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MY GUILTY SECRET – MATCHA LOVE!

MY GUILTY SECRET – MATCHA LOVE!

 

 

Ok, so most of you will know how I love my coffee & how easily my intake can go waaay over what it should if I’m not mindful of it – but where did this matcha love come from?! My advice to clients who are trying to cut down on coffee is often to try to find an alternative hot drink. In the past that would have been hot water & lemon first thing in the day, or perhaps herbal teas later on, but now things have changed: move in matcha!

This bright green, traditional Japanese health drink has become my latest love in the kitchen. From its fabulous green colour (green being another of my loves), to the endless goodness it provides, to the ritual of making it – it’s a win-win! Both the Chinese & the Japanese have been drinking matcha for centuries (they also use it in cakes, desserts, & infuse it into creams, but that’s another story for another time…)

 

WHAT IS MATCHA?

  • Matcha is a finely ground powder made from green tea leaves. The leaves are laid out to dry, then they are de-stemmed, de-veined and stone ground to become the characteristic bright green powder that is matcha. More specifically:

matcha preparation involves covering the tea plants with shade cloths before they’re harvested. This triggers the growth of leaves with better flavor and texture, which are hand selected, steamed briefly to stop fermentation, then dried and aged in cold storage, which deepens the flavor. The dried leaves are then stone-ground into a fine powder”

  • The powder can be made into a simple hot matcha drink (by whisking the powder into water that is approximately 70 degrees centigrade). Other alternatives are matcha latte or iced matcha, or if you want to be a little more adventurous a matcha smoothie or a matcha milk shake!

 

WHY IS IT GOOD FOR US?

  • Matcha is a high quality tea made from “tencha” which in itself comes from the Camellia Sinensis tea bush. (It should however be noted that now that matcha is so very fashionable sadly not all matchas will match this high quality).
  • With other green teas components from the leaves are “steeped” – that is they are left to infuse in hot water to release both the flavour and the nutrients. With matcha, you actually ingest the whole leaf (see above) so you are getting a much more potent ‘punch’ of all the nutrients.
  • Matcha is packed with antioxidants, and especially with polyphenols which have been linked with many positive health benefits (amongst other things polyphenols are believed to combat inflammation, which is the source of so many health issues today).

 

matcha drink alternatives

 

 

GREEN TEA & CAFFEINE…

I’d like to believe we are all aware of keeping an eye on caffeine intake – and of why we should. Matcha does contain caffeine, so it is not a caffeine-free alternative. In fact, because you are ingesting the whole leaf rather than the steeped residue caffeine levels are higher than green “teabag” tea. However, matcha fans will tell you that the caffeine ‘hit’ from matcha is quite different. It is described as a:

“clean, calm and focused energy boost”

…which lacks the jittery-ness and the spikes and crashes of a coffee-based pick-me-up. It’s a similar comparison to the effects of “good” and “bad” carbs. A slower, more prolonged boost, as opposed to a quick ‘high’ and equally quick crash. Hence, the fans insist, whereas coffee will make you “wired”, matcha will gently ease you into increased focus and ‘cradle’ you whilst you are there…

 

MY MATCHA LOVE

There are many things about this drink that I personally love. It has a somewhat bitter after taste which sort of resembles the after taste of coffee. If I “latte it” with my beloved frothy milk on the top it feels like a treat which is more than comparable to my frothy coffee. On top of that I have to confess it’s the ritual that I love. If you make your latte the traditional Japanese way the whole experience becomes much more mindful – almost meditative – (and that in itself will increase our awareness of how much we are drinking).

 

 

So what are my own ‘must haves’ for my matcha love? Here goes: 

  1. a quiet 5 minutes to enjoy the actual process of making it
  2. a bamboo scoop and whisk to make the matcha in the traditional Japanese way
  3. a bowl as opposed to a cup
  4. frothy milk (personally I prefer latte to plain…)
  5. a quiet 5 (or 10!) minutes to enjoy the results…

 

matcha ritual with bamboo scoop and bamboo whisk

 

So if you have yet to jump on the matcha bandwagon then why not go ahead and give it a go? There are undoubtedly many actual health benefits, but as I say, for me it’s more than that. The whole process and the slightly ritualistic quality of creating this drink makes my matcha love more mindful, so that my afternoon drink becomes a part of my stress management and self care (as opposed to a jittery coffee-based ggrrrrr!)

 

RELAXING FOODS

RELAXING FOODS

This week I am thrilled to be sharing a post by Emily Fawell of 4wellpeople. Emily is a friend & colleague, whose work as a Nutritional Therapist I greatly admire. In this post she gives some simple, practicable ideas on how best to use our nutrition as an aid to relaxation…

Relaxing foods are precious resources for all of us leading hectic lives. Every day, we rush from a demanding job and family life, to a full-on social life, giving little thought to our body’s desire to relax.

