The More you Hug your Kids, the More Their Brains Develop

To borrow a phrase: love works in mysterious ways. We are born to love and, as it turns out, love and affection are necessary for both optimal positive emotional and physical development. And to be honest, nothing feels better than giving your loved one a warm embrace –or being on the receiving end.

Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter the hypothalamus produces and the pituitary gland secretes. Scientists first identified and observed it in 1906. Oxytocin is essential in the process of childbirth in mammals, stimulating uterine contractions and lactation. Later studies found its role a much deeper and far-reaching one that affects social interaction and bonding between people. Scientists call it “the love hormone“.

As Psychology Today explains “…As a facilitator of bonding among those who share similar characteristics, the hormone fosters distinctions between in-group and out-group members, and sets in motion favoritism toward in-group members and prejudice against those in out-groups. Ongoing research on the hormone is a potent reminder of the complexity of biological and psychological systems.“

This special hormone is present in both sexes, stimulating all aspects of the reproductive process, beginning with trust and sexual arousal. Oxytocin stimulates pleasure and reward centers and is the neurological basis for social bonding, especially with the people closest to you.

The brain rewards us for living with others. Oxytocin increases feelings of trust, which are intrinsic to all close personal relationships.

Some animals are solitary but humans are not. Social inclusion and interaction are necessary for our survival. This becomes evident when we become socially isolated, starting with depression and often culminating in disease.

The neurobiological mechanisms of love and attachment are a wonderful circle: we fall in love, have a baby, raise the child with love and affection, and the child continues the process.

The attraction and bonding between us are the physiological and emotional manifestations of our need to reproduce to perpetuate the species.

What’s more, oxytocin is essential for embryonic brain development. More specifically, it plays a role in blood vessel formation in the pituitary gland, which controls several physiological processes such as stress, growth, and reproduction.

New Study: The More you Hug your Kids, the More Their Brains Develop

Google Maps launches a ‘wheelchair accessible’ option for 6 cities

Google Maps on Thursday launched a “wheelchair-accessible” option for six major cities.

“In city centers, buses and trains are often the best way to get around, which presents a challenge for people who use wheelchairs or with other mobility needs,” said Google in a blog announcement. “Information about which stations and routes are wheelchair friendly isn’t always readily available or easy to find.”

To use the feature, punch in a route as you usually would, then tap on “options.” It can be found under the “routes” option.

The feature has been rolled out in six big metropolitan cities: London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney.

“We’re looking forward to working with additional transit agencies in the coming months to bring more wheelchair accessible routes to Google Maps,” said Google.

Transport for All — an organisation campaigning for more accessible transport in London —  welcomed the feature, but said its success will depend on how accurate the data Google uses is.

Join us to celebrate 12 years of Harmless…

The Venue:
Ruddington Grange Golf Club, Wilford Road, Ruddington, NG11 6NB

The Date:
Saturday 5th October 2019
6:30pm arrival for a 7pm start

The Cost:
£40.00 per head
Or a table of 10 for £350 (£35 per head)

The Event:
Three course meal with raffle, silent auction, games & live music

Dress Code:

The purpose:
To raise enough money to save more lives!

The celebration evening will mark a milestone in our work, as we celebrate our 12th anniversary, and give us the opportunity to raise revenue to keep our vital services afloat. Each year we spend time with friends and colleagues, celebrating the work that we have done and the lives that we have saved and the money we raise on the night goes directly back into our life saving services.

Please come along and join is in what will be a wonderful night, learn more about our work, celebrate our triumphs and help us to raise money to keep us driving services in the field of self harm and suicide prevention forwards.

