Friday, 22 September 2017

Eat yourself happy

With the autumn now upon us, so too comes the temptation to switch from salads to carbs, and from fruits to fatty comfort foods. But did you know that what you put in your mouth not only impacts on your body, but on your mind too? We can literally eat ourselves happier!

We need food to fuel our bodies, but more often than not food is much more than that. It acts as a reflection of our mood. Feeling stressed or down? We might crave carbohydrates. Feeling happy or in need of celebration? There’s cake and chocolate for that! But have you noticed that the food items we choose when rewarding ourselves, are not actually what we need to boost our bodies?

Much like any other stimulant, the food items we choose when emotional, only provide a fleeting feeling of wellbeing. Chocolate or carbs – though fine for the body in moderation – are actually just a short term rush. They may make us feel good at the time, but this is often followed by a slump – and sometimes accompanying feelings of guilt or frustration too.

The reason we choose these sugar, fatty foods is no secret. These foods contain opioids – the same active ingredients that you’ll find in cocaine, heroin and many other narcotics! Is it any wonder that these emotional eating habits are so hard to break? We’re addicted to the feel-good high and put off by the feelings we experience when we try to stop.

But rather than seeking the quick fix route to make us fleetingly happy, we should actually be focussing on what we need to include in our daily diet to maximise our feelings of contentment and wellbeing. Indeed, it is a consistent, balanced diet that makes us happier because it makes us healthier and healthy body = healthy mind.

There are certain food types that we absolutely need within our diet. To ease the irritability and dissatisfaction that comes with constipation, we need fibrous foods. To ease depression, foods that are rich in Vitamin B12 – such as green vegetables – are a must.

Our five golden rules for choosing food that will heighten your happiness are:

  1. Eat regularly – this helps us avoid peaks and troughs in blood sugar, which can significantly impact on our outlook and mood. 
  2. Eat more carbohydrates – carbohydrates help your body produce serotonin which makes you feel ‘happy and healthy’. But make sure they are 'complex' carbohydrates from wholemeal foods rather than carbohydrates from refined foods, which will result in peaks and troughs in blood sugar (see point 1).
  3. Eat plenty of fish – this makes sure your levels of omega oils are topped up. A deficiency in these oils has been linked to low mood. 
  4. Eat plenty of iron – this makes sure our energy levels are up, which makes us feel positive. A lack of iron leads to fatigue and a preoccupied mind, that’s unable to focus properly. 
  5. Eat less fat – it quite literally weighs us down and leaves us feeling sluggish. 

According to mental health charity Mind, improvements in diet can lead to greater positivity, more energy, clearer thinking and calmer moods. They outline eight tips on how to improve your mood through food – including drinking more water and making healthy choices

Their suggestion to keep a food diary is a really useful tool for tracking particular food items and assessing the impact they have on your body – and your happiness levels.

They also advocate the practice of planning ahead and preparing foods in advance to freeze. This helps us make healthy food choices – it's easier to eat emotionally when you’re short on time and feeling under stress.

For more information about food and mood, you can access their information poster, here: https://www.mind.org.uk/media/2106853/foodandmood_web.pdf

Remember, there is no one rule fits all when it comes to ‘happy’ eating. We’re all different and as such, we will each react differently when we consume certain food and beverages. Get to know your own body, so you can make the right choices, for you and your happiness.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Can reading make you happier?

It’s National Read a Book day today. And as difficult as it may seem to find the time to read during the course of a busy day, a recent large-scale study shows that reading really is good for us – increasing self-esteem and reducing stress.

So, apart from the obvious educational benefits, what is it about reading that makes it so beneficial and how can we carve time out of our busy schedules to pick up a book or two?

An aid to anxiety


No matter how stressed out you feel, the act of reading will help you relax, regulate your breathing and reduce any tension in your muscles. And they’re just the physical benefits. Mentally, reading helps to focus our thinking, reduce the 'noise' and promote mindfulness. You have to be ‘present’ to read and often the very fact that you’ve removed yourself away from the source of your stress or anxiety through doing something else is enough to calm you down.

A way to expand your empathy for others


Reading fiction is a great way of escaping the everyday routine. It transports us to different situations and scenarios that we would not normally experience otherwise and in doing so, it helps us to appreciate things from a different viewpoint. Well-written fiction is designed to challenge our preconceived ideas, test our ideologies and encourage us to empathise with the situations and life-choices of others.

To pick you up when you are feeling down


Depending on the type of books you choose to read, books have the ability to make you feel happy. They help you put our own issues into perspective and, by reading about people in similar situations and facing the same challenges, they can help you feel less alone. Reading about people who have come out the other side can provide hope and make your own problems seem easier to manage. Books make us braver and help us believe that anything is possible.

