Monday, 20 March 2017

International Day of Happiness - what would you write on your wall?

Today is international day of happiness, a day started by the United Nations in 2012. The first year that the day was celebrated, orange 'happiness walls' sprang up in many cities - places for people to share their ideas for achieving happiness.

So we thought we'd do our own happiness wall with some tips for achieving happiness in life.

What would you write on your own happiness wall? Visit Twitter and tell us what you'd put on your wall using #HappinessWall and we'll add our favourite tips to our own wall.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Nutrition and hydration week - how food can affect your mood

The saying goes that we are what we eat and what better time to look at whether there’s any truth in the saying than during Nutrition and Hydration week?

Drink


When it comes to drinking, people often choose alcohol to help change their mood. They may have a tipple to feel more relaxed, to help them engage more freely with others, or to give them that ‘happy’ vibe. However, evidence suggests that while alcohol does indeed change our mood, it’s not in the way we think. As a depressant, booze is likely to worsen symptoms of anxiety. So as we drink to alleviate feelings of stress, sadness or anxiety, in reality alcohol is exacerbating them.

The same can be said of caffeine. When taken in a drink, Caffeine quickly blocks the action of a brain chemical called adenosine. It’s a naturally occurring sedative so without it we feel more alert and sharp. That’s why coffee is a popular morning beverage However, for people pre-disposed to feelings of anxiety, it can actually leave you feeling more anxious.

Similar chemical changes occur in our body when we drink sugary drinks too. We get a rush and peak of energy as the sugar reaches our system – which can feel great and make us more productive – only to crash again soon after as our body over-produces insulin to absorb all the sugar. This leaves us feeling irritable and less able to focus. These highs and lows can be significant when it comes to managing our moods.

Food


There are a number of studies that have been done into the links between what we eat and how it impacts our mood. But the converse is also true – does our mood affect what we choose to eat, and in doing so does it create a vicious circle? We feel down so we make bad food choices that only serve to make us feel worse. This article in psychology week looks at the many ways in which our mood affects our food choices and the impact this then has on our body and brain.

There are a few golden rules to follow if you believe that your food choices could be impacting on your mood. It’s not rocket science, but it’s always best to look at the some of the most common contributory factors before we look at other ways of modifying our eating and drinking behaviours.

Five golden rules to boost your mood


  1. Eat regularly to avoid peaks and troughs in blood sugar – food fuels the body and without it we cannot function properly.
  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 to make sure your levels of omega oils are topped up – a deficiency has been linked to low mood.
  4. Eat plenty of iron to keep energy levels up – without iron we can feel fatigued and preoccupied.
  5. Eat less fat – it quite literally weighs us down and leaves us feeling sluggish.

According to mental health charity Mind, improving our 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

Unfortunately, there is no one rule fits all when it comes to ‘clean’ eating and drinking habits that will improve our mood. Our bodies are all different and as such, we will each react differently when we consume certain food and beverages. What we can do, however, is get to know how our bodies react to what we put in our mouths and make more mindful decisions about what we consume in order to keep our spirits high.

Friday, 3 March 2017

The benefits of living a simple and minimalist life


The first of March marked the meteorological start of spring and the time of year when we start to think everything is possible with the promise of longer days ahead. Very often we mark the start of Spring with a good old clear out – to wipe away the Winter cobwebs and enter the season with a clean slate.

There’s a saying that most of us have everything we need, if not everything we want. This suggests our desire to have things surrounding us often detracts from what we need to really make us happy.

Minimalism is the practice of living with only those things you need. It is said to enable you to focus on what you most value in life, without being distracted by things.

Some practising minimalists claim that getting rid of 'stuff' can actually set us free. So, this March why not take the opportunity to go to town on your Spring clear out?

For every item you remove from your house, you release trapped energy. People often talk about feeling as though a weight has been lifted when they've got rid of some of their things, so we’ve developed some tips for getting started:

Break it down into chunks


If your house is like most others, your clutter will have built up over years, rather than weeks. So sometimes the thought of trawling through it all can be quite daunting. Don’t let this put you off. Simply break the big task down into smaller chunks. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, every step towards a more minimalist environment is a step forward. Set yourself a time – once, twice, three times a week – to get stuck in and peel off the layers of clutter one at a time.