Music Therapy In NICUs Can Help Babies Get Home Sooner

Neonatal Intensive Care Units help keep premature babies alive, but they can also be very stressful environments. Music therapy can help buffer the jarring lights and sounds to help a baby’s brain develop in peace.
Research shows that music therapy in neonatal intensive care units helps infants get released from the hospital early. Experts in Florida helped pioneer the practice, and now it’s expanding.
For centuries, lullabies have helped soothe babies to sleep. But it’s only in the last couple decades that research showed, for premature babies, these slow, simple tunes could be life-changing.
Rich Moats, who manages the music therapy program at AdventHealth Orlando, said babies in the neonatal intensive care unit are unique patients.
“The mom’s belly is the most protective environment for them, but when they’re born early they’re thrust into this world they’re not quite ready to handle,” she said.
“So lights, sounds, being touched at different times, learning how to eat is even a thing as adults we don’t think about that, but that could also be a stressful experience for these tiny little babies.”
And when a baby is stressed, that can affect its brain permanently.
Jayne Standley directs the music therapy program at Florida State University and is considered by many to be the pioneer of its use in NICUs.
She started experimenting with the treatment about 20 years ago after she learned kids born premature were 50 percent more likely to need special education when they got older.
“For fetuses, the neurological system develops in the third trimester, the last three months, so a baby that’s born three months early is having its brain develop in the conditions of the NICU,” she explained.
Those conditions can lead to unstable breathing and heart rates. Poking and prodding from medical procedures can also cause infants’ brains to associate touch with pain.
And living off a feeding tube for an extended period of time can leave babies with limited instinct to eat on their own.
So Standley and a team of FSU researchers studied whether music could help.
“Our first study showed just playing music to buffer the noxious sounds of the machinery in the NICU could cause the babies to be discharged up to two weeks early,” she said.
Over the years, Standley conducted more studies about the treatment and even helped invent an FDA-approved pacifier known as the Pacifier Activated Lullaby, or PAL, to incentivize feeding.
Subsequent research continues to show earlier discharge.
Standley said NICU music therapy has “mushroomed” in the last five or ten years. Hospitals across the nation are implementing the treatment and hiring music therapists with a special certification to work with NICU babies.
FSU alumna Ciele Gutierrez offers music therapy to a baby in the NICU at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.
FSU teamed up with Tallahassee Memorial Hospital in 2005 to launch the National Institute for Infant and Child Medical Music Therapy, which Standley directs.
The program has trained hundreds of therapists around the world, including Kelly Holden, a music therapist at AdventHealth Orlando.
She recently conducted a therapy session with a baby girl in the hospital’s NICU that showcased her experience.
The clinical term for what she was doing is multimodal neurologic enhancement.
“It’s a long phrase for incorporating different modes of stimulation for the infant to help them learn how to respond to a potentially even more stressful experience,” Holden explained.
NICU music therapy typically revolves around an infant’s gestational age, or how far along in the pregnancy they would have been had they not been born early.
Very premature babies can only handle simple humming and typically must be left in their incubators.
This young girl had been in the hospital for several weeks and progressed to receive more stimulation. Holden cradled her in her arms and her supervisor Rich Moats accompanied on guitar.
After a brief round of humming, Holden and Moats began to sing, which adds complexity and promotes language development.
As they went through a series of lullabies, including “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” the therapists constantly checked the baby’s monitor to see if any of her vital signs suggested she was overwhelmed.
They also observed her body language.
“You might see a grimaced face, they might get really red in the face,” said Holden. “They can give a halt hand which is basically their arm going straight out and their hand coming out and saying, ‘Stop! This is too much.’”
The baby seemed to respond well to the treatment, so Holden added another layer: touch. She lightly caressed the girl’s head, moving down to her arms and chest in a carefully coordinated order she learned about in school.
Holden noticed the patient’s face getting red and decided to take touch out of the equation.
“Some babies don’t get through the whole progression and that’s okay,” she said. “You know, if they are not being able to tolerate that, then it’s going to take them longer because we’re going to give them more time to calm.”
Even singing eventually proved to be too much. The therapists felt the girl arching her back and reverted to humming.
Training matters
Jayne Standley said overstimulating the baby with music could actually damage the brain, which is why training is so important.
“It’s different from somebody volunteering to say, ‘I would go into a NICU and play a harp for the babies because it’s beautiful and obviously it would soothe them,’” she said. “Every baby is developing at a different rate and the music must be applied individually, and that’s what the research tells us.”
It may not be in every hospital’s budget to hire a full-time music therapist, let alone one dedicated to the NICU. But Standley said getting premature babies home sooner saves hospitals money.
She estimates patients close to the end of their stay in a NICU cost hospitals about $3,000 a day to care for.
“That is a huge savings in medical costs, but the greatest benefit is that two weeks early, that baby gets to go home to its family and gets to live in a more normal environment.”
New mom Ashley Preston of Gainesville is eagerly awaiting that day. Her son Carter was born earlier this year close to three months premature and only weighed a pound and a half.
He spent the first few weeks of his life hooked up to breathing machines, barely able to move.
Carter began receiving music therapy as soon as it was safe. Preston said she saw noticeable differences.
“He was really calm, and it helped his oxygen levels, like his oxygen requirements would go down when he was in music therapy,” she said.
“So he just responds really well to it, so whenever he has a little moment and gets antsy, now they have a music box that’s in the room and I’ll turn the music box on.”
Preston said it’s not just Carter who benefits.
“It’s kind of helped me, because during the time he was on the oscillator, I couldn’t pick him up,” she said. “But I knew that I could play music, and they [therapists] even came and showed me how to just hum to kind of connect with him.”
Carter is a little over four pounds now and about the same age as a full-term baby. His mom said she’ll continue to use music to care for him once he’s home.
Teaching families how to maintain the benefits of music therapy after discharge seems to be a trend in how the therapy is expanding.
FSU and Tallahassee Memorial Hospital recently received a grant to hire a music therapist that can go into patients’ homes for six months after they are discharged from the NICU.
Jayne Standley said even though premature infants may be several months old by the time they leave a NICU, they’re developmentally more like a newborn.
“Traditionally they’re quite irritable, their stomachs take a little bit of food, they sleep for a very short time…parents get exhausted,” she said.
The therapist will teach parents music therapy techniques to help with their children’s eating and sleeping habits as they transition into home life. They will even teach siblings how to interact with the fragile new member of their family.
Standley said the effort is the latest sign of how Florida is a leader in NICU music therapy.
“We have been for 20 years, so we would like to stay at the forefront of this movement,” she said.

