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With more young people being diagnosed with mental illnesses than ever before, should we be doing more to address mental health with children?

The latest figures from the NHS show that one in eight people under the age of 19 have a mental health disorder. One in 10 children of primary school age (between five and 10 years old) have a mental health issue, as does one in 18 preschoolers (children between the ages of two and four). But how do we teach young children about their mental health in the hope of reducing issues in later life?

Place2Be, a children’s mental health charity, found that 56 per cent of children say that they worry all the time about at least one thing – school life, home life, themselves, their friends.

“At least three children in every class have a diagnosable mental health issue, and many more worry about everyday concerns from exams to family life,” Catherine Roche, chief executive of Place2Be said. The charity provides mental health support in 294 primary and secondary schools across England, Scotland and Wales. They work with 142,000 children and young people to educate them about mental health.

Place2Be also trains school leaders, teachers and staff in supporting children and young people with mental health issues. Last year they worked with 232 schools to provide a Mental Health Champions programme where they audit the school and identify areas for improvement in terms of supporting students’ mental health. The charity then helps the school to come up with a plan for improving their offering.

YoungMinds is another charity working to raise awareness of and campaign for change when it comes to children and young people’s mental health. They also run a helpline for parents who are concerned about their children's wellbeing.

“Children can face a huge range of pressures from a young age, including school stress, bullying, worries about how they look, problems with friends and a lack of access to help if they’re struggling to cope,” Steph Learmonth, parent helpline team leader at YoungMinds, says.

“Having open conversations with children about how they’re feeling can help to ensure that they feel safe and supported if any issues arise, and know who to turn to should they begin to struggle. Our #Take20 Parents Hub has lots of advice for how to start difficult conversations and what to do next.”

Charlotte Moncrieff, founder of Twenty Mile Club and an ambassador for mental health research charity MQ, recognised the importance of talking to younger children about their mental health and teaching them how to handle their emotions. She wrote a book aimed at children called Big Boys Cry, which seeks to break down the barriers boys might face in showing emotion and help parents and teachers to start these conversations.

“With over half of teenage boys feeling like they can't share their mental health problems with their fathers in the UK, it raises the question ‘are we doing enough to change society's ideologies of what it means to be a man before it’s too late?’ By too late, I mean by the time both boys and girls have hit puberty and the pressure to be seen a certain way has kicked in,” Moncrieff says.

“I am a big believer in prevention over cure when it comes to mental health and with suicide being one of the biggest killers of males between the ages of 18 and 24, we need to start implementing interventions surrounding mental health far earlier, to ensure the statistics of future generations isn't nearly as damning.”

Moncrieff’s book celebrates the fact that boys can cry, no matter how big or old they are. “It doesn’t make them ‘silly’ and (just as importantly) ‘crying isn’t just for girls’,” she explains.

“I did a reading at a school in Balham a few weeks ago to children between the ages of seven and nine. Before I read the book to them, I asked them quite simply 'Who is more likely to cry girls or boys?' and they all shouted 'GIRLS!' Already (shockingly!) stereotypes had rubbed off on them, to think that all boys should be tough and they weren't even 10. After reading the book and playing interactive games about expressing emotion, I then asked them again who was more likely to cry and I was overjoyed that they all shouted a jubilant 'All of us!'”

Moncrieff adds: “We need to start having conversations about mental health far earlier with children, with a focus on being proactive before, rather than only after, something has taken place.”

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A post shared by Virgin (@virgin) on May 16, 2019 at 3:42am PDT

When Selma Nicholls started Looks Like Me in 2016 it was because her daughter questioned her own identity when she couldn’t see people who looked like her in the media. So Selma Nicholls set up her own talent agency to do just that. Based in Tottenham, North London, she has cast advertising campaigns with her mission to diversify what is viewed as beautiful through inclusive castings, increasing the visibility of underrepresented children in advertising content and accessing the arts.

Looks Like Me aims to redefine beauty by raising the profile of underrepresented groups in the fashion and advertising world.

She received a start up loan from Virgin StartUp, and went on to win the Black British Business Awards in the arts and media category.

18 years ago she experienced a traumatic knife attack, and as a result, began to experience symptoms of PTSD. She shares her story for the first time here, on Virgin about her support structure and how it changed her life.

In the words of Selma Nicholls: “So for me, PTSD, mental health #LooksLikeMe"

#mentalhealthawarenessweek

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Unless you’re highly allergic, it’s no secret that dogs make lots of people feel great. They wag, look cute, and do things that make even your office nemesis go “ahh.”

Who doesn’t want a workplace pooch that needs you to rub its belly or throw that ball again and again?

According to research, having a dog around the office can improve cardiovascular health, lower cholesterol and even decrease blood pressure. But studies have shown they can boost mental health too by reducing anxiety and stress levels. After all, it’s been said that the only one who loves you more than you, is your dog.

Image of Keiko by Michael Buffham Wade

But do they have a place in the workplace, and how can they really help to lower anxiety and stress levels?

Spending time with dogs reminds us to take pleasure in the smaller things, something that’s important in the cut-throat world of office politics. You might be fighting with Lola from HR, but her Pekinese is entranced by the spiky plant next to the photocopier. Be more like the dog and let office fights float past you. Watching dogs experience every sensation as if it’s the first time they’ve ever witnessed someone opening a can of Pedigree Chum/reaching for a leash is magical. We could do with letting a little bit of every day magic seep into our lives occasionally.