To send you to sleep


Reading before bed can act as a signal to the brain that it’s time to wind down and go to sleep. Rather than busying your brain, reading actually helps to distract your train of thought. Reading helps to move your focus away from whatever has been happening during the day and onto the fictional story you’re reading. The faster you can switch off your mind, the quicker you can go to sleep. It’s as simple as that.


OK, so now we’re convinced about the benefits of reading, but how do we carve time out of our day to do it? Here are a couple of simple suggestions:


Buy the books


Rather than make a list of the books you want to read, actually buy the books instead. It’s a lot easier to find the time to do something when it’s physically there. Not just the one book either – buy a few – charity shops are full of them. If you're target driven, you can turn it into a reading challenge.

Before bed


As we’ve already mentioned, reading is a positive addition to any bedtime routine. So make yourself a promise to turn off the tv and devices twenty minutes before you retire to bed and pick up a book to read instead.

Digital reading during downtime


There are plenty of apps available that allow you to read through your digital devices. This makes it much easier to cram in a few chapters during your lunchbreak, when you’re in a queue or when you’re on the journey to/from work. However they are not so good for bedtime reading as the light they emit actually impacts on the quality of sleep you subsequently get, so remember to keep the devices for daytime reading only.

Schedule it in


If there's a particular time of the day when you get stressed or experience an energy slump, put some time in your diary then to have a read – you should feel the benefits in as little as 10-15 minutes. And once you have started to make reading part of your daily / weekly routine you soon won’t have to schedule it in at all, it will become second nature.

Read what you enjoy


This one sounds like common sense – and it is – but often we set aside the titles we really want to read, in favour of what we think we should be reading. Harry Potter, Stephen King, Jackie Collins – it really doesn’t matter what genre you’re into, the benefits will be the same and you’re more likely to make time for something that you really want to do.

For more reading inspiration and ideas on how to get started on your reading journey, why not have a look at www.goodreads.com .

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Making friends in a digital world

Meeting up is important for keeping friends
The school holidays have come to an end and many kids will have gone back to a class of new faces. Making friends is not always easy and in adulthood it can be trickier still. A recent study in the Metro found that adults have fewer friends today than in the 1980s. Social media could be a major player in this, as even those people who claim they have lots of friends say they do not feel they’re close enough with any of them to discuss important things in their lives.

We’ve developed some top tips for helping you build adult friendships that will last. Forget your Facebook friends – we’re talking about people who’ll be there for you when you need them and offer support and companionship beyond your digital devices.

Find people who like the same things you do

Most friendships are borne out of a common interest, belief or pastime. It helps to spark conversations and from there you can decide if you like each other enough for a true friendship to form. If you really want to make new friends, start by being in a place where likeminded people will congregate – join a club, pick up a new hobby or sign up to night classes.

You get out what you put in

In the early stages of a new friendship you have to make the time to nurture your new relationship. Once you've found someone you think has friend potential, set yourself the challenge to develop the connection. People can be shy, so if you get rebuffed the first time, make yourself a promise to try again. People will appreciate your early efforts. Of course, if after the second or third attempt there is still no connection made, accept that this friendship might not be going anywhere and turn your attentions elsewhere.

Digital friends can develop into more

Yes, this goes against what we’ve already said about Facebook and Twitter being two of the main reasons we have fewer ‘real’ friends these days, but when it comes to face-to-face friendships, social sites are excellent places to connect with likeminded people. Groups are cropping up all the time, filled with people who are also looking for new friends– just make sure you convert these virtual acquaintances into face-to-face meetings as this has been shown to be an important factor for retaining friends! If you do decide to meet up with an online friend, remember to tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back and always meet in a public place during the daytime until you get to know them better.

Revive faded friendships

There are many reasons why old friendships come to an end – we may move jobs, relocate or see our family situation change. However, if you find yourself in a friend famine, consider contacting some of your old friends to see if there is anything to rekindle there.


If you’re still unsure about how to create new friendships now you’re an adult, take a look at a technique called The Golden Rule of Friendship. This works on the theory that people will like you if you make them feel good about themselves. This Psychology Today blog explains all about it. It boasts a 100% success rate, so what have you got to lose? Those new friendships are closer than you think! 

Friday, 11 August 2017

Smiling - why is it good for us?

Have you ever heard the saying that smiling is infectious? It’s true. When we see someone smile, it takes a lot of effort not to replicate the behaviour and when we do smile, it makes us feel so good that we want to do it more!

