Notice, nurture, nourish: Simple tips for a healthier mind and body – Part 3

Notice, nurture, nourish: Simple tips for a healthier mind and body – Part 3

In this three-part series, we give you some easy, practical tips on how to feel more refreshed and energised so you can focus on creating your excellent life.

Part 3: Nourish

Healthy eating becomes vital when we’re under stress. By taking in proper nutrients, we can increase our focus and concentration and stabilise our emotions, even during the toughest of times.

But when we’re stressed out and busy, how often do we reach for a chocolate bar, a packet of chips or make ourselves another coffee? It can be difficult maintaining healthy habits when we’re under pressure. That’s why it’s useful to have healthy habits set up before we need to rely on them. In other words, making it easier for our bodies to work smarter, not harder.

Food trends come and go so often, it can be difficult to know what we should be eating.

One thing is clear, however – eating is a positive, life enhancing act of self-nurturing. That’s why it’s important to focus on the mind, and our beliefs around eating first. Eating should bring joy, not guilt or pressure.

Developing awareness

Try to develop awareness in your body by finding what food works for you. When you eat something, does it make you feel alive and energised, or do you get a quick rush of energy and then feel flat and drained soon after?

Ever had a large pasta dish for lunch and not long after, you’re struggling to stay awake? By 3pm you can’t keep your eyes open, and you’re hunting for a coffee and chocolate bar for another pick me up?

Having a large meal focuses your body’s energy on digestion, leaving little energy for focus and concentration. The carbohydrate loading of the pasta itself makes it worse by creating a quick energy increase and then dropping flat. You then repeat again with the caffeine and sugar in the coffee and chocolate bar and wonder why you feel lousy.

What can we do differently?

Let’s start with eating less, more often.

Eating a little bit every hour or two is a great way to keep your metabolism going and your energy stable. This helps to boost your metabolism and keep it running at a higher rate. It can stabilise blood sugar levels, which helps concentration and enables your body to cope better with stress. It can stop the rollercoaster of high and low energy and help maintain or even reduce weight, if that’s a goal you have. So, three small meals a day, with snacks in between, is a good start.

Proteins

Proteins are the building blocks of our body. They make up our skin, bones, muscles, ligaments, hair and nails. Foods such as dairy, eggs, meat, fish, nuts, legumes and some plants e.g. broccoli, avocado and spinach are good sources of protein.

Proteins are made up of molecules called amino acids. Nine of these are essential, meaning that our body can’t make them, so we need to eat them. Different foods contain different types of amino acids, so eating a wide variety of foods ensures we have the best chance to consume a whole range of them.

Protein is also a natural appetite suppressor as it keeps the levels of Ghrelin, a chemical in our system that makes us feel hungry, lower for longer.

Protein is also great at improving our mood and our resistance to stress. Tryptophan is the amino acid that produces the hormone serotonin. Serotonin can reduce depression, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, memory and learning problems and generally improve our mental processing ability. Research suggests that if we want to remain in a positive, uplifted and stable mood, eat small, regular protein portions through the day. So next time you’re feeling flat, instead of that chocolate bar, grab a handful of nuts such as raw almonds and observe how you feel.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are found in fruit, vegetables and grains and contain the various vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are vital for maintaining our general health. They can boost our immune system so that our body can defend itself against bacteria, viruses and free radicals that are in our everyday surroundings, as well as repair and protect us at a cellular level. And of course, they’re important for increasing our energy levels.

This is another reason why small portions more often are so important. If we have a large carbohydrate hit all at once, like with the pasta meal I mentioned earlier, you get an energy boost for a very short time, then fall in a heap and need tooth picks to keep your eyelids open. The more natural and less processed the sugar in the food is, like fruit rather than chocolate, the lower the spike. If you have protein with carbohydrates, such as peanut butter with an apple, that can also lower the energy spike and make it last longer.

Good fats, bad fats

If you remember that motor oil ad – Oils Ain’t Oils, that’s true for our bodies too. Our cell walls are made of fat, so we need fat, but not just any fat.

Many oils change their structure and how they operate in your body when they are heated. These are fats like trans fats or hydrogenated vegetable oils. They’re heated to preserve items such as muffins from the convenience store – they never get old or go off. They just clog our cells.

The safest fats to cook with don’t change much when heated. These include coconut oil, rice bran oil and ghee. Great oils to eat raw in things like homemade salad dressings include olive oil, avocado oil or straight avocados.

