Life

Take my advice: ask Fiona for help with everyday issues

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on family dramas, emotional issues and dysfunctional relationships. This week, advice on finding confidence in social situations, coping with mental illness and how much alcohol is too much

Too much alcohol can be dangerous

HOW CAN I BOOST MY CONFIDENCE IN A GROUP?

I'm perfectly happy talking to people, even strangers, on a one-to-one basis, but the moment anyone else tries to join the conversation, I dry up.

It's ruining my social life, and trying to get a girlfriend is impossible as I can't hold a conversation if anyone else is around

RG

FIONA SAYS: LEARN TO BE A GOOD LISTENER

You may lack confidence in a social situation, but that shouldn't mean you allow yourself to be excluded from them.

Watch groups of strangers sometime and you'll soon see that there is almost always a quiet one in the group. They are the ones laughing at jokes and concentrating on what the others have to say.

If you then watch what happens when anyone else joins the group, you'll see that quite often the quiet one ends up talking on a one-to-one basis with someone.

So learn to be the listener in the group, the one who concentrates on what others are saying and helps draw them out with the occasional question.

You'll soon gain a reputation for being thoughtful, considerate, attentive, and a good friend.

Genuinely good listeners are popular people and, as your popularity grows, so will your confidence.

AM I DRINKING TOO MUCH?

Wine-making is my hobby and I'm pretty good at it.

That means we nearly always have it available, and that I can have a drink whenever I want one.

Now my wife is being a killjoy and says we're drinking too much. I don't think we are - we don't drink every day, we don't have to finish the bottle, but what are sensible limits?

I'm not talking drink-driving limits, I'm talking about what is OK health-wise.

GH

FIONA SAYS: TAKE HEED OF THE GUIDELINES

It's difficult, with home brews, to say what a safe limit is because estimates are based on the alcohol by volume (ABV) content of the product.

Do you know just what the ABV measurement of your homemade wine is?

An average 750ml bottle of wine with an ABV measure of 13.5% contains 10 units of alcohol. Home-brewed wine often exceeds this.

Recommended guidelines say that men should not exceed 21 units of alcohol a week, with no more than four units in any one day and at least two "dry" days a week.

So, with commercially produced wine that's less than half a bottle at a time.

For women, the guidelines are even lower: 14 units a week or no more than three per day, and two "dry" days a week.

If you don't know the ABV of your home brew, I suggest you consider bottling it in smaller quantities - perhaps half bottles - and that you drink plenty of water with it!

SINGLE? JOIN THE CLUB

I've noticed that you often get letters from separated people who are lonely.

My wife left me 20 years ago and I was very low, but I was encouraged to join a club for people divorced and separated.

It was good to have people to talk to who understood, and everyone was in the same position so no-one felt odd. We used to joke about being "social outcasts", but the camaraderie was great and we used to go out together or meet in one another's homes.

I am sure that many of the people who write about being alone would really benefit from all the groups out there, just as I did.

I am remarried now, but always suggest to any friends who are going through a bad patch that they should try it.

SB

FIONA SAYS: KEEPING BUSY CAN HELP COMBAT LONELINESS

Thank you for your encouraging letter, which I hope will help a lot of people to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I agree with you that clubs and social groups are a good idea, although they are not for everyone.

Anything that breaks through barriers of loneliness and isolation has got to be a good thing, so sports clubs, drama groups and choirs can also help.

The National Council for the Divorced, Separated and Widowed (ncdsw.org.uk) has been around a while and their clubs and groups cover much of the country. Other groups can often be found through local libraries or information services and the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Most of them are also highly sympathetic to the needs of single parents, so "the children" are no real excuse for not getting out there.

People who go along to such clubs looking for true love on a first visit are probably going to be sadly disappointed. If they can accept friendliness and support though, they will probably find the experience very valuable.

HOW CAN WE COPE WITH OUR SON'S SCHIZOPHRENIA?

My 22-year-old son has caused us huge difficulties and problems over the last couple of years, and four months ago, he agreed to go for psychiatric help.

He has now been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is on medication which seems to be helping.

It's a relief to know that there is a reason why he behaved as he did, but we know nothing about the condition and what, if anything, we should be doing to help.

He doesn't want us to talk to his doctor and I'm reluctant to just trawl the internet without knowing what is good and bad, so can you please advise?

CK

FIONA SAYS: THERE IS INFORMATION AND SUPPORT OUT THERE

The best place to start is with the National Health Service, but that doesn't mean you have to ask your doctor.

The NHS website is a fantastic source of information on this and all manner of other health issues. Just go to the home page (nhs.uk) and put "schizophrenia" in the search box.

Schizophrenia is one of the most common of all serious mental health conditions, with about one in a 100 people affected, many of whom lead perfectly normal lives. It's also possible for them to recover from the condition, although there may be periods of relapse when symptoms return.

From the NHS website, you'll also find links to other organisations you can trust, such as Mind and the Mental Health Foundation.

I do hope you, your son, and the rest of the family are able to get all the support you need.

:: If you have a problem you'd like Fiona's advice with, please email help@askfiona.net

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