Category Archives for Psychology

4 years on

Today (and yesterday) are days in the calendar that I’ve come to know well. It was 4 years ago today that I glanced at my phone, got a sucker punch in my stomach and my world shifted.

The day before, the 3rd of March 2013, I’d been at Nottingham University and some attendees from Newcastle had been late as the trains were delayed due to a fatality. We all sympathised but little did I realise it was my lovely friend, Chris Allan.

In the days and weeks that followed those of us who knew Chris sought to understand the question that haunted us all – why. The guilt felt overwhelming at times; the thought that there must have been something more that I could have done, the horrible moments of realisation that at points he was trying to tell me something but just couldn’t.

His family were (and still are) amazing. It’s easy to see where Chris got his loving nature, kindness, empathy, family values and huge sense of fun from. Chris was a brilliant person to be around. Knowing him changed me and 4 years on the memories that I have are of laughter, laughter and more laughter, talking for hours about how we were revolutionise education and change the world for our children, listening to music (he wasn’t so keen on my disco hits, I loved his indie stuff and Neil Young will always have a special place in my heart) and also the bloody awful films he was always trying to make me watch.

4 years on I’m also grateful to him for cracking open my awareness (as a friend so eloquently put it) about suicide and mental health. It had been on the outside of my consciousness before but Chris’ death made me realise the importance of it and that suicide could happen to ‘people like us’. And sadly in the last 4 years I have known more people – though none as well as Chris – who have lost their place in the world so much that they think that death by suicide is the best or only way out. It’s a truly horrible national statistic that in 2015 6,188 people died as a result of suicide, with the suicide rate for men around 3 times higher than women. Thankfully, the shift that is happening in our society as a result of campaigns like Heads Together and the wonderful work by charities such as Mind, is making it more it more acceptable to talk about mental health, though the stigma still lingers stubbornly.

Chris’ death made me face up to my own mental health – and we all have it. It started me on a journey to understand more about the brain and how it works. I now have an MSc in Psychology and that, together with the huge numbers of books about mental health, wellbeing and happiness that I have read over the past 4 years, have made me realise that there is so much we can do to look after our own mental health. And yet, many of us don’t really even know what we should be doing, or indeed prioritise it. Chris’ death, my studies and other people in my life since, have illustrated to me too keenly the consequences of not prioritising our mental wellbeing.

So, I started to prioritise my own wellbeing and have ramped that up in the last year and a half after as a result of another tricky time and it has made a real difference to my life. I’ve started to talk much more about mental health and wellbeing to others and have met some incredible people who have become great friends as a result.

And I’ve become a bit more fearless. There’s nothing like death to make you realise the fragility and importance of life and so pretty much every day I push myself to do something that is outside my comfort zone. I’m challenging myself to execute my ideas, to make things happen and Mind Moose is a direct result, so thank you, Chris. We used to talk for hours cooking up creative education projects and he was always my biggest cheerleader, urging me to put things into action and believing in me when I didn’t always believe in myself. He was a very, very lovely man and 4 years on I’m so grateful for knowing him and the impact he’s had on my life. I wish he was still around.

Back-to-school

Helping your child back to school

Starting back at school after a long summer break can be a welcome return to routine for some children and their families. For others, it can be a difficult time, especially if your child is worried or anxious about going back to school. Here are some tips to help ease your child (and you!) back to school.

Get them school ready

It’s natural for back to school to be a shock to the system for everyone, especially if your child has been enjoying leisurely mornings over the summer. So, if possible, start to ease children back into things a few days beforehand. Ensure the basics are in place so they can manage the change in routine and their emotions effectively.

So, get them to bed a bit earlier and if necessary, get them up a little earlier a few days beforehand. Make sure they have good food inside them (no massive bags of Haribo the night before!), and that uniforms, bags and pencil cases are all ready to go so there’s no mad dash on the first day (note to self!).

If your child is going to school for the first time (a big step for you all!) you could practice the first day routine so they know what to expect.

Discuss worries about school

Make sure you create some time and space to spend some relaxed time with your child before they go back to school. Check in with them and see how they feel about the start of the new term.

If anxieties surface, encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling and try to get to the bottom of why. Just doing this can often make children feel better – most of us feel a sense of relief having shared our worries with someone supportive and quite often that makes them disappear!

If possible or necessary, encourage your child to come up with strategies to help them deal with their worries. For example if they’re worried about a particular child being mean to them, discuss how they could deal with it if it happens. Having a practical plan can really help children feel that they know what to do if something happens. You could write both the worries and how to deal with them somewhere to refer back to if helpful.

Focus on the good stuff about school

While it’s important to talk to children about any worries they might have, it’s also really helpful to encourage them to focus on the positives – the things about school they are looking forward. This is helping them to understand that how they think about something can make a difference. It might also help to gently teach them that doing things we feel nervous about  is both necessary in life and actually something to be encouraged.

It might be that they’ll enjoy seeing their friends, or get to play their favourite sport or with their favourite toy, or even that the school lunches are way better than your cooking! Whatever it is, find something that they can look forward to and help them to focus their attention on that.