Omega 3s, found in deep sea fish and flaxseed oil, have been shown to increase our ability to handle stress, lower depression and anxiety and other mood related conditions, such as autism. They also help us to think faster and clearer. The neurones, or nerve cells in our brains, actually operate better and fire quicker. This is especially beneficial in pregnant women, for the development of their baby’s brain.

And don’t forget to drink water. We are more than 75% water, so drinking 2-3 litres a day helps flush your system and is also important for digestion, especially in processing fats.

Planning is key

Planning what you eat can be simple and empowering. I spoke to a lawyer not so long ago. She was recently married and she and her husband were working very long hours. Out the door early and back around 9pm, too late to start preparing dinner. We talked about the types of food they like to eat and worked out a plan for them to store simple salad basics in the fridge at work for a healthy lunch that they could easily add different things to, like olives or feta cheese. We also worked out a basic weekly dinner plan that they could prepare and cook the night before and keep in the fridge to heat up as soon as they got home.

Once you’ve planned out what you need, create a shopping list then either buy the items online and have it delivered, or, if you go to the shops, make sure you go with a full tummy, rather than being hungry. You’ll be far less tempted to buy things that are not on the list.

Strawberries at eye level - healthy snacking

Making better choices

Marketers spend thousands of dollars on item placement at the supermarket because it can have enormous impact on what people buy. How could you use that concept to encourage better food choices on a daily basis at home?

What is visible at eye level? These are things we see often, and our unconscious mind will most often be tempted by them, even if it’s not what we went to the fridge for. So, put as much in the way of fresh fruit, vegetables and proteins at eye level.

On harder to see shelves, put breads or grains, and behind them, any treats you might keep in the house. Reducing the number of times our unconscious mind is exposed to seeing them is an easy way to keep them out of sight and out of mind. This means we are less tempted, without restrictions or punishments. Having your mind and body working with you rather than against you, is another way you can work smarter rather than harder.

What are your go to foods that help you feel nourished? Let us know in the comments below.

Notice, nurture, nourish: Simple tips for a healthier mind and body – Part 3

Notice, nurture, nourish: Simple tips for a healthier mind and body – Part 2

Notice, nurture, nourish: Simple tips for a healthier mind and body

In this three-part series, we give you some easy, practical tips on how to feel more refreshed and energised so you can focus on creating your excellent life.L

Part 2: Nurture

It’s a well-known fact that people who experience high levels of stress tend to get sick more than others. Combine stress with lack of sleep and poor nutrition, and our immune system’s ability to naturally protect us against infection and disease is greatly reduced.

A great way to help reduce stress and improve your resilience is to increase your physical activity. That’s right – good old exercise.

Physical activity makes us feel more positive and confident by raising our endorphins – chemicals that can trigger a positive feeling in the body. People who are physically active often talk about the ‘runner’s high’ – the feeling of euphoria after a good workout.

And with its ability to help us relax and sleep better, exercise is now commonly prescribed by doctors treating patients for anxiety and depression.

But it’s not always easy to fit in regular exercise. How many of us have started an exercise routine and let it slip as life gets in the way?

Thankfully, you don’t need to commit to a strenuous workout, or an expensive gym membership, to reap the benefits of physical activity. Just a small amount of movement can help reduce stress, increase energy levels and even your ability to concentrate and focus, making you more productive throughout the day.

Here are some simple, but effective ways to get us moving:

  • Talk to a colleague face to face instead of emailing them. Your communication is likely to be more effective and you’ll develop a closer working relationship at the same time.
  • When shopping, park further away from the entrance. You’ll add extra steps and longer time carrying those weights (shopping bags), without going too far out of your way.
  • Schedule a walking meeting. Choose a nice beach or park to walk through if you can to make it more pleasant. You’ll find that walking together, in the same direction at about the same pace and speed, naturally helps your unconscious minds to be more collaborative and see the world from similar perspectives.
  • If you catch public transport, get off a stop earlier. This helps you fit in an extra walk without it feeling like too much of a burden.
  • Move while on the phone. If we stand up when we’re making calls, we sound clearer, more confident and we often feel mentally more capable.
  • Make cleaning a fun activity. Break it up into smaller tasks and delegate to family members or colleagues. Why not turn it into a group relay? One person does a first step e.g. empty the top shelf of the dishwasher, then goes and taps the next person to take a two minute stretch break and empty the bottom shelf. Before long everyone in the office has gotten up and moved and the kitchen is clean!
  • Stretch at your desk. Hold a simple upper body stretch at your desk for 3-5 seconds or get up and do a full body stretch. Stretching brings proper blood flow and nutrient supply to our muscles and tissues, especially our brain. This can help prevent fatigue, discomfort and reduce the risk of injury, stiffness, aches and pains and even lower our risk of osteoarthritis.
  • Get out of your comfort zone. I have a friend who is a computer programmer. He has a brilliant solution to getting stumped with programming problems – he goes rollerblading in the park. It gets him outside, in the fresh air, away from the problems at hand. Enabling his conscious mind to focus on something completely different gives his unconscious mind the opportunity to think through the problem. Often, he will arrive back at the office having worked out the solution.
  • Exercise with others. Having a gym partner or belonging to an exercise group can help keep you accountable as we’re more likely to turn up when others are relying on us being there. It’s also a wonderful way to connect with others and nurture our minds at the same time.