This article suggests that when we smile, our brain actually creates a log of when we smile and what makes us smile. This activity log helps overrides the brain’s natural tendency to think negatively and if you smile often enough, it can actually rewire your brain into more positive thought patterns.

So what is it about smiling that makes us feel so good?


Each time we smile it releases tiny ‘feel good’ molecules – endorphins and serotonin - that help fight off stress. Endorphins relax the body, lower our heart rate and blood pressure. They also act as a natural pain reliever. Serotonin acts as a natural anti-depressant and mood lifter. And when we feel good, our productivity increases and our confidence grows.

The three studies below looked at the way smiling can benefit us and our minds/bodies:

A 2012 study in Kansas saw participants move their mouths into forced smiles with chopsticks! Sounds crazy, but the experiment found that the people with the biggest forced smiles experienced a substantial reduction in heart rate and quicker stress recovery after completing a stressful task, compared to those who kept a neutral facial expression.

In 2004, a study at Penn State University found that happiness spreads, smiley employees working within the service industry left a more positive impression on customers than those who did not smile. Customers were left feeling happier and more inclined to smile at others too. These smiles cannot be forced however, they must be authentic!

A Pittsburgh University study discovered that a smiling person is regarded as more trustworthy than someone who frowns or holds a neutral expression. Their study asked people to rank photos of models based on their perceived trustworthiness. The bigger the smile, the more trustworthy they were perceived as being.

To find out why smiling is perceived as infectious we really have to look back to Darwin’s 'Science of Smiling'. He theorised that smiling was a universal behaviour. Other nonverbal body language traits are more likely learnt, as they are different depending on which culture you are observing. Darwin also found that we are ‘prewired’ to connect with others via smiling, which means that people who are physically unable to smile find it more difficult to develop social relationships.

So there you have it. Smiling is scientifically proven to help us connect with people. What could you do today that would make you smile? The people around you will thank you for it!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

How to be happier

It’s 2017, we have more than we've ever had before and technology continues to make our lives easier in ways we could never have imagined when we were younger. However, research suggests that adults over the age of 30 are no happier.

In the 1970s, adults were considerably happier than today. Why is that? What has changed?

This feature looks at what being happy means and suggests that happiness lies mostly within our control. According to this article, even the smallest of actions, such as a warm bath or a long-anticipated cup of tea, can contribute to our overall happiness.

So, what can we do to inject some more happiness into our lives?

There is no secret formula to happiness. Indeed it means different things to different people. If you’re on a mission to become happier, there's a lot of advice to be gleaned from the habits and routines of happy people. It may sound too simplistic to say that they just choose to be happy, but attitude to life is a large part of it.

This article asks people to share their thoughts and tips on how to be happier and is an interesting read.

Make a list


A good way to start your journey to happiness is to write a list of the things you like to do in life – the things that make you smile and that speak to your soul. This can be anything from painting your toenails to playing with pets – or random acts of kindness to strangers. This article is a great starting point. Once you become happier, you won’t need the list, you will intuitively be drawn towards – and make time for – the things that make you happier, but it definitely helps to have a framework to start off with.

Healthy body / happy mind-set


The NHS suggests that in order to gain greater happiness, we need to give our bodies the respect they deserve. Cutting down on the booze, eating a healthy diet and taking more exercise, all help us manage stress, which contributes to our overall happiness. Check out this NHS webpage for more information.

Sleep makes us smile


Getting enough sleep also helps, giving our mental wellness a boost. When we sleep, our body continues to work, hard. It resets and balances our brain function and fights off anything that threatens our physical health, after a good night’s sleep, we wake up happier and ready to take on the day ahead.


Remember, there is a world of difference between unhappiness and depression. Unhappiness is a sense of dissatisfaction, of being unfulfilled or missing out on enjoyable activities and pastimes. Depression brings with it a sense of despair, that no amount of activity or distraction can fix. If you feel that your unhappiness is more deep rooted, a trip to your GP to discuss your situation may be advisable.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Surviving summer holidays on a budget

The thought of keeping the kids occupied during the summer holidays can be quite daunting and can be a great source of anxiety for many parents, especially if you’re on a budget. When school’s out and the sun is shining, children are more likely to be happy entertaining themselves – or at the very least you can grab a bat and a ball and visit the nearest park. However, the chances of a few weeks of great weather are slim, so we’ve pulled together some ideas that will help the summer holidays go swimmingly – without breaking the bank!

Plan ahead


The first thing to do is to plan ahead. If you know what time you have to fill and how you plan to fill it, you are less likely to succumb to impulsive activities that will cost more money. Develop a planner to cover you just for the summer break and work with your children to plot out how you will spend your time.

