Friday, 13 April 2018

Wellbeing Basics: Laughing

“Laughter is the best medicine” – one of life’s essential mottos, and more true than you might realise. Laughter boosts your immune system, helps your mood, diminishes your perception of pain and, when shared, can strengthen and create bonds between us: and that’s just the tip of the iceberg…So here’s a piece explaining why we should value our ability to laugh, and why it’s one of life’s most vital (and healing) ‘basics’.

Why is laughter the best medicine?

When we laugh, we release ‘feel good’ endorphins, our ‘happy chemical’ serotonin and also increase the oxygen supply to our vital organs. This creates a general sense of wellbeing, not only in our brains, but throughout our body. Having a proper laugh can affect blood pressure, raise our heart-rate and generally ease tension and stress. Laughing also boosts our immune system – studies have shown that ‘happy thoughts’ can release neuropeptides which help fight stress and illness. I made a video (a long time ago) talking about some of the other health benefits of laughter, including helping combat pain and boosting your (and others’) mood. I also talk about how sharing humour and laughter creates a sense of community and strengthens relationships with others. All in all, there are truly miraculous benefits to laughter.

…but I don’t feel like laughing…

This is a hard one to crack. If you don’t feel happy or relaxed, then the chances are, you’re less likely to want to have a chuckle. However, I would make sure to have some tools on standby for when you need a good giggle, but aren’t in the mood. Does a particular film get you laughing? Do you have a friend who can always, always, always make you roar? Now’s the time to put that DVD in, or call up that friend. You’ll find that once you start laughing, it’s very hard to stop! 

(caveat: obviously, if you are experiencing symptoms of depression or really struggling to summon the desire to laugh – you should speak to a medical professional and/or consider some sort of therapy. I am by no means suggesting that laughter is a cure-all, just a great and natural mood-booster)

Okay, okay – I get it…I should laugh more. But how do I add more laughter to my day-to-day? 

Here’s five ways:

Films/TV Shows:
Do you think a particular comedian or actor is comedy gold? Does one particular TV show tickle your funny bone? Keep a stack of DVDs nearby or record them on TV, so that you can guarantee you’re laughing within minutes.

Other people:
Finding someone who shares your sense of humour, who you can be silly with and share a laugh is so important. Spend time with your favourite people and you’ll find that you all benefit from shared humour. Laughter is infectious – use that fact to your advantage!

YouTube videos:
There are millions and millions of funny YouTube videos, perfectly designed to make you laugh. Does slapstick humour get you going? Does a cat ‘talking’ make you giggle? Do you find video ‘pranks’ that go wrong make you laugh? A fan of innuendo bingo..? The world is your oyster online, so get googling and you’ll be sure to find a video that you can watch during your lunch-break that makes you laugh.

Go to a comedy club:
One of the times I’ve laughed the most (that “I-can’t-breathe-my-face-is-going-to-crack-my-stomach hurts-I-think-I-broke-a-rib” feeling) is when I went to the Comedy Store in London. I highly, highly recommend a night of stand-up or improv to inject some laughter into your life.

Spend time with children or pets:
I find I’m always laughing or smiling when I’m around little ones and furry things. The cute and adorable things they do never fail to amuse me. If you don’t have a pet or a child to hand – borrow one! You’ll do your friends a massive favour by offering to walk their dogs or babysit their children, and you gain a lot too!

Do you make time to laugh? What do you find really funny? Has your sense of humour changed? Are you struggling to find things to laugh at right now? Let us know…

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Sunday, 1 April 2018

Month In Review: MARCH 2018

Word/quote of the month: "Work hard, play hard"

This has been the month that was.
That was full of work, full of fun, full of friends and just plain full-on. The last three March-es have been similar in that they have had potentially a little bit too much going on in them. Last year I spoke about burning the candle at both ends - which you can watch here, and the year before that I spoke about balance which can be found here. Leaving aside the fact that I don't seem to learn lessons very quickly (!) I think this is a problem with the modern world where we try and cram too much into our days and nights. We can often feel guilty for not constantly working or moving forward, we can often feel that we need to stay busy to cover up insecurities, we can often feel like we 'need' to be doing 'stuff' so that we aren't left with our own company and we can often feel like we just can't say no, or are too tempted so we say yes. Whatever the reason, I think it's worth remembering that it's just as important to take some time out as to be busy. It's important to be able to switch off and just be.
If we are relentlessly pursuing something, always reaching, always planning the next five activities, then we can forget to enjoy the now. Plus, it is very easy to burn out. I decided to take a couple of evenings off this week, and feel so much the better for it. Having had something on every night for weeks and weeks, and my days filled with studying and work, something had to give. And I didn't want it to be my health or my sanity. So kids, the phrase of the month may be: work hard, play hard - and boy is it fun to live by that...but maybe we should also add rest and relax to that, so that we can enjoy the work and the play for longer.

