What could be easier than breathing? We do it all the time, and yet not all breaths are created equal.
Deep breathing can be a great tool to use when you’re in a state of anxiety, high stress or are dealing with a panic attack. The simple action of taking deep breaths is soothing and calming on body and mind.
If you want to use your breath to calm yourself, all you need to do is to stimulate the right part of the body’s nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system controls our rest, relax and digest response. When it is activated, the body is in a state of calm, with dilated blood vessels and lower blood pressure, a slow heart rate and calm breathing.
How to get there? Your outbreath needs to be slightly longer than your inbreath. This stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the diaphragm all the way to the brain.
There are many different breathing exercises you can try to put your body into a parasympathetic state, but the simplest is this one:
Find a comfortable place where you can sit quietly in a relaxed pose but with your spine upright. Close your eyes and begin breathing normally through your nose.
Next, take a deep, slow breath in through your nose counting to two, hold for one count, and exhale counting to four, then hold again for one count. Make sure you breathe smoothly and evenly.
If this feels too easy, you could try inhaling for 4 counts and exhaling for 6, or even 6 inhales and 8 exhales, just so long as it still feels comfortable.
On the outbreath, try experimenting with breathing our through your nose, through pursed lips or through your mouth to see what feels best for you.
Do this breathing exercise for a minimum of 5 minutes and notice a real difference in your state of mind.
If you find breathing exercises helpful to combat stress and anxiety in your life, you may wish to try these 3 video guided exercises:
A good night’s sleep is something many people take for granted. But when it’s not happening, and you’re routinely suffering from lack of sleep or interrupted nights, this can take its toll on your physical health and emotional wellbeing.
According to the Royal Society for Public Health, adults need 7-9 hours’ sleep per night. However, the average time recorded in a recent sleep survey was 6.8 hours, and many people are suffering from restless nights or periods spent lying awake too.
Lack of sleep is related to increased stress and irritability, while poor sleep is known to increase the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Clearly, the benefits of getting sufficient good quality sleep are not to be underestimated.
Stress reduction – Just as lack of sleep can raise the level of stress hormones in the body, deep and regular sleep can lower them.
Lower blood pressure – Sufficient restful sleep keeps the body relaxed and has a beneficial effect on your blood pressure, lowering the chances of heart disease and stroke.
Better immunity – Lack of sleep makes your body less able to fight infections, while plenty of good quality sleep improves your immunity.
Brain boosting – While your body is resting, your brain is busy processing memories. With plenty of sleep, your cognitive function improves and you feel more attentive and focused.
Mood lifting – Getting a good night’s sleep will help keep you in a calm and balanced frame of mind, while lack of sleep will lead to irritability and may exacerbate depression, anxiety or anger management issues.
Weight control – Plenty of good sleep will help regulate the hormones that affect our appetite, while reducing cravings for the wrong foods.
To help improve your personal sleep patterns, it is recommended that you establish a regular bedtime routine to prepare your brain and body for sleep. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day to keep your body clock regular. Wind down before bedtime so you are relaxed and ready for sleep
Did you know that spending time outdoors can benefit your physical and mental health? You don’t even have to be exercising energetically to reap the benefits. Simple everyday activities such walking to work, taking the dog out or having an after dinner stroll can really improve the way you feel.
We all know that a good walk in the fresh air can help you collect your thoughts, let off steam or simply relax, particularly when you’re experiencing high levels of stress. But it’s more than that. Walking can positively affect your overall wellbeing, and even help fight depression.
Here are just a few good reasons why it pays huge dividends to get outside more.
Walking, just like any other physical activity, releases endorphins. These are the ‘feel good’ chemicals in your brain that are responsible for improving your mood and reducing anxiety and stress.
Regular walking can help improve your sleep patterns, leading to better quality and more refreshing sleep.
It is a well known scientific fact that people with active lifestyles have a lower risk of suffering from clinical depression.
It is a recognised benefit that spending time in contact with the natural environment – perhaps by walking in local parks, green spaces or woodland – can boost your mental health.
Regular physical exercise has been shown to be at least as effective a treatment for mild to moderate depression compared to taking antidepressant medication. What’s more, all the side effects of exercise are positive!
According to a recent clinical study, being surrounded by nature gives your brain a break from overstimulation, which can have a restorative effect – increasing your vitality, boosting energy levels and heightening your concentration.
Discovering your local area on foot is a great way to make you feel more at home. It gives you a greater sense of belonging, and makes you more likely to make contact and establish friendships with people who live close by.
A welcome by-product of regular walking is that you will feel fitter and may lose some weight. This can enhance your body image and improve confidence.
Group walking is a sociable activity that can make you feel more connected and overcome social isolation – all helpful in boosting your mental health.
Even if you don’t go for a walk but simply spend time outdoors, this will still improve your wellbeing. Why not take your lunch break on a park bench, or watch the children play in the playground on a sunny day?
