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.

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

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Wellbeing Basics: Breathing

The second in my Wellbeing Basics series. The first one on sleep can be found here.

Here's a blonde joke (disclaimer: as a blonde-ish person myself I feel I am allowed to make one…sort of) - A blonde walks into a beauty shop with a pair of headphones on. She asks for a haircut. The blonde is led to a chair and asked to sit down. "Make my hair look good, but whatever you do, don't take off the headphones", the blonde instructs. The blonde falls asleep during the haircut and the hair stylist thinks, "It’s really hard to cut with these headphones on". She takes them off, and the blonde dies. The stylist calls an ambulance and when they take the blonde away the intrigued stylist picks up the headphones and takes a listen. She hears a little voice saying "Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out..." So now you all know (if you hadn’t guessed already) that breathing is rather important – and you can actually be doing it wrong!

Why should I care about my breathing so much?

Apart from the obvious (see above), our breathing – or more importantly the way we breathe – can have a big impact on, not only our bodies, but also our emotions. Breathing is an automatic mechanism. It’s controlled by our autonomic nervous system and we don’t have to consciously think about breathing in and out. Because our bodies are incredibly clever, our autonomic nervous system adjusts our breathing to suit our body’s needs. If we are exerting ourselves, if we are anxious, if we are ill – our breathing changes as a result. This can be very helpful. However, it can also sometimes be unhelpful. Over-breathing (or hyperventilation) can upset our body’s chemistry and in turn result in negative physical and emotional symptoms. The opposite problem – hypoventilation (breathing too slowly) can result in too much carbon dioxide being in the blood and not enough oxygen. Studies have shown that there is a high correlation between ‘incorrect’ breathing and a number of illnesses, for example: heart disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, chronic inflammation, anxiety – to name but a few.

Someone told me I’m breathing from the wrong place – how is that possible?

We know that breathing too quickly or too slowly can be unhelpful, but it also matters where you’re breathing from. This may sound odd, but a lot of people breathe from the ‘wrong’ place.
Here’s a simple test to check: if you take a minute or so and concentrate on your breathing what part of your body is rising and falling? Are your chest and shoulders moving, or is your abdomen?
If your chest and shoulders are rising and falling, this probably means you aren’t using your diaphragm (a huge, dome-shaped muscle at the bottom of the rib cage) to breathe. The diaphragm is the best place to breathe from. Chest breathing can mean you feel anxious a lot of the time, that you’re over-breathing and causing potential imbalances to your body chemistry. Disproportionate amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide can have a radical impact on your health – meaning you can feel fatigued, nervy or cross; while potentially doing yourself more serious damage in the long run.

I find the most helpful way to calm myself is to concentrate on my stomach and breathe from there. Think of your abdomen as a balloon that’s slowly filling up with air as you inhale and then slowly releasing the air (or deflating the balloon) as you exhale – try to do this without your chest or shoulders rising. Another option is to lie flat on the floor or your bed and place a book on your stomach, covering your belly button, and try to lift the book by breathing in and out – this can help focus your mind on exactly where you should be breathing from. Attempt to make your stomach bigger (vanity will have to be out aside!) – this way your body will learn to breathe from your diaphragm rather than your chest.

Many people can find it a slightly uncomfortable or strange experience to change their breathing pattern – but I would suggest you try it and keep persevering! You may feel sleepy at first, or get some funny flutterings in your diaphragm – these are all part of your body adapting to quite a significant change to its norm. It is, however, a positive change. If you can practice this technique for a couple of minutes a day, you will slowly start to breathe from your diaphragm reaping the rewards, both physically and emotionally, as a result.

Five tips to breathe in a healthier way:

·       Join a choir – you will learn all about breath control and diaphragmatic breathing, plus it can be a fun and rewarding activity!

·       Try 7/11 breathing for five to ten minutes every day – that’s inhaling for seven seconds and then exhaling for eleven seconds, this can help regulate your breathing and re-balance your body chemistry.

·       Be more mindful – we can unconsciously hold our breath when we are anxious, angry, concentrating or exerting ourselves; try to be more aware of your breath and how you are breathing – I talk a little about breathing in an old video of mine here (at about 9 and a half minutes in).

·       Practice yoga or Tai Chi – a lot of yoga and Tai Chi exercises include breathing techniques which may prove beneficial, plus you’re getting some exercise at the same time; it’s a win, win really!

·       Download a breathing app – it may sound very close to the blonde joke I opened with, but they can be very useful as a guide if you need to quickly regulate your breathing or calm down – I’ve been using Breathing Zone, but there are lots of free options which I am sure are just as helpful. I talked a bit about Breathing Zone in this video here.

Do you breathe using your diaphragm? What are some things you find helpful to regulate your breathing?

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