Healthy meal/food of the month: SOUP

It's been cold - bitterly so. We have had blizzards in London and the weather has made us all want to hibernate. That means one thing, and one thing only, is the perfect lunch: soup.
Nothing beats a bowl or mug full of hot soup with a hunk of bread to dip in. I always like to have a home-made and good quality veg or chicken stock on hand to make my own soup; but shop-bought is equally pleasing and comforting (and more convenient at times).

Lesson of the month: Communication is key

Not a new lesson, but one that keeps cropping up lately, so I think it is worth noting down. This month (and the last couple) have continued to test my communication skills, and show the importance of them. Whether you are struggling with family issues, arguing with a friend, trying to keep in touch long-distance, giving a speech at work, doing an interview or trying to get to know someone or something...communication is key. Obviously communication goes both ways - it's awful when just one party is making all the effort or you're banging your head against a brick wall, but I think it is so important to be able to say what you feel and think and tackle issues head on.

Bite the bullet and say you don't agree with someone. Swallow your pride and admit you don't know what is going on. Tamp down your fear and ask that burning question.
See something silly that reminds you of a friend? Send them a voice note or a picture. Miss someone? Tell them! Want to see someone more? Ask them to hang out! Intrigued about an opportunity? Ask someone who knows! Worried about something? Try and get to the bottom of it! Avoiding an issue? Think about how to solve it!

They say your vibe attracts your tribe, and this month I have been reminded again just how awesome my tribe is - and I've been spending a lot of time with my friends. I want to keep them in my life. And  to do that you have to put in effort, even when things are a bit tough, or when you're busy, or stressed. As I said earlier, communication needs to be mutual - so, having said all of that, sometimes it is important to know when you're flogging a dead horse - sometimes it is the wiser, healthier and better choice to let things lie. Reserve your energy for the people who, and the things that, reflect your energy back; and are positive influences in your life that make you feel good. Don't pour your energy and time into something or someone that won't do the same for you. It's a hard lesson, but an important one to learn, and something I've spoken about a lot - here in May 2017 and here in October 2017.

I think the ultimate lesson is: however scared or worried or bored or complacent or angry you are - making yourself communicate and connect with those around you is really important. It can be healing and enlivening, it can shift and change your world for the better. You are in charge; you pick who and what you want in your life; say what that is, and I think you'll be happily surprised by the result. And don't accept less than you deserve or less than you want from life. Communicate what that is - and the chances are, you will get it, or attract it, or make it happen.

Healthy thing to do: RELAX

As I have intimated - it has been a whirlwind of a month, and I am in desperate need of some relaxation time - I think a lot of us are. I even wrote a blog post on it in March. So if you're interested in reading more about the art of relaxation and how important it is to have time out then read it here.
March can often be a month where people get run down, ill and depleted. Taking time to relax, and prioritising some 'down time' can help re-centre an re-balance you and send yourself the right messages.

Goal for the next month: Revision, rest and regaining the gym

April is revision season, so I can't escape the fact that I'm going to be chained to my computer/desk/revision notes. However, I learned a lot last year about factoring in breaks and getting some exercise too, so that is the goal.

What has March held for you? Any lessons learned?

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Saturday, 17 March 2018

Wellbeing Basics: Relaxing

As Frankie says, “Relax” – not only a choooon, but a great piece of advice. Relaxing and taking time ‘out’ is one of life’s necessities. One which often gets overlooked, especially in our modern, 24/7 lives.

Why is feeling relaxed so important?