Other things we can do to nurture ourselves include:

  • Massage. Previously considered a ‘luxury’, massage is now rapidly gaining popularity as a way to improve mental and physical wellbeing. A remedial massage can undo knots in your muscles, decrease aches and pains in your body, boost our immune system, lower heart rate and blood pressure and increase blood circulation, helping our body to eliminate waste and increase access to fresh nutrients. As for the mental benefits, massage can relax your mind and de-stress you.
  • Epsom salt bath. The magnesium in the salts seeps into muscles, relaxing and rejuvenating them. A foot bath after standing for a long period can help restore our feet and calves and help our mind unwind too.

What are some of the ways you nurture yourself, or others already? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Notice, nurture, nourish: Simple tips for a healthier mind and body – Part 3

Notice, nurture, nourish: Simple tips for a healthier mind and body – Part 1

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Instagram will have us believe that the path to an excellent life involves green smoothies and yoga poses on the beach. While that may work for some, for most people, building a strong and healthy body and mind involves a much greater investment of time and energy. 

Although this sounds daunting, don’t be put off, because the rewards are huge.

According to Gallup research, people who invest time into building a healthy mind and body are kinder, happier and more forgiving.

They have more energy, find it easier to maintain a positive attitude, learn new and more difficult things, can concentrate longer and are generally better problem solvers. 

And importantly, they deal better with stress, trauma and depression.

In this three-part series, we give you some easy, practical tips on how to feel more refreshed and energised so you can focus on creating your excellent life.

Part 1: Notice

By doing things that we excel in on a regular basis, we can maximise our sense of achievement, satisfaction, confidence and contribution. This can make us feel like contributing even more, further enhancing our productivity.

How to tackle those annoying tasks

We all have those tasks that we need to complete, but don’t particularly enjoy doing. Household chores, work emails, exercise… I could go on!

A practical tip to help you tackle those unavoidable tasks is to notice what time of day you feel most awake, strong and capable.

If you feel best first thing in the morning, great! Get those less inspiring tasks done and out of the way early so that you can enjoy the rest of the day. If it’s later in the day, make sure you set aside time then to get those items ticked off the list.

The next thing to take note of are your priorities. This will help you focus on the important items rather than what’s urgent. This can help you work smarter rather than harder and feel more in control. We can’t manage time, but we can manage our priorities.

You may have seen the idea of prioritising important tasks illustrated with a container being filled with large rocks then topped up with smaller rocks, then pebbles, then sand is added to fill in the tiniest gaps. And just when you thought nothing else could fit, a cup full of water is tipped in, to trickle into all the crevices. The point being, if you begin with the Big Rocks, your highest priorities, you can fit everything else in. But if you start with the pebbles and the sand, you’ll never get to the Big Rocks.

To illustrate this, here is a personal story about my husband and I, and our garden. Our garden had been neglected for a few months and was a complete mess. Feeling overwhelmed, my husband was stressed out and paralysed as he couldn’t see where to start.

To help remedy the situation, we created a list of all the things he could see that needed attending to. To our amazement, once it was all down on paper, he got his head back. His sense of overwhelm started to clear and he could make sense of what he wanted to achieve. We prioritised the list, by looking for just a couple of things that would make the biggest difference and that was enough to get us started.  He was also able to delegate jobs to me and clearly communicate what he wanted done in a way that I could understand.

Breaking tasks up

Another way to trick ourselves into success is to create 20 minute sessions. This allows us to work through larger projects that might look daunting. Once we’ve reached the end of the 20 minutes, we can choose to do another session, but we don’t get stuck there.

Breaking tasks up can be invaluable. Each component of the job, in its smallest possible piece forms a list. Completing these smaller tasks seems doable, almost a no brainer. They can often fit into these 20 minute bites and ticking them off can get addictive.