Going to work is a daily fact for most of us – but what do you do if it leaves you stressed day in, day out? Obviously, if you really don’t like your job, then consulting a career coach or looking for alternative employment is an obvious way out. But sometimes, even if you love your job, work stress can get to you. Whether it’s the commute, the workload, the niggly backache, eye strain or headache, or even your co-workers, it can feel like the proverbial daily grind.
The good news is that there are many strategies you can employ to make yourself feel better at work, both mentally and physically. Whether you work 40 hours or 20 hours a week, here are 7 little tricks you should try.
1 – Get more sleep
Sleep is the magic ingredient to having positive energy to face the day. We know that sleep helps the body to recover from the day and repair and recharge, which in turn helps us to be more productive the following day.
Good quality sleep also puts you in a more positive frame of mind. In terms of neuroscience, the brain processes negative stimuli in the amygdala while neutral/positive memories are processed by the hippocampus. Bad sleep affects the hippocampus more than the amygdala, meaning that if you haven’t had enough sleep, your positive emotions are likely to be weaker than your negative ones.
2 – Eat breakfast
Yes, it’s true, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Many studies have linked eating a proper breakfast to good health. Think about it: you need to put some fuel into your body to stimulate your metabolism, up your energy levels, improve your concentration and memory. Even if you’re not hungry first thing in the morning or don’t have time to sit down for breakfast, it’s never a good idea to work on an empty stomach.
However, just as important as having breakfast is the quality of what you eat. Whether you go for a wholesome porridge, an egg or fruit and yogurt, make sure your breakfast food is fresh, unprocessed and nutritious. A croissant on the way to work, or sugary cereals are really don’t doing anything for your energy levels.
3 – Arrive on time
Get to work late and the scene is set for a stressy day. Personal organisation is key for a smooth working day where you are in control the moment you walk into the office. From planning your wardrobe to sorting out your lunchbox, to setting your alarm on time, to sorting out the kids/partner etc, to leaving ample time to get to work (including unforeseen delays) – it will be worth the effort.
The office commute can have a surprising effect on your overall happiness. If you really live too far from work, you may want to consider making a change in the longer term – either to your job or your home.
4 – Beware the sedentary job
You may feel hardworking and productive sitting at your desk for hours, but it’s actually really bad for your body. Studies have shown that regularly sitting for long periods of time puts you at greater risk of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, depression, cancer and many more serious health conditions.
Make sure you take a break from sitting every half an hour or so, maybe do some desk yoga to stretch out, or try a standing desk to avoid sedentary posture problems altogether. You should also ensure that your work chair is ergonomically optimised to support your body’s correct posture and minimise back pain.
5 – Personalise your desk
Feeling ‘at home’ in the office can be achieved easily with the addition of a few carefully chosen items such as a framed photo of your loved ones, a house plant, or even a subtle scent diffuser. Your physical environment at work has a big influence on how you feel, so investing a bit of thought into how to make the office more homely is well worth the effort.
6 – Get out more
The temptation to stay at your desk all day long, particularly when you’re super busy, can be overwhelming. But there are actually very good health reasons for taking a lunch break and stepping outside the office during the working day.
Taking a break gives your brain the opportunity to recharge, making you more productive when you return. Spending time outside in the fresh air alleviates eye strain, boosts your positive mood, refreshes your thinking and improves your working memory. A recent study showed that natural environments had a more positive impact on happiness than urban environments.
7 – Practise smiling
Strange but true, smiling can make you feel better. While most people think we smile because we feel happy, it can actually work the other way round too: we feel happy because we are smiling. It’s called the facial feedback hypothesis.
Obviously, it’s most natural to smile because you’re having positive thoughts – a smile has been shown to improve attention and performance on cognitive tasks. But even forcing a smile when you don’t feel like is sufficient to lift your mood and lessen the pain or distress of an upsetting situation.
There’s been a lot of talk about gratitude in recent years. As a concept, gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what a person receives – it’s a way to acknowledge goodness in your life. Practising gratitude helps you connect to something beyond yourself as an individual, be it other people, nature or even a higher power.
The field of positive psychology makes a strong link between gratitude and greater happiness. Numerous scientific research studies have been carried out to show that practising gratitude regularly helps you feel more positive emotions, acknowledge and relish the good experiences that you have, improve your physical and mental health, deal with adversity and build stronger relationships. Other benefits include better sleep, increased self-esteem and a more empathetic (and less aggressive) attitude. It’s a positive mental state that grows stronger with use.
Gratitude can be expressed in many ways. Applied to the past, it’s about retrieving positive memories and being thankful for the good things that have happened. In the present, practising gratitude means not taking one’s good fortune for granted, while keeping a hopeful and optimistic attitude for the future. It’s a quality that can be practised and cultivated further.
Practising gratitude on a regular basis will help you refocus attention on what you have, instead of what you think you need to achieve before you can feel happy. Here are some easy ways we can all cultivate gratitude in our everyday lives:
Keep a daily ‘gratitude journal’
Create a daily calendar that you update every day. Make it a habit to write down at least one positive thing that happened during the day. At the end of the year, read through your journal and be proud of all the good things in the past year.