However you might describe your own personal state of ‘relaxation’, it’s a very important feeling to nurture. Feeling stressed and anxious is not good for you and fuelling this by pushing yourself to extremes and maintaining a hectic, chaotic lifestyle will do you no favours in the long run. 
Now for the science bit...
The ‘stress hormone’ cortisol, which our bodies produce as a response to physically or emotionally stressful situations, shuts down ‘unnecessary’ bodily functions to help us manage those stresses. This can be a really great thing, but also could lead to your body going a little haywire. Some of those ‘unnecessary’ functions which are messed with are our reproduction and immune systems. Both of which are, I hope you’ll agree, pretty important! Chronic stress (and cortisol production) can create a vicious circle and be hard to reverse. This is just one of the many reasons why cultivating relaxation time is so vital and should be considered one of life’s basics.

I’m too busy to spend time relaxing…

Possibly true, but there are often times in the day when you can snatch 5-10 minutes and re-centre. You don’t have to spend a whole day relaxing to benefit. I think the key, especially when we feel we are just too busy, is to prioritise relaxation and make the time. We can often feel guilty putting ourselves first or by not having a jam-packed weekend. But the impact of you not carving out a little ‘me’ time can be profound. We shouldn’t see relaxation time as a luxury – but as an essential. Value yourself enough to create a little time in your day or week when you can relax. Think about your energy as a battery which needs recharging regularly. Along with sleep and food, relaxation helps charge that battery and means you can feel better, do more, stay healthy and remain happy. Who wouldn’t want to make time for that?

I don’t know how to relax…

A very common problem actually! Some people can feel so hyped-up and full of adrenalin that it’s hard to just ‘be’. A lot of people think that relaxing means you have to lie still in a darkened room doing nothing; not true. You might feel fidgety, frustrated, bad-tempered or upset if you are battling to relax. In these situations, I would suggest doing an activity which you find relaxing, or allows another part of your ‘self’ to be expressed. So, if you enjoy cooking – cook. If you lead a very sedentary life, why not try and go for a jog. If you rarely take baths, but love a good soak – run yourself a bath. If you feel starved of culture – pay a visit to a museum. If you find a particular friend soothing – go and have a cup of tea with them. The list is endless! I made a video about how to self-soothe using different senses here, which may help with ideas and inspiration.

Five short-cut ways to feel relaxed:

  • Meditation and Mindfulness – a lot of people find the art of meditating or practicing mindfulness very calming. Headspace have created a great app, which allows you to learn how to be mindful on the go in short sessions.
  • Breathe – easier said than done right, and something which I've written about here. A very potent (and often un-tapped) tool to help you relax and unwind.
  • Laugh – watching something funny on TV or chatting to a friend with a similar sense of humour is a great way to get some LOLs in your life. Laughing releases endorphins – our happy chemical and can help us to relax and de-stress. I filmed a video on the power of laughing here.
  • Exercise – doing some gentle exercise can, again like laughing, release feel-good chemicals and also keeps you fit and healthy. I have made lots of videos on exercise here.
  • Music – another powerful tool to de-stress. Whether you find comfort from head-banging hard rock or the dulcet tones of a whale singing, listening to music can really help aid relaxation, lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety.

What do you do to relax? Do you always make time for yourself, or do you find it a struggle? 

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Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Month In Review: FEBRUARY 2018

Word/quote of the month: "Happy birthday"

This is because February is my birthday month (surprise, surprise) - so I've heard these words quite a lot. But I've also really embraced having a birthday MONTH (or a couple of weeks, which in February essentially means most of the month). I've been thoroughly spoiled, and enjoyed some quality time with my friends and family. I've never been a massive fan of my own birthdays - something about the passing of time, and how quickly it seems to go - and had embraced the song, "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to" a little too enthusiastically. But the last couple of years I've really loved my birthdays - surrounded myself with as many of my favourite people as I can, celebrated getting older, marked the passing of a year and enjoyed myself. It's also the time I post my One Second Everyday video on my private Facebook - which is always such a joyful, uplifting and reflective moment.

Healthy/meal food of the month: Roast dinner

While this may not be the most healthy meal in the world, it is one of the best and the most comforting. London has been experiencing a cold snap the last few days with snow and bleak winds, and there is nothing better than firing up your oven to cook a proper roast to counteract any Winter blues. My friends and I have started 'hosting a roast' this past month; we have taken it in turns to cook a big meal for each other. I love cooking for others and a good roast chicken is a crowd-pleaser.