You don’t need to feel bound by the plan. If the weather is great one day and you fancy a trip to the river, feel free to swap activities around. Get the children involved in the plan, so that everyone has a say in what you’ve scheduled.

Scour the local papers and Facebook groups are full of free activities to fill your summer break. Lots of shops, leisure centres and libraries have a range of free and low cost activities throughout the summer break – and don’t forget the museums and art galleries that are often free to enter. Remember, most free activities need booking in advance, so get organised and plan ahead.

Stick to your budget


There’s no denying that the summer break can be an expensive time. Look carefully at your finances and be clear about the money you have available over the holidays. Make a promise to yourself not to go above and beyond the funds you have available. Break down your budget week by week, so that you don’t spend all your allowance in the first couple of weeks. Think about sharing your budget with the children (if they are old enough) so that they can understand the choices that have to be made.

Make money to spend money


The summer holidays is a great opportunity to teach your children about enterprise and the value of money. There are lots of activities that the kids can get involved in that will result in some revenue for their hard earned cash – which can also then go towards additional summertime treats.

Instead of asking them to tidy their room, ask them to find some old toys to sell on eBay, Shpock or Facebook selling groups. The money raised can be put towards the cinema, brunch or swimming trips that fall outside of your summer budget. Rather than doing arts and crafts that will later decorate your fridge door, suggest activities that the children can sell on to friends and family. Friendship bracelets, door hangers and baked goods are all relatively simple to do and attractive enough to sell.

If you’re feeling adventurous, consider a family Bargain Hunt-type event, where each child is given a small sum of money and tasked with increasing this sum by the end of the week/holiday. They can choose to buy and sell, or spend the money on materials that they will transform into crafts.

When is a chore not a chore?


Even the most mundane of household chores can be turned into an activity for children, with a bit of thought and preparation. Rather than going food shopping, suggest that the children come up with a menu for a family meal. Their job is to assess the ingredients they need, find them in the shop, prepare them and cook the meal. If gardening is your thing, consider setting aside a small corner of the garden so that the children can plant and tend to their own plants and flowers – vegetables and herbs are a good ideas, as they have a purpose and can be used by the children in cooking activities.

The best thing about these ideas is that they help build confidence in children too - so it's a win, win!
Here’s wishing us all a summer filled with sunshine – and remember to plan, just in case it isn’t!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Relaxation tips for getting the most out of your summer break

The summer is finally here – what are your plans? Lazing on the beach, relaxing by the poolside, chilling out reading the latest thriller? Well, that may be what we hope will happen but in reality, the summer break can be a much more hectic affair, as we struggle to juggle the work/life balance - often with kids in tow, while covering for work colleagues as they grab their fortnight in the sun…

As this article highlights, when it comes to relaxation our minds and bodies are linked. This means that relaxation is often beyond our reach while we are stressed and busy trying to survive the holidays.

Learning relaxation techniques can help you to restore calm when you’re feeling stressed, and make you more resilient to the stresses you’ll undoubtedly face over the summer break.

Practising relaxation techniques can have many physical, as well as mental benefits, including slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure. It also improves the quality of your sleep and improves your mood - helping you to get the most out of the summer.

In our busy lives, people can create negative associations with relaxing – claiming that it’s wasting time, or a luxury that we can’t afford. How wrong they are. Regular relaxation and stress-busting techniques are actually time well spent and vital for your physical and emotional health.

You’ll find many suggestions across the web about how to relax and the techniques you can use when you feel the stress starting to build. However, not all of these are compatible with the summer holidays.

The following ideas can be incorporated into your summer’s day, whether you’re at work or play – or trying to do both!

Mindful nature


Take a few minutes to really take in your surroundings. Pick a flower and really look at how it is made up. Take in its colour, the way in which the petals join together around the centre, think about the important job it has to do. Often we engage in activities without really thinking about what we are doing. Taking a mindful moment helps to re-centre us and remind us of our place in the broader scheme of life.

Listen to music


Have you ever wondered at the ability of music to transport us to a different time and place? Music taps into our subconscious and spark our emotions without much effort at all. Compile a couple of short playlists, with songs that contain positive associations, then take a few minutes out of your day to listen to a song or two that you know will either inspire, re-energise and calm you down.

Take a - tech - break


Set some time aside each day to switch off and have a tech break. No checking your emails, no responding to text messages or surfing the net. The fact that we’re constantly contactable and ‘on’ can be very draining, although we may not consciously acknowledge this to be true. By taking a short amount of time every day just to focus on ourselves – and our families – we can recharge our emotional batteries.

Summer is an enjoyable season, but can bring with it additional stresses and strains. For more ideas as to how to get the most out of your summer break, read this article.