Having something to look forward to as a family can also help. For example, you could plan a day trip at the weekend or to go to their favourite lunch spot. Do remember that they may well be tired after the first week back and you don’t want to have one of those ‘WE-ARE-SUPPOSED-TO-BE-HAVING-FUN!’ times (!). The important thing is to just some time together doing something a bit special. It will give you all something to look forward to and provide a great opportunity to chat about the first week back at school. It could even simply be a special weekend breakfast…pancakes anyone?! 😉

Teach them some basic breathing exercises

If your child gets anxious it can be really helpful to teach them some basic breathing exercises to help to calm them down – just some simple deep breaths will help. Your child’s willingness to do this will depend on their age, however basic calming breathing exercises can really help us all to stay calm if we’re starting to feel nervous or worried. Primary children really enjoy being taught ‘big belly breathing’ and it’s something you can do together.

Big Belly Breathing

  • Sit or lie down and relax your body
  • Start to focus on your breathing, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth]
  • Gradually start to take deeper breaths, focussing on filling up your belly so it’s really big as you breath in, then fully deflating it as you breathe out
  • Try to breath in for a count of 5 and out for a count of 7 (or 3 in and 5 out – just make the out breath longer)
  • Carry on for 3-5 minutes

If your child is particularly anxious,you can read more about dealing with anxiety (written for adults but applicable to children) in this post I wrote earlier in the year. There are also some nice exercises in this article you could try with them.

Speak to your child’s teacher

If you child is particularly worried about something and it’s , it’s usually best to let the school know sooner rather than later. As a form tutor and class teacher I was always happy to speak to parents about their child and wanted to help where I could.

Yes, teachers are busy at the start of the year, but good teachers are never too busy to talk about a child’s worries and always want the best for the children in their care. A quick email or a chat will help them to understand what might be going on with your child and allow them to help if needed, or just keep an eye on things. It will make you feel better too!

Good luck!

pancake-power

Pancake power!

Pancakes have long been a favourite breakfast in our house. Once the preserve of lazy weekends and holidays, they’re now a more regular feature.

I have one of these pancake makers and it is without doubt my favourite gadget (although my new found love of pressure washing means it’s no longer a one horse race!) and I don’t even bother putting it back in the cupboard anymore.

The types of pancakes I make these days has changed along with my eating habits. Gone are the french crepes (mine always slightly rubbery!) and the fluffy Scottish pancakes I ate bucketloads of as a child courtesy of my gran, and in are these healthier alternatives. I think they are pretty delicious and they are really easy to make. Once you have the basics you can try any combination of ingredients and flavours. The amounts given are approximate – I usually just chuck it all in, adjusting the amount of milk to get the right consistency.

Of course, the toppings you choose can influence how ‘healthy’ these pancakes are. My staple is berries and yoghurt, but you can add maple syrup or honey, bacon, peanut butter if you like. I almost always add a sprinkling of cinnamon t00 – it makes them taste sweeter I think without adding any sugar and cinnamon has been shown to possibly have some health benefits.

1.Family pancakes

These are the ones that the rest of the family are most likely to eat happily. They’re a good transition from white flour/sugar etc to a healthier alternative. The ‘jam’ in this picture is made from frozen raspberries heated with a teaspoon of water and honey.

family-pancakes

Why they are good for your brain (and body!)
Oats are full of great stuff, as I mentioned in the last ‘overnight oats’ post. Their magnesium in particular is great for your brain and has been shown to have a positive impact on symptoms of depression. They also contain plenty of fibre to prevent any peaks and troughs in your blood sugar levels, calcium, iron, phosphorus, folic acid.

Eggs are great for protein, so I usually add another egg than you might otherwise need. Combined with the oats above, they really will help to keep your blood sugar (and your mood) stable throughout the morning. Eggs are a ‘complete’ source of protein as they contain all eight essential amino acids that we need to get from our diet. They also contain B vitamins which can slow cognitive decline (especially when combined with Omega 3s – see the protein power pancakes below!) and selenium, low levels of which studies suggest may be associated with reduced cognitive function. They also pack in vitamins A, D, E and K and a host of minerals like zinc, iron and copper. So, eggs really are a great food to eat anytime!

Ingredients:
About a cup’s worth of porridge oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
A glug of your choice of milk (if needed – I usually use almond, but whatever I have in the fridge)
coconut oil (if needed)

Directions: 

  • Whizz the oats and baking powder on high in a food processor until it resembled a flour.
  • Add the eggs and whizz again.
  • Add enough milk to make a thick dropping batter.
  • Heat up your pan and brush with coconut oil (unless it’s non-stick or you pancake pan then you probably don’t need it).
  • Dollop or pour out the batter into rough circles.
  • Wait until you see some bubbles on the surface and flip it over then cook for another minute or so.
  • Stack them up and serve with whatever you like (cinnamon, maple syrup/honey, bacon, berries, bananas, yoghurt etc). Nom!

2. Protein power pancakes

So these are a bit more hardcore, but still delicious I think! These are the pancakes I eat most often and they’re particularly great after I’ve been to the gym as they contain extra protein to help build my muscles! They are denser than the previous pancakes but so good for you!

protein-pancakes

Why they are good for your brain (and body!)
The base is the same as the pancakes above, so all the goodness still applies, but you get even more with these ones!

