Managing Stress: Why now is the perfect time to take control.

Right now, many of us are living lives very differently. We are experiencing changes that we never imagined. Whether we are working long hours in front line services, unemployed, furloughed, working from home, home schooling, caring for others, volunteering, being shielded or have been sick or bereaved, the changes have been sudden and in most cases, quite drastic. Change can feel liberating, exciting, peaceful but it can also be stressful as our bodies and minds deal with the new normal and process the thoughts feelings and emotions that these circumstances create.

Stress is a fact of life, it’s natural and it can be helpful and constructive in the short term but extremely harmful to our mental and physical health if it continues and becomes long term, or chronic. In this current health crisis, managing our levels of stress has never been more important, because chronic stress weakens the immune system. At this time, our immune system is the one amazing thing we have to fight this virus. Even those that are hospitalised and given oxygen and drugs to stabalise their condition are treated this way to give the immune system time to work, ultimately, it’s the body/mind that kills the virus, just like it does with many other pathogens. And we can do so much to allow the immune system to do it’s job well. What we eat, drink, how we move and sleep all affects the cells needed to do this incredible job. And so does how we manage stress. When we are stressed for long periods of time, the body cannot heal itself the way it was designed to do.

So, what happens when we’re stressed? When a stressful, worrying or anxious situation occurs, we activate the ‘fear centre’ in the brain that triggers a cascade of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodsteam that prepares our bodies to fight or flee. So, for those wonderful health and social care staff who are dealing with patients on the front line, stress hormones can be very useful and will give them the burst of energy, the concentration, clarity and speed needed to care, treat and make decisions. This is our natural defense that is a vital part of our survival in times of trouble. We used to use it to run away from saber-toothed tigers, now it’s helpful, not just for the key workers dealing with the pandemic, but also when we do a presentation, play sport, take an exam and so on.

However, when we don’t ‘switch off’ and we stay in a state of stress for long periods of time we become chronically stressed. In a state of chronic stress, we overwork the adrenal glands and the body becomes unable to function properly, mentally, physically and emotionally and we are less able to rest, digest and heal.

“…over time, stress hormones will weaken your immune system and reduce your body’s response to foreign invaders. People under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral illnesses like the flu and the common cold, as well as other infections. Stress can also increase the time it takes you to recover from an illness or injury.” https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body#7

The good news is that we can learn to manage stress in a way that is helpful and empowering and good for our long term health and wellbeing. We can recognise when the hormones of stress are being released and learn how to switch them off, replacing them with a cocktail of chemicals that give us access to feelings of calm, contentment, peace, love, joy, compassion and so on. And it is in this state that our immune system gets repaired, renewed and stimulated, we are able to digest food effectively, think rationally and sleep well and therefore heal.

Here’s a few ideas of how we can manage stress and help build immunity:

  • Recognise the signs of stress, whether it’s a fast heart rate, feeling tense, exhausted, shaky, anxious, tearful, moody. angry or unable to sleep, eating too much or too little, having headaches or poor concentration. These are just some of the signs that you are still in fight or flight mode. When you become aware of how you feel, you can change it.
  • Take a deep breathe. This allows the mind a moment to pause while you consider all the things you can do to interrupt the pattern of stress and take a conscious decision to change it. You see it’s how you perceive and then react to any situation that determines whether you ‘switch off’ the state of stress or not. The mind doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined and so when you focus on the worst that could happen, go over and over something bad that has happened, you stay in a state of fear, even if the situation has passed or what might come could be better. So take a breath, focus on the present and make a decision and know that instead of allowing ‘it’ to happen to you, you can, in this moment, take responsibility for how you react to any situation. You have a choice to believe you can control your feelings or that you are at the mercy of them.
  • Physically move to distract the brain. When it’s 3.00 am and you’re wide awake, worries can seem far worse than during day but lying there trying to sleep won’t help, so get out of bed, stretch, make a warm drink (avoiding caffeine), read, or do something relaxing that will distract both your mind and body (avoid screen time though!) and get into the moment, telling yourself you are safe and warm right now. The same applies during the day, if you’re sitting, get up and move, and if you can get do some aerobic exercise, you’ll not only feel energised but the benefits to your mental health both in the long and short term are widely known. If you’re charging around in a state of stress, just stop what you’re doing, take a breath and find something else to look at, hear, do to distract yourself. It brings you into the present moment and gives you that time to choose to take control of your feelings.
  • Nature is where we are meant to be. We are part of it and studies prove that when we see, hear, smell and experience nature, we generate the release hormones such as dopamine and seretonin that help us to feel calm and at peace. And when we are releasing these feel good hormones, we cannot continue to be in a state of stress at the same time. So go for a walk in nature if you can. Just 20 minutes in nature can generate calmness that can last for up to seven hours. And did you know that trees breathe out chemicals that boost the immune system? How amazing is that! So you get more than just a feeling of calm when you’re able to breathe in nature. If you live in a city and don’t have access to a large green space right now, just being outside feeling the breeze and seeing the sky will still help. If you can’t get outside, open a window, listen to the birds, watch the trees or tend a pot plant! It’s still better than not acknowledging nature at all. “Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.” https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/sour-mood-getting-you-down-get-back-to-nature
  • We all like a whinge, don’t we, and the occasional moan doesn’t hurt anyone. However, when this becomes a habit and you waste time and energy thinking or talking to others about what’s wrong with the world, how bad things are or how others are behaving badly, you’re just ramping up the stress. Remember, real or imagined, the body will respond to what you’re feeding it through the mind. The news and media can feed this negativity, the language of fear and devastation is used deliberately to sell stories, so switch off news alerts and be choosey about how, what and when you access news feeds. There’s nothing that is happening that you will need to know urgently, it can wait until a time of your choosing. There is both good and bad stuff happening without your influence so why focus on the bad? Ask yourself, can you do anything about the bad stuff? If not, forget it, it will happen with or without your disapproval. If you can do something about it, do it, help, educate, inform, support. All of these altruistic acts signal the release of feel good hormones, give you a sense of achievement and empowerment and might just help the world become a better place.
  • Write a very specific list of how you want to feel and what you can do to create those feelings. This might seem a bit much, but when you’re feeling stressed it’s hard to think of specific things that will help to make you feel better, it can seem overwhelming and we can get stuck with how we don’t want to feel, and what we don’t want to do and this just keeps the cycle of stress going. So having a go-to list is like getting some great advice from some wise person that loves you and is your best friend! Energy flows where focus goes, so focus on what you can do and how you want to feel instead. Naming those emotions is really important to train your brain to connect with what you want to feel. Language is the code to our thoughts and feelings and studies show that we use far more emotional words connected with worry, stress, anxiety than we do those that generate calm and happiness. You can consciously change this. https://www.tonyrobbins.com/mind-meaning/change-your-words-change-your-life/
  • Thinking about these things and feelings and writing them down is a start but unless you act on them, nothing will change in the long run so once you’ve made the list, decide which things can become part of your daily or weekly routine and which are there as a tool for when you need them.Those things that you’ve decided can help you to enjoy life and feel the way you want to could be incorporated into your life in whatever way works best for you. This helps to keep you consciously in control. When we feel in control, we feel empowered, when we feel empowered, we feel we have a sense of purpose (to keep well) and when we feel like this, we cannot stay in a state of chronic stress.
  • To truly feel those emotions you want and not just think about them you have to use strong ‘anchors’ – these are the triggers that allow you to experience them. For example, music has always been a powerful anchor for me. I have playlists for different moods – calming, uplifting, energising, joyful etc. If I’m finding it tricky to shift worry or stressful feelings, I have a place near where I live that I go to and put on a playlist that always starts with Peter Gabriel’s ‘The Book Of Love’ and I can literally feel my heart open, my energy change and I feel both calm and uplifted. So I’ve physically moved, walked amongst nature and anchored my senses to a song that triggers pure joy. Other anchors might be videos to make you laugh, images that remind you of good times, activities such as gardening, cleaning or exercising to give you energy or meditation, yoga, or a mantra to help you to feel calm and safe.
  • Whether you live alone or with a houseful of people, in these times of forced isolation, you may not be able to be with those that help you to feel better about life ‘in the flesh’ so making time to have a virtual catch up, even over coffee or dinner can help. If you have someone close to talk about how you feel then don’t be afraid to offload. When you acknowledge how you feel it can help to calm you and the feeling of being listened to is therapeutic. Sometimes it’s good just to get confirmation that what you are feeling is normal and that, if you then put into place some of the other suggestions here, it will pass. If it doesn’t, then it’s also OK to seek professional help. When you’re ready to change how you feel, consciously connect with those that create positive energy and make you smile and spend as little time as you need to with those that bring you down. This includes social media. Notice how it makes you feel when you scroll through your news feeds. If it doesn’t feel good, be more selective about what you access. Take time out to be alone if you live with others and nerves are beginning to fray. Explaining that you want time alone may actually be a relief to those around you too!
  • Drink plenty of water. This might sound obvious or may seem unrelated to stress and the immune system, however, most of us are dehydrated and some of the signs and symptoms are the same as those we feel when we’re stressed, such as fatigue, poor concentration and irritability so it’s worth eliminating this as a cause of how you’re feeling, plus, water helps to rid the body of toxins that create inflammation and stress within the body.
  • Eat well. When you’re stressed, you often crave foods that actually make it worse. It’s because the body is craving foods high in sugar to prepare you for running away from a saber-toothed tiger! As that’s unlikely, it just increases the amount of sugar in the blood, which disrupts the endocrine system and so increases stress. Sugar and processed foods are the ones to avoid, despite your cravings. Eating plenty of vegetables and foods containing B vitamins will support your central nervous system and bring your hormones back into balance. For more information on foods that support the immune system, take alook at my previous blog. https://alisonharriswellbeing.co.uk/2020/04/01/food-is-medicine-how-to-boost-your-immune-system/
  • And lastly, be kind to yourself, don’t beat yourself up for feeling stressed. We are living in strange times and so rememb that stress is natural, it’s designed to protect us, we just have to learn how to make it work for us instead of against us. And learning takes practice. So, practice self compassion and remind yourself of all you have to be thankful for right now. Wishing you peace, health and happiness.

