Gut Health, Anxiety and Self Image…

I’m writing about diet this week as I feel it plays a huge part in the management of anxiety. I am sure that we are often attracted to the very foods which can result in making us feeling jittery! Likewise, there are ‘angel’ foods that certainly help to keep us a little calmer.

Diet

It is easy to assume that our diet is nutritious. Even when we think we eat a balanced diet there is always room for improvement. With the busy lives most of us lead, it is easy to grab whatever food is going or eat fast food and ‘takeaways’. Highly processed foods not only are devoid of nutrients but can be positively harmful to our mood and well-being. The main baddies which we would all do well to avoid are: processed foods, all sugars, fried foods, cured meats, sodas, excess caffeine and alcohol. These foods can create inflammation in our bodies by harming our digestion. Poor diet will contribute to poor gut health which could lead to ‘leaky gut’ and IBS symptoms. If we do not absorb our nutrients as nature intended, are bodies can be more prone to disease and depression.

Many scientists now believe that the key to our well-being is related to our gut health. Our gut health is related to our diet. In a healthy gut, seventy percent of our serotonin is produced by the healthy microbes that live in the stomach. Serotonin is one of the most important chemicals in our brain for promoting the feeling of well-being. How often do we hear people say: ‘My gut feeling was to do this or not to do that’? Our feelings and lifestyle affects our gut in many ways and, in reverse, our gut health affects our thinking quite dramatically. When we are anxious we get ‘butterflies in our tummy’ and often a churning feeling, proving that there is a direct connection with our gut and our brain. So a quieter mind will help our gut feel more settled. There are many studies which show how beneficial pre and probiotics can be in aiding our digestion by supplementing our gut flora or bacteria, which in turn may help us feel calmer overall.

Whatever diet you follow, be it vegetarian, vegan, paleo or ‘hunter gatherer’ for example, try and make it as wholesome as you can. Just because a diet has a label doesn’t mean it is always healthy. It helps to do your research to find out what diet suits your body type best and also to ensure your food comes from the best source you can find. At the same time, don’t get too hung up about your diet either. Do your best to eat well but if you have a few lapses and indulge in a cake or two now and again don’t beat yourself up. If you enjoyed it, it probably did you good in a ‘feel good’ way!

Avoid any foods that trigger your anxiety and cause headaches like cheese and yeast extract. Acid producing food and drinks can make you jittery i.e. processed meats and sodas, whilst alkaline foods can be more calming, i.e. vegetables and most fruits, beans and lentils. Sometimes when you eat certain foods you may notice a pattern emerging –i.e. tiredness, mental fogginess or bloating, and this may indicate these foods do not suit you and may be best avoided.

I am not here to extol the virtues of one particular diet as I do not feel that one diet suits everyone, and also you may have certain ethical reasons for wanting to follow a certain diet, or you may prefer to avoid diary/wheat etc. All I suggest is that you eat good and nutritious food which is as unadulterated as possible. Other possible choices to consider for boosting your health are juicing and of course, drinking enough water. In these days of intensive farming and modern agriculture, some foods may not contain as many nutrients as they once did and therefore going for organic and bio-dynamically produced foods would be ideal. However, this may not always be financially sustainable and so you might want to consider a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to top up your diet. I feel this has benefited my own personal health but it is very much personal choice. If you do decide to supplement your diet it is worth asking for advice from a good nutritionist or naturopath.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’      Hippocrates

Exercise

Exercise can really help to alleviate stress and anxiety. The problem can be that when we feel down or anxious we lose motivation to do anything, leave alone go out and take exercise. But take small steps if you really feel lethargic. Make the effort to go out and walk around the block and you will soon feel uplifted. Nature has a way of working magic! Who can fail to be cheered up by the sight and sound of a merry robin singing his heart out in the tree above our heads, or the beauty of the sun bursting through the clouds on a grey day? If you can get used to taking a daily walk you can increase your distances and improve your fitness. Walking, especially at a brisk pace can really improve your physical and mental health. Of course, you may be used to exercise and have just got a bit out of practise and if that is the case try and resume those sports/hobbies you have got out of the habit of doing. Sometimes it’s good to walk with a friend and chat as you go. Leave your worries behind you and concentrate only on what is around you and the power of nature. What works for me is putting on the headphones and listening to some inspiring music or listening to an audio of one of my favourite motivational speakers, whilst walking in the woods behind my house. Overall, exercise is one of the most effective ways of improving your mental health. Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety and stress. It will also help you sleep better and will boost your overall mood.