Sell, sell, sell…


It can be hard to simply give away all the stuff you’ve spent your hard earned money on and that’s one of the reasons we hold onto things for longer than we need to. Don’t despair, there are loads of ways of making cash out of your old stuff. As well as eBay, there are Facebook groups, car boot apps, companies that buy unwanted CDs and DVDs, etc. Remember, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so if you’ve got the time, make the effort and get some cash back for the things you no longer use or need.

Charity begins at home


Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to offer things you don’t need to friends and family. Look out for small charities or organisations in your local area that are in need of a helping hand. Give old toys to nearby schools, nurseries or children's charities; books and DVDs to the library. It feels good to know that the stuff you no longer needs is being valued by someone else. Charity shops are also always on the lookout for quality donations, with pretty much all of the money they raise from your goods going to a worthy cause.


The transition from living a life of plenty to living a more minimalist life doesn’t happen overnight – and we’re not saying you need to rid yourself of all your worldly goods in order to live a long and happy life. What we're suggesting, however, is that we recognise the difference between the things we want and things we need, then try to separate the two.


For more tips on making the move to minimalism, read this: http://www.becomingminimalist.com/creative-ways-to-declutter/

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Reflection and contemplation in everyday life

There’s a saying that: if you do what you always do, you’ll get what you’ve always got. So today, we thought we'd encourage you to reflect on your lives; to take stock on where you are right now and the changes you would need to make to get somewhere else.

Self-reflection is as it suggests: taking a look at yourself, your actions and behaviour and being honest about what you see. ‘Reflection’ is the practice of thinking about things and assessing where improvements could be made. We’ve defined three key areas where self-reflection should be focussed.

Strengths


What are you good at? Where do you excel? Which tasks do you complete easily and without hesitation? You may find you have to look at your perceived weaknesses in order to establish where your strengths really lie.

Skills


What specific skills do you have? How do these compare with the tasks you are often asked to perform? Self-reflection is about recognising what we can do readily and the areas where we need to improve.

Successes


Our successes are a great way of establishing the areas in which we shine. Self-reflection and self-improvement are as much about what we have achieved already as they are about how we can improve. It's only by examining the two areas hand in hand, that we will get a true reflection of who we are.


The main benefit of self-reflection is that it helps us to notice – and put an end to – negative patterns and behaviours that are holding us back in life. The hardest part is identifying these patterns. Once we have done this all we need is perspective to put solutions in place.

Self-refection requires us to have an idea of where we want to go in life and what we want to achieve – without this, we are unable to consider alternative solutions to our actions. Without an overall goal in mind, our daily tasks do not hold the same purpose and the need for self-reflection diminishes.

We must remind ourselves of where we are going, in order to get there. Having a destination helps us keep a positive mindset and helps prevent us focusing on matters that lie outside our control. It is only by looking at what we have done before, that we can really establish what we need to do differently in order to succeed in future.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Relationships are for life, not just for Valentine’s Day

Next week it’s Valentine’s Day. The day when we shower our loved ones with cards and gifts to show them just how much they mean to us.

It’s really important to tell other people that we love and appreciate them and, in today’s busy world, sometimes we need a nudge!

However, romance is for all year round – not just for Valentine’s Day – so here are our top four fabulous ways to keep the romance alive every day.

Show your appreciation


It’s the little things that matter – rather than the grand gestures – when you have been together for some time. Very often couples fall into the trap of taking each other for granted and forget what their lives were like before they met. Sometimes taking the time to remind your partner that you're glad they're there is all your relationship needs to keep the romantic feelings alive. An unexpected text message or a note in a workbag or under your partner’s pillow are little ways to show that you're thinking about them – and that makes people feel good. The main reason people leave their job is because they feel undervalued and unappreciated. The same is true in relationships, so remember a little bit of effort goes a long way.