The Mirror Meditation That Helps Me Fall In Love With Myself Over & Over

“Are you ready to take your self-care practice to the next level?” my teacher asked. My eyes widened. I flipped my palms up, sat up straight, and with no hesitation, replied, “Yes.”

As this point, I had been in India for almost six months. It was the tail-end of my second pilgrimage there since I’d started practicing Buddhism two years prior.

“Stand naked in front of a full-size mirror for 10 minutes every day for 30 days,” my teacher said. “You will see all of your judgments and flaws in a magnifying glass until after some time, they will fall away.”

I gulped, wondering if I was ready to truly see myself. I decided, despite my fears, to take on the challenge.

How mirror gazing helped me get to the root of my negative thought patterns.

The first few days of this mirror “challenge” were tough, to say the least. I quickly became aware of the thoughts and judgments I was holding on to about myself, and they were harsh enough to make me break down and cry at some points. Sticking with it, I began to see my 11-year-old self looking back at me as I remembered growing up and watching my mom criticize herself in the mirror, unaware that I was picking up on her subtly destructive habit. It wasn’t her fault; she just didn’t know any better. But this ultimately gave birth to the belief system that I wasn’t good enough.

Reluctantly, I stayed with the practice of really looking at myself in the mirror, watching my body breathe from my belly to the crown of my head.

After the first week, the critical voices slowly lost some strength. I began to accept my belly even when it was bloated, the cystic acne scars on my face, the discoloration from my ACL surgery. After the second week, I incorporated a mantra—”I love my beautiful, powerful, strong body”—knowing I wouldn’t speak to my 10-year-old self with critical words, so what made it OK to speak to my adult self that way?

The practice of facing myself in the mirror helped to peel away years of conditioning and prejudice and discover a new sense of self-acceptance. It ultimately helped me fall in love with myself after years of battling an eating disorder and never feeling at home in my body.

How you can cultivate self-compassion using a mirror-gazing ritual.

Through that self-acceptance, I discovered self-compassion, a Buddhist concept that means to relate to oneself with kindness. It’s a powerful emotion; one that might even be more beneficial than self-confidence in the long run. Self-compassion has taught me that my worth is unconditional and reminded me of the shared humanity that unites us all. So many of us do not feel at home in our bodies. Our inner critic runs the show while we suffer quietly.