 

If you find it hard to wind down after a demanding day, or need to introduce a little extra calmness into your weekend, then try adding the following relaxing foods into your diet…

 

OATS

Oats have many health benefits: they contain beta-glucans which support the immune system, and lower cholesterol; they are packed full of fibre which means that they release their energy slowly, which means more sustained energy levels; and they are an excellent source of selenium which is a powerful antioxidant and an important mineral for thyroid function. In addition to all this, they also contain good levels of tryptophan which promotes good mood and sleep.

 

LETTUCE

Remember Beatrix Potter’s Flopsy Bunnies?  They ate so much prized lettuce that Farmer McGregor was able to pick them up and pop them in his sack, to take them home for the pot. The milky sap that oozes from lettuce when it is cut contains the chemical Lactucarium, a sedative and pain reliever, structurally similar to opium, but not nearly as strong. In some cultures, lettuce is served at the end of an evening meal because of its soporific qualities.

MAGNESIUM RICH FOODS

Magnesium is a mineral which is vital for nerve function, and a common sign of deficiency is muscle twitching and restless legs. We use up large quantities of Magnesium when we are stressed or exhausted, and a twitching eyelid is often a sign that we are doing too much. To boost your magnesium intake eat

  • plenty of nuts,
  • seeds
  • and dark green leafy vegetables such as
  • spinach,
  • chard,
  • broccoli,
  • cucumbers
  • and green beans.

Another relaxing way to increase your magnesium levels is to take a bath in Epsom Salts.

 

DARK CHOCOLATE

Dark chocolate is packed full of antioxidants, and as a result is good for heart health and the immune system. But it also has other benefits – it can lower cortisol (the stress hormone) and it stimulates your brain to produce opioids which make you feel good.

Make sure you choose a good quality dark chocolate, the higher the cocoa content, the better – at least 70%.

 

MILK AND OTHER DAIRY PRODUCTS

Calcium, the mineral which is found in milk and dairy products has a sedative effect on the body. This explains why many of us were given milky drinks at bedtime. Dairy products are also high in tryptophan, which the body converts into serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter – good levels of which are needed for sufficient melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone.

 

GREEN TEA

If you feel stressed out during the day try replacing regular tea with Green tea. Green tea has higher levels of a chemical called L-Theanine than other teas. L-Theanine promotes a state of relaxation in the brain. It does, however, contain some caffeine (less than regular tea or coffee) so if you are caffeine sensitive you could try a decaffeinated Green tea.

 

CHAMOMILE TEA

Chamomile is renowned for its calming properties and is a great tea to take in the evening before bedtime. Its relaxing benefits are due to high levels of a chemical called apigenin, which in clinical trials has been proven to reduce anxiety.

 

 

So why not try adding a few of these relaxing foods and drinks to your diet and see if you can induce a greater sense of calm?

 

 

If you have enjoyed this blog post, why not learn more about nutritional therapy and how it could help you if you are worried about your anxiety levels.

If you think you might benefit from some support, please call Emily Fawell, on 07967 639347 for a free 15-minute consultation or email emily@4wellpeople.co.uk.

MOOD FOODS

MOOD FOODS

I am delighted to welcome Lisa Patient as my guest blogger for this week! Lisa works together with my friend and colleague Emily Fawell. Both are registered nutritionists, and you can learn more about their work at Vital Health Nutrition here. I know you will love reading this post about ‘Mood Food’ from the Spring 2017 edition of the #ion_nutrition Optimum Nutrition Magazine. Lisa writes about how different foods affect our mood, and investigates whether swapping comfort foods for healthier choices could make us feel much better in the long run…

 

‘I was feeling low so treated myself to a cake/glass of wine.’ If I had a pound for every time a client has said this, it would amount to a tidy sum. But why do we turn to sugar and alcohol to cheer ourselves up? And are there healthier ‘mood foods’ available? 

 

THE SUGAR HIGH 

Saliva and digestive enzymes rapidly break down sugary foods such as cakes and biscuits so that they quickly enter the blood stream as glucose. But before you’ve even swallowed your first mouthful, the taste of sugar on your tongue has already activated the release of a hormone called dopamine in your brain. 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for feel-good feelings, particularly those associated with reward, which is why that doughnut may indeed make you feel happy. But it’s not the doughnut itself that cheers us up, more the chemical reaction in our brain. 

The bad news, however, is that over-activating the dopamine reward mechanism with too much of any pleasurable substance can begin to desensitise it, so that we need more to get the same response, in the way that addicts require more of a drug to get the same level of high. Studies have found that switching to a ‘normal’ diet after following a high-fat or high-sugar diet can lead to sugar cravings, feelings of anxiety, and low mood.(1) This may be a biological response to the rapid release of insulin, as a result of the surge of glucose in the bloodstream, which is then followed by a crash in blood sugar levels. Taking all this into account, and the fact that it can contribute to us piling on the weight and rotting our teeth, sugar is not a good mood food after all — long-term. 