Food is Medicine: How To Boost Your Immune System

So, at the time of writing, we are in a health crisis caused by a pandemic. We are having to live very differently, conform to rules that we don’t like but are for the greater good. Lives have been turned upside down, families are separated and jobs and finances have uncertain outcomes. This state of chaos can be scary and unpredictable and it can sometimes feel like we have no control.

And yet, right now. we are being given the opportunity to stop what we’ve been doing and reflect, re-evaluate and reset our priorities, focus on what’s important to us, our loved ones, communities and the world at large. We have the chance to question the old and create the new and help to fix things that are broken.

Albert Einstein is believed to have said that “insanity” is doing the same thing over and over again in the same way and expecting different results. We can do things differently and get better results. We can change the old ‘normal’ and think in ways we’ve never done before. Out of chaos will come calm, eventually, and with it a new ‘normal’ and we can choose what that will look like.

Our health and wellbeing could surely now be one of the things we choose to prioritise, to fix. And if we do this for ourselves, the effect on others and the world around us could be transformational.

We can choose to bring health and wellbeing back into our consciousness in a way we haven’t done for years. We have an amazing health service but haven’t we come to rely on it too heavily? Could we support it better by taking more responsibility for our own health and supporting those around us to do the same? If we were already doing this, would we be currently living in a society that is more obese, more medicated, more stressed than ever before?

This is not about blame. Over time, for many reasons, including our ‘busy’ lives, we’ve inadvertently lost our connection to how to be well. We’ve let it slip down our list of priorities and often felt powerless to do anything about it.

So, while we’re safe in our homes, we can do two really useful things: 1. Start to reconnect with our own wellbeing and 2. Boost our immune system. When we keep fit, stay calm, sleep well and eat well, we trigger a more effective immune response that does the healing for us.

And so, I’ve decided to share a series of blogs on various aspects of mindset and nutritional health. Information that I’ve not only learned through training and years of research, but practices that I live by. Those of you that know me, understand the impact this has had on me and therefore my passion for raising awareness and empowering others to do so too.

We can do so much to get our immune system into the best shape possible and one of the most powerful ways is through food. We would not have survived as a species without eating the right foods to support our bodies to fight disease and heal us. Deep down we already know this and we know which foods we need. The problem is we have forgotten to consciously connect to thoughts that remind us that food is one of the greatest medicines we have.

So, let me ask you a question: Why do you eat what you do? Now you may think, well that’s obvious – we eat because we’re hungry, to give us energy or something similar. And yet in reality, most of us choose to eat for so many other reasons. Maybe it’s taste, or cravings, boredom, convenience, social acceptability, a treat, because we’re upset, happy, it’s mealtime and so on. And therefore what and when we choose to eat isn’t necessarily what our bodies need. Our sophisticated brains mean we can choose so many reasons to eat, however, we’ve lost our belief in food as medicine, and that what we eat will nourish our minds and bodies and support us in the best way possible. How often do we consciously think about food being used to repair and renew those millions of cells, working together to keep us healthy.

Before we look at specific foods to help our immune system, let’s look at how we can reconnect with food as medicine. When I was diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago, one of the first things I thought was, ‘how can I stop this happening again?’. Food was one of the areas of my life I began to change – initially out of fear, to help keep me healthy. Foods that would nourish me became my focus and reconnected me with healing. The good news is that you don’t have to get very sick in order to do this! You can start to believe that you have some control over your health, to consciously set an intention when you shop, cook and eat, to choose foods that will nourish you and your family and help keep you well, not just now, but in the future.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the food police. I too like the odd glass of wine, bit of chocolate and plate of fish and chips, and our bodies have the ability to deal with these less-than-healthy foods in small amounts but it’s when they become the everyday foods, without the majority of our diet being made up of the good stuff, that the damage is done. Processed food is one such group of foods that causes more harm than good. It’s either made from chemicals or it’s food that has been messed with and is therefore not in it’s natural state. Unnatural substances that the body does not recognise will create inflammation, the pre-cursor to disease. There is often hidden sugars and bad fats in processed food too and a serious lack of nutrients, even in those so-called ‘healthy’ snacks!

Added sugar is one of the most damaging substances that we eat, particularly in the quantities that we now consume. It has been linked to just about every common physical and mental disorder in today’s modern world, including cancer and depression. If it was a new substance created today, it could well be banned due to it’s toxicity. It’s often hidden in food we don’t expect so without realising we can consume more of it than we think.

Instead, getting back to basics and eating real food, in it’s natural form is what will help feed your immune system to function in the way it was designed to do. Eating a rainbow is something I often tell clients. When you look at your plate of food, what colours do you see? If you see all the colours of the rainbow, you are getting a wide variety of nutrients, particularly in vegetables as these are where many immune-boosting vitamins and minerals are found. To fill your plate half full with veg is really we want, forget five a day, that is nowhere near enough to maximise your health. It will also mean you are eating plenty of fibre to rid your body of toxins.