Through this challenge, I began to forgive myself for this inner monologue of shame, judgment, and harm; for all those years I convinced myself I was unlovable. I also learned to forgive those who harmed me and forgive society for making me believe I had to look like the girl next door.

Fast-forward to today, and I now recommend this practice to all of the clients in my coaching business. Here’s how I tell them to ease into it:

1. Start by looking at your face in the mirror for five minutes, three times a week. Put on a relaxing playlist in the background. Use your breath to come back to the present moment and repeat the mantra: “I love myself; I accept myself; I am safe.”

2. After two weeks of doing that, increase to 10 minutes five times every day for one week.

3. For the last week, stand naked in front of a full-length mirror every day and repeat your mantra. Stick to the practice and show up daily, and when you catch yourself being negative, come back to kindness.

The mirror meditation has become one of my favorite methods of coming back to myself and supporting my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. I encourage you to try it out and use it as a tool for remembering your worth, for remembering who you truly are.

PTSD affects ‘one in 13 by age of 18’

One in 13 young people in England and Wales experiences post-traumatic stress disorder by the age of 18, the first research of its kind suggests.

A study of more than 2,000 18-year-olds found nearly a third had experienced trauma in childhood.

And a quarter of these then developed PTSD, which can cause insomnia, flashbacks and feelings of isolation.

Researchers say, with many young people not receiving the support they need, the study should be a “wake-up call”.

The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, found slightly more than half of those who had had PTSD – an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events – had also experienced a major depressive episode and one in five had attempted suicide.

But only the same proportion – one in five – had been seen by a mental health professional in the past year.

Lead researcher Dr Stephanie Lewis, a Medical Research Council-funded researcher at the King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, said: “Providing effective treatments early on could prevent mental health problems continuing into adulthood.”

Flo Sharman, 20, had a breakdown at the age of eight that left her housebound.

But it was only when she was 16 that neurologists concluded that breakdown was linked to something that had happened to her as a baby.

At four months old, Flo had a life-saving operation to remove parts of her stomach – to treat her serious acid reflux, which affected her ability to breathe.

The condition had led to her needing to be resuscitated on many occasions, Flo said.

Doctors now believe her breakdown was caused by PTSD, a delayed reaction to the trauma she experienced as a baby, even though she has no conscious memory of what happened.

She says: “When I had that life-saving surgery and the traumatic experiences in hospital, my parents weren’t told you could have post-traumatic stress disorder because of the surgery and the time in hospital.

“They had no idea that this mental breakdown would happen. It was a real shock.”

Flo still has PTSD, which she says many people wrongly think affects only those in the armed forces.

“People don’t really associate PTSD with a young child – and that has to change,” she adds.

‘Falling through the gaps’

Participants in the study were judged to have had PTSD only if they had had all of the following symptoms for at least a month:

  • reliving traumatic events through distressing memories or nightmares
  • avoiding anything reminding them of their trauma
  • feelings of guilt, isolation or detachment
  • irritability, impulsivity or difficulty concentrating

Experiences of childhood trauma included assault, sexual assault, injury or an event that had affected someone they knew but they had not directly witnessed.

Senior researcher Prof Andrea Danese, from the King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, said: “Our findings should serve as a wake-up call.

“Childhood trauma is a public-health concern – yet trauma-related disorders often go unnoticed.

“Young people with PTSD are falling through the gaps in care and there is a pressing need for better access to mental health services.”

What is PTSD?

  • Being caught up in a traumatic event that is overwhelming, frightening and life-threatening can lead to PTSD
  • The symptoms usually start within a few weeks of the trauma but they can start later
  • After the traumatic event, people can feel grief-stricken, depressed, anxious, guilty and angry
  • People may have flashbacks and nightmares
  • People may be ‘on guard’ – staying alert all the time
  • Physical symptoms can be aches and pains, diarrhoea, irregular heartbeats, headaches, feelings of panic and fear, depression
  • People may start drinking too much alcohol or using drugs (including painkillers)

Source: Royal College of Psychiatrists

Prof Danese said people should not be “alarmed” by the study’s findings and it was normal to have some psychological symptoms after trauma.

In the “vast majority” of cases, these symptoms would recede in a matter of days or weeks, he said.

But if children and young people had them for over a month, parents should seek help from their GP.