In the case of alcohol, we might use it to celebrate or cheer ourselves up, but it is described by the NHS as a ‘depressant drug’.(2) Although alcohol may relax us initially, heavy drinking affects levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, leading to anxiety and depression. Like sugar, it also wreaks havoc with blood sugar control; so an alcohol binge results in low blood sugar, which can lower mood. 

 

 

HEALTHY BOOST 

Most anti-depressants work by altering the balance of serotonin in the brain. If we want to eat foods to naturally improve our mood without the side effects of sugar and alcohol then, ideally, we would look for foods that would boost both dopamine and serotonin. 

However, we don’t get serotonin itself from food. For our bodies to produce it, we need to consume sufficient amounts of the amino acid tryptophan. Soya-containing foods such as tofu and miso are particularly high in tryptophan, as are eggs, edible seaweed, spirulina, and most seafood. But to get the maximum benefit, think about combining foods: research has shown that ingesting tryptophan with carbohydrates makes the tryptophan more available to the brain. 

 

TYROSINE

Turkey is definitely not just for Christmas. As well as being a lean form of protein, it contains both tryptophan and a high concentration of the amino acid tyrosine. Tyrosine increases levels of dopamine in the brain, improving mood, and has also been shown to promote deep thinking, which may be particularly beneficial for the creative among us.(3) Other foods high in tyrosine include most fruits (particularly apricots, cranberries and kiwi), soya beans, chicken, cheese and eggs. 

 

ANTIOXIDANTS

Research has linked depression with inflammation in the brain.(4) This has led to interest in the role of antioxidants in the diet, which help protect cells against damage caused by inflammation. For example, a small number of studies found that the antioxidants in a tart cherry juice provided a protection mechanism for tryptophan, ensuring that a greater quantity of tryptophan from food was available for the brain to use.(5) 

Curcumin, a powerful antioxidant in turmeric, also shows the same ’neuroprotectant‘ mechanism, and there is evidence that it also has mood-lifting properties.(6) Turmeric is used extensively in Indian cooking and is now widely available in its root form. It’s becoming increasingly popular to add fresh turmeric to smoothies, while turmeric powder can be sprinkled into soups, stews and curries — although in Indian cooking rarely more than a pinch is used because of its bitter taste. 

Saffron, a fragrant herb derived from the stamens of the flower Crocus sativus, is traditionally used in paella, biryani or cakes, and has been used for centuries in traditional herbal medicine as an anti- depressant. In fact studies have found that saffron extract can be as effective in raising serotonin levels as the anti-depressants imipramine and fluoxetine.(7) 

 

 

MAGNESIUM

Magnesium is nicknamed the calming nutrient, with some studies showing it to be beneficial if you feel tense and anxious. Other research has suggested that low magnesium can be linked with depression.(8) A systematic review of studies into magnesium and depression concluded that magnesium appeared to be effective in easing depression, but that further studies were needed to properly understand the mechanism. It also suggested that oral magnesium supplementation might prevent depression.(9) So to keep calm, add magnesium-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, nuts, spinach, beans and wholegrains to your daily diet. 

 

VITAMIN D

It is now widely acknowledged that vitamin D deficiency is commonplace in winter when the sun’s UV light is not strong enough to trigger the synthesis of vitamin D by the skin. Studies have linked vitamin D deficiency to depression. While this could be an association, with depression being due to lack of sunny weather rather than vitamin D itself, there is some evidence to show that supplementing vitamin D does improve mood. (10) 

According to the US Department of Agriculture, trout is one of the best food sources of vitamin D, only pipped to first place by wild salmon. Trout contains a whopping 635IU [international units] of vitamin D in a 100g serving,(11) which is considerably more that the recommended daily allowance of 400IU. Vitamin D is also found in other types of oily fish, eggs and tofu, and in mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light or grown in sunshine. Other food sources include processed foods such as bread and cereals, which have been intentionally fortified with vitamin D. 

If in doubt about your vitamin D status, a blood test will help you decide whether you need to take a supplement or to eat more vitamin D-rich foods. 

 

OMEGA-3

Omega-3 fats are critical for the function of the central nervous system, and a diet that is out of balance by containing more omega-6 foods from meat and vegetable oils and less omega-3 from nuts and oily fish has been linked to depression.(12) 

Walnuts, which have the highest amount of omega-3 compared with other nuts, make a terrific snack, and walnut butter can be added to smoothies or rye toast for a delicious breakfast. Flaxseed oil and oily fish are also great sources of omega-3 fats. 

 

B VITAMINS 

The beautiful pink beans called ‘pinto’ (painted) in Spanish are second only to lentils in richness of the B vitamin folate. Folate is essential for the creation and function of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Broccoli, leafy greens and all other beans and lentils are great sources. 

Women planning pregnancy should supplement this vitamin, as deficiency can lead to problems with the development of the baby’s nervous system. 