Write a ‘thank you’ note
Nurture your relationship with someone special by writing them a letter that expresses your appreciation and gratitude for the positive impact they’ve had on your life. Deliver it in person if you can and read it out loud. Why not make a habit of writing a gratitude letter every month, and don’t forget to send one to yourself now and again.
Enjoy nature in the moment
When you’re outside, take a moment to stop and stare in wonder at the world around you. Lift your head to the sky and simply give thanks to the universe for having created the sky and clouds, the sun and rain, the trees and flowers, the season you’re currently in etc. Feel nature’s incredible presence all around you. If you are religious, you could incorporate an element of prayer.
Appreciate the little things
It’s all too easy to go through life unaware of the little things. Make a point of noticing the shop assistant, the waitress, the postman, the petrol station attendant etc. Thank them individually for what they do for you – it will make their day, and leave you with a smile on your face. Don’t forget your nearest and dearest: small gestures such as feeding the cat or making a cup of tea should not be taken for granted.
Find a place to sit quietly and undisturbed and focus on the present moment without judgment or agenda. Observe nothing but your breath and simply let yourself ‘be’. Even a few minutes at a time will have a big impact on your mental wellbeing.
Christmas can be the highlight of the year, a chance to relax with friends and family and celebrate love and happiness. However, that isn’t always the case. Your loved ones may live far away, you may not have any close family or have experienced a recent bereavement.
According to Saga, about half a million elderly people in the UK spend every Christmas on their own. And according to Age Concern, 1.2 million people in the UK are chronically lonely. If you’re staring another lonely festive period in the face and are wondering how to cope, here are some ideas that may help.
1 – Volunteering
Why not shift the focus away from your negative feelings at Christmas and make it all about giving to others? Many charities and voluntary organisations are dedicated to helping those in need, especially at such a vulnerable time of year, and extra help is always welcome. Check for local events and activities and perhaps offer to help out at a community Christmas Dinner, visiting lonely residents at a Care Home or taking gifts to a children’s hospital.
2 – Going to work
Keep yourself busy over Christmas by going to work. With plenty of people needing time off work over the holidays, your offer to keep the wheels of business going may be very welcome. Develop a sense of yuletide camaraderie with other working colleagues and share some mince pies at the desk. And who knows, maybe you’ll be paid Christmas overtime rates too.
3 – Joining in with the community
You’ll be amazed how many other people locally have no-one to celebrate Christmas with. Why not find them and get together? Whether through your local church or community groups, see whether you can join a community dinner or carol singing or drinks meet-up? You never know, it could be the beginning of some beautiful new friendships.
4 – Online Christmas
If you have access to a computer or smartphone and internet, why not hook up with far flung friends and family online? From texting to social media, email and video calling, there are many ways you can keep in touch and exchange Christmas wishes. Why not set up virtual get-togethers via Skype or Facetime?
With the Christmas season now upon us, what better time to remind ourselves that Christmas is a time for giving? Regardless of your financial situation – it’s not about the money! – now is your opportunity to think about those around you and show them you care.
But that’s not all. Charity begins at home, and in the often frantic weeks of preparation for the annual festivities, it’s all too easy to forget about your own needs. Be kind to yourself too.
Why not use this handy Christmas Calendar to prompt yourself to perform acts of kindness every day? From donating essential foodstuffs to a local foodbank (3 December) to writing a positive message of affirmation to yourself (9th December), to smiling and thanking the checkout staff at your local supermarket (17th December), to buying a lottery ticket for a stranger (23rd December), there must be a million ways to make a positive contribution to your own and other people’s happiness.
This month is the perfect chance to make a difference.
Meditation and mindfulness practices have seen a huge surge in popularity in recent times. There’s no denying that there’s a wealth of proven mental and physical health benefits to be derived from regular practice, including;
A calmer, clearer mind and improved concentration
Better communication and creativity
Relaxation and rejuvenation of mind and body
Lower blood pressure and less stress
Better sleep and greater energy levels
Better moods, emotional stability and general happiness
Improved immune system
Sadly, meditation is an often misunderstood concept that can seem remote and inaccessible to all but the most dedicated Buddhist monks. Who’s got the time to just sit there for long periods of time, doing nothing? And how can you possibly clear your mind and ‘think of nothing’? However, the truth is that meditation is something that everyone can do – anywhere and anytime – and it’s very easy to get started.
Autumn is here, no doubt about it. And as the days get shorter and the temperature drops, it’s often harder to keep the mood light and positive compared to the sunny summer months.
Colder, longer evenings mean that many of us spend more time at home, becoming less active and less sociable too. And if your child has just started school, or flown the nest to go to university, there may be an empty nest to cope with too. (more…)
We all experience stress from time to time; it can affect us both emotionally and physically. Are you feeling tense and moody, overwhelmed by the demands of your family or find it difficult to switch off? If you’ve been suffering from low energy, digestive problems or loss of libido, it’s worth checking with your GP to see if stress could be the cause. (more…)
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