These 20 minute sessions can be interspersed with breaks to clear your head and re-energise. A few ways you can utilise these spaces include:

  • Meditation or visualisation. You can do this on the train or bus, a walking mediation while you’re walking through the park or by the water. Or just by sitting quietly and focusing on a positive, uplifting statement.
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  • Books, podcasts or music. Reading or listening to something uplifting can be a great way to keep your mind focused and positive. For example, reading about successful people who’ve already crossed those tricky minefields ahead of us can help us gain ideas, perspective and confidence.
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  • Incorporating daily movement. Going for a walk or even doing stretches at your desk are quick and easy techniques that allow our unconscious mind time to process, assimilate and file the previous experience and help us mentally put it away, rather than dwell on it.

Einstein said “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” In other words, no one is good at everything, so it’s important not to judge everyone by the same standards.

Let’s start by taking a moment to notice what we’re good at – our own personal strengths. Think for a brief moment about a time when you felt you were operating at your best.

Are you more likely to be:

  • Dealing with big picture challenges, or does getting into the small details light you up?
  • Energised by starting a new project, or by doing and completing an existing one?
  • Focusing mainly on tasks, or do you come alive when you are dealing with people?
  • Buzzed by doing the researching, analysing or refining of concepts or when you are sharing, presenting or selling these concepts?

Now that you are aware of some of your strengths, notice where and how you already use them, whether you’re at home, at work, in your local community or engrossed in a hobby?

How might you be able to utilise them even more?

When do you notice that you’re operating at your best? Let us know in the comments below.

 

The health benefits of learning to forgive

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– Is your imagination making you sick? Part Four

Like most workplaces, I come across some interesting personalities from time-to-time. In fact, I’ll be the first one to put my hand up and say I’m probably one of them!

Recently, I’ve had some interesting, challenging and confronting moments with a couple of them. The first happened just as I had begun reading Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani. My relationship with this first person was prickly but after going through the visualisation on forgiveness a few times over a few days, that relationship improved. It did take a bit of effort, however.

With the second one, I was able to let the crap of the moment go and do a shortened version of the visualisation in my head, while still serving customers. That day, I was able to move past the confrontation, be more understanding of the customer and go on to enjoy the other customers and have a fabulous rest of the day.

In this four-part series, we give you some easy, practical tips on how to feel more focused and energised to maximise your productivity.

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Granting forgiveness is more rewarding to us than the person we forgive. It’s not excusing someone’s past behaviour or actions. It’s a process which empowers us and allows us to free ourselves of any burden or grudge weighing us down. Forgiveness is a skill we can improve.

A chemical process

Forgiveness literally alters the brain’s wiring. According to Dr Frederic Luskin at Stanford University: “When you don’t forgive you release all the chemicals of the stress response. Each time you react, adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine enter the body. Those chemicals limit creativity, they limit problem-solving. Cortisol and norepinephrine cause your brain to enter what we call ‘the no- thinking zone’, and over time, they leave you feeling helpless and like a victim. When you forgive, you wipe all of that clean.”

Conversely, in a 2000 MRI study, Dr Pietro Pietrini, of the University of Pisa in Italy, found that the process of forgiveness actually activates specific parts of our brain which are concerned with problem solving, morality, understanding the mental states of others and cognitive control of emotions.

You can think, problem solve, be creative, live life, or you can get caught up in the rage, anger and vengeance. But you can’t do both.

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Fight or flight

With cortisol being involved, it’s no surprise that researchers have discovered mentally nursing a grudge has the same effects on the body as real physical danger. Our minds can’t tell if the threat is real or imagined, so it reacts the same way. Our attention gets highly focused on survival, our digestive system stops, our pupils dilate, our saliva glands slow, our blood pressure and heart rate increases, and our muscles are readied for action.

Our body prepares itself to fight, flee, or freeze. In the longer term, chronic anger and these changes in our body then affect our immune response, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, and other conditions.

Rumination, when we go over and over the hurt in our mind, reinforces our negative emotions and burns the event and pain even deeper into our neuropathways.

The health benefits of forgiveness

Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health. Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health by lowering the risk of heart attack, improving cholesterol levels and sleep, and reducing pain, blood pressure and levels of anxiety, depression and stress.

Deliberately seeing the situation differently, like visualising forgiveness of the other person, changes how we see the whole picture. As Dr Caroline Leaf describes, neurons that don’t get enough signals start firing apart, wiring apart and destroying the emotions attached to the trauma.