Hand in hand with folate is vitamin B12, a B vitamin that, along with vitamin B6, is used to create serotonin. One serving of lamb, sardines, salmon, tuna, cod, or scallops provides your daily allowance of vitamin B12, but a sufficient intake of vitamin B12 can be harder to achieve for vegetarians and vegans. 

So although it might be tempting to reach for fast, comforting food, in the long-term, adding healthy, natural foods to our diet is more likely to keep us feeling good in ourselves and about ourselves. Add that to exercise, which is shown time and again to improve mood, and who needs that doughnut? 

 

  1. Singh M (2014). Mood, food, and obesity. www. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4150387/ 
  2. www.nhs.uk/Change4Life/Pages/alcohol-and- health.aspx 
  3. Colzato, L. S., de Haan, A. M., & Hommel, B. (2015). Food for creativity: tyrosine promotes deep thinking. Psychological research, 79(5), 709-714. 
  4. Setiawan, E., Wilson, A. A., Mizrahi, R., Rusjan, P. M., Miler, L., Rajkowska, G., … & Meyer, J. H. (2015). Role of translocator protein density, a marker of neuroinflammation, in the brain during major depressive episodes. JAMA psychiatry, 72(3), 268-275.
  5. Liu, A., Tipton, R., Pan, W., Finley, J., Prudente, A., Karki, N., … & Greenway, F. (2014). Tart cherry juice increases sleep time in older adults with insomnia (830.9). The FASEB Journal, 28(1 Supplement), 830-9.
  6. Tizabi, Y., Hurley, L. L., Qualls, Z., & Akinfiresoye, L. (2014). Relevance of the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin in neurodegenerative diseases and depression. Molecules, 19(12), 20864-20879.
  7. Hausenblas, H. A., Saha, D., Dubyak, P. J., & Anton, S. D. (2013). Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Journal of integrative medicine, 11(6), 377-383.
  8. Eby, G. A., & Eby, K. L. (2006). Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment. Medical hypotheses, 67(2), 362-370.
  9. Derom ML, Sayón-Orea C, Martínez-Ortega JM et al (2013). Magnesium and depression: a systematic review. Nutr Neuro, 16(5), 191-206. 
  10. 10.Lansdowne, A. T., & Provost, S. C. (1998). Vitamin D3 enhances mood in healthy subjects during winter. Psychopharmacology, 135(4), 319-323.
  11. 11.ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/
  12. 12.Deacon, G., Kettle, C., Hayes, D., Dennis, C., & Tucci, J. (2015). Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the treatment of depression. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, (just-accepted), 00-00.
MY TIPS TO CUT BACK ON CAFFEINE…WHY YOU SHOULD & HOW TO DO IT!

MY TIPS TO CUT BACK ON CAFFEINE…WHY YOU SHOULD & HOW TO DO IT!

This is something my clients talk to me about so regularly…& if I’m honest that’s probably because they know how much I love my coffee!! I so love the smell, the look & the feel of that early morning boost with the froth on top, BUT I do know that it isn’t great for my health, & I know that if I’m not mindful of coffee consumption it can very easily creep up, and actually make me feel pretty wretched. Hence I have become somewhat of an expert on how to cut down!

Some of you may want to cut down your intake, whilst others may want to cut it out altogether. Either way, you all know my belief that KNOWLEDGE IS KEY. If you increase your understanding of what it is that caffeine may be doing to you, you have conscious reasons to try to at least cut down (rather than doing it simply because it’s the “right thing”: human nature is such that this alone rarely works!) I am a huge believer in drinking (or eating) mindfully, so that you become more aware of whether you actually need that coffee/biscuit/chocolate bar…and then believe me, you will be half way there in terms of actually achieving your goals and cutting down.

If you feel you need to make changes to your caffeine habit, you might like to download my FREE Coffee Challenge Guide which will give you some great tips to get started. If however you’re still not quite ready to take the plunge, then do read on for a little further inspiration from my own top reasons to think again…

MY TOP REASONS:

1. The two most basic facts to remember are that caffeine is a stimulant, and it is also addictive. These factors form the basis of just about everything else you’re about to read…

2. Caffeine can cause sleep problems. We all know that drinking caffeine too close to bedtime may stop us from getting off to the land of dreams, but did you know that drinking too much caffeine will also disrupt the general quality of your sleep? Most of us are blissfully unaware of just how large an effect caffeine can have. Did you know that:

“half of the caffeine you take in at 7pm is still in your body at 11pm”

Additionally a recent American study concluded that:

“even caffeine consumed 6 hours before bed reduced total nightly sleep amounts by more than 1 hour”

3. Caffeine can increase anxiety. As caffeine is a stimulant, it can evoke the body’s stress response (a primitive, physiological response to threat, often referred to as being in “fight or flight mode”). This means it may make our body respond as it might to a scary event. This may simply make us feel a little jittery, but for someone predisposed to anxiety the effect may be much worse (heart racing, sweaty palms, ringing in the ears): it may even bring on full blown panic attacks. In short, drinking caffeine regularly & long term will increase rather than decrease stress levels.