Dogs play a vital role in emotional support. They help whoever is looking after them feel needed (after all, a dog can’t open a packet of meat chews alone). Several recent studies show the psychological benefits to having a pet in the office. Confrontation reduced and people raised their voices less. The study found that for the control group with a dog in the workplace, stress levels were reduced by the end of the working day.

Norma CREDIT: Lee McGuffie

The same can be said for university support dogs. The University of British Columbia brought therapy dogs during students' exam season. A study co-author who monitored the students reported that the results were remarkable. “We found that, even 10 hours later, students still reported slightly less negative emotion, feeling more supported, and feeling less stressed, compared to students who did not take part in the therapy dog session,” said Professor Stanley Cohen.

Michael Buffham-Wade, director of member experience at Virgin Red, who brings his dog Keiko, a female Shiba Inu, into the office says: “Dogs are just so predictable and happy to see you that it reduces anxiety because you look into their faces and it’s that whole purity - they don’t have ulterior motives. There’s no politics with a dog.”

And any employers unsure about a pooch’s benefits should ready themselves for national Bring Your Dog to Work Day on June 21st. Dogs encourage the office to get up and move around, which can reduce back problems we all associate from sitting at our desks for too long.  Many offices have introduced foosball tables and darts boards as light relief, but what would break up the interminable task of filling out a spreadsheet more than throwing a squeaky toy?

Tink, on her desk at Universal
Image of Keiko by Michael Buffham-Wade

Plus, studies have also shown the simple act of stroking a dog’s fur can reduce stress. It reduces your blood pressure, putting you in a better frame of mind for the day.

And it’s not just Virgin that encourages dogs. Ogilvy had a Chief Relaxation Office called Bailey, a cocker spaniel, while Nestle, Google and Amazon also let pet parents bring in their offspring.

Tips to make sure your doggo is comfortable include bringing in a dog bed and toys from home. Making sure they have quiet place to chill out in if it all gets too much. And ensuring that everyone around the office is ok with dogs before you bring them in. Some people have dog phobias so it’s important to respect everyone around you. No matter how great your dog is, if someone is having (excuse the pun) kittens because your beast is sprinting up and down the hallway, they’re going to have a miserable and unproductive day at work.

Lee McGuffie, Virgin Red's digital and content strategy director says: "Remember your dog's wellbeing too. The office needs to be a place they enjoying coming into as well and they are renowned for picking up on the mood and atmosphere. Bear this in mind if your day is going to be hectic and you won't have much time for them. Bring things in they love at home: their own bed/blanket, a couple of familiar toys and the odd treat or two so you can reward them as you would do at home. Oh, and don't forgot to take them out for a walk and a toilet break often. Not only do they get a walk and a sniff but you get a break from the desk and computer which ticks all the boxes."

The fabulous Canto, relaxing in a chilled office environment
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The ways in which people access therapy are changing. In the past, therapy might have been restricted to support groups or face-to-face counselling sessions. 

But now, people can access therapy at their fingertips, through apps, online forums, text messages and video call sessions with counsellors.

In the UK, young people, particularly women between the ages of 16-24, are a high risk group for “psychological distress”. Yet according to government statistics from 2014, those under 36 were found to be around 10 per cent less likely to be referred for talking therapy than those over 36.

These Millennials and their younger counterparts, Generation Z, have grown up with computers and the internet. But they are highly-stressed, due to work pressures and social media. It’s small wonder then that a group of people characterised by stress and mental health issues, who feel at home online, would go there for support.

Millennials are busy and preoccupied by work. One study found that millennials are less likely to use their annual leave than other demographics and think about their jobs more than any other age group. Young people are also a significant part of the gig economy, and an online form of therapy, which can be accessed from anywhere at anytime, could make seeking help that bit easier to fit around projects.

Image courtesy of Brandon Relph

This is the case for Brandon Relph, 18, who has several different jobs. He doesn’t have any clinically diagnosed mental health issues but uses regular FaceTime therapy sessions to manage stress. “When I’m on the road for work, or have a hectic week and can only grab a quick spare 30 minutes, being able to just call them up and have it there and then is especially useful. I believe it allows me to make considerable more use of a therapist than if I had to drive the hour and a half drive to see her every time, or even if it was a 10 minute drive. It makes it more of a normality and I can integrate whenever I like, encouraging me to use it more.”

And there are benefits for those delivering the support too. Through delivering sessions online, counsellors are no longer required to be in the office all day and can find a better work-life balance to suit their lifestyle. One such example is self care coach and therapist Eve Menezes Cunningham. She says, “[I have] been able to create a portable practice and move my life and work to the west coast of Ireland.”

While in-person therapy and online therapy can be seen as totally distinct, there’s no reason they should be. Skype sessions enabled Annie, 27, to continue an established relationship with a therapist who was moving to a new place.

“Initially I was quite sceptical about having sessions over Skype because I thought they wouldn’t be as effective,” she explains. “But it has actually been much better than I thought because it means I don’t have to give up my time travelling.”