PTSD can be successfully treated – even when it develops many years after a traumatic event – with treatments including talking therapies and antidepressants.

Dr Tim Dalgleish, from the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the research, said the results of the “landmark study” were “sobering”.

“Of particular concern is the relatively small proportion of affected youth who go on to access formal support or mental health services and the findings are a further wake-up call that service provision in the UK for children and adolescents dealing with the aftermath of trauma is woefully inadequate,” he said.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “The NHS Long Term Plan has committed to prioritising increasing the funding for children and young people’s mental health services faster than all other funding.

“As a result, 345,000 more children and young people have access to mental health services and support in schools and colleges, young adults will receive better support until the age of 25 and crisis care will be provided through NHS 111, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Mel B is watching flashing lights to help with trauma. But does EMDR therapy really work?

The singer is trying it, and while it was once controversial, it now has NHS approval. What is Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, and how does it compare to CBT?

In late 2016, Ben had a breakdown, triggered by someone getting too close to him on a crowded train. It brought on vivid flashbacks of a severe childhood trauma 30 years ago. Until then he had lived a successful life – he had done well at school, had a good career and was married with a family. Referred to a trauma clinic at his local hospital, Ben started a psychotherapy treatment, Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) earlier this year. It sounded, he says: “like witchcraft. How can this possibly work? They sit you in front of flashing lights and it makes you better? It sounds like alchemy.”

EMDR was recently highlighted by the pop singer Mel B, who is said to be undergoing the therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Talking about her diagnosis, a condition she had been using sex and alcohol to self-treat, she said: “I am still struggling but if I can shine a light on the issue of pain, PTSD and the things men and women do to mask it, I will do”. Of the EMDR, she said: “So far, it’s really helping me.”

EMDR works, says Robin Logie, clinical psychologist and former president of the EMDR Association, by helping the brain to process traumatic memories – it is mainly used as a treatment for PTSD, but can be used for depression, anxiety, addiction and phobias. “The way we do that is to get the person to think about a particular moment. For example, with a road traffic accident – it could be the moment just before you’re hit. We ask them to describe what negative belief they have about themselves.” It could be something like: ‘I’m not safe.’” We ask what emotion seems to go with that and where they feel it in their body.”

While the person is doing all this, they are asked to move their eyes from side to side – this could be by following the therapist’s finger, or following flashing lights. It can also be done by holding a device in each hand, which pulses alternately. Each set could be repeated 20 or 30 times in each session. “The memory starts to become less distressing,” he says. “It transforms it from a memory that previously made you feel anxious or scared, into a memory that is like any other that wouldn’t normally produce an emotional response. People start to be more rational about it: ‘I wasn’t in a safe situation then, but I’m safe now.’”

In the early stages of treatment, says Ben: “It was like being in the event. It’s like a kind of time travel. The whole EMDR process is like a controlled flashback – you’re aware that you’re here and now, but you also feel like you’re in the body from then and re-experiencing as then. I was not prepared for the physical, visceral nature of reliving the experience. I would be seeing things, smelling things. I felt this pressure across my front and it was unnerving.”

He says he felt like a ventriloquist’s dummy “because the words I was using to describe [my experiences] were children’s words. It was like the child, the person who experienced the trauma, was using me as a mouthpiece.”

As the treatment went on, the memories became more and more vivid and detailed. It has, unsurprisingly, been a difficult process to go through, and Ben’s mental health seemed to get worse before it started to get better. He is still going through treatment. “It’s a process I have found genuinely transformative,” he says.

EMDR was discovered by accident in the late 80s by an American psychologist, Francine Shapiro, who noticed that her eye movements, while looking at things on a walk through a park, appeared to reduce negative emotions. It used to be considered controversial but that is now an outdated view, says Melanie Temple, consultant psychiatrist and EMDR consultant (it is approved for use by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence).

One of the problems for EMDR is that nobody can explain exactly how it works – one theory is that the eye movements mimic the rapid-eye-movement phase of sleep, which is when the day’s events are processed. “We understand it works on the information-processing models within the brain, but we don’t know exactly how,” says Temple. “But then we don’t know exactly how cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) works. It’s really the same for all therapies.”