 

 

4. Caffeine is addictive. I am a firm believer that anything that is addictive holds hidden dangers for many of us – and also holds a silent message: “time to be mindful”. The point here is to stop and think-before-you-drink. Be aware of whether you really need that caffeine kick. (A great way of persuading yourself to start cutting back is to remember that if you do drink it less often, you will feel that ‘kick’ all the more on the occasions you do!)

5. Caffeine intake can adversely affect the digestive system. As caffeine is acidic, drinking a lot of it may damage the lining of the stomach and intestines. It can also work as a laxative (and some people consciously use it as such, but there are FAR more healthy ways to keep on top of those bowel movements!)

6. Caffeine stimulates the heart muscle. Once again, for those in good health this shouldn’t be a problem, but for others it certainly may be. Regardless of heart health though, it is worth stopping and thinking for a moment: why would ANY of us do something regularly that might become detrimental to our heart…?

7. If your daily coffee hit tends to be from one of the many high street chains that offer endless options for extra froth & flavour, then you are very probably consuming a considerable amount of sugar on top of your caffeine fix…

8. If you are used to drinking takeaway bottled coffee, tea, energy drinks or fizzy drinks then you are probably taking in a large amount of preservatives in addition to the caffeine…

 

  

9. Caffeine can cause headaches . This is an odd one, because for some it can actually help relieve headaches (hence caffeine is found in various painkillers). The answer then is simply to experiment and see whether headaches are a symptom of caffeine intake for you or not.

10. Caffeine prevents calcium absorption. Again, this is of more concern to those that are already predisposed to osteoporosis or joint problems, but it is still worth all of us noting it for our general health. Calcium is key to building and maintaining healthy teeth and bones, regulating muscle function, ensuring effective blood clotting and enzyme activity. It is involved in transmitting messages through the nervous system, and is needed for healthy heart functioning…so all in all, it’s pretty important!

11. Caffeine is a diuretic so can lead to dehydration (especially if we drink it first thing in the morning, when the body is already dehydrated). If you are grabbing a coffee first thing in the morning it is always advisable to drink a glass of water beforehand.

12. Caffeine intake can have a negative impact on dental health. Coffee and tea both stain teeth – and fizzy drinks and energy drinks contain caffeine, are acidic AND contain added sugar…none of these bode well for your next dental appointment!

13. If a trip to the high street coffee shop is a necessary part of your morning (and/or your afternoon) have you ever stopped to consider the effect on your finances? Just take a moment out to think how much you may be spending weekly on this addiction (and how much you could save by putting that money aside…)

14. The sheer amount of plastic cups and bottles that are produced to supply the endless high street coffee vendors is surely contributing to environmental damage. This one is a personal plea from me: if you do continue to grab a caffeine kick in this form, please, please do so with your own, reusable cup...

 

 

SO WHAT IS IT THAT STOPS US FROM SIMPLY GIVING UP? 

One of the most common reasons people are reluctant to give up or cut down on caffeine is the apparent lack of energy we suffer without it. We are simply convinced that we NEED that caffeine kick to get us through the day, but is this a real need, or is it more about habit? In actual fact, the more coffee we drink, the less we will feel its effect. Add to that the many side effects listed above and we can see that caffeine is definitely NOT the best way to get that boost, especially not on a regular basis. A fabulous reason to give up caffeine is to prove to yourself how ‘false’ that supposed boost was. After an initial withdrawal period, you will in fact start to feel more energetic WITHOUT the caffeine, and you’ll also enjoy much greater mental clarity. 

 

A FINAL NOTE…& A FREEBIE!

As a last note I have to remind you that caffeine offers no nutritional value whatsoever, AND it may cause the effects listed above…so what more reason do you need to at least cut down a little? Do be aware that if you decide to start cutting down dramatically, you are likely to suffer withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, irritability, and tension. If this makes you think twice about reducing intake, simply take a moment to stop and take stock: ALL these symptoms are in fact a result of slowly removing toxins from the body – and that has to be a good thing. Drinking plenty of water & getting moving will help to flush out those toxins. If you’re sensing muscular tension try some gentle mobilisation exercises, and get out in nature & try some deep “belly breathing” in fresh air. If headaches are an issue, try rubbing a little peppermint essential oil on your temples to relieve the pain. Do you notice a common theme in these last few lines? All the suggestions I have given for easing the withdrawal symptoms are entirely natural. Just think: cutting down on caffeine can be excellent motivation to move forward to more positive, healthy habits such as these!

 

 

If you are keen to give all this a try but are still feeling hesitant, please do download My Coffee Challenge. It gives you some simple hints and tips to get started on cutting out OR cutting down on caffeine, and will also provide aids to help you to COMMIT: to ensure you really do stick with it to genuinely see results. Go on, why not give it a go!

