a short, daily walk, it’s likely to do your mental health and your relationships some good.

Meditation can be a great way of de-stressing and focusing on the present moment. Headspace is a great app for getting started.

If you feel like you have too much going on in your head, keeping a journal about how you are feeling can help you to make sense of it all.

Make sure you drink enough water, eat regular, healthy meals and get enough sleep.
If you are working from home, try to be disciplined about keeping to office hours and be sure to take plenty of breaks.

Getting support
Many of Relate’s services including relationship counselling, family counselling, individual counselling, young person’s counselling and sex therapy are now available via webcam.

Call 01604 634400 to book an appointment. You can also access telephone counselling via the same number.

Gransnet is an online community for older people to connect during self-isolaton.

Mind have put together some useful tips on coronavirus and your wellbeing.

The National Domestic Abuse helpline is available for all women, concerned friends and professionals. Call 0808 2000 247 freephone 24 hours a day.