There are particular vitamins, minerals and foods that boost immunity so I’ll give you some foods that are rich in these to help you see where you may want to up your intake.

Let’s start with vitamin A – found in liver, cod liver oil, mackerel, salmon, tuna, cheese eggs, sweet potatoes, carrots, red peppers, kale, chard and spinach. Few of us eat liver and even oily fish these days, so if you don’t, eat a range of the other foods to ensure you’re getting enough.

Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin which means the body doesn’t store it, and yet it’s vital for our immunity. It’s also destroyed by cooking and time so fresh, raw or frozen sources will mean we get more of it. Found in chillies, yellow peppers, blackcurrants, thyme, parsley, spinach, kale, tomatoes, papaya, strawberries and oranges.

Vitamin D is difficult to get from food and as the main source is sunlight, most people are lacking this one, particularly after a long winter. When we can get outside, exposing our skin safely, without sun cream for a few minutes at a time (without burning of course!) will help to get this from sunlight. Foods that do contain vitamin D are oily fish, egg yolks and mushrooms.

Zinc is a mineral and is found in shellfish, pumpkin seeds, whole grains, cashew and pecan nuts, cocoa, chickpeas, lentils, beans, mushrooms, and spinach.

Magnesium rich foods are leafy greens, almonds, fish, beans and pulses, whole grains, avocados, bananas, figs and dark cocoa.

A group of foods I must mention are mushrooms! These beauties have so many benefits I could do a whole blog on them. They are powerful immune-boosters that help kill viruses, bacteria and yeast. Different mushrooms have different properties so try shitake, reishi, maitake, cordyceps and oyster too. They can be bought fresh, dried and powdered for soups, stews and sauces.

A healthy gut means that the nutrients that we do eat, get to where they are needed so eating pre-biotic foods will help maintain gut health. These are bitter foods such as artichokes, chicory, garlic and onions as well as asparagus, oats, apples, cocoa and flaxseeds.

We use herbs and spices to flavour our food but how often do we think of the goodness in them? They are concentrated nutrients and have powerful, healing properties – ask any herbalist. Common ones particularly helpful for the immune system are sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic, ginger and turmeric.

As many of us have more time on our hands right now, why not try something new, experiment with foods that maybe you haven’t tried before. If you’ve got children at home, get them involved, make it fun and laugh about it if it doesn’t go according to plan. Start to get the next generation connecting with healing food. Google some recipes or try out those from my other blogs such as home made hummus, lentil soup and coleslaw (more on the way).

Let’s stop outsourcing our health. Apart from the social distancing, isolation and hand-washing, we can do something empowering. We can boost our immune system by providing the nutrients to repair and renew those wonderful white blood cells that help us to get well from any illness, not just this one. These cells are our defence, they attack viruses and destroy them. That’s what they do, all the time, most of the time without us realising it’s happening and when we do feel unwell, e.g. feel achey or have a fever, it’s our immune system that’s doing it’s job. How amazing is that.

Pimped-up Coleslaw!

Do you love a dollop of coleslaw with your salad? I do! But I find that it can get a bit ‘samey’ after a while so here’s a few ideas to pimp it up, make it even more tasty, and of course, the more raw ingredients you put in it, the more you’re nourishing your amazing trillions of cells that make up your unique bodies and minds!

Not only that, but ditching those nasty supermarket tasteless tubs will save you buying one more piece of single-use plastic. I do use shop-bought mayo and mustard but they both come in glass jars and I choose ones with the least chemicals in them. Once you have the ingredients, it works out so much cheaper too and will keep in the fridge for a few days.

Here’s what I use, make it your own!

Grate together a quarter or half of a pointy or crinkly cabbage (who cares which!), 2 to 3 carrots and a small bulb of fennel in a large bowl.

Add a quarter of red onion (finely diced), a small bunch of chopped, fresh chives and a few chopped pickled capers or gherkins.

Stir in around a tablespoon (or more if you like it really creamy) of mayonnaise and a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard. Add a pinch of white pepper, pink sea salt and cayenne pepper if you want to add some heat/lemon juice if you want to add ‘tangyness’.

Sprinkle with a few more herbs, such as the feathery fennel or mint. Remember that herbs and spices are not just for flavouring but are concentrated nutrients with a range of health benefits, such as chives for heart health, fennel for bone strength and repair, and mint for digestion and mental function. You won’t get that from Tesco’s finest!

Enjoy:)

Life with a Saber-toothed Tiger.

Here in the Western World, we pride ourselves on the freedoms we enjoy. The rights, the choices and the material wealth we have is often seen as ‘progress’. And of course it is.

And yet, the price many of us are now paying for our fast-moving, busy lives filled with doing, achieving, succeeding and acquiring, our 24/7 communication and information overload….is all too often, chronic stress.