 

TOOLS FOR TEENS

TOOLS FOR TEENS

We all know that parenting teens can be hugely challenging as hormones race, and the beginnings of independence mean that peer pressure takes on a whole new meaning. But it can be tough for them too,and that’s what make tools for teens so valuable.

There are endless statistics in the press for mental health issues in this age group, which increases our responsibility as parents to be able to recognise these:

“Normal teenagers are often moody due to hormonal and physical changes that happen during puberty. However, when mental illness is involved, it may be difficult to differentiate “normal teenage behaviour” from the symptoms of depression, anxiety and other emotional difficulties”.

If we look at the world we are living in, it is perhaps not surprising that these issues are rearing their heads. As adults we find it hard to manage our tech ridden world in terms of emails and being “wired” 24/7, and we know that when it comes to social media or digital games it is often easy to get “stuck”. Our kids meanwhile have never known a different world: to them, creating “selfies” and videos for Facebook & Instagram, or playing intense and all-consuming games on the PS or Xbox is the norm. But it isn’t normal life: social media equals watching others’ lives as a ‘voyeur’ – and indeed having your own life watched over – both of which can be incredibly dangerous for vulnerable teens who are still developing their own sense of “self”.

 

Meantime whilst we all probably remember it being difficult to switch off from “Space Invaders” or “Mario Kart” in our own days of computer games, if we compare these to the constant bombardment of colours, sights and sounds in today’s gaming graphics there simply is no comparison. If “Space Invaders” on a black and white screen was addictive, then today’s “Fortnite” and “Battlefront” are surely the cocaine of video games…

 

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

I believe the ideal way to solve any problem is to preempt the situation before it becomes an issue: in this case, to promote mental well-being in our kids and teens from day one, just as we would promote physical wellness. Those of you who remember my post from back in September will know that I thoroughly believe our need to somehow balance out the modern world of tech is what has encouraged today’s interest in age old concepts such as meditation and paleo diets (click here to read more). These are concepts we can introduce to our teens as well. It is vital we help them to understand that we all have mental health just as we all have physical health, and we MUST take care of both. If we are open and honest about this from their early years, the results will be twofold. We will at least start to help remove the stigma around mental health for coming generations, AND we will help our teenagers to put in place simple, daily activities which whilst helping to enhance their mental wellness will also actually be enjoyable…

I teach a series of simple strategies for mental well-being in my stress management courses. By gently encouraging some of these practices in our kids (and practising them ourselves so that we lead by example), we will set them up for better well-being, improved self awareness, and a happier future. All it takes is just a few minutes of time and effort to ensure at least some of these tasks become a part of their daily routine…

 

MY TIPS FOR TEEN WELLBEING:

1. Starting a journal can be done in various ways: the simplest option is a to keep “Gratitude Journal”. Encourage your kids – whatever age – to jot down 3 things that have made them happy each day. They may like to do this first thing every morning or last thing at night: the choice is theirs. Help them along a little further by prompting with questions such as “what has made you happy/smile today?” What have you done to make someone else happy today?”

2. Practising belly breathing is a great way to calm anxiety as it actually brings the heart rate down and encourages the whole body to relax. It can be done anywhere, and it only takes just five minutes a day to make a difference. Encourage your kids to do this daily: they can choose the time and place they wish to practice and make it into a little “me time”. Beware: it does take patience and practice for anyone who has never really thought about HOW to breathe – click here for a video with step by step instructions AND an audio guide.

3. Regular exercise has long been recommended for improving mental health, and for helping those “happy hormones” to kick in. During the teen years there can be a tendency for even the most active of kids to become a little “lazy”, so it’s important to gently steer them towards whatever form of physical exercise is likely to be most motivating for them. Remember there is a huge range of possible activities to choose from, from football to hockey, dance to ice skating, archery to martial arts… Try to consider your teen’s general interests first. If they like water try swimming, or maybe rowing or paddle boarding. If they are especially peer aware, encourage some of the more “cool” activities such as street dance or skateboarding. If they can be persuaded to be outdoors in nature as well, then this will provide a further boost…

 

4. Getting out in nature is incredibly powerful for our mental well-being, and once again, is something that many teenagers rarely do. If they hate the idea of “just” going for a walk, then switch things around a little. Suggest walking to the cinema, or take a walk in the woods with the aim of going for a picnic, game of rounders or whatever may entice them. Even if it’s a walk that ends in them sitting with headphones on listening to their fave music then let them be: you may feel that headphones will isolate them once more, but if you can at least connect whilst walking there, why not give them a little “me time” once they’ve arrived – that way everyone gets a little of what they want, (and they will still be out in nature whilst listening!)