  • Flax seeds are a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids – great for your heart and brain. They are also a great source of fibre, protein and iron, so all in all they make a great addition.
  • Bananas are good source of potassium, which has been shown to be important for brain function. They also contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid from which serotonin (the happy hormone!) is made and which some argue helps promote sleep. Bananas also contain vitamin c, beta carotene, vitamin K and vitamin B6, so they’re definitely worth adding and they add a little sweetness too. I often leave the banana out though and they still are lovely.
  • Hemp protein is a high fibre, plant-based alternative to whey (milk) based protein base powders extolled by fitness buffs. It adds an extra protein to the pancakes and is easily digestible.
  • Maca powder is a Peruvian root (like an Andes radish) and is thought to have energy giving properties similar to ginseng. Although as with many such roots and ‘superfoods’, there is not a huge amount of scientific evidence, so make your own decisions about whether you want to bother! I add it to pancakes and smoothies and protein balls (another post!) as it tastes a bit malted and does seem to give me a little bit more energy. It’s supposed to be good for your libido too apparently 😉

Ingredients:
A mugful of oats
a tablespoon of ground flax seeds
1/2 scoop of hemp protein powder
1/2 scoop maca powder (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
1 banana (optional)
A swig of milk (if needed)
coconut oil (if needed)

Directions: 

  • Whizz the oats, flax seeds and powders on high in a food processor until it resembled a flour.
  • Add the eggs and banana (if using) and whizz again.
  • Add enough milk to make a thick dropping batter (if needed)
  • Heat up your pan and brush with coconut oil (unless it’s non-stick or you pancake pan then you probably don’t need it).
  • Dollop or pour out the batter into rough circles.
  • Wait until you see some bubbles on the surface and flip it over then cook for another minute or so.
  • Stack them up, add your toppings and enjoy!

3. Chocolatey(ish) pancakes

So these are pancakes use the basic mix but with a chocolatey twist. The cacao is not as sweet as cocoa powder and don’t expect them to taste of sugar-filled chocolate, but the raw form of cacao is bursting with health benefits. I love them with a load of berries, a drizzle of honey and yoghurt sprinkled with cinnamon.

chocolate-pancakes

Why they are good for your brain (and body!)
Cacao is the star of the show here (you get all the other benefits of the ingredients listed above plus this superpower!). It is a fantastic source of magnesium which promotes a healthy brain and nervous system. It also contains iron, potassium, copper, zinc, manganese and selenium. B1, 2, 3, 5, 9, C, E to name but a few! 
The famed flavonoids that cacao contains have shown promise in some studies of reducing the risk of alzheimer’s disease.  Cacao also contains Phenylethylamine (PEA), though to be responsible for why we reach for chocolate to boost our mood (and possibly it’s association with love!). Studies have linked PEA to a decrease in depression and ADHD, so it’s no wonder these pancakes put me in a good mood in the morning! Even I find them a little bitter, so you may need to get out the maple syrup or honey for these ones !

1 mug of flour (you can use oats as above, or coconut or buckwheat or a combination)
1-2 tablespoons of cacao depending on how chocolatey you like them
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
1 banana (optional)
A swig of milk (you’ll need more if you use coconut flour)
coconut oil (maybe)

Directions: 

  • If using, whizz the oats on high in a food processor until it resembled a flour, or add the flour(s) you’re using into the food processor.
  • Add the cacao, baking powder, eggs and banana (if using) and whizz again.
  • Add enough milk to make a thick dropping batter.
  • Heat up your pan and brush with coconut oil (unless it’s non-stick or you pancake pan then you probably don’t need it).
  • Dollop or pour out the batter into rough circles.
  • Wait until you see some bubbles on the surface and flip it over then cook for another minute or so.
  • Stack them up and serve with whatever you (and maybe your gang) fancy (cinnamon, maple syrup/honey, bacon, berries, bananas, yoghurt etc). Nom!

If you want to have extra fluff, you can separate the eggs, whisk up the egg whites and then fold them in at the end. I can rarely be bothered though!

So there you go, pancakes 3 different ways to get you going with pancake power! Do let me know if you try them and meanwhile I’m off to try to perfect my own matcha pancakes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Feel Good Food Breakfasts: Overnight Berry & Seed Oats

A few people have asked me to write some posts about food, so I thought I’d share a series of ideas for breakfasts as a start. I’ve been posting my breakfasts on Instagram too recently if you’re interested – I’m doing a little experiment to see if this makes me eat more mindfully as a recent study suggests!

I love having a good breakfast – it’s a great start to the day. The breakfasts I’ll share are all pretty quick and easy to prepare and, most importantly, are good for your brain (and body!). Good mood food at it’s best! First up today is one of my favourites for this time of the year; a super-quick summery delight that’s great on the go…

Overnight Seed, Berry and Coconut oats

This is a lovely start to the day and particularly good if you know you’ll be in a rush in the morning but want something decent to fill you up, or take with you to work.

good-mood-food-overnight-coconut-seed-berry-oats

Why this breakfast is good for your brain (and body!)

Getting your oats is very good for you! Oats are a slow-release carb and their soluble fibre helps prevent any peaks and troughs in blood sugar which can play havoc with your concentration, mood and energy levels.  They also contain magnesium which has been shown to have a positive impact on symptoms of depression.

Chia seeds are a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids which play a vital role in brain function. They also contain protein, slow-release carbs and many vitamins and minerals (magnesium, zinc, iron to name 3) which are good for your brain. Flax seeds are also a rich source of those Omega-3s and some studies suggest may help to alleviate the symptoms of depression, so sprinkling some of these on is a good choice.

Sunflower and pumpkin seeds contain loads of vitamins and minerals that your brain and body love. Both are great sources of magnesium and sunflower seeds also contain vitamin E and selenium which studies suggest may help to prevent cognitive decline. Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc which is important for memory function and contain plenty of B vitamins and tryptophan, which is the precurser to the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin.