Convenience and immediacy can have their drawbacks, however, as Annie says she feels less prepared for her online sessions than face-to-face ones. “When I travelled to visit my therapist it made me feel like I was going out of my way to take care of myself. It was a therapeutic journey to meet someone who wants to help me and I miss that mental preparation. Everything on the internet is so immediate, I’ll realise I have two minutes before my appointment and [have to] rush to find my laptop charger.”

Image courtesy of Eve Menezes Cunningham

Technological breakdown might seem like kryptonite for users and givers of online therapy, but Annie has found even these hiccoughs can be helpful. “Skype and video chats in general aren’t super fast and effective, so, if my therapist is talking and I try to intercept or cut in the whole thing goes silent and neither of us hear each other which has really forced me to listen to what she’s saying and then think about what she’s asked me,” she says.

But it’s important that therapists are trained specifically in delivering support online and this is perhaps something patients don’t look out for often enough. It’s worth a user checking if their previously in-person counsellor will now be delivering sessions online.

Menezes Cunningham says those delivering mental health support should strive to improve all the time, “The Association For Counselling And Therapy Online didn't exist when I was starting out but there are lots of online therapy trainings available now. If I were starting out now, I would [do specific online training]. With any kind of specialism, we need to keep developing and learning and working towards best practice.”  

Opening up

A process known as disinhibition, where those seeking support feel better able to open up about their issues because they aren’t communicating in-person, is a major benefit of online forms of therapy. This can be particularly useful for those mental health issues that are still subject to stigma, or which aren’t as visible in the media. This was certainly the case for Olivia Williams, 23, who used a forum website between the ages of 13 and 17 to seek support for her ‘Pure O’ (a form of OCD characterised by intrusive thoughts that are often disturbing in nature).

While a lot of positive work has been done to destigmatise certain mental health issues like anxiety and depression, others, like the form of OCD Olivia experiences are less represented and discussed. Taboo and lack of understanding from family and friends, (Olivia mentioned her experiences to her parents but didn’t feel they truly understood what she was going through) can lead people online.

Image courtesy of Olivia Williams

“I just don't think [Pure O] is a very approachable subject, and you can just type behind the screen. You're anonymous. I think it just makes it a lot easier to say, ‘I'm having these crazy thoughts that I can't control.’ [On a forum] you can just type that in,” she says.

She found the forum provided a real sense of solidarity and a helpful sense of normalisation through numbers that she doesn’t feel would have been achieved through traditional one-to-one counselling.

“There was no judgment at all,” she explains. “Just seeing how many people also [had the same experience]. If you went face to face, you're not meeting people that are going through the same thing.”

The forum Olivia used was strongly moderated and had clear guidelines for users. She never experienced any negative behaviour. However, this isn’t always the case, and it may not be made clear whether the discussion is being moderated by people with mental health training or not, so users should always check.

Quality

Studies have suggested quality control can be a major issue when it comes to seeking help for mental health issues online. However, there are a number of forums and help sites hosted by mental health charities that are more reliable. For example, Anxiety UK has recently partnered with online health consultancy service videoDoc to help its therapists reach patients via an online platform and an app.

VideoDoc has a quality control programme involving quality assessment doctors, mystery shopper users, reviews and patient surveys that its founder Mary O’Brien describes as “rigorous”. These are the kind of hallmarks users should be looking for.

Meanwhile those seeking an online counsellor independently should always check they’re accredited and if in doubt, consult the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s list of registered therapists.

Image courtesy of Hilda Burke

However for psychotherapist, couples counsellor and author of The Phone Addiction Workbook Hilda Burke, technology can compromise the level of insight she’s able to glean from an individual. “When I work with a client, the actual words they say are a small proportion of what they're communicating. Online therapy can never replicate the level of insight that comes from physical closeness.”

Brandon agrees: “I think you lose an element of the human touch when you talk through a screen. It can be harder for your therapist to pick up on body language cues.”

There are, of course, circumstances in which traditional face-to-face therapy would be more appropriate than an online support method. “It times of particular need (after a breakup or bereavement for example) I think it has been important for me to be able to actually see [my counsellor] face-to-face,” says Brandon. “I do think that during particularly tough times have a face in front of you and somewhere to go and relax is important, rather than a face on a screen.”

And not everyone will find other forms of online therapy useful. Annie felt Mindfulness apps like Calm weren’t as helpful as Skype sessions, “because they’re streamlined for people that suffer anxiety and stress. If you are stressed then I guess it could have a positive effect but I have CBT therapy for OCD and other things. I need someone to help me unravel it because I can’t do it by myself.”

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. See more Smarter Thinking content here.

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Pollution is everywhere around us – indoors and out – and scientists keep informing us that ‘toxic air’ is wreaking havoc on our skin.

Much has been written on the effects pollution has on our health – and it’s fairly alarming. Figures from the World Health Organization tell us over 90 per cent of the world’s children are inhaling toxic air daily and nine out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air

Pollution is also terrible for our skin. Our skin absorbs microscopic particles of soot, dust, smoke and acid floating around in the atmosphere - these can penetrate the skin barrier and dry skin out, cause hyperpigmentation or inflammation and break down collagen, accelerating the ageing process. You may even be familiar with the word for it (coined by South Koreans): polluaging.