5. Connect, connect, connect. If you say these three words to your kids, they will invariably think you are talking about the internet. We need to explain to them that in fact CONNECTION is the exact opposite of what the net offers them, which – more often than not – is ISOLATION. We must find a way to gently encourage chatting and connecting. It is not essential that kids regularly discuss their innermost feelings or their worries at an age where this may feel intrusive, but it is essential that we keep channels of communication open, so that as and when they do feel the need to communicate further the option is there. Chat over dinner, chat in the car, chat before bed – whatever works best for you and your kids. Let them talk about music, films, their mates or (inward groan) their favourite computer games, as long as they TALK. (It is worth noting that if you are aware of a subject that may be causing anxiety, it can often be good to initiate chatting whilst driving so your teen is able to avoid eye contact if it is a subject they find embarrassing…)

6. Practising meditation once daily is scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety. It is a way of quieting the mind, and in today’s age of tech dependency, where our peer-aware teens are surely awaiting the next “ping” or “whoosh” of a reaction on Facebook, or a new level passed on their latest game, their minds are rarely “quiet”. The degree of “buzz” this creates in their heads is surely cause for concern, but I personally believe this is also why meditation has such a powerful effect today. Setting aside just ten minutes a day to allow the mind to become still is the exact antidote we need to balance out this tech overload, and by encouraging our kids and teens to learn to meditate we are truly setting them up for life.

7. Mindfulness and meditation are similar, but not identical. The former is a way of training the mind to be fully aware, fully awake to the present moment: unlike meditation it can in fact be done anytime and all the time. This is surely another powerful tool to counteract the over stimulation that the world (and especially tech) often offers our teens, hence mindfulness courses for teenagers are proving increasingly popular. We can utilise this concept on a daily level too, by encouraging our kids to choose one activity to practice mindfully every day: this is something which will serve them for a lifetime. Whether it’s their morning shower, their walk to school, or eating breakfast, committing to practising one act mindfully at the start of each day is truly relaxing and therapeutic. For more ideas, click here.

 

8. Considered nutrition is so important when it comes to stress and anxiety: many of our Happy Hormones are produced in the gut, and in addition the majority of our immune system is actually located in the gut. It is not difficult to make small nutritional shifts and changes that can start to make a big difference in terms of stress management, but it can be challenging to change habits. For more ideas on what to aim for and what to avoid, click here.

9. Essential oils are a simple yet effective way to boost mental well-being, and they take no effort whatsoever! If your teen is open to the use of a diffuser then try having one in his or her room, otherwise try using them elsewhere in the home to see how they react. Alternatively just a few drops of oil placed on a tissue or cotton wool near a radiator (where the heat will encourage the aroma to be released) will scent the room, or a few drops sprinkled directly on a pillow may help induce relaxation at night. Encourage your child to choose a scent they like, and feel would be most helpful for the result they want to achieve: relaxation / calm / focus / energising. Oils provide a simple, natural remedy (and if they are using them at home they needn’t feel exposed: no one else need know anything about it). Lavender is great for relaxation; frankincense for anxiety; mandarin or rose is calming, peppermint and rosemary encourage focus, and ylang ylang can be good for aggression and for anxiety. To learn more about how to use essential oils click here. (It is also worth noting that if your teen comes to enjoy the use of essential oils, they can then pop a tissue in their pocket for when they are out and about, and drink in the scents and their power whenever they feel the need…again, noone else need know anything about it).

 

We all probably feel it would be wonderful to live in a stress free world, but sadly in Real Life this isn’t about to happen. All of us – and our children – suffer stressful situations to a greater or lesser extent, and there is no shame in this: it is simply part of what life throws at us. The first step then is for us as parents to admit to the stresses in our own lives, rather than presenting ourselves as all-invincible: this is surely the best way to encourage our kids to slowly relax into the knowledge that it’s “okay” to feel stressed. Next, we should encourage them to understand that it’s actually GOOD to admit to stress…and that this will always be the first, essential step towards managing it.

If meantime we can encourage our kids to regularly practice at least some of the above tips, we will be providing them with an invaluable toolbox which will allow them to move forwards in life. They will progress in the knowledge that mental health matters, that it’s “okay” to talk about it, and that just as you take vitamins to help physical health and prevent colds and flu in winter, you can “take” Journaling, Breathing and Connection to help your mental well-being and to build a foundation of positivity, calm and self awareness…which together are more powerful than any pill or tablet the chemist will offer you.

 

 

POLLUTANTS ARE DESTROYING OUR PLANET & OUR HEALTH…WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

POLLUTANTS ARE DESTROYING OUR PLANET & OUR HEALTH…WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

Unless you never listen to the news, pick up a magazine, or scroll though social media, you are likely to be aware of the many environmental issues faced by our society. From global warming and acid rain to climate change and plastic pollution…and sadly, the list seems to be growing all the time.

On a more positive note, awareness is growing too, and this is an absolute MUST in the world we live in.