Not everyone is ready for EMDR. “If someone has had a simple one-off trauma, such as an accident, in their adult life, you don’t need to do a lot of preparation, but we also work with people who have multiple traumas going back to early childhood,” says Logie. “With people like that you have to do more preparation and the therapy will last longer.” Preparing someone to undergo EMDR can include teaching them relaxation techniques, and strengthening the support structures in their lives.

If not properly used, says Claudia Herbert, clinical psychologist and managing director of the Oxford Development Centre and author of Overcoming Traumatic Stress: “Any type of therapy can be re-traumatising. It has to be used by someone who is properly trained and experienced to know when to use it and not to use it.” It wouldn’t be used with someone who was dissociated – one symptom of PTSD – where they are not “grounded” in their body, or feel disoriented. “We would have to work with the dissociation first before we work with EMDR.”

For Katherine Gilmartin, an artist and family mental health activist, diagnosed with complex PTSD as a result of childhood abuse, EMDR couldn’t begin immediately. “I was asked to think of somewhere I’d felt safe in the past. There was nothing,” she says. “So I had to make one.” She says EMDR, which she had once a week for more than six months, was “physically exhausting. The heightened experience of being in those traumatic memories whirls everything up and nightmares occur.”

Was it difficult to go through? “Yes, but I felt in control [when] ordinarily I didn’t feel in control. It is hard work and [you have to be] open to it. It’s not a fix-all and you have to trust the person you are doing it with.” For her, it has made an improvement. “Different places, or really silly things, which could be quite triggering are no longer a problem. I’m able to recognise and understand my feelings around whatever the thing is.” These tend to be things she recognises from childhood – once, she was in a department store and saw a houseplant she hadn’t seen for decades. “I was taken right back to being 10. I couldn’t be anywhere near it and I walked out of the shop.” That sort of thing, she says, wouldn’t happen now.

Temple used to work for the military where EMDR is a standard therapy for people suffering PTSD; she now practises it for the NHS. Where EMDR may have the edge, she says, is that it: “Suits a lot of people because unlike CBT [which is also offered as treatment for trauma], it doesn’t have homework. EMDR is very well-established now [and is] equally offered alongside trauma-focused CBT because one size doesn’t fit all. If one doesn’t suit them, then they can use something different, so they don’t feel that they’re not treatable.”

Although it can be powerful and effective, people shouldn’t expect a magical quick fix, she says. Ben has had more than 30 sessions and does not know when he will stop. “It’s had a hugely beneficial effect,” he says. Although the two or three days after each session are, he says, a “write-off”, he has been able to go back to work part-time. “I have moved from being this ventriloquist’s dummy for the child inside, to being an adult looking at what was happening; being really sad and upset and angry about it, but having a natural emotional reaction, rather than feeling the distress of it happening to me.”

Mental Health Awareness Week: The five things men don’t talk about enough

“What’s it like being a man in 2019?”

To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, BBC Sport got five men to sit down together and discuss their issues with masculinity, depression, body image and expectations.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics, suicide remains the biggest killer in men between 15 and 35 in the UK.

In a three-part series, Team GB sprinter James Ellington, Scottish footballer David Cox, Love Island star Josh Denzel and freestyle footballer Olumide Durojaiye open up about the issues they have faced and how they have dealt with them.

James broke his leg in a motorbike accident in 2017, forcing him to withdraw from Team GB. David, who plays as a striker for Cowdenbeath, has suffered with mental health issues throughout his career.

Olu was released at 18 by Tottenham Hotspur and has since played in Scotland as well as in the English non-league game – where he plays for Woking; he is now a football freestyler. Josh Denzel starred in series four of Love Island, coming third.

The episodes, hosted by Ben Zand, will be released throughout this week but, before you watch, here are five poignant takeaways from the series.

Ben Zand hosting man up
The first episode of Man Up is available on BBC Sport’s YouTube channel

55% of men aged 18-24 feel as if crying makes them less masculine (YouGov 2018).

“You don’t want to be weaker than the man next to you,” says Olu. “I cover my emotions with laughter, joking around being a fool.”

When Ben asks “Would you speak to your dad about how you’re feeling?” each person at the table responds with a strong “no”.

David says: “Approaching your dad with something like that – he’s the person you want to look the strongest in front of.”