“City dwellers in particular are exposed to higher levels of pollution from vehicle emissions. Traffic fumes contain skin-penetrating particles such as PM2.5, and these trigger damage in our skin cells by a process of ‘free radical formation and oxidative stress’,” explains Dr. Maria Roest, consultant dermatologist at the Lister Hospital (part of HCA Healthcare UK).

Our skin also faces a barrage of pollution threats due to the technology we use. Computer and mobile screens emit infrared and blue light – studies suggest that blue light contributes to oxidative stress. Translation? Our phones are also likely to be contributing to our skin’s premature ageing.

Brands are responding to these environmental stressors with a variety of anti-pollution products, which promise to protect and fortify the skin – and they're proving popular with consumers.

London department store Liberty reported a 73 per cent increase in searches for “anti-pollution skincare” in March 2019, and a 166 per cent spike in sales of anti-pollution beauty products. Cult Beauty’s extensive anti-pollution range currently features 130 products from brands like Verso, Caudalie and celeb favourite Dr. Barbara Sturm, whose Anti-Pollution Drops team hyaluronic acid with radish root and cocoa seed extracts to defend against blue light, and contain disodium EDTA, to remove heavy metals.

“There has been a surge in interest in pollution protective strategies,” Dr. Roest says. “Approaches include improving skin barrier function to prevent penetration (for example, applying a topical product such as a cream), taking oral antioxidants to combat pollution effects or applying topical products to mop up the ‘free-radical damage.’ Early studies report some formulations may improve the skin barrier function vs. pollution, but more research is needed.”

Anti-pollution ingredients can be found in everything from shampoo to sunscreen, which is still the most critical tool in our daily skincare regimen.

“UVA rays remain the single biggest factor in both ageing of the skin and dangerous cell mutation that can cause skin cancer, penetrating 90 per cent of cloud cover,” says skinSense and Ultrasun founder, Abi Cleeve. “Skin not adequately protected from UV is even less prepared to combat pollution, then pollution puts the skin on the back foot and the cycle perpetuates itself.”

Look out for a sunscreen with a high percentage of Ectoin. A known pollution-fighting enzyme, Ectoin protects skin from the effects of UVA damage and has anti-inflammatory and hydrating benefits to limit the impact of blue light.

For those who prefer plant-based skincare alternatives, you’re in luck. Bee Good founder, Simon Cavill, points out centuries-old natural ingredients like honey, antibacterial propolis and beeswax can help fight oxidative damage from free radicals and work as a skin barrier (essentially what the fancy anti-pollution products are doing, without the name).

“Propolis is filled with minerals such as magnesium, calcium and zinc, which are essential to rebuild damaged skin cells, as well as flavonoids such as quercetin, pinocembrin, and galangin, which fight against the damaging effects by oxidants, caused by pollution and UV rays from the sun,” he explains.

Our cities are getting more polluted, so it's a no brainer to have a few more anti-pollution essentials on your person.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. See more Smarter Thinking content here.

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Frequent fliers know just how hard it can be to fall asleep on an airplane. The noise of the engines, frequent service interruptions, and getting comfy in an airline seat can all make restful sleep on long haul flights unrealistic. 

But if you’re crossing time zones or missing a whole night of sleep, catching a few hours of rest can make the difference between arriving bright-eyed or stumbling into arrivals like a zombie.

In fact, falling and staying asleep onboard could be your secret weapon. Getting some shut-eye can help business travelers to function better at meetings and feel alert and in control, and holidaymakers can start their trip right away without losing any time underneath the hotel duvet.

So how can you maximise the chances of sleeping during your flight? Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouses can help you relax ahead of a long flight (a dram of whiskey should do the trick), while using the eye-mask provided in your amenity kits should block out the worst of the light when crossing timezones. Virgin Atlantic has also partnered with Headspace, a meditation service that also has a series of exercises to help you drop off more quickly.

Failing that, along with your sleep pillow, blanket, and eye-mask make sure you pack a digital stack of sleep stories in your carry on to guarantee you drop off quickly.

What’s a sleep story?

Just like small children, adults can also benefit from a relaxing bedtime story. Meditation and relaxation apps like Headspace or Calm, have started to introduce sleep stories as a way for adults to destress before bed. The stories chosen are descriptive and interesting but are narrated, often by celebrities, in a slow pace that makes you feel instantly at ease. Stephen Fry’s performance of “Blue Gold” on the Calm app is about the lavender fields of Provence and is hypnotically smooth.

Why do they work?

Stories are chosen or created especially as sleep stories for their ability to transport the listener to a place of calm serenity. They help you to unwind and power-down naturally. Most sleep stories are travel narratives, which makes them a perfect choice when you are setting out on your own journey. Combined with calming sound effects the narrator's voice becomes slower and slower carrying you on a soothing and comforting voyage towards sleep.

Sleep stories last around 25 to 45 minutes, and are intended to make the listener fall asleep before the end.

One of the reasons sleep stories are so effective is that they become part of a predictable nightly routine. If you always do the same things before bed, in the same order, these actions prepare your mind for what comes next, a good night's sleep. Even if you are far from home the repetitive action of listening to a story before you go to bed will coach your brain into the right soothing mind space for sleep.

The narrative of a sleep journey also acts as a meditative activity. It's a visualisation practice where you are being told you are relaxed until you become so. Meditation has been shown to help you to fall asleep quicker and lead to better quality sleep.