As humans, we are designed for short bursts of acute stress. In fact, we wouldn’t have survived as a species without stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol kicking in when under threat from the likes of a saber-toothed tiger. But in between ‘attacks’, we’re supposed to be at rest, allowing a different balance of hormones to be released, allowing minds and bodies to recover, sleep, eat, digest, and so repair and renew the trillions of cells that make up each unique person.

Today’s ‘saber-toothed tigers’ are those life events that happen to us all at some point; the trauma’s, changes and grief we experience are often beyond our control. And it’s a healthy reaction to feel a range of emotions and be in a state of stress… for a while.

We also choose to be in situations of ‘fight or flight’, such as delivering a speech to a room full of people, going for a job interview or competing in a sports event. The stress response helps us to cope with these, giving us energy, clarity, focus and strength, as if that saber-toothed tiger was just behind the next rock.

However, we now a have new cat on the block. When the constant pressure of work and home-life are mixed with environmental toxins and the information overload of social media, the ‘perceived threats’ don’t go away, and we enter into a state of chronic stress. Instead of energy, clarity, focus and strength, we experience the opposite and those trillions of cells cannot rest and recover, digest nutrients, renew and repair, therefore cannot provide us with a functioning immune system, The result, in the long-run, is disease.

We may be (currently) living longer, but we are living sicker. In the West, we are more obese, more medicated and have more diseases and disorders than ever before. We are no longer dying of saber-toothed tiger attacks, but from lifestyle-related conditions such as stroke, heart disease and cancer. And stress is linked to all of these.

So now, more than ever before, we need to become aware of how we feel, what we are thinking and what ‘state’ we are in so that we can take action to reduce those ‘stressors’ inside and outside of us and give our minds and bodies a chance to be in balance and wellbeing.

Here are some simple ways to help you return to balance and allow those cells to work effectively, grow and repair

  • Become more aware of how you feel, your heart rate, your thoughts when you are in different places, with different people, reading emails, social media, the news etc. If you feel anxious, stressed or uncomfortable, if your mind or heart is racing or your thoughts are critical, demanding or judgmental, take a deep breath and if possible, remove yourself from the situation, even for a moment, to acknowledge how you are and give yourself the time and space to calm down, re-think, see things differently and make decisions that are from a calmer state.
  • Take regular breaks in the fresh air, whatever the weather, and find a place where you can be around nature, even if it’s just a small patch of green. There’s plenty of research to show that, as we have evolved to be around the natural environment, we respond to ‘sensing’ nature by releasing serotonin and other feel-good, calming chemicals. Just 20 minutes away from ‘being busy’ in the office or wherever, will give your body the boost it needs to be more effective and productive, think more clearly, make better decisions and respond more positively to others. And the effects can last up to seven hours.
  • Keep hydrated with clean water. Every cell needs water to function properly and dehydration creates internal stress on them and we experience symptoms of poor concentration and memory, irritability, headaches and fatigue and these start to ramp up the stress levels. Caffeine and energy drinks may appear to give you a boost in the short term, but dehydrate you quite quickly so are counter-productive, giving you spikes and crashes in energy, concentration and mood.
  • Have a lunch break. It’s not a luxury, it’s necessary for you to function better in the second half of the day. That doesn’t mean eating whilst doing your emails, having a meeting or checking social media either. If any of these create even low-level stress (and they usually do), you won’t digest your food properly and this can lead to bloating, IBS and poor absorption of nutrients – so you won’t even get the best out of a healthy salad! These conditions cause inflammation, which creates more internal stress. So, make time for even half an hour of peace at lunch time or be around people that you enjoy being with, have a laugh or talk drivel – it doesn’t matter as long as it allows you to ‘switch off’ and relax.

I used to pride myself on being busy, all the time. In fact, I thought I was Super Woman. I wasn’t – and years of chronic stress lead to serious illness and ‘burn out’. I now realise that this culture of ‘busy, bust, busy’ is not a good thing. We can achieve more and feel more fulfilled when we take better care of ourselves and a more balanced approach. Sometimes, less is more. Take a leaf out of the life of our domestic cats – after the high energy antics of chasing mice and birds, they rest, sleep, eat and find that warm, sunny spot at the bottom of the garden or in front of the fire and nothing will shift them! They know what’s good for them and act on it. And so can we. For me now, that feels like real progress.

Mental Health Awareness Week. My 10 top tips.

‘I can’t change the direction of the wind but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination’ Jimmy Dean

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and so I thought I would give you my top tips that I use to relieve stress, anxiety and low mood, to stop my mind from racing and to interrupt and change those negative thoughts that seem to play on a loop in my mind. On my quest to improve my own mental health, I have learned so much through NLP, mentors, scientists and spiritual leaders and hundreds of self-development books, talks, workshops, retreats and conferences and from my own intuition. I now know I have the power to change my mental state by acting on those learning experiences, and you can too.