Josh adds: “I’m sure if I went to my dad with a problem and I was emotional, he would have been fine with it but I’d just look at him and be like ‘no way’.”

James says: “Sometimes you can get stuck in a rut where you suppress your emotion for so long that it becomes hard to release. Showing emotion and crying is actually a strength.”

Olumide Durojaiye
Olumide Durojaiye plays for Woking

42% of men in heterosexual relationships think they should earn more than their partner (YouGov 2018).

“It makes me feel good to be able to provide,” says Josh.

“I want to pay for the food, I want to be the alpha and be able to look after you.”

Olu says: “I saw my dad being the main breadwinner, working day and night, travelling up and down the country and I needed to be that. I couldn’t be the man that a woman looks at and thinks: ‘He’s a bum.’

“I needed to make money somehow because I needed to be that ‘man’ role that I thought my partner needed.”

David adds: “It’s more how people perceive you. What are they on the outside thinking, looking in?”

Josh Denzel
Josh came third in Love Island alongside Kaz Crossley

How many times do you scroll through Instagram and start comparing yourself to the guy with a six pack standing on a beach in Bali with his Lamborghini in the background?

But is any of it real?

“I was in Monaco a few years ago for a competition and, although I had a really good time, most of it was spent in my room on my own,” says James.

“I put an Instagram post out and everyone was commenting like ‘woah, you must be having a great time’.”

Social media can mask what a person is actually feeling.

According to the 2017-18 community life survey, men (27%) are more likely than women (20%) to say they never feel lonely.

As a social media influencer, Josh admits: “With the notoriety, there is a pressure to kind of live that lifestyle. I’m guilty of it massively. You end up doing things purely for gratification.

“I know for a fact that if the sun’s over there with the beach over here and my abs are looking sick, I know when the likes start rolling in from certain people and you hit a certain number – that gives me gratification.

“That was before I had a big following. You get in your feelings about it, the more followers you have, the more people that judge and the more people that comment.”

David Cox

“Just to be happy and have everyone around you happy – I think that should be the only expectation as a man,” says Olu.

James says: “We should be expected to be a bit more open and free with our emotions and not be afraid that being in touch with our feelings is emasculating – it’ll make society much better.”

David adds: “I think what should be expected is that people shouldn’t make you feel like you have to be masculine and can’t talk about things.

“Look at the stats and look at what’s happening. Men should be able to speak out.”

James Ellington
James Ellington won gold in the 4x100m relay at the 2016 European Championships

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is focused particularly on body image, with the Mental Health Foundation releasing these stark statistics:

  • Among teenagers, 37% felt upset, and 31% felt ashamed in relation to their body image.
  • Just over one third of adults said they had felt anxious (34%) or depressed (35%) because of their body.
  • One in eight (13%) adults experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about their body image.

Reality TV shows such as Love Island have been criticised for triggering body image issues in young people.

Josh, who came third last year, says: “I remember watching the first three seasons and everyone’s in mad shape – the type you follow on Instagram. Then I get the call that I’m going into the villa in six weeks.

“I lived in the gym before I went in and even with that I remember looking in the mirror before I went in and, even though I was shredded, I still didn’t want to go in.

“Even now, there’s nothing worse than being on the beach, you can see a guy with an amazing six-pack walking along and you look down at yourself and feel so emasculated.”

Even Olu, when he was training as a footballer, struggled with how he looked.

“I started to hate myself,” he says.

“I heard a fan shout when I was playing a couple years ago ‘Oi, fat boy, pull your socks up’.

“All I thought was ‘flipping hell, I’m not good enough, my body’s horrible’ – I just hated it.”