Why are sleep stories so beneficial for travellers?

It can be particularly challenging to fall asleep when travelling for a number of reasons. Settling down for a good night's sleep represents a period of transition. The day is over, worries and responsibilities are put to the side as you focus solely on preparing for sleep. But travel, for many people, is inherently stressful which isn’t conducive to the soothing mind space you need to arrive at just before you doze off.

When you fly, you are also literally in motion, you are busy, you are in transit. It can be hard to turn the mind off from what lies ahead at our destination, whether that is excitement for your vacation to begin or apprehension for a presentation you are about to deliver.

There's also all the administrative and bureaucratic business of filling in visas and locating your travel documents, as well as navigating the airport and finding your transport. It’s no wonder that people can find it difficult to turn off and relax.

Noises on board from small children struggling with the change in air pressure to the normal sounds of service and the aircraft operating can also make it difficult to drift off.

So, on your next flight invest in headphones with noise cancelling technology, choose a sleep story, and use the journey time to catch up on your dreaming. You’ll arrive at your destination rested and ready for whatever comes your way.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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From twinges to twilight sickness, many pregnant women feel like they need more support as they become parents. It's smart thinking to consider that pregnant women may need a virtual community. 

Even 15 years ago check-ups with health professionals, trusted pregnancy bibles and anecdotal advice were the limits of guidance, but nowadays apps are bringing support direct to the fingertips of parents-to-be whenever they need it.

There are apps to track baby’s size, apps to count kicks, apps which supposedly check the baby’s heartbeat, and apps to guide on how safe certain foods are for mum-to-be.

So far, so useful. After all, forewarned is forearmed. And whether it’s your first or fifth pregnancy, guidelines change all the time and pregnancies feel different from baby to baby. So perhaps it’s no bad thing to have relevant information at a single swipe. Zoe Bonser, show director of The Baby Show, which returns to the Birmingham NEC on May 17th, certainly thinks so.

“Apps can provide information, reassurance, support and the feeling of being part of a club,” she says. “Whereas previously we would have got this more from family and friends, we are now more reliant on apps.”

And with even the least complicated pregnancy throwing up questions, reassurance is something Elizabeth Hutton, the chief executive of Kicks Count  – an app which helps familiarise parents with their baby’s movements – found people craved.

“Awareness of fetal movement and reporting change in a baby's regular pattern of movement has been shown to reduce stillbirth,” she explains. “However we noticed that all the kick counting apps on the market promoted counting to 10. There wasn't a single app that allowed mums to get to know their regular pattern. That’s when we decided we needed to develop our own.”  

From feedback from users, she’s convinced that the information the app provides reassures rather than overloads parents with unnecessary data.

“We’re all about empowering mums with knowledge and confidence,” she argues. “Previously mums have been told that babies move less towards the end of pregnancy and “run out of room” which is incorrect and may have delayed them seeking medical attention.

Image by Kevin Moore

“If we can raise enough awareness about the importance of movements we can eliminate the doubt and give them the confidence to seek medical attention. We would rather a mum sought help when it wasn't necessary, than didn't seek help when it was.”

Helpful though this might be for some, for others the sheer influx of information in addition to midwife appointments and the well-meaning advice from all and sundry might be overwhelming.

“If a pregnancy is low risk then an app could be useful,” says Dr Geetha Venkat, director of Harley Street Fertility Clinic.

“However, if a pregnancy has complications, e.g. preeclampsia or intrauterine growth restriction, then an app could provide incorrect information or cause further worry.

“And if the person is anxiety prone, then an app could make the situation worse.”

Others, however, see the benefit of having support in your pocket.

“Apps are making life easier for parents to be and everyone,” says Siobhan Miller, founder of the Positive Birth Company which has just launched the world’s first hypnobirthing app, Freya.

“They can be such an easy way of keeping track of things, from baby's kicks, to when your period is due and how much you're spending. Unfortunately, I don't know of any apps that alleviate morning sickness.”

Even in the absence of a morning sickness-stopping app, technology can still prove a ray of light for parents-to-be.

“Pregnancy tracker apps can be one of the small joys of pregnancy when you’re struggling in a sea of nausea or crushing tiredness,” says Susie Boone, editorial director of MadeForMums.

“A fascinating way to follow your baby’s development, usefully all on your phone, some offer really nice touches too, such as bump pic trackers and week-by-week baby hands and feet sizes.”

Yet there are drawbacks.

“The jury’s out on whether they make life easier – as they’re yet something else to spend time on, whether it’s finding the perfect pose for bump pictures or inputting milestone data,” adds Susie. “But put the time in and the rewards are definitely worth it.”

While many are a harmless way of tracking changes, it’s worth heeding caution before taking the advice as fact.

Image from MadeForMums

“No two pregnancies are the same,” explains Susie.

“Pregnancy apps can only represent the average and not an individual experience- and who has an average pregnancy? If your symptoms don’t appear to be in sync with the tracker, we know this can cause unnecessary anxiety – particularly in the early weeks when pregnancy symptoms vary wildly and never seem to follow textbook rules.”

With a wealth of pregnancy apps in the marketplace, finding one with credible sources of information ensures solid advice.

“Apps can be a great way to get information to mums, however as the app market is unregulated it can be difficult for mums to differentiate between the good and the bad apps,” says Elizabeth.