Surprise each other


Marilyn Monroe sang 'diamonds are a girl’s best friend' and while it is nice to be showered with expensive gifts, just as much joy can be gained from little surprises. In a long term relationship or marriage, this could be as small and insignificant as emptying the dishwasher or putting the washing away when it’s not 'your turn’. It is surprising how quickly we fall into roles when in a long term relationship with jobs beings seen as ‘mine’ or ‘yours’ – doing one of ‘their’ jobs is not only a lovely surprise for your partner, but also a way of demonstrating that you acknowledge and appreciate the role that they play in the relationship. Don’t get us wrong though, surprise weekends away without the kids are likely to incite favourable reactions too!

Book time in your diary to be together


Have you noticed how important scheduling is in today’s busy society? We don’t often have the time to simply ‘be’ and without our diary and to-do list we are scared that something important will fall through the cracks. Think about it though – how much ‘relationship time’ do you schedule into your diary? The answer is likely none, and as a result, your relationship will be the first thing to suffer when time pressures get the better of you. Carving time out in your diary to be together legitimises it, makes it valuable, and this makes you less likely to reschedule. Just an hour on a Wednesday for a coffee and a natter, for example, or a Friday evening once a month to do an activity together is all the time you need to nurture your relationship. Who knows, maybe these ‘together times’ will become the highlight of your busy week, however contrived and unspontaneous they may feel at first.

Make the everyday things special


After a while all relationships calm down into a humdrum and monotonous routine of daily life. What we need to do is put in the effort to make the everyday more appealing. Instead of Thursday night dinner in front of the tv – make Thursday your dinner date night, where you need to dress to impress and sit at the table as you would if you were out or rather than vegging out to watch a film while catching up on your email – make it a movie night, with popcorn, fizzy pop, dimmed lights, the works. Invest in your time together and your relationship will thank you for it.


Relationships are precious, yet they often bear the brunt of our busy schedules and complicated lives. So make a deal with yourself – and your partner – that this year Valentine’s Day will mark the start of a year of romance…

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Tips for building trust in your relationship; can weather affect your mood

After a cosy, family-oriented festive season, January can sometimes fall a little flat. Often the pressure of holding it all together over the holidays can impact on our personal relationships in the New Year – add to that the miserable weather and it’s easy to see why we need to spend more time nurturing our relationships with those we hold dear.

For us, January is about two things relationship-wise: taking the time to build trust with your partner and understanding the impact that the weather can have on your mood.

When there’s trust in a relationship you know that whatever bickers and squabbles the winter months bring, it won’t impact on your relationship in the longer term.

You can build trust in a number of ways:


Building boundaries


Having clear boundaries together is a crucial part of building trust. Boundaries can be about all kinds of things, including how much time you need to yourself. If you find the need to spend more time alone during the winter, be open with your partner so they know up front what your expectations are. If your partner understands why you need these boundaries in place – as well as some of the things that you’re willing to be more flexible on – it will make it easier to navigate through the difficult winter months.

Clear communication


It’s important that you’re able to talk about any worries, doubts and hopes openly, as this will help you negotiate your expectations and move forward together. If the winter months have proved difficult for you in previous years – or relationships – tell your partner, so they can understand your behaviour and minimise any impact your actions and mood will have on your relationship.

Investigate your issues


Even great relationships experience problems from time to time – that’s life! The way we deal with these issues are what sets the great relationships apart from the rest. It’s important to take time out to analyse how you’re feeling and think about how this may be influencing your behaviour. Take ownership for the part that you play in any disagreements. We’ll usually be able to see there are things we could have done better if we’re honest with ourselves. Talk about what happened and how you’re feeling and really listen to what your partner has to say.


So why exactly are the first few months of the year so problematic for some relationships? Can we really blame the weather?


Sunlight and serotonin


Serotonin is a chemical found in the human body that carries signals between nerves, contributing to wellbeing and happiness. Some scientists believe a lack of sunlight associated with rainy days can cause serotonin levels to dip – that’s why we often crave stodgy food at this time of the year. Rather than carbs though, we should be reaching for the starchy vegetables and supplements to lighten our mood during the long winter months, as well as spending as much time as possible outdoors in natural light.