Self-Image

We have multi-billion pound industries devoted to telling us how we should look and present ourselves to the world. This begins when we are young children and is promoted on a world-wide and daily basis and is a never ceasing bombardment. This can affect people in all social and economic groups. Even the most self-assured amongst us may think twice before we go out if we are not feeling ‘up to the mark’. If we don’t feel we ‘fit in’ we become uncomfortable and try and be like everyone else. Society wants us to conform even though deep down it does not suit us. It is hard at times to remind ourselves that our lives are not dependant on what others think. Even when people are well-meaning, they are often taken up with their own lives and appearances and are not in the least worried about how we appear to them; often all the angst we go through when worrying how others see us is just a waste of energy. If you enjoy being a follower of fashion or the latest trends then that’s great, but if not, just be happy with whom you are. And remember, if you were a good and kind friend to someone, they will remember the kind actions you showed them rather than what you were wearing!

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More thoughts on Anxiety.

I recently wrote some posts about anxiety. Because anxiety seems to be so commonplace in people’s lives at the moment, or at least I seem to have come across a lot of people suffering from it, I wanted to write down some more thoughts about the subject. I am well aware that different approaches work for different people and I am not qualified to dispense medical advice, I can only write from personal experience and give some insights I have gained from others. I hope there may be something here that may help a little if you are finding yourself going through anxious times.

Anxiety takes many forms and can shape your thought processes and decisions. It is thought to be related to the biological fight or flight response to feeling threatened. It can become a problem if it is accompanied by panic attacks or anxiety about things which are part of everyday life.

Anxiety isn’t rational. It’s not just an amplified version of what is worrying you. It’s more than that. Sometimes you don’t know what sets it off. Some days you can cope with life and others you just don’t want to know. A lot of people think anxiety is nothing more than a similar feeling you get before giving a presentation at work or an actor having first night nerves; it may be a bit like that at times, but often its more long lasting and doesn’t decrease as it would when events like the above are over. Some of the symptoms are palpitations, wanting to escape form your surroundings, fear you may lose control of thoughts or actions, racing heart, nausea, insomnia and nervousness.

Anxiety can strike anyone and people from all walks of life. It doesn’t really matter what your circumstances are, what background you come from, whether you are in a happy relationship or alone, hold down a high powered job or are unemployed, well-off or hard up. It can creep up on anyone and sometimes it is just unexplained.

There are many ways of coping with anxiety and different ones work for different people. One thing I have noticed is that friends and family often want to find a solution for you and a reason for why this is happening to you. That’s fine but there are times you don’t want to listen to solutions and you don’t particularly want to have the reasons described. You just want to get through the day. And all you really want is for someone to say ‘It’s okay’ or ‘you will get through this’ and ‘I am here for you. I love you’. With empathy and support you can cope so much better. Remember – just because a condition is given a label it doesn’t necessarily mean it solves the problem in your head.

Here are some tips about what not to do when you are battling with anxiety:

Do not watch the news.

Do not under any circumstances look up the condition you are worried you have on the internet. I promise you the information you find will scare you and often the stuff you read is not accurate. Trust me on this. I have been there!

Don’t overdose on caffeine and be careful with alcohol consumption – hangovers are debilitating at the best of times but if you are feeling vulnerable they can make anxiety levels worse.

Do not become a couch potato – you will feel much better if you go outside and walk/ take exercise.