“Having Kicks Count approved by the NHS has been a great way for us to provide reassurance to mums that our app has been tested and the advice is accurate.”  

But no app, no matter how useful, can compensate for the advice of health professionals who know you and your medical history.

“An app is not a substitute for medical advice,” explains Dr Geetha.

“It only provides complementary and supportive information. If you have any concerns, you should always speak with a healthcare professional, particularly if you notice any changes in your pregnancy, such as reduced foetal movements.”

And some apps are altogether to be avoided.

“The problematic apps are the ones that over-promise,” says Justine Roberts, founder of Mumsnet. “The technology for your phone to monitor your baby's heartbeat accurately simply doesn't exist and anything that claims to provide scans is wishful thinking.” 

With that in mind, treat apps like pregnancies: all are different and need different – tailored – support.

“We know from discussions on Mumsnet that what reassures one mother-to-be could well make another anxious,” adds Justine.

“Ultimately, this is all good training for parenthood: balancing your instincts and your anxieties, occasionally calling for specialist reinforcements, enjoying the little things, and hoping it will all be OK in the end.”

Image by Geoff Pugh

The experts’ pick of the apps:

  • Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts says: “Mumsnet's own Pregnancy app uses advice drawn from the real-life experiences of thousands of other parents. It's bite-sized information on the hardest subject you'll ever revise for and it can help parents to feel really connected to their baby before it's even born.”
  • Zoe Bonser, show director of The Baby Show adds: “Bounty has daily articles and fun facts, beautiful 3D images, information and advice on your local birth options and lots more. Others we like are Emma’s Diary, Pregnancy+, What to Expect and Glow Nurture. Also, any apps that help with things like remembering pelvic floor exercises such as Kegel Trainer PFM or the NHS Squeezy app get the thumbs up.”
  • Siobhan Miller, founder of the Positive Birth Company says: “I'd recommend our app, Freya. The world's first hypnobirthing-friendly surge (contraction) timer and virtual birth partner. It’ll coach you through each surge with a simple breathing technique and visualisation.”
  • Susie Boone, editorial director at MadeForMums says: “We love the imaginative apps such as the Baby Story app, a photo-editing app with lots of brilliant graphics that track your bump and then baby milestones. Although it’s a US app, our MFM mums’ favourite pregnancy app is Ovia.”

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. See more Smarter Thinking content here.

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Worldwide, people are focusing on how we reverse the effects of climate change. Virgin Group CEO Josh Bayliss reflects on the role of business has to play in that...

It was brilliant to be in Paris this weekend with Envision Virgin Racing, cheering on driver Robin Frijns to his first Formula E win. I also really enjoyed joining the team at the Innovation Summit, where we discussed solutions to help reach a lower carbon future.

Businesses have an important role to play when looking to a lower carbon future – something I discussed on the panel with Christiana Figueres, Franz Jung and Eugene Kaspersky.

Customers and employees are, quite rightly, demanding more from businesses to reduce the impact they have on the planet. No longer is it enough to do the bare minimum when it comes to the environment. People have higher expectations of business to play a leading role in the fight against climate change, and technology enables customers and employees to tell you exactly what they think about you – good and bad.

At Virgin we have a purpose of changing business for good. Included in our focus is making the environment better (for example by becoming net zero by 2050), alongside improving things for our customers, our people and the communities that we operate in. Formula E is a great example of this – it literally is a race for clean, renewable energy. It’s a great opportunity to enjoy the entertainment of a sport that really could change the world.

Christiana Figueres noted during our discussion the important role technology has to play to move beyond internal combustion engines and fossil fuels. But, while technology is important, she also pointed out that attitude is equally crucial. Some people don’t want to acknowledge what is happening to the planet for fear that they will have to change their behaviours  – as Christiana put it, they might have to give up their beefburgers, their two or three cars and their travel. But she says electric vehicles are actually a step toward a more exciting world.

Formula E is a brilliant example of just how thrilling electric vehicles can be. Walking around Paris this weekend, there was an air of excitement about the race. Unlike other motorsports, the tracks for Formula E are not out of town. They take over the city centre and for one weekend only, electric racing cars take to the streets and challenge people to think more about the decisions they’re making that impact the environment.

Formula E is much more than just a sport. It’s an ideas hub, where some of the world’s best mechanics and engineers can experiment with technology that will one day bring the world away from a reliance on fossil fuels. And that, even more than watching Formula E’s electric cars reach speeds of up to 280kmh, is remarkable.

Thanks to all the Envision Virgin Racing family for all your hard work, congratulations Robin and the team on the win, and I look forward to keeping a close eye on the progress of Formula E in the months and years to come.

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George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, asks: What is the future of business in space?

We’re at the start of a new industrial revolution in space.  The impacts of this revolution will transform business and personal lives back here on Earth, breaking boundaries that have constrained economic and cultural growth since time began. At Virgin Galactic, we’re on a mission to use space commerce as a force for good.

I’ve had a fascination with space since I was a young boy and feel incredibly lucky to be living during a time when technology and human ingenuity have combined to create an unprecedented opportunity to open the doors to space.

