Wednesday, 31 July 2019

How to reconnect with yourself using mindfulness exercises

Do you spend too much time worrying, planning or criticising yourself? It’s easy to become so wrapped up in our daily lives that negative thoughts take over our minds and leave little room for positivity. Negative thoughts can lead to negative emotions and this can also affect our physical wellbeing. Our bodies react to our emotions and this can create chemical imbalances resulting in stress, anxiety, fear and depression, which in turn can cause tiredness, headaches and stomach problems.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that can help us change our thoughts and think more positively. When we are kinder to ourselves and the world around us, we become more grateful and focus less on the negatives.

Mindfulness exercises help us to refocus our minds and become more aware of what’s happening in the moment so that we can connect on a greater level with the world around us.

Studies have shown that meditation can help with insomnia, high blood pressure, stress, pain, anxiety and depression, and the University of Oxford Mindfulness Research Centre aims to prevent depression through mindfulness.

Mindfulness exercises

There are lots of mindfulness exercises you can practise. Here are a few to get you started.

Mindful breathing

Begin by observing your breathing. Breathe in slowly through your nose for three seconds then breathe out slowly for another three seconds. Repeat this several times and focus your attention on each breath, letting go of any unwanted thoughts. You’ll soon notice that you begin to feel much calmer and less distracted by negative thinking.

Mindful observation

This is a great way to connect with nature and appreciate the beauty that is around you. Focus your thoughts on something that you can see, such as an insect, the rain on a window or the clouds. Observe these things in more detail and imagine that you are seeing them for the first time. You can also pay attention to the sounds around you, sensations and feelings within your body and the thoughts that come and go in your mind.

Mindful eating

Often we eat out of habit, stress or depression and we forget to enjoy the process. Eating too little or too much for the wrong reasons can lead to eating disorders, so it’s important to remember why we eat. Mindful eating reminds us to slow down with every mouthful, to taste and smell the food. Ask yourself how you feel when you eat. How is it affecting your emotions? Do you feel happy, guilty, hungry or full?

Mindful awareness

This exercise is a great way to slow down your actions and release negative thoughts from your mind. Throughout the day, pay attention to the everyday tasks that you would usually take for granted, for example, driving to work. Observe how the car door opens, feel the steering wheel in your hands and listen to the sound of the engine as you turn the key in the ignition. Rather than just going through the motions, mindful awareness lets you appreciate even the smallest of actions. Question how things work, how you would live without these things and imagine how different your life would be without them.

With practice, mindfulness exercises can help you minimise negative thoughts and you'll start to feel grateful for the little things in life. The above techniques will allow you to clear your mind, become calmer and more understanding with a positive outlook on life.

A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled is a book written by Ruby Wax, which explores how mindfulness can help us lead happier lives and improve our mental wellbeing. It offers a wonderful insight into mindfulness and is well worth a read.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Eating your way to sound health

Although it’s well known that our diet can greatly affect our physical health by strengthening our immune system and reducing the risk of diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, it’s equally as important for keeping our mental health, wellbeing and mood in good shape too.

Studies have shown that a poor diet can increase our risk of depression and anxiety. The Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine looked at trials that were undertaken to discover the effects of dietary improvement on symptoms of depression and anxiety and found evidence that mood disorders and depression may be impacted by diet.

Without a nutritious, balanced diet, the body is not only prone to disease, it can also lead to fatigue, lethargy and low mood. What we eat can also determine our weight and if we find ourselves either underweight or overweight, this can in turn affect our self-worth, confidence and social interactions - thus increasing our chances of becoming anxious or depressed.

Foods that can help improve our mental wellbeing

'Five-a-day' has become a much-used phrase in the modern world and encourages us to eat the correct portions of fruit and vegetables every day. But there’s also a wide range of other foods that can be beneficial to our physical and mental health.


All types of berries are full of fibre and antioxidants that can improve our memory and reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Dark chocolate

Although it should be eaten in moderation, dark chocolate has antioxidants and stimulants that are extremely powerful and help focus our minds, raise concentration levels and lift our mood.


There’s a reason why fish is known as 'brain food'; it's rich in the fatty acid omega 3, EPA and DHA, which all play an important part in our diet and are fantastic for the brain. DHA produces serotonin in the brain and can help us cope with stress but if our levels of DHA are too low, it can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia and memory loss.


These wonderful little grains are packed with complex carbohydrates that slowly release glucose into the blood, keeping the brain alert and helping us to concentrate and focus.


Not only are eggs high in protein, which helps repair the tissue in our body, they contain choline and B vitamins, which are great for brain development and improving our memory.


By drinking adequate amounts of water daily, we can prevent fatigue, regulate our moods and improve our cognitive skills.

Pumpkin seeds

Rich in zinc, magnesium and vitamin B, pumpkin seeds are great stress busters and can also improve our memory.

When our brains and bodies are in shape, we find that we sleep better and have more energy, our overall mood is lifted and we feel more alert, so it’s vital that we try to enjoy a healthy, balanced diet that will assist both our physical health and mental wellbeing.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Using creativity to help fight depression

When we lead hectic lives and feel the need to live up to the increasing demands of society, it can be easy to neglect our mental wellbeing. Daily pressures and responsibilities can be a major cause for stress, anxiety and depression - but what can we do to step off the metaphorical hamster wheel, re-evaluate and put ourselves first?

We should try and listen to what our inner voice is telling us and recognise the signs that our spirit and mind is longing for enrichment. Often, we put ourselves last and forget that we too need care and attention.

The effects of creativity

Research suggests that creative activities not only improve brain function, but they can reduce anxiety, boost our mood, slow our heart rate and, ultimately, make us feel happier too. When we immerse ourselves in creative exercises, the feel-good chemical, dopamine, is released into the brain, which can greatly improve our sense of wellbeing. Back in 2001, researcher Eric Jensen wrote a book called “Arts with Brain in Mind” which examined the effects of the creative arts on our brain.

As well as helping to improve our wellbeing, creativity can also be used as an outlet to release repressed feelings and thoughts. It can give us the strength to break down personal barriers and take us on a wonderful journey of self-discovery.

Creative activities

There are lots of creative activities that allow us the freedom to express ourselves, taking our mind off our present troubles and building us back up as individuals so that we can re-balance and refocus our mind.


There are several aspects of music that can act as a powerful tool in improving our wellbeing. Not only can the melodies and rhythms alter or compliment our mood, very often the lyrics resonate with us on a level that makes us feel less alone in the world. Sometimes, just knowing that other people have similar feelings or thoughts to us can make us feel more connected.

Be Brain Fit has some interesting information on how music can affect the brain, reduce stress and improve your mood.


Whether it’s writing poetry, a story or song lyrics, this creative exercise can be extremely therapeutic. By putting our inner thoughts down on paper, we can express ourselves with less vulnerability. We don’t have to create a masterpiece or even show anyone what we have created, but writing can help us feel more liberated and at peace with ourselves.


Drama is a great way to release and express our emotions. By pretending to be someone else, we can step outside of ourselves and escape niggling thoughts that can lead to us feeling lonely, frustrated or depressed. Through using acting techniques, we can rid ourselves of negative emotions that we might not otherwise release.


There are many forms of art such as painting, drawing, photography or sculpture and each can be restorative on our mental wellbeing. As well as giving us the opportunity to express our creative side and delve into our subconscious minds, art can be a calming pastime that can help us to relax.

The BBC runs an annual event called The Get Creative Festival which encourages wellbeing through creative activities. The nine-day event is a wonderful celebration of the arts, crafts and creativity.