Don’t have very late nights. Lack of sleep makes anxiety worse. Even if you suffer from insomnia- get to bed early and get as much sleep as you can. At the same time, rather than lay tossing and turning, get up for a while and make a milky drink (cows milk or an alternative like almond milk if you don’t like dairy) Then try and get back to sleep again.

Don’t eat junk and sugary foods. Avoid any foods that trigger your anxiety and cause headaches like cheese and yeast extract. Acid producing food and drinks can make you jittery ie. processed meats and sodas,  whilst alkaline foods can be more calming, ie. vegetables and most fruits, beans and lentils.

If you are trying to help someone with anxiety , here are a few things to remember:

Often someone in an anxious state comes across as distant or uncaring but this is not how they are inside – they are feeling bad and preoccupied and may not realise how they appear to others. It doesn’t mean they don’t love or care about you.

Don’t say their worries are silly or unfounded. They are very real to them!

They may appreciate your help but not you trying to change them. You cannot know how they are feeling inside.

Never say ‘pull yourself together!’ (I’m sure you wouldn’t !)

For those suffering from anxiety, getting through the day is the important thing.

When you are in a situation that is causing you to feel anxious  – for example, worrying you might be late for an appointment, or losing your keys, ask yourself what would be the worst thing that could happen? Most things can be overcome even if they upset us at the time and cause an inconvenience. You will find most people are helpful if you are stuck in a minor predicament. Try and reach out and have a lighthearted approach- it is amazing how this will help an awkward situation and make you feel more optimistic.

Even in more serious situations that would make most people anxious, you will be surprised how you will often find help and sympathy from unexpected people or places.

Remember, anxiety doesn’t define you.

Have a small item that you find comforting and keep it with you. I have a few words on a scrap of paper in my handbag written by my late mother – it reads : ‘To my lovely girl -be happy. You will never know how much I love you. Love Mum.x ‘  To know you are loved or have been loved is more than uplifting. It is at the core of everything.

YOU are loved. Yes you are – even if you doubt it.

Blessings to you.

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Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength ‘

                                                                                                 Charles Spurgeon

 

 

 

In Praise of a Quieter Life….

I read an article recently where the subject was about settling for a mediocre life. At first, I thought ‘hmm, this is going to be negative,’ but as I read on I realised what the person was trying to say. Sometimes in this tumultuous and changing world we just want to settle for a quiet life. We don’t want to strive and put ourselves out there and scrabble around on the ever rotating ‘hamster wheel’. We may not want to rush around trying to improve our minds even though we seem to be instructed to do this on a regular basis. Sometimes we may yearn NOT to have to strive to meet targets, not to keep up with the latest fashion or the latest upgrade in technology. Maybe we even want to escape the ‘health police’.

There seems to be a lot of judgement about, whether it be fiercely or kindly meant it can still unsettle us. Today I listened to a professor talking about diabetes. His theory was that diabetes 2 was largely brought on by neglect and leading a sedentary life, and that it should be renamed   ‘the non-walkers complaint’, or something similar. In other words, he was saying most people brought this ‘complaint’ on themselves by following an unhealthy lifestyle. He may be right in certain circumstances, but I feel this is a dangerous sort of judgement to pass on a person who may have reached a distressing state of health by all sorts of circumstances. Who knows what leads any of us to a state of ‘dis-ease’? Do we start banishing patients from the hospital waiting room if they don’t meet certain criteria or if they have put on a few stones in weight? Most of us like to eat a healthy diet when we can, and take some excercise, but do we need to become so engrossed in studying the latest health craze that we forget to enjoy our food? The media bombards us with information about what we should and shouldn’t eat, what vitamins/shakes/woo-woo berries we should consume, the mantras we should chant and the mindfulness we should embrace. Most of the time I find it interesting but sometimes I want to run away crying ‘show me the chocolate cake’!