Coconut is very high in fibre, vitamins C, E, B1, B3, B5 and B6 and multiple minerals including iron, selenium, calcium and  magnesium. Adding some flesh (dessicated coconut in this case) and also the milk gives some really good health benefits and also makes these taste creamy and pretty darn delicious. If you don’t like it, just leave it out and use almond milk, or another milk of your choice instead.

Berries
Berries are great for adding sweetness and they are filled with antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals. Some studies suggest there are specific cognitive benefits of berries too, possibly preventing cognitive and motor decline related to age and this study found eating blueberries may reverse memory loss.

So, here’s how to make this great breakfast – it takes about 5 minutes in the evening.

1. Take a cereal bowl (or a jar if you need them on the move) and add some oats to the bottom of the bowl.

2. Then a mixture of seeds on top. I usually use some combination of chia seeds, desiccated coconut, ground flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds – whatever I have in my jars.

3. Add some cinnamon, whatever berries you have (I usually use a mix of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries), a good lug of coconut milk (or your choice). If you like, you could add a drizzle of honey or maple syrup too.

4. Give it all a stir, cover and leave in the fridge overnight.

5. In the morning all you need to do it take them out, put them in a posh glass dish if you like, add some more berries on the top if you like and a spoonful of bio yoghurt (I usually use homemade coconut) if you like. Seriously yum!

feel-good-breakfasts-oats-from-above

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tip: I often use frozen berries as they tend to be cheaper and last longer. Just stir them in and by morning they’ve defrosted to a delicious mush in your oats.

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Risks-Make-You-Happier

3 Reasons Taking Risks Makes You Happy

Depending on your perspective, risk taking may be something you’re familiar and happy with, or something you balk at. Our personalities, circumstances and life phase sets our attitude to risk and whether we are likely to take a risk. Of course it also depends on what the risk is.

So, what are ‘risks’?
There are many possible ‘risks’ we encounter in our lives; the risks we’re talking about here are not destructive or reckless risk-taking behaviours that are dangerous to your own or anyone else’s well-being; rather they are the roads that appear before us and that we ‘could’ travel down or the risks that we ‘could’ take to follow our dreams – if we just weren’t so fearful / comfortable / secure / stuck. Risks are about making your ideas and dreams into a plan and then a reality.

It could be changing career path from a field in which you are well-established but feel it is not fulfilling you as much as it once did to a new one that you feel more passionate about, or even just moving jobs within the same field. It could be finally trying a new activity that you’ve been wanting to for ages but have been putting off, or travelling somewhere new, perhaps on your own.

Essentially, risks are about putting yourself out there, taking the plunge and going for it!

Depending on your outlook, the risks we mean here are either the secret keys to life’s big adventure, or they are to be avoided as they rock your serene boat way too much. So why should you take risks in life – and how can they make you happier?

  1. Taking calculated risks widens your perspective

If you always do the same thing, with the same people and in the same places, over time your viewpoint may narrow. Going to different places, meeting different people and trying new things means you find out different perspectives and ways of doing things.

Dislike your boss? Well, a new one might be better – ok, they could be worse too, but they’ll be different and you’ll certainly learn things along the way. Always go to the same coffee shops? Well, how about you try a different place? You might find much cooler, funkier places to work where you’ll meet some great people who’ll become your friends (I’m writing this in one of my very favourite coffee shops that I didn’t know existed this time last year).

Fancy visiting a new place but not sure what it’ll be like travelling on your own? Well get the guide books out, ask around and book those tickets! This was also me last summer…and while I can’t guarantee you’ll have the time of your life – you might (I did!) and you’ll definitely broaden your perspective about the world. There’s nothing like travel to make you see your life in a very different light.

  1. Taking even small risks increases your confidence and takes you closer to being the real ‘you’.

Many of us have blips in our self-confidence throughout our lives for one reason or another. At those times it’s tempting to hide away from the world and retreat. While this can help us feel safe for a little while, if it goes on too long, it can be an ever-decreasing circle. If you can put yourself out there and push your boundaries even in very small ways, you can find out new things about yourself, for example what you like and dislike, how you want to live your life, and very definitely what makes you happy.

For example, when I first started lifting weights in the gym (and it took me a while of watching others do it to pluck up the courage), I felt extremely self-conscious. However, I got myself a personal training session, got past the awkwardness and now it’s an essential part of my daily routine. And when I fell off the horse due to illness, I missed it terribly. I realised it makes me happy – I like the changes it’s made to my body, my mind and confidence. There’s something about being stronger that makes you feel stronger in every area of your life. Liking and believing in yourself really is one of the true keys to happiness and being quietly confident about who you are brings a great sense of peace and clarity to your life.

  1. Helps you find your purpose in life

I’m a big fan of positive psychology and according to positive psychology studies – and many other philosophies and religions – living a meaningful and purposeful life is one of the keys to happiness.

Meaning and purpose of course mean different things to us all. It may be finding your ‘calling’ in your job, home life or community. It could be from the way you choose to live your life and in your interactions with others. Often people find their purpose in giving or contributing to others in some way and there is a lot of evidence that can make a positive difference to how happy you feel.

Why-risks-make-you-happy-pupI’ll write another time about my experience of socialising a hearing dog puppy, and I wouldn’t say that training dogs is my calling in life, but certainly it’s helped to give it a little boost of purpose and meaning at a time I was feeling a bit lost and I do feel that I feel I have found my ‘true calling’ recently…so perhaps it’s no coincidence!