Eight Ways to Bring Mindfulness into Your Family

They can be some of the most frustrating and embarrassing child behaviors—temper tantrums, lashing out at others, impatience, and short attention spans. So what can you do about them? Research has found that having a sense of mindfulness, or the ability to be present and think before reacting, can provide children with the skills they need to better understand their feelings, to pay more attention and to make wiser decisions.
Mindfulness also means paying attention to the moment without judgment and intentionally pausing before reacting. Mindfulness is a wonderful way to help children manage their emotions, reduce their stress, improve their academics, and even develop greater empathy. The hidden benefit of practicing mindfulness with your family is that as parents you get to reap the benefits too. Here are eight easy ways to get started:
1. Take on a Family Mindfulness Challenge: When you model the mindfulness you want to see in your children, they understand it on a whole new level. So, give it a try. You can sit on a chair or floor with your back straight but not tense. Close your eyes and use your other senses, like listening. A simple minute of mindful breathing is one great way to start. There are also free apps and websites available to help guide your practice, which can be great for beginners.
2. Choose a “Mindfulness Corner”: It could be in a bedroom or main area. Make it special and uncluttered. You can have everyone in your family put a personal symbol, like a pillow, photo or blanket, in the middle of the room so it becomes like a “zone of peace” that is there at any time. Designating a physical location literally “holds the space” for mindfulness to become a regular family habit, much like sitting down together to eat a meal.
3. Set a Time: Just like athletes schedule practice sessions to improve their skills, having a designated mindfulness time helps make it a go-to habit. Before bed is a wonderful time, as the mindfulness practice relaxes everyone into a more peaceful state. Some families use a special chime to take turns bringing everyone together. As your family gets used to practicing mindfulness, the special space in your home can serve as a good place to go when anyone in the family needs to take a break from anger, or frustration. If you practice moments of calm, it makes going to that space in moments of stress easier.
4. Have Mindful Mornings: Getting out the door for school is stressful. Consider ways to de-stress, like waking up a little earlier for some quiet time, or encouraging your children to help (as they can) to pack their lunches the night before. Dr. Christine Carter of Greater Good Science Center prepares for the morning rush by placing sticky notes on her fridge. They are reminders to NOTICE emotions, NAME the emotion, ACCEPT what is going on, and BREATHE (pausing to take a few deep breaths) before jumping into action.
5. Practice Mindfulness around the Table: Remember how good it feels to express gratitude at the Thanksgiving table? What if you could do this once a week? Schedule a time where everyone talks about what they are grateful for in their life and something they appreciate about others at the table. This is all about being in the moment and taking time to notice the good stuff (there’s always good stuff, even if it’s just a hot meal or the smile on your child’s face!). It will uplift everyone there.
6. Designate Mindful Boundaries: Having established boundaries promotes a feeling of consistency and safety. They provide a perimeter, within which children can exercise their autonomy. If the boundaries are mindfully thought out in advance, then there is less reason for you to constantly say no. It’s equally important to create situations where your child can experience autonomy (e.g., “You can be the leader on the hike.”). In Mindful Discipline, Dr. Shauna Shapiro makes the case that children need both boundaries and autonomy. Shapiro asserts that children need a degree of autonomy to develop a sense of responsibility over their lives. They also need clear boundaries, which gives them a sense of safety, and a clear idea of who is the parent and who is the child. The author suggests that you ask yourself, “What is most needed in this moment? Is it space, autonomy, or a boundary? Or maybe it’s some of each: you can run around the park, but here’s a line you can’t cross—a non-negotiable line.”
7. Be Mindful with Discipline: There’s no getting around it – discipline is part of parenting. Why not address it mindfully? If you see discipline as teaching, rather than confrontation, the first step is pausing enough to be mindful of what your child is feeling. In No-Drama Discipline, Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Tina Bryson suggest:
Communicate comfort so your child feels safe to open up. Get down to your child’s eye level, and put your hand on his arm or hug to give him a sense of reassurance. You can also tell him, “It’s hard, isn’t it? Can you tell me about it?”
Validate and say something like, “If I were in your shoes, at the same age, I might feel the same way.”
Listen. Rather than lecture, breathe.
Reflect. Say back what you hear like, “I understand that you’re upset because you don’t want to go to bed right now.”
Redirect. After you understand what was happening internally to your child, you can determine what you want to teach and how best to do it. For example, you may want to say, “If you get your rest now you won’t feel tired at school tomorrow. Would you like to read one more book and then we can tuck you in so you can go to bed?”
8. Share Your Experiences: The more you and your child practice mindfulness, the more natural it becomes. You will draw on it in all aspects of life. If you used mindfulness when you felt your emotions rising, (in traffic, at the office, with friends), and you were able to pause before reacting, share that experience with your child. Encourage her/him to do the same. You will inspire one another in ways you might not even imagine.