Some days I long for calm. More and more I think about peace and ‘going with the flow’. I imagine a new sort of shop that plays gentle soothing music as I buy my groceries or my new jeans, instead of playing mindless, loud music that grates on the nerves. I think about walking in the woods instead of driving on the M25. I think about putting my feet up instead of going to sit in a draughty hall where I am shown how to contort my body and put my leg behind my right ear. Ok, not quite behind my ear but you know what I mean.

There seems to be too much going on around us for us to spend time worrying about how we should be living our lives; whether we should conform, expect our children/grandchildren to excel in every walk of life, live in the most stylish house, travel the world; whether we should be swinging from the chandeliers every night, (great if you have the energy!) and generally  leading an exemplary life.

It’s interesting too, to notice that one can be too religious for some, and not spiritual enough for others. I find this crops up quite often in my life. I have come to the conclusion that everyone forms their own opinion of me and will stick to it whatever I do. So I just have to be myself. And do my best. Besides, sometimes I feel very spiritual, other times I want to question every belief I hold dear. But mostly I get by. I want to change my mind sometimes too. I want to be able to be objective, see all points of view. Not always easy but worth aiming for.

I used to be a nurse, and I count myself lucky that I was one once. I learned that everyone in life has a story, a past, but not always a future. It is easy to forget this in this busy world. And it is sometimes easier to forget than think of it. But when we weigh up everything, if searching for the quieter life sometimes, following the calm and slower path sometimes, and taking time out sometimes, leads us to appear mediocre, then I am all for it. Besides, we will have more time to spend loving our family, and what could be better than that?

Blessing to you.

A few wise words from William Makepeace Thackeray:

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Onwards and Upwards…yet again..

Greetings from Dove Lane. I hope you have had a wonderful and peaceful Christmas.

It’s that time again when we have the slight lull that follows the festivities of Christmas Day with all the celebrating, eating and family time, before gearing ourselves up for the onslaught of the New Year. It is one of the precious few times of the year when we have several days off in a row (at least in our house), forget which day it is, and where we have time for lay-ins and cooked breakfasts before a leisurely walk or, in our case, more sorting and unpacking in the aftermath of a house move that took place just before Christmas.

I always struggle with this time of year; I don’t like giving up on Christmas. I cling on to the twinkling lights and the decorations for as long as possible. I inwardly cringe when I hear people saying they can’t wait to ‘get back to normal’or that they have already taken their decorations down the day after Boxing Day. I don’t get it. It’s dark. WE need lights. WE need to keep the fun going as long as possible!

The seasons seem to be getting shorter and shorter with the space between them constantly shifting and moving on before we have had chance to enjoy the present. At our local garden centre, Santa had moved in in October and was back in the North Pole before we knew it. (The grotto was fantastic though!) All that remains in the Christmas store now are a few sad and bedraggled decorations selling at knock down prices, whilst the summer barbecue equipment is coming back in through the door, along with the garden furniture and the patio heaters. I have never been able to work out who would buy these things in the still dark days of winter, but obviously some people do. Don’t get me wrong, I know we can’t cling on to Christmas for too long, but surely we can wait a few more weeks before calling time on everything festive.

I am sure now I will never be the Queen of England. I would put money on it. I’m not even remotely in line to the throne, although I must say, I can do quite a good royal wave, but if I WERE ever to be Queen, or Prime Minister (now there’s a thought) the first thing I would do would be to create a public holiday at the end of January. I have always thought that would be a very good idea. It wouldn’t be nearly so bad clearing up after Christmas if we knew there was another holiday on the horizon. Like a ‘Goodbye to Winter, Spring is on the horizon’ sort of holiday.

I don’t want to see chocolate creme eggs in the shop yet, and although I am a romantic, I’m not yet ready to see Valentine’s cards either.

I have always found New Year’s Eve a bit daunting. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions and I don’t particularly like all the emotions involved. Maybe like is not the correct word. Don’t get me wrong, I love being with friends and I’m not a party pooper but I do think looking back down over one year and wondering what the next will bring does stir up all sorts of emotions. I guess I like to treat every day the same, for each day is new and special whatever the time of the year.