It was a risk to me taking on a hearing dog pup – could I fit it into my already busy life? How will we all be when the pup has to go on to the next stage of training? (easy answer = sad but very proud!). BUT, it’s a small risk I’m so glad that I have taken. I’ve met so many lovely people and learnt so much as a result of having her (and she makes me beam with happiness every single morning when she wakes up with the waggiest tail and backside I have ever seen, so that in itself makes me happy!).

On a professional note, it was a huge risk when 6 years ago I left the security of teaching to start my own training company. I’ve been freelance for that length of time and while at times I’ve really missed teaching pupils, I have learnt SO much, had so many different experiences and been able to become involved in many different projects because I am not a classroom teacher. So, yes, a big risk, but those of us who are entrepreneurs, being ready and willing to jump is part of the deal.

Indeed, I’ve just given up the security of a lovely consultancy role which I really enjoyed but needed a bit much travelling for my wellbeing and I’ve decided to fully pursue a new EdTech startup I’ve been toying with for a while, which fits with the purpose I feel I’ve found in my life (I’ll share more details soon!) Scary yes, but I also know from experience it will make me healthier and happier!

So, there you go, 3 reasons risks can make you happier. What risk could you take today?

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7 reasons why holidays are good for our minds

As I sit here looking out at my chickens sheltering from the pouring rain, I can’t help reminiscing about my recent gloriously relaxing holiday in the sunshine. Sigh!

Since coming home a couple of weeks ago I feel much more calm, relaxed and focussed than before I went.  I can see things more clearly, am full of creative ideas and feel totally motivated to get cracking with them. It got me thinking about why holidays are so good for our minds…

Bring Me Sunshine

Of course not all holidays involve sunshine, but let’s talk about those that do. There is evidence that sunshine is great for our brains in a couple of ways:

  • Sun increases serotonin levels
    Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter that helps to transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain. Low serotonin levels are thought to be a factor in depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. You may have come across SSRIs, popular anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac, which increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. The intensity of light that sunshine brings has the same effect – it increases the production of serotonin in the brain and can boost our mood. It’s why high intensity light (SAD) lamps are recommended for people who have lower moods throughout the darker winter months.
  • Sunshine helps us make Vitamin D
    Also, there is emerging evidence that vitamin D is not only essential for healthy bones but for the production of serotonin – and of course the best source of Vitamin D is from exposing skin to the sunshine. And it’s a great reason for getting outside whether on holiday or not! The NHS suggest exposing your unprotected skin to sunshine for 10-15 minutes a day is enough for light-skinned people to make all the vitamin D they need – any more and it’s time to reach for the sunscreen.

What Do You Mean We Need a Break from the old routine?

Working, washing, cooking, shopping, cleaning, dog walking, gardening…the list goes on for those of us who work, look after a home, bring up children, try to look after ourselves and nurture our relationships with our family and friends. It can be pretty exhausting by itself, but throw in some of life’s curveballs and a bit of extra pressure and it can easily to head in the direction of dangerous levels of stress.

Being on holiday allows us – if we’re lucky – to take a break from all the day-to-day chores and responsibilities – someone else makes all the food, cleans up after everyone and your main task is to spend time with the people you love, relax and have fun – total bliss! Which brings me to…

An opportunity to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with their’s

The airline safety announcement analogy is so very true and on holiday we can get more of a chance to actually do it. Those of us who are mums are so used to putting others first, but good holidays really do allow us to focus on a bit of ‘me time’ and recharge our batteries.

Of course, this does depend on the age of any children you have, who you’re on holiday with and what type of holiday you’re having ; however even just the fact that you don’t have to do any of the usual chores frees up SO much time for you to spend on things you would actually like to do – whatever they may be. Whether it’s a morning yoga session, a swim in the pool, a read of a good book or scuba diving, there just is so much more time in the day on holidays, and the chances are you can get some very good quality me time in there somehow.

(As an aside, if you have small children and they are stuck to you like a limpet for the whole holiday, do not fear, they will be teenagers soon enough and then they’re quite glad for you to have ‘me time’!)

A chance to slow down and relax

Linked to this, is that holidays generally mean more relaxation – whatever that means to you personally. It may be lying on a sunbed for 2 weeks, or lots of activities every day, but relaxation is the order of the day and boy is it good for your mind – and body.

Holidays also remind us of the beauty of living life at a slow pace. Hours disappear messing about in the sand, sitting and chatting in a café or watching the sun go down is time well spent. We don’t hurry to get on with the next thing or worry about walking the dog, washing the dishes and finishing that presentation and what we’re not doing, we just enjoy the moment. Which of course is what mindfulness is all about and if the holiday forces align correctly, there are many beautiful mindful moments.

Seeing things more clearly

Such moments of course gives us the chance to clear the mind from daily ‘clutter’ and allow you to see things with a new perspective, perhaps reassessing aspects of your life, your values and your goals. Holidays give us time to reflect on who who we are and where we are going – and crucially whether this is the direction in which we’d like to keep travelling!

Coming up with creative solutions to niggling problems seems easier on holiday. This may be something to do with travelling to another land – Maddux and Galinsky’s studies found links between living abroad and increased creativity

Reconnecting

Everyday life can chip away at family connections and spending quality time with the ones you love helps to reconnect on a deep level. Lehto, Choi, Lin and MacDermid found in their studies of 265 travellers that going on holiday as a family contributes positively to family connection, bonding, communication and feelings of belonging. This is really important for us all – and especially our children – to feel.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside.