Why does it matter? Sometimes things happen in life that lead to feelings of sadness, anger, hurt etc and it is a good thing to acknowledge and go with these feelings. However, when we get ‘stuck’ with them, they can lead to mental illness. Long term stress is not only exhausting, it downgrades the immune system and can lead to serious physical illness. These conditions also affect our relationships, work, decision making and quality of life, in all areas.

So here’s my top tips, in no particular order:

  1. Practice gratitude. When you wake up in the morning, think of three things you are grateful for. They can be as simple as the fact that you are alive or the feel of the sheet on your skin. Gratitude in the morning interrupts the habit of thinking negative thoughts at the start of your day. Practiced every day, you will change the neural pathways in your brain, which trigger the chemicals that create your feelings. Keeping a journal is another way of practicing gratitude. Whatever works for you.
  2. Meditate. Whether it’s a guided meditation, music, visualisation or whatever works for you, taking at least 30 minutes in the morning or evening to just ‘be’, quietens the mind chatter, reduces stress and helps you to feel calmer, more relaxed, sleep better and think clearer. Before I meditated, I believed I didn’t have the time. Now I get up an hour earlier to do it…and I sleep better at night so I’m less tired.
  3. Move more. I decided not to put exercise as that can be a turn-off for some! Also, everyone is different and it’s important to get a balance of movement that helps you feel calm, excited, invigorated, relaxed and so on. Whether it’s gym work, running, walking, dancing, swimming, gardening, yoga, tai chi or whatever, it all helps. The worst thing you can do if you’re feeling down or stressed is sit and brood on it. As humans, we’re meant to move. Listen to your body and notice what it needs.
  4. Be in nature. Finding a green space to walk in, listening to birdsong, noticing nature, feeling the breeze on your skin for just 15 minutes a day triggers the release of chemicals such as dopamine that lifts mood, creates calmness and lowers anxiety. These effects can last for up to seven hours. Exposing your skin to the sun for short periods (without burning of course!) also gives you much needed vitamin D, responsible for helping to combat depression.
  5. Eat Well. Food really is medicine. Re-connect with food that nourishes your body. Sugar and processed foods do not give your body anything useful and they actually affect moods. Refined or ‘added’ sugar and many of the the chemicals in processed foods have been linked to depression, moods swings, anxiety, brain fog, poor concentration and hormone imbalance. Instead, choose to eat more mood boosting foods such as vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds.
  6. Look at your life balance – what do you need more of/less of in your life? When did you last feel totally relaxed and calm? When did you last have fun, feel joy? What gave you these feelings? Fold a piece of paper in half. On one side write the things you want more of, on the other the things you want less of and plan this into your week. Replacing the ‘less ofs’ with the ‘more ofs’ means it won’t impact too much on your time.
  7. Mirror work for self-care. This is very powerful and can feel really uncomfortable at first but the more you practice it, the easier it will become and the benefits to your mental wellbeing are huge. Look yourself in the eye in the mirror and say a mantra that works for you and is about you. Simple ones work best for me, like ‘I love you, I forgive you’. They could even be as simple as ‘you’re doing fine’, ‘you’re safe’, ‘you’ll be OK’. Notice how you feel when you say them. The more uncomfortable you feel, the more I would do them as it indicates you don’t yet believe them. This is not self-indulgent. If we love ourselves, we improve our relationships with others.
  8. Connect with those that make you feel good. We are social creatures and that means we have a need to connect with other people and even pets. Have you ever noticed how some people leave you feeling drained, down or frustrated? And others make you feel at ease, happy, special and so on. We all have energy fields around us and when we are with others we share that energy. Choose to spend more time with those that give off higher vibrational energies that create positive feelings. Practicing these tips will raise your own energy vibrations too.
  9. Practice good sleep hygiene. Screen time, caffeine, alcohol, being to hot, stressed etc. lead to poor quality and quantity of sleep. Sleep is when your body repairs itself, makes new cells and sorts out your mind. Creating a sleep routine can really help. An hour before bed begin to wind down, relax and switch off. I don’t drink caffeine after midday anymore and drink herbal teas known to promote sleep before I go to bed. You could use this time to journal, meditate, read and enjoy intimate moments with your loved ones.
  10. And finally, ignore well-meaning people in your life that tell you what you ‘should’ be doing. This is about what’s right for you. I’ve been careful to suggest and not dictate my tips in this post! By noticing how things make you feel, you will find your own ways. I have read, seen and listened to so many self-help ‘guru’s in my time. Some resonate with me, inspire me and others don’t. Choose those that work for and inspire you to make the changes you want in your own life.

Tropical Moments and Buckwheat Breakfast.

Hot flushes, night sweats, poor concentration and low moods are just four of many symptoms that most women experience before, during and after the menopause. For some, they are just a minor nuisance, for others, they can be really debilitating and last for years.

The menopause is a natural phase of life, a transition from the fertile years. Puberty in reverse. So why is it sometimes really awful? The problem is, we in the West no longer live life as nature intended. Our lives are so full, so fast and often very stressful. Add to that the toxic load our bodies have to deal with, from environmental pollution to the food we eat, alcohol we drink and lack of exercise we get, it’s no wonder we feel pretty terrible at times! Add to this the negative pattern of thoughts and feelings made worse by our diminishing self confidence and loss of sex drive, we’ve inadvertently created a perfect storm of hormonal chaos!