You have probably deduced that I don’t bother with starting a new diet or a new project on January 1st. I will just try and stick to the healthy diet I have always tried to follow, not always successfully, but then we all fail from time to time. I will try and keep up my daily walks and do the odd bit of meditation, but I won’t be setting any rules that will be broken a few weeks down the line. Most of all I will try to be happy and make the best of things.

Happiness is a choice. Kindness is a choice – the best choice. And I hold the hope that I can make the rest of my life a good part of my life.

I would love to hear how you view the start to the New Year!

               To Christmas    

 Christmas comes but once a year,

That’s not enough for me,

When it’s gone I shed a tear,

It’s gone too soon you see.

Don’t grumble about the Christmas rush

Enjoy the magic instead,

Stoke up the fire and pour the wine,

Put the stocking by the bed.

Enjoy the delicious gourmet treats

Forget about the diet,

Walk along the snowy streets

When all the world is quiet.

Don’t put the decorations away too soon

The Angel needs and airing,

She sits too long in a dusty box

And her feathers need repairing.

Then fill the house with scented flowers

When the year is done,

Look forward to the daylight hours

And plan to have some fun.

I wish you a Very Happy New Year however you celebrate, and whether you make resolutions or not, good luck !

NAMASTE

Diet, rest and relaxation..thinking about the simple things we forget (or don’t have time for).

 As the month of October comes around again bringing misty days and wonderful colour to ease us in to winter, it is time to look forward to cosy evenings, warm coats, chunky scarves and the odd hearty casserole or two.

We are bombarded with information about keeping healthy these days. There are countless articles and programs available to seemingly guide us through the pros and cons about what we should be eating, how much exercise we should take and the sort of lifestyle we should be leading.

You may notice the word ‘should’ cropped up three times in the previous paragraph. Hmm..I need to address that. I was listening recently to a recording by the late and much missed Louise Hay, the motivational author and founder of Hay House. The subject was ‘Self Healing’ and with her gentle words of wisdom she suggested we ban the word ‘should’ from our vocabulary. Immediately we tell ourselves we ‘should’ do something, we change our thought pattern and feel restricted; we lose the natural flow of our thoughts. Maybe we can change the way we look at things, even just for a while. Change the word ‘should’ to ‘could’. We could be gentle with ourselves and nourish ourselves; both our bodies and our minds. We could make our own choices. We have unlimited choices if we look around.

 Do we feel healthy?

Here is a guide I like to go by. A barometer for good health. You will notice that with good health it is easier to become a more grounded person too:

Absence of fatigue. Good appetite. Sleeping well and awaking refreshed. Good memory. Good clear thinking. Being the person you would like to be – honest, with good humour, kind, grateful and loving.

I wonder how many of us have the good health the above paragraph describes? I would like to think most of us but I certainly cannot tick all the boxes all of the time. Can you?

There are so many factors that are important for our health and well being. We all have a centre of wisdom deep inside us and if we make positive changes we can attract good spiritual and physical health. Our bodies are actually a mirror of our thoughts and beliefs. We hear the expression ‘we are what we eat’ very often, and I believe it to be true, but I think ‘we are what we think’ as well. Our subconscious mind accepts what we tell it as true, so with the unlimited choices about what we think, it is important to train ourselves to be positive and release any negative thought patterns. It is incredible to think that right now, what we think today, this minute, can create our future.

Letting go.

Most of us carry burdens or negative thoughts around with us of some sort or another. Maybe we feel we aren’t good enough, clever enough or even carry some guilt. We try to please. We want to be liked. We want to excel at what we do. Maybe we feel fear. I know life is hard to figure out. It always has been and always will be. But letting go of things we can’t change will help us face the future and improve our health. I am a born worrier and yet I know that worry never changes anything, and most things resolve in the long run. If we harbor regrets and guilt, we are dwelling on things from the past we cannot change.