Of the more than 100 billion human beings who’ve ever lived on Earth, only 572 have ever been to space. At Virgin Galactic, we are on a mission to increase that number dramatically and in the 10 weeks between December of last year and February of 2019, we made a start by creating five new commercial astronauts during two flights to space. This included four pilots and one our Chief Astronaut Instructor who experienced zero-G float time in the cabin of the spaceship and undertook important cabin evaluations.

We already have approximately 600 people who’ve put down a deposit on a ticket to space on our spaceship, VSS Unity - the first commercial, supersonic winged vehicle designed to take passengers to space. These incredible early adopters represent a new market for space and are fundamental to the establishment of a new era of human spaceflight; one that will see competing technologies and economies of scale push down prices and open up multiple markets, from adventure travel to transcontinental transportation.

Of the more than 100 billion human beings who’ve ever lived on Earth, only 572 have ever been to space. At Virgin Galactic, we are on a mission to increase that number dramatically and in the 10 weeks between December of last year and February of 2019, we made a start by creating five new commercial astronauts during two flights to space. This included four pilots and one our Chief Astronaut Instructor who experienced zero-G float time in the cabin of the spaceship and undertook important cabin evaluations.

We already have approximately 600 people who’ve put down a deposit on a ticket to space on our spaceship, VSS Unity - the first commercial, supersonic winged vehicle designed to take passengers to space. These incredible early adopters represent a new market for space and are fundamental to the establishment of a new era of human spaceflight; one that will see competing technologies and economies of scale push down prices and open up multiple markets, from adventure travel to transcontinental transportation.

Today, the only way a person who isn’t part of a government space program can reach space is by paying tens of millions of dollars to hire a lift aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.  After many years of hard work, it now looks certain that thanks to the perseverance and commitment of entrepreneurial teams, a genuine democratisation of human spaceflight is underway with progressively affordable, regularly scheduled, commercial flights.

Longer term, the cost of a personal experience of space will fall substantially, following a similar pattern shown in the field of commercial aviation.

Virgin Galactic In Space For The First Time - YouTube

At its start, long-haul aviation was the preserve of the wealthy, but provided the commercial and technological foundations for a transformation which would have been impossible to predict at the time. Today, of course, we see an industry which has connected the world like never before, which has extended unquantifiable social and economic benefits, and which has allowed billions of us to experience the wonder of flight.

These pioneers of the aviation industry enabled many ordinary people to become airborne for the first time and brought new perspectives to worlds which had previously only been experienced at ground level. The early days of commercial spaceflight is expected to follow a similar path in terms of the dynamics of the flights and in the opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds and from across the globe, to look out and back with a fresh perspective.

Credit: Virgin Galactic

We know from the accounts of astronauts that the ‘Overview Effect’ is real. These individuals were typically not paid to look out of their spaceships’ windows, but they did, and what they saw affected most of them profoundly for the rest of their lives. Just a glance back at our planet reveals a beautiful and elegantly designed spacecraft that we call Earth. The atmosphere, which protects all life and which appears endless from below, is as thin as the peel of an apple from above; the absence of country borders reinforces that there is more that unites than divides us. The recognition of these essential truths that we believe in, can play a meaningful role to help tackle the most challenging issues we face as a species.

Establishing regular airline-like operations for safe, affordable and commercially viable human spaceflight will open a plethora of markets and applications. As part of a brand synonymous with commercial aviation, we see great opportunities for radical innovation in long haul transcontinental flight. We have been stuck at roughly the same speed, punching through the atmosphere at Mach 0.8 for half a century or more. It’s time to seriously pursue faster and cleaner options to transform journey times and the environmental impact of commercial aviation. What we are building, testing and operating today at Virgin Galactic is feeding the technology and experience required to bring point-to-point, transcontinental space travel to reality. It is no accident that we opted for a winged, piloted, runway take-off and landing design for our first spaceship. It is incredibly important to get the first steps right, and that is our primary focus right now.

In the future, we could see flight times between New York and London cut down by hours, and perhaps ultimately as little as 30 minutes. A recent report by UBS has predicted that flights like this will spark a new $20bn dollar market. Right now, the space industry is worth around $400bn but the report predicts that these innovations will double the value to around $805bn within the next 10 years.

While human spaceflight inevitably tends to capture the imagination and the headlines, there is an equally significant revolution underway in the world of satellites and satellite launch. Miniaturisation techniques have seen satellites reduce from the size of buses to cell phones and to reduced costs that have taken ownership from the sole preserve of multi-nationals and governments, to start-ups and universities. A new generation of private companies, including Virgin Orbit, is fast emerging to service the burgeoning need for affordable, responsive, regular satellite launch services.  The new opportunities for businesses, researchers, scientists, NGO’s and government agencies to up their respective games is truly transformational.

A recent study by the UN assessing the biggest Earth-based challenges estimated that 70 per cent had a space-based solution and that just about all of them could be measured and monitored from space. Satellite based technologies will help countries build climate resilience, provide data to ensure water and  food security, and monitor and predict climate refugees. They will help give more people from remote places access to high speed internet speeding social and economic reform.

It’s without doubt that the commercial space industry is experiencing a giant wave of innovation. This new space economy of 2030 has the potential to not only help foster modernisation across multiple industries, but also to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems. It’s possibly the best time in history to be working in this industry and I’m excited Virgin Galactic will be playing its part in helping to shift the way we view our planet.