Finally, I am reminded about some of the cognitive benefits of being by the sea – covered more in my post on reasons from psychology that learning to surf rocked my world. Recent evidence suggests that being near large expanses of water is very good for the mind. So, even a trip to the seaside can be great for you if you can’t go on a full holiday.

So there you go, 8 reasons why holidays are good for your mind – which sound like 8 good reasons to book another holiday to me! And remember, holidays need not always be super luxurious to have all, or most of these benefits for your mind – it’s what works for you and your loved ones that’s important – and taking a well-earned break. Now, where did I put those travel guides…?

 

Managing-Stress

Managing Stress

We all get a bit ‘stressed out’ at times. Juggling work and busy homes along with life’s inevitable ups and downs can make even the most chilled-out person feel under pressure. But our modern lives are becoming more stressed than ever. While occassional, acute stress can motivate us and improve performance, when we experience ongoing, chronic stress we can experience mental and physical health problems.

The impact of chronic stress on our health

Long-term exposure to stress has been shown to cause mental health problems like anxiety and depression and recent research sugests it can even lead to dementia. It can also cause physical health problems including high blood pressure and heart attacks, generally weaken the immune system so you are more susceptible to infections and exacerbate conditions like irritable bowl syndrome (IBS), insomnia and eczema.

What happens when we’re under stress

As discussed in this post on anxiety, when we feel threatened, the brain gives the ‘danger’ signal, we go into ‘fight or flight’ mode and the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol surge into our bodies. If the danger is fleeting, then the physical and mental symptoms of stress are short-lived. However, when our lives have too many stress factors in them and we move from one stressful situation to another, the constant exposure to stress hormones can cause problems. We can experience psychological symptoms such as feeling overwhelmed, finding it hard to switch off and becoming easily agitated and frustrated. We may also see physical symptoms such as stomach and skin problems or insomnia, and we may develop ongoing anxiety or depression. Some people may also turn to unhelpful coping mchanisms such as drinking which can cause further issues. So, how do you stop stress taking control?

Some tips to manage stress

It’s very difficult to erase stress from our busy lives, and indeed stress is an inevitable fact of life. However, you can make small changes that can make a big difference to how you feel and indeed, how you react to stressful events. The tips unsurprisingly are similar to those on how to deal with anxiety.

  1. Eat a healthy diet – see 5 good mood food tips
  2. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise every day.
  3. Try a little mindfulness.
    There is increasing evidence that mindfulness can help with stress. Yoga and meditation of any kind encourage mindfulness, which is really just paying attention to the present moment, or you could go on a Mindfulness course in person or online.  Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction (MBSR) has been shown to have a significant impact on stress reduction.
  4. Try to get enough sleep – this can be tricky as it’s a vicious cycle when you feel stressed. There are some good sleep tips here.
  5. If work is the main cause of your stress, think about ways you could reduce the impact. It might be time to try to move roles, find a new job or just try to manage your time more effectively.
  6. Talk to someone you trust about how you feel. Just talking in itself may well help, or they might be able to help you come up with practical ways to reduce your stress factors. If you can’t talk to someone close to you and stress it taking its toll on your mental or physical health, talk to someone else – it could be your GP, someone at your local Mind or a counsellor or psychologist.

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5 Good Mood Food Tips

As anyone who’s been ‘hangry’ knows, food can really impact our mood. Numerous studies show that what we eat impacts directly our brain and our mood. The ‘Feeding Minds’ report from the Mental Health Foundation discusses mental health and nutrition in detail. It also highlights research showing the links between whole countries’ intake of certain foods and the population’s levels of depression and other mental health problems.

Good Mood Food Tips

So, what should you eat to help yourself to stay mentally healthy? This could be a very short post! Essentially, it’s all about fresh, natural, healthy whole foods & ditching the white processed stuff, but here are 5 top good mood food tips to keep your brain (and body) working well:

1. Make sure you eat regular meals featuring lean protein, healthy fats and fresh vegetables.

This will help to keep your blood sugar levels steady (and avoid energy peaks and troughs and hangry feelings) and release energy slowly. Fresh vegetables are full of nutrients, fibre and have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.

Get it out of your head that fat is bad. The brain needs healthy fats to work well. So, out with the 1970s low fat (high sugar) diets and in with good fats, including oily fish, nuts and seeds (especially walnuts, almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds), avocados, eggs and live yoghurt.

So, good meal examples would be a tuna or salmon with loads of veg, avocado, seed sprinkles and an extra virgin olive oil dressing, or meatballs in a tomato sauce with vegetable noodles (spirulizers are great, or you can buy ready-made ones now).

2. Eat Oily Fish

I’ve already mentioned fish above, but it’s worth mentioning oily fish separately. As well as being a source of lean protein and very good for your heart, oily fish contains omega 3 fatty acids which are essential for brain function but can’t be made by our bodies. Diets featuring oily fish are thought to reduce levels of depression. So, making sure salmon, sardines, mackerel or fresh tuna feature regularly in your diet is worthwhile.

Example easy meals would be tinned sardines or mackerel on wholegrain toast or a tuna niscoise salad. If you don’t eat fish, then walnuts, pumpkin, chia and flax seeds are your friends (they are even if you do eat fish!).