Don’t be SAD


Seasonal Affective Disorder is a depressive illness caused by a lack of natural sunlight. It can leave people feeling lethargic and suffering from noticeable changes in mood. Approximately 20% of people in the UK experience some SAD symptoms, while another 8% suffer more seriously to the point that it affects their daily lives. There are two proven ways of relieving the symptoms associated with the change in the seasons. The first is natural light and the second is exercise.

More information about SAD and how to relieve the symptoms >

Rain and rage


There is also research that draws a correlation between the levels of rainfall and people’s aggressiveness. While these findings are not specific to winter rain, they found that the more it rained (especially when the rain wasn’t expected or forecast), the more aggressive people seemed to get.

So whatever the reasons for your irrational and irritable behaviour this winter, understand that the weather could be contributing – and be prepared to put the work in up front to build up your personal relationships so they’re ready to weather the storm!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Who needs the gym? Alternatives that will benefit both mind and body

Nearly two weeks into 2017 and it’s time to review how much headway we’re making with our resolutions…

Joining the gym is a popular resolve after the excesses of the festive period. It is a grand gesture – but one of the resolutions most likely to fall by the wayside by the end of January. There are a variety of reasons for this: going to the gym requires a change in behaviour that many of us just can’t maintain in the long term, plus we often don’t have the spare time to go once we’re back into the daily routine after the holidays. In fact, gym owners actually rely on us not maintaining our new exercise regime – that’s how they can keep prices low for everyone!

All resolutions are made with the best of intentions. Exercise keeps our bodies - and our minds - in tip-top condition, so anything we can do to increase the amount of exercise in our lives is to be applauded. However, rather than signing on the dotted line at the gym, the key to making this resolution stick is to keep things simple.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists believes that the mind can’t function properly if your body is not looked after – the reverse is also true. The state of your mind affects your body. So, if for whatever reason, you started the year with high hopes of exercising and it hasn’t quite materialised, don’t beat yourself up or you’ll end up in a vicious cycle of inactivity and low mood.

We’ve been looking at alternatives to the gym that will not only help keep your resolution alive, but also have a positive impact on your brain and your body!

The great outdoors


Outdoor exercising is not only free, but you’re more likely to stick at it. That’s because the preparation time is minimal and you’re less likely to get bored (indeed, your ‘gym’ can change according to your location and depending on your mood). You could also argue that you’ll burn more energy outside than in, due to the natural resistance provided by the wind and changing terrain.

Walking is a great way to kick start your outside exercising regime. It’s low risk and – research shows – can not only improve someone's daily positive emotions but also provide a non-pharmacological solution to serious conditions like depression.

Meditation in motion


There is evidence that shows that tai chi – the art of combining deep breathing and relaxation with slow and gentle movements – has value in treating and preventing many health problems. Originally developed as a martial art in 13th-century China, tai chi is today practised around the world as a health-promoting exercise. In fact Harvard described the practice as ‘medication in motion’.

If a formal class is not for you, it can be practised anywhere, at any time and you don’t need any equipment. This makes it an ideal addition to any exercise regime.

Say ‘yes’ to yoga


Yoga has its roots in Hindu spirituality. It involves breath control, simple meditation and the adoption of specific body postures and is widely practised for health and relaxation. Although it won’t count towards the 150 minutes of moderate activity recommended, it is an excellent way of strengthening your muscles which can help manage conditions such as arthritis and back pain.

If you’re new to yoga and would like to give it a try, do a bit of research on the type of class that would best suit your exercise needs and fitness abilities. For most beginners a hatha or vinyasa class will provide a good introduction.

Whatever activity you plump for, it’s important that you choose something you'll love – this is key to unlocking the mental benefits that exercise can deliver, alongside the physicsal benefits.

recent study from a university in the Netherlands found that the more absorbed individuals were in their chosen activity, the greater satisfaction they felt. It is this satisfaction that leads to us keeping up with our activities – or not!

So, if you’re finding your resolution to take more exercise hard to bear, maybe it’s time to review the activities you’re doing, rather than the resolution you made on the 1st January.

Best of luck – and keep up the good work!