Lesson of the month: I am still surprising myself

A few things happened this month that surprised me - in a good way. When we achieve something that we didn't expect, or had counted ourselves out for we devalue ourselves. This can often harm us, and take some of the glow away from the achievement. While I would never like to go too far towards the other end of the spectrum (and be arrogant and entitled), I do feel I could do with reflecting on why I am always convinced I won't be successful. This is true of not only work life, but also things that happen in our personal lives. When friends and family aren't surprised and believe more in you than you do, then maybe it's time to listen to them! This isn't a new problem of mine - I've talked about self-doubt a lot - including here (at about 2 mins 20 seconds in). But this month has been a reminder that there's always improvements to be made.

Healthy thing(s) to do: Going to the gym

Not everyone's favourite place - and certainly not mine. But the benefits are far too numerous to recount here, and outweigh any number of struggles in getting to the gym. I have talked about gym workouts, how to progress gym sessions, and also how to get back on your feet after being bedbound - so I won't bore you all again with my musings. Except to say that, exercise is a key component of living a healthy and happy lifestyle - and however you get yours - just do it! This month I have been to yoga, been to the gym and gone bouldering. Variety is the spice of life!

Goal for the next month: Focus on my university work and hit the gym more..!

How has February gone for you? What are your goals for March?

How to get in touch (and all that social media stuff)

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Book: Brain Food by Dr Lisa Mosconi and *GIVEAWAY*

As you may know, I think that what we eat can really affect how we think, feel and react. Four years ago, I filmed a video here about mood-boosting and body-boosting foods and practices. Well worth a watch...if I am allowed to say that myself. I spent a lot of time researching the way our bodies process the nutrients and chemicals in foods, and the necessary vitamins we need to survive and thrive - and the impact of not getting enough.

So, when Penguin sent me a proof copy of Dr Lisa Mosconi's new book about the neuroscience behind food, and how eating smart can sharpen your mind and improve your mental fitness - I READ IT.

Dr Mosconi is a nutritionist and neuroscientist. She is also the Associate Director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic of the Department of Neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and was the founder and director of the Nutrition and Brain Fitness Lab at New York University. She holds a dual PhD degree in Neuroscience and Nuclear Medicine from the University of Florence, and is a certified integrative nutritionist and a board-certified, holistic healthcare practitioner. So it's safe to say she knows what she's talking about...or writing about.

The book is chock-full of research-based information which highlights the connection between what we eat and how our brain works. But it's not all science and acronyms - there's some fantastic advice and loads of amazing recipes; consider it a one-stop-shop for all things brain-boosting!

You may have already heard that consuming dark chocolate and red wine is good for your health, but in Brain Food Dr Mosconi outlines further changes we should all be making, explaining how and why different foods are good or bad for your brain’s health – covering fats, water, protein, carbs, sugar and vitamins. Many of the suggestions are easy and affordable:

·         Drink plenty of water, particularly if you are older, as just a 4% decrease in water intake can cause brain fog and headaches, and can lead to brain fluids imbalance which increases your risks of developing brain diseases

·         Add coconut in all its forms to your daily diet (oil, water, sugar and milk) to increase brain hydration, reduce headaches and mental fatigue and to boost concentration

·         Reduce your intake of omega-6s fats (found in bacon, sunflower oil, mayonnaise and peanuts) and increase your intake in omega-3s (salmon, mackerel and cod, walnuts - or black caviar, if you’re feeling luxurious)

·         Consume foods which are high in tryptophan (an essential amino acid which cannot be produced by the body) such as yoghurt, sesame seeds and prunes

·         Add eggs to your regular diet to reduce the risk of choline deficiency, which in turn affects memory loss

·         Ensure you add natural sweeteners to your diet, as your brain runs on glucose (Dr Mosconi recommends raw honey, yac√≥n syrup, maple syrup and fruits such as grapes and beetroot)


Does this sound like a book you want to read? If the answer is yes - then I have just the thing - a free copy of the book to give away. Penguin very kindly sent me a finished copy of the book, so that I could spread the knowledge! To win a copy of this book, all you have to do is follow Life In Recovery on Instagram (@lifeinrecovery_) and like the Instagram post announcing the giveaway. The winner will be picked at random and contacted privately to sort out delivery - the competition closes on Sunday 4th March. Unfortunately, this giveaway is limited to the UK.

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