But what about the mercury?
NHS guidance is now that most people can eat four portions of oily fish a week without a problem, but pregnat women should eat a maxiumum of two.

3. Learn to Love Leafy Green Veg

I never thought I would be the kind of person who ‘massages kale’ but hey, it turns out I am! Kale, spinach, broccoli and other leafy green veg is full of nutritional benefits and scientists have found that it can slow cognitive decline.

Much to my surprise I’ve found I genuinely love(!) a kale salad with roasted veg, hummous and a sprinkling of nuts or seeds on top. Delicously Ella shows you how to give kale a massage in this video…

4. Replace Anything White and Processed With Wholegrains

Carbohydrates are not all bad, but we all know by now that simple, white carbs are no good for us. So forget about sugar, white rice and white bread and bring on the wholewheat, oats, brown rice, bulgar wheat, quinoa etc.

Easy swaps are brown rice in place of white and porridge or bircher muesli instead of sugar-filled breakfast cereals. Honey, maple syrup or medjool dates can be used instead of sugar to sweeten things if you have a sweet tooth (like me!).

5. Selenium

Increasing levels of the trace mineral selenium has been shown to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, although interestingly this study found that if selenium levels were too high that also lead to issues. Brazil nuts are the richest source, so one or two a day will increase selenium levels safely. Tuna fish, oysters, wholegrains, sunflower seeds and pork, beef, lamb and chicken are all other good sources of selenium.

So, there you go – 5 ways you can eat well to help your mood and your health generally. There are lots more I could include, but these 5 are a good starting point. Happy eating…I’m off to massage some kale 😉

 

PS – This Mind video is informative if you’d like to find out more about managing your mood with food.

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Deal with Anxiety

This post discusses self-help strategies to help you deal with anxiety – strategies that work! As discussed in yesterday’s blog post, anxiety can be a debilitating condition. Sufferers may need to take medication to manage their anxiety, but there are many ways you can help yourself. Like many others, I’ve experienced anxiety at times in my life. This blog post gives practial, self-help ways you can deal with anxiety – all strategies I have used to manage my own anxiety. I hope it might be helpful for you or an adult or young person you know.

Practical ways to deal with anxiety

Belly Breathing
If you’re in the middle of feeling anxious, or indeed at any time you just want to feel a little calmer, belly breathing really helps to calm you down. Here’s what to do:

  • Sit or lie down and relax your body
  • Close your eyes
  • Start to focus on your breathing, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Gradually start to take deeper breaths, focussing on filling up your belly then chest as you breathe in and them fully deflating as you breathe out.
  • Try to breath in for count of five and out for a count of 7 (or 3 in and 5 out whichever works for you – make the out breath longer).
  • Carry on for as long as you want / need (3 – 5 minutes works well).

Meditation
I first discovered meditation when having a period of anxiety after a friend had died from suicide. It helped tremendously and numerous studies have shown it can help with anxiety. The Meditation I do is really just an extension of the big belly breathing. I get up 15 minutes earlier than I used to, put on the brilliant Headspace app and go through one of the guided meditations. Headspace ‘teaches’ you how to meditate through a series of guided meditations (the first 10 are free). Learning to stand back and observe thoughts and emotions is a powerful technique. It’s a great way to start the day and I usually feel focussed, calm and ready for anything afterwards. If I don’t ‘Wake up with Andy’ (Puddicome who talks you through the meditations) I feel a bit ‘off’. I’ll write more about meditation in the future, but if you haven’t already, I really recommend giving it a go.

Sleep
While anxiety can sometimes interfere with sleep, getting adequate, good quality sleep is helpful in managing the condition. Adults need around 8 hours per night and children at least 10 hours (there’s a great sleep table here). If that’s not happening, trying to find acceptance of the situation can help (see meditation above) alongside implementing good ‘sleep hygiene’. This ‘Ultimate Routine for Optimal Sleep‘ infographic from Huffington Post has some good recommendations.

Nutrition
There is some food and drink that can help with anxiety and some that can make it worse. I’ll be writing about what nutrition help the brain in another post, so I’ll focus on what to avoid here. I’m sorry to say but caffeine and alcohol are top of the list. While alcohol can often be used by people with anxiety to relieve the feelings, it can cause symptoms of anxiety to worsen and dangerous patterns can emerge which lead people further down the spiral.

Caffeine is another stimulant and the ‘wired’ state it gives can create problems for people who are anxious, exacerbating some symptoms. Best to go decaf or avoid if you suffer from anxiety. I’ve not really bothered with alcohol for some years now and drink one or two decaf coffees a day at the most. Peppermint tea is my tipple of choice these days – my 20-year-old self would find that terribly dull, but it’s how my 40-year-old self rolls (and I like it that way!).

Exercise
More messages you’ve heard before here, but yep, exercise has been shown to have a plethora of benefits for mental health, including anxiety. This leaflet from the Royal College of Psychiatrists is helpful. They recommend 30 minutes of moderate physical exercise on at least 5 days of every week – either in one session or broken up into shorter 10 or 15 minute sessions. That’s pretty do-able for most people. My dog walks are some of my favourite activities of the day – and the dogs quite like it too!