Head over to our Spotlight series to

For more information about Virgin Galactic and to be kept up to date with the test flight programme register for ‘Mission Updates’ here.

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The heat beneath the ground could hold the secret to tackling climate change and reaching a lower carbon future. Anna Turns investigates...

Deep below a park in Hackney, in London's far east end, could lie the secret for tackling climate change. 

Welcome to the stage an innovative new project in London that will generate a new source of low carbon heat which could potentially help fight climate change. Installing heat pumps below some of Hackney’s parks could allow for low temperature heat to be collected from the ground and concentrated, then pumped into the buildings above for heating. 

Surrounding schools, hospitals, council offices and public buildings, even lidos and homes, could potentially one day benefit from this renewable energy.

Hackney Council is working in partnership with energy consultants at Scene and the charity 10:10 Climate Action for the Powering Parks Project, ‘a real-life solution’ that will see heat pumps providing power and heat for nearby buildings. Max Wakefield, director of campaigns at 10:10 says: “Parks have a particular social currency because everyone loves parks. People understand that local budgets are under threat so this project is a great opportunity to introduce people to a technology that is going to need to be far more commonplace in all of our lives if we are going to fix climate change.”

Installing heat pumps in parks is far more cost-effective than digging up the roads to install pipes, and there are other financial benefits when compared directly to energy sourced from fossil fuels. Wakefield estimates that one proposed site in Hackney could save the council £4,000 per year once the heat pump is installed. But the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive that pays councils for every unit of heat that is generated from ground- and water-source heat pumps to help them meet the costs, is set to expire in April 2021. So, watch this - urban green - space.

Image from Unsplash

Getting all pumped up

In the UK, a third of emissions come from heating indoor spaces and if this system rolls out nationally, parks could be part of the solution. Heat pumps are being installed at Edinburgh’s Saughton Park, Bristol’s Owen Square Co-op project, and a tower block project in Enfield. The National Trust installs heat pumps to move its historic buildings away from relying on fossil fuels, and Wakefield hopes that this could one day provide a renewable energy source to millions of homes too. “In order to fully exploit this untapped resource, we’d absolutely need to go beyond local public estate buildings. Councils are sitting on low carbon heat that they could be exploiting and selling to private third parties,” says Wakefield.

While heat pumps are not yet widely used in the UK, they are more mainstream elsewhere. This market has grown for the fourth consecutive year, according to the European Heat Pump Market and Statistics Report 2018. Installation rates in France and Italy are much higher than in the UK, and in Germany heat pumps were installed in 43 per cent of homes in 2017, moving ahead of gas heaters for the first time. “Scandinavian countries are way ahead of the game and countries like the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland have ambitious industrial or municipality-scale heat pump schemes,” explains Louise Waters, senior energy consultant at Scene.

She explains how this technology works: “Ground- or water-source heat pumps extract energy from the ground or water, and transfer it to a building’s heating system so that radiators get warm and the taps run hot. They use electricity to do this, but are so efficient that for every unit of electricity used, between three and five units of heat are delivered to the building. The heat that’s extracted from the ground or water is naturally replenished over time, meaning that the heat resource is truly renewable.”

Photo credit: d1v1d

Park pilots

After much mapping and number crunching, three suitable sites from across Hackney will soon be chosen as the pilots for the Powering Parks Project which is funded by Nesta’s Rethinking Parks programme. Councillor Jon Burke, cabinet member for energy, sustainability and community services is pleased that Hackney Council is taking the lead: “It’s important that we proactively reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, so I’m proud to be joining forces with experts in the field to investigate such an exciting initiative. The Powering Parks project has the potential to help us unlock sustainable energy and save – or even generate – money for important council services.”

The heat pumps are due to be installed in 2020 and the team is currently estimating the national potential of this model, as Wakefield explains: “We’re using GIS [geographic information system] data of the UK’s green spaces, ground temperatures and certain assumptions to create some reasonably robust estimates about how much of the UK’s heat demand could in theory be met by projects like this that feed back into local economies.”

Photo credit: Nico Hogg

Full of hot air?

Engaging local people through community outreach is crucial. “We want to increase awareness of the need to cut gas use for heating, and show how heat pumps in parks can be part of the solution, while bringing local benefits,” adds Wakefield.  

Waters agrees that ground-source heat is a massively untapped resource: “There are about 100 times more gas boilers sold in the UK per year than heat pumps. Ground heat is not a limitless resource, but we could use much, much more than we do at the moment.”

She believes that it’s an obvious option for houses and non-domestic buildings that have gardens or are near to open spaces, or for new buildings that can have heat collectors installed underneath them. “Ground heat could also be used to power heat networks that deliver heat to multiple buildings instead of them all having their own gas boilers or electric heaters.”

While Waters warns that heat pumps are not the only solution – “they are one of a handful of technologies that will be heating our homes in a low-carbon future world” – she’s excited by the scale of the impact from community schemes like this one, with carbon savings being equivalent to perhaps 20 or 30 domestic installations. “Local authorities are huge consumers of energy, and as they become more knowledgeable and comfortable with choosing heat pumps for the buildings in their portfolios there is great potential for replication,” she says. “Hackney Council is particularly driven by sustainability considerations, so it’s a good place to pilot a park-based ground heat scheme but from a technical point of view, similar installations would be possible in any UK town or city.”

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