In addition, chemicals like oxytocin (bonds and remolds), dopamine (increases focus and attention) and serotonin (increases feelings of peace and happiness) all start flowing around the traumatic thoughts, weakening and ‘unwiring’ them even more.

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Visualisation exercise: letting go (excerpt from 6 Phase Meditation audio on Forgiveness by Vishen Lakhiani)

Forgiveness is where you let go of regrets, resentment, or any form of negative emotion towards an individual or situation. You may have deep regrets or anger that is hard to forgive, so you can start with something small. For example, it could be a taxi driver who rubbed you the wrong way, or someone who was rude to you or cut you off in traffic. Start by seeing the individual in front of you. It doesn’t matter if you cannot get a full visual of their face, as long as you sense that they are there.

I want you to now visualise them and remember that we are all connected. And I want you to mentally repeat the following phrase: “I forgive you, and I ask that you forgive me”. Take a deep breath and as you exhale, feel your forgiveness flow to them, feel whatever resentment or anger or rage you are holding onto release from your body. Now, see them tell you that same thing: “I forgive you, and I ask you to forgive me”. As they say that, take a deep breath and as you exhale, feel all regrets, resentment and anger release from your body.

Sometimes, if it’s a deep, more painful memory, it may take longer for you to truly feel like you’ve forgiven the person. Forgiveness is a trainable skill and that day will come. It’s important to keep in mind that when you forgive, you improve your own health and you improve your own happiness in your life. As Gandhi said: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is only for the strong.”

Have you tried to incorporate more forgiveness in your life? Let us know in the comments below.

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The importance of connection and compassion

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– Is your imagination making you sick? Part Two

Studies have shown that the influence of social relationships on health are comparable with well-established major risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption.  You get as big a boost to your health from social connection as you do from quitting smoking!

Even more astounding, research shows that social relationships are bigger contributors to your health than risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity, meaning that social isolation is more detrimental than being a morbidly obese couch potato.  Yes, connection is that important.

In this four-part series, we give you some easy, practical tips on how to feel more focused and energised to maximise your productivity.

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The stress and happiness link

Dr Deepak Chopra often talks about studies on compassion which found that stress was linked to higher mortality rates, but not among those who helped others. Similarly, UCLA and the University of North Carolina evaluated cellular inflammation levels (suspected to be at the root of cancer and many other diseases) and found that these levels are generally high in people who live with a lot of stress, along with people who described themselves as ‘very happy’.

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We might expect that inflammation would be lower for people with higher levels of happiness. But there was an important distinction. People who were happy because they lived a life of pleasure had high inflammation levels, while people who were happy because they lived a life of purpose or meaning, had low inflammation levels. A life of meaning and purpose is one focused less on satisfying oneself and more on others. It’s often a life rich in compassion and connectedness.
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Cortisol – the stress hormone

Cortisol is the master stress hormone. It shuts down nonessential processes to reserve resources for immediate survival needs. This means that increased cortisol suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system (which can affect your ability to fall pregnant or maintain pregnancy), the immune system and collagen formation, and even decreases bone formation. It’s also an important regulator of circadian rhythms (which impacts sleep), blood pressure, cardiovascular function, carbohydrate metabolism (which affects your ability to lose or gain weight) and inflammation.

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Cortisol release also communicates with regions of the brain that control mood, motivation, and fear. In the context of surviving immediate danger, this has a negligible effect on overall health, but in the context of chronic stress, these ‘other’ effects of cortisol become a very big problem.
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The importance of feeling connected

Feeling socially connected lowers cortisol and makes us more resilient to psychological stressors, meaning that our body produces less cortisol when we’re stuck in traffic and late for a meeting. Having positive social interactions in your life reduces the effects of chronic stress, and that leads to improved health over the long term.

Helping others can increase happiness

So, if you’re not feeling socially connected, what can you do about it?

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A wonderful way to bring more connectedness and compassion in your life is through volunteer work. There are many documented health benefits of volunteer work. Helping others can release dopamine in the brain – the feel-good chemical you can also experience after exercising.
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Volunteering can reduce stress by allowing you to focus on helping others and giving you a greater sense of meaning and appreciation. In addition, regular volunteering increases social interaction by helping you to build a network of people with shared interests, which, as we know, can help to reduce stress and depression.

So, if you’re looking for a little more connection and compassion in your life, just reach out to your local volunteering network and see your happiness increase!

How have you increased connection and compassion in your life? Let us know in the comments below.

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