The power of meditation.

It took me a long time to learn the benefit of meditation. I found  it difficult to switch off, to let my mind go blank. I tried many guided meditations with audio books and the like. I knew it must work otherwise why would all the great gurus live their lives by it? The dictionary describes meditation thus: contemplation, thought, musing, pondering, consideration, study, brooding, cogitation, reverie, etc. I realised I do this a lot of the time anyway! I just needed to do it in a calm and quiet atmosphere, and moderate my breathing. Once I realised there was no mystery behind it, it became a lot easier and part of a regular routine. I now know that if my mind gets bombarded with random thoughts I can quietly let them go. A ten minute pause in a busy day to clear the mind is as valuable as a long rest curled up on the sofa. I usually put on some peaceful music and maybe light a candle or a joss stick (well, I was around in the sixties).

Eating well and ‘not a very big cabbage!’

Where do we start with diet? Here we do have an enormous amount of choice. How lucky we are in the Western world to be able to choose our diet. So many foods are at our disposal. We can have all manner of foods deposited on our doorsteps at the click of a button. We have bulging cookery books on our shelves full of ideas and suggestions of what to cook for almost every kind of diet we will ever need. Yet still we find ourselves getting confused.

I like to cook and eat healthy, mainly vegetarian food with natural ingredients; whole grains, good fats, fruit and vegetables. I try and avoid sugar wherever possible but I find it hard to resist homemade cake. I guess the odd treat is acceptable! Eating nutritious food provides energy and good eating is about feeling good. I know that it is more of a challenge to eat well with food intolerance or allergies, but thankfully there is a range of gluten free and diary free food available in the shops now. Here at home we have been consuming much more of a plant based diet and are easing off diary produce. The range of nut milks available is growing all the time. I look forward to my cereal with almond milk every morning!

I know that we don’t all have a large budget and buying the best ingredients can be costly. A friend of ours recently commented about the exorbitant price of a cabbage, and to use his words, ‘not even a very big cabbage!’ It is hard for young families and I admire all the young parents who do their best to feed their families well. We need our youngsters to enjoy good nutrition – they are our future.

Exercise and fresh air

I’m not great at exercise. I need to exercise more. I do love to walk however, and there is nothing better than getting out in the fresh air with the headphones on whatever the weather. Life soon gains perspective again. Half an hour a day has been proven to make a big difference to overall health. Of course, the more exercise you can fit in, the better!

Essential Oils

At home it is lovely to use essential oils. Like all holistic therapies, aromatherapy seeks to strengthen the body’s own innate self-healing ability , aiming to restore balance, both physically and psychologically. It strives to correct any imbalances in the body which may have occurred through poor diet or negative thoughts.The use of essential oils can help to speed healing and well being.

Aromatherapy is a big subject and more than I can go into here, but if you haven’t used oils at home before, a good way to start is with a burner or diffuser. A simple burner operates with a tea-light and is quite inexpensive. Good oils to start with are lavender, geranium and ylang ylang. Essential oils need to be used with care so follow the instructions on the bottle. Fill the bowl of the burner with water and add a few drops of two or three oils and light the candle. Your room will soon smell amazing and you will feel uplifted. I have a diffuser which is a step up from a burner but not essential. I love mine as it changes colour and produces a gentle puff of steam. You can find a good range on Amazon.

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My aim today is to give us a little prompt. To help us reflect on our lives, to ask ourselves whether we give ourselves enough time for the really important things in life, like nurturing and care. Don’t feel self indulgent if you feel the need to rest. It’s important to take time out, no matter how busy your life is.

          ‘We are energy beings first and foremost. But stress causes energy blockages in the physical body, causing stress and disease. Do not underestimate the power of positive thinking.  This will counteract negative energies, make waves of love, compassion and understanding, and it heals’.

If you are trying to cope with ill health at the moment  I wish you well.

Good health and blessings to you.