Avoid Avoidance
As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post on anxiety, sufferers may naturally want to avoid the source of their perceived danger and enter into avoidance strategies. This causes patterns to become ingrained and fears to loom larger in the mind. Helping someone to overcome and confront their fears in a supportive, kind, managed way is a great way to help. Depending on how bad the avoidance behaviours are, it may need professional intervention or just someone to be there in an understanding way. Which leads me to…

Relationships
One of the themes of Mental Health Awareness Week is nurturing good relationships. Good relationships are the cornerstone of good mental health. As I discussed in Monday’s post on Child Mental Health, having people to talk to can significantly reduce feelings of anxiety and other mental health issues before they become mental health disorders. I’m incredibly lucky to have a wonderful network of friends and family that I can talk to, and laugh with, about anything and support each other through life’s ups and downs. On the other hand, as many of us also know, having difficult relationships which bring added stress, can contribute greatly to feelings of anxiety. Having mutually supportive, kind people in your life is a great benefit for dealing with anxiety and mental health in general and Mental Health Awareness Week is encouraging us to pledge that we will nurture the good relationships we have. It’s sometimes a challenge with busy lives, but important that we do. This is a great free guide worth reading on relationships and mental wellbeing.

Herbal remedies
Some herbal remedies have been shown to help with anxiety, such as St. John’s Wort, Valerian and Passionflower. Others include Rhodiola and 5HTP. Each of them works differently and trials are often mixed, however they might be worth a go if you are struggling and want to avoid conventional medication.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Although not really a self-help strategy, as you would usually to a practioner to learn CBT techniques, there are some excellent books that will give you the ideas of the basics which really involves amending our ‘faulty thinking’ to help to see things in a more realistic way. If you would like to find out more I can recommend Change Your Thinking with CBT by Dr Sarah Edelman. There is also an online course used by the NHS called Beat the Blues which is based on CBT and offers 8 self-help sessions for £49.99 which is a pretty good investment as NHS waiting lists can be long for CBT.

Further Help for Anxiety
So, there are some self-help strategies that you can use to manage anxiety, or maybe pass on to someone who could use some help. There are plenty more and some of these may not work for all people, but they work for me. It’s important to find your own way. If you are trying to help someone else, one of the best things you can do is to find out more. There’s good advice available from Anxiety UK if anxiety affects you. Their advice for young people is particularly helpful for teachers or anyone working with children or adolescents. The Young Minds and Mind websites also have practical tips and helpsheets.

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What is Anxiety and what are the signs to look out for?

what-is-anxiety-imageEveryone experiences some anxiety in their life at some points in response to situations such as public speaking, interviews, exams, starting a new job or school, or another big life change. Mostly the feelings of unease, worry, fear or even panic will stop after either the event is over, or a short period of time. However, if the feelings can’t be calmed and continue over a longer period of time, then anxiety disorders can develop that may impact on living a full and healthy life.

As discussed in yesterday’s blog post about child mental health, many mental health problems including anxiety disorders start in childhood and adolescence, so it’s important that parents and teachers are aware of the signs and can help young people deal with their anxiety before it becomes a disorder.

Signs of Anxiety for Parents & Teachers to Look Out for in Young People

  • Spending a lot of time worrying – this could be about school work or their appearance
  • Not wanting to go to school (beyond the usual!)
  • Showing or describing physical symptoms (e.g. headaches) to try to avoid going to school or trying to be sent home from school
  • Wanting constant reassurance from parents or teachers
  • Spending a lot of time on their own at lunch or break
  • Showing the physical and psychological signs described above

Physical signs of anxiety

There are some very physical signs of anxiety that sufferers may feel. Recent studies have shown that the Amygdala, the area of the brain associated with anxiety which alerts us to danger, may become overstimulated. Sufferers can become stuck in ‘fight or flight mode, feeling vulnerable and perceiving a ‘danger’ of some kind. The body meanwhile gets ready to fight that bear or tiger and as the adrenalin courses through our bodies. Some of the physical signs of anxiety include:

  • increased heart rate
  • shaking
  • shallow breathing
  • sweating
  • dizziness
  • stomach problems
  • loss of appetite
  • heart palpitations
  • dry mouth
  • ‘jumpiness’

Psychological Symptoms of Anxiety

The psychological symptoms of anxiety vary from person to person, though they can include:

  • unrealistic fears and worries
  • racing or blank mind
  • inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • insomnia
  • exhaustion
  • feeling on edge, irritable or angry

Anxiety Disorders

Clearly anxiety is pretty unpleasant to live with for any length of time. Anxiety becomes a disorder when the feelings are long-lasting, more severe than the norm and start to interfere with work, school and relationships.

Sufferers can understandably want to stay away from the perceived threat and therefore avoidance behaviours are common. Unfortunately avoidance can lead to greater issues  as the threat looms larger in the mind and the cycle continues. If anxiety continues for a prolonged period, anxiety disorders can develop.

There are a number of different anxiety disorders including generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety, phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Anxiety disorders are common with up to 5% of the UK population thought to suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder, with women between the ages of 35 to 59 being the most common sufferers. The last UK wide survey on mental health reported in 2009 that 4.7 in every 100 people suffer from anxiety problems with 9.7 in 100 people suffering from anxiety mixed with depression.

If you are worried about someone suffering from anxiety, or indeed you recognise that you may be suffering from anxiety yourself, there is a lot of help available. Good websites include:

www.mind.org.uk
www.youngminds.org.uk – if you are worried about a child
CALM (for men aged 15-35)
Anxiety UK
No Panic

Coming up tomorrow…ways to treat anxiety

#mhaw16

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