So…here’s the good news!!! There is so much we women can do to ease menopausal symptoms by using this time of life to really nurture and care for our bodies while our hormones are in a state of flux. It’s time to rest, give yourself the opportunity to sleep as well as you can, tell your loved ones, colleagues and managers what your are experiencing and what you need from them. Exercise by listening to your body, don’t overdo or under-do it.

And now’s the time to nourish your body with the foods that will both provide you with the right nutrients as well as help to balance your hormones. One of the best ways to do this is to eat more phytoestrogens. These are foods that contain a form of plant based oestrogen, supporting your hormones. They also contain lots of fibre to help you get rid of the excess ‘bad’ oestrogen your body no longer needs. Phytoestrogens are found in most beans, lentils, other pulses and whole grains. They are also concentrated in seeds, particularly linseeds (flaxseeds).

So here’s my version of Deliciously Ella’s buckwheat bowl recipe. Mine is creamy, chocolatey, orangey and gorgeous, with no added sugar, lots of phytoestrogens, fibre, vitamins and minerals. So it’s also good for your heart, blood, bones, muscles, immune system and provides you with slow release energy to kick-start your day. What’s not to love!?

Soak 150g of buckwheat overnight in cold water, then rinse until the water runs clear. Blend two thirds of it with a peeled orange, a handful of blueberries or other berries, around 75ml of almond or oat milk, a good tablespoon of peanut butter, 1 – 2 tablespoons of flaxseeds and two teaspoons of cacao powder (raw cocoa). Add the final third of buckwhaet to add crunch and enjoy! I don’t really measure any ingredients so play around with this to get the consistency you prefer. I’d love to know if you like this so please comment and share!

Nanna’s Beliefs.

Last year I had to do a presentation for my NLP Train the Trainer course. Inspired by another mind-blowing book I had just read, The Biology of Belief By Professor Bruce Lipton, I decided to focus on beliefs and how powerful they can be, in creating thoughts, that generate feelings, that lead to actions and reactions…that reinforce our beliefs. Bruce Lipton’s research shows how strongly held beliefs can not only affect our body’s trillions of cells, but actually change our DNA. I told you it was mind-blowing!

Anyway, as with all good NLP presentations, I began with a story. It happens to be true, although whether you believe it or not, is of course, up to you.

I was very lucky to have two amazingly warm and wonderful Nannas in my life. The lovely lady above is my Nanna Gladys. and the story is about her. Now, as Nanna Gladys got older, she would repeatedly get phone calls, letters and messages from her GP’s surgery, asking her to make an appointment with the nurse to have a flu jab. Nanna’s response was always the same. ‘No thank you, I don’t need it. I don’t get the flu’. As each new winter season came about, the requests got more demanding. ‘You must have the flu jab, at your age, flu could be dangerous, even fatal’, would be the plea from nurses, receptionists and GPs alike.

Now Nanna, like Rosa Parks when she sat on that bus and refused to get up and give her seat to white folk, was a tiny, polite, quiet, unassuming lady. She didn’t want to make a fuss, she just didn’t believe she needed the flu jab.

You see, Nanna had a secret weapon.

At the first sign of a sniffle, sneeze, headache or any other minor aliment she felt was ‘coming on’, she would take a ‘Beechman’s powder’ before bed, knowing she would wake the next morning as right as ninepence. Now for those too young to know, Beechman’s (she often got her words a bit muddled, you know what she meant!), used to come in powder form, in little paper packets (I know, sounds dodgy but go with me on this). Nanna would take the powder with a little cold milk like a magical elixir, on a teaspoon, with a knowing smile.

My beautiful Nanna Gladys lived for 101 years. She never took statins or blood pressure pills. She looked after the old folk in her neighbourhood until she was well into her 80’s and lived independently until after her 100th birthday. She rarely got colds…she never had a flu jab. And she never got the flu.

Beliefs. Powerful things.

#biologyofbelief #mindbodyconnection #mindset

Science and Mysticism From Dr Joe

Last weekend I took the train to Edinburgh to take part in Dr Joe Dispenza’s progressive workshop. I have to be honest, I knew nothing about this neuroscientist/ chiropractor/researcher/lecturer and expert on the brain, mind and human potential until 6 months ago when a friend introduced him into my life and persuaded me to go to this event. I knew that it would involve meditation, something I had not yet embraced on my journey to wellness. And something I knew would benefit me greatly.

I believe that things come into my life at the time I choose to be ready for them and that was certainly the case with this workshop. Dr Joe not only knows his stuff, he’s engaging, funny, passionate and compassionate. The weekend included teaching the science behind what happens to the brain when we think and what happens to the body when we feel and how repeating patterns of unhelpful habits of thinking and feeling lead to disease and how we can break these habits through his form of meditation. For a science geek like me who wants to know ‘how’, it was fascinating.

Almost half of the time was spent meditating and for someone who had barely managed 10 minutes prior to this event, the hour-long deep meditations sessions were a challenge at first, however, once I stopped ‘trying’ to do it right, I was able to put my body to sleep, stop my analysing brain and experience a peaceful state of nothing, at least in moments.

So I get it Dr Joe. I get how living in a constant state of stress for many years had ‘down-graded’ my immune system, leading to me being ill. I get that stress from my environment through toxic food, chemicals and people had lead to an imbalance of hormones. I get that believing I’m not good enough, feelings of fear and anger lead to the release of stress hormones and my poor immune system couldn’t cope.
I get why I’m feeling happier and healthier since making changes to my life, starting during my cancer treatment. And now Dr Joe, I understand the importance of finding order in the chaos of the mind, how this can bring about healing and infinite possibilities. I get that this is the same message the mystics and prophets have been giving us for thousands of years and I love the fact that science and mysticism are now speaking the same language.

I’m excited to begin this new chapter in my continued journey of wellbeing and self development and I look forward to sharing these learnings with others. Thank you Dr Joe for a truly inspiring, fascinating and mind-blowing weekend.

Lentil Soup for the Soul

It’s a common belief that eating a healthy diet is more expensive. It’s simply not true. What is expensive is eating convenience, processed food labelled as ‘healthy’. If it’s processed, it’s likely to contain a range of chemicals and ‘foods’ that the body doesn’t recognise and so these can often do more harm than good. Nothing is better for us than food in it’s natural state where the body can use up all the goodness and help keep us healthy.

In the mid 90’s, I was a busy working, single Mum and often found it was a real challenge to find enough money for the weekly shop.
This soup was a life-saver. My son says he was brought up on it. And that’s got to be a good thing! I still love it. It’s tasty, hearty, nutritious.

Red lentils are rich in iron, folate, heart-protecting polyphenols, zinc and fibre to support gut health and the immune system and a good meat-free source of protein. And of course, the veg and herbs are full of vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients, for example, garlic, sage and rosemary contain concentrated nutrients that fight inflammation and boost immunity.

The traditional recipe is great in the cooler months, with seasonal veg and those lovely woody herbs. It can be made in bulk and frozen too.

Ingredients (all approx. just give it a try)

A tablespoon of olive oil

1 medium onion

2-3 carrots

2 sticks of celery

2 bay leaves

2 cloves garlic

125g dried red split lentils

1.5 litres veg stock

A good handful of chopped, woody herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme.
Salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice to taste.

Method

Chop and slice the veg, grate the garlic, remove the woody stalks from the herbs and finely chop. Leave the bay leaves whole.

Heat the oil very gently in a large pan and add the onions, carrots, celery and bay leaves, place a lid on and sweat gently until onions are soft and translucent (about 5 mins).

Grate in the garlic and stir for a minute before adding the lentils and stirring all together.Add the veg stock, bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and add the chopped herbs.

Simmer gently for at least 20 minutes until the lentils are tender, stirring occasionally. Season to taste and serve.
This soup is very versatile. You can pimp it up with spices such as turmeric, cumin, mustard or paprika and a can of coconut milk or add any wilting veg at the bottom of the fridge. Root or ‘woody’ veg needs to be sweated down. Leafy veg like kale can be chopped and added just before serving.




The Joy of Ginger Tea!

In 2017, my 84 year old Dad fell into a lake and almost drowned. The result was that he inhaled dirty water and ended up in hospital for several weeks with pneumonia. He was given strong IV antibiotics that were dealing with the infection but making him violently sick. The doctors tried a range of anti-sickness medication, but nothing worked.

That is until I took him some home-made ginger tea. My Dad has a very sweet tooth so he wasn’t keen to try it at first. However, his desire to stop vomiting overcame him and he began drinking it. The feeling of nausea started to go almost immediately, and the sickness stopped.

There is plenty of research to back up this story too. Root Ginger is the best thing for settling the stomach after sickness bugs, medication such as antibiotics and chemotherapy, morning sickness, travel sickness, and any other nausea-related condition.

The benefits don’t end there either. It’s also good for bloating,  lowers blood pressure and cholesterol and improves circulation and it helps with the absorption of nutrients. It’s anti-inflammatory properties can reduce joint pain and menstrual cramps.

To get the most out of this delicious spice, forget expensively packaged teabags. Root ginger is cheap to buy and tea is easy and quick to make, and well worth the little bit of effort needed!

fastest-most-efficient-way-peel-fresh-ginger-root-no-knives-peelers-required.w1456Take a piece of ginger the size of a thumb nail (or less if you don’t want it strong) and peel it using the inside of a teaspoon.

Slice thickly straight into a cup or grate into a tea strainer and place over the cup.

Pour over boiling water and leave for a few minutes to infuse. Remove the strainer or spoon out the slices.

Add a slice of lemon to give it a citrus flavour, a pinch of turmeric powder or cinnamon to give it a warm, spicy taste.

 

Alison Harris