 

A DOUBLE-EDGED ISSUE

The problem is surely twofold. On the one hand we are watching our planet’s decline as natural resources are increasingly depleted:

“Over the last few decades, the exploitation of our planet and degradation of our environment have gone up at an alarming rate…our actions have been not in favor of protecting this planet…”

On the other hand, these changes also have an immediate effect on our own health. “Stress” is a huge factor in modern living: whilst some of this is due to factors such as work ethics and the monumental influence of technology, environmental stressors also play an increasingly large role:

“Environmental stress refers to how people or animals respond to physical, chemical and biological features of their environment. These stressors may include exposure to natural disasters, electromagnetic radiation, pollution, climate change, or noise. They can be pathogens that invade the body, causing a stress response, or features of your workplace like an uncomfortable chair. Whether one-time or long-term, environmental stressors cause strain on the body and mind.”

So surely we should be tackling this as a double-edged issue, and should be doing absolutely all that we can to protect both the future of our planet AND ourselves?

 

 

WHAT EXACTLY ARE THESE STRESSORS?

Actually listing the environmental stressors that are regularly affecting us paints a glum picture:

  • climate stress
  • air pollution
  • chemical stressors
  • plastic pollution
  • energetic stress
  • ergonomic stress
  • biological stress

CLIMATE STRESS may refer to those changes that only last for a season, or to an overall shift such as global climate change.

AIR POLLUTION is caused chiefly by the burning of fossil fuels. Pollution emitted from vehicles produces vast problems in this area.

CHEMICAL STRESSORS affect us on many different levels: the remains of pesticides found on our foods, ingestion of antibiotics, and chemicals found in cosmetics, air fresheners and cleaning products all contribute to chemical overload within our (already stressed) bodies.

PLASTIC POLLUTION is frighteningly abundant. Plastic is affordable and remarkably strong: it is a hugely prevalent, ever constant image in our “disposable” society. It is estimated that 500 billion plastic bags are used globally every year…

“whenever they are disposed, [plastics] take hundreds of years to decompose and their continued stay in the environment does great harm. When burnt, [plastic] pollutes the air, when disposed in the landfills it causes land pollution, and when dumped into the water it pollutes the waters”.

ERGONOMIC STRESS increases as our weekly working hours continue to go up. Endless hours sitting at a desk in front of a computer, over-doing manual work, too little physical exercise and bad posture all contribute.

ENERGETIC STRESS is caused by the various different wavelengths we are subjected to, from exposure to mobile telephones to use of microwave ovens…

“invisible but very real, energetic stressors can cause disturbances to the body and mind. The earth contains many different wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation that travel through time and space…all of these invisible rays can have an impact on our health and well being. 

BIOLOGICAL STRESS refers to any illness or allergic reaction we may encounter. As the years go by, it seems these are increasing, from incidences of eczema to a vastly increasing list of autoimmune conditions. Could this be a result of our body trying to fight the many other environmental stressors it faces?

 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In a generalised conversation about the welfare of our planet, it can seem incredibly daunting to try to do ANYTHING to better the situation. The facts are grim, and can seem insurmountable…

 

 

If however we break things down, and we realise that some of the above issues in fact overlap, then we can start to explore what simple changes we might make on a day to day level…

 

10 TIPS TO PROTECT BOTH YOUR PLANET AND YOURSELF:

1. Conserve energy: unplug electronic devices when you’re not using them; use warm (not hot) water for washing; use energy efficient light bulbs; consider replacing household appliances with more energy efficient models.

2. Reduce petrol pollution: walk or cycle to avoid using petrol consuming vehicles; at the very least use buses or trains to reduce petrol emissions from endless cars.

3. Avoid plastics: utilise reusable or recyclable packaging wherever possible; try (reusable) fabric bags for shopping; use paper straws; purchase a re-usable non-plastic water bottle; avoid plastic based wraps such as “Clingfilm” (which can leak toxins straight into our food). Click here for a great reusable, biodegradable, chemical-free food wrap.

4. Eat natural, organic foods as much as possible: this will reduce exposure to pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. Some studies also suggest that organic foods have higher levels of omega 3 fats, antioxidants and minerals.

“Scientists theorize that when plants aren’t coated in chemicals to help fight off pests and insects, they develop stronger compounds to protect themselves”.

By ingesting these foods we too will benefit from these disease fighting compounds, and therefore be in a better position to stave off environmental stressors.

5. Check labelling for presence of (plastic) microbeads: these are typically found in shower gels, exfoliators, toothpaste, cleaning products. The tiny plastic particles:

“can have a damaging effect on marine life, the environment and human health…due to their composition, ability to absorb toxins and potential to transfer up the marine food chain”.

[It is reassuring to know that since recent revisions in the UK, legislation has banned the use of plastic microbeads in the manufacture of some cosmetic and personal care products. Click here for more]

6. Aim to use NATURAL cosmetics: always try for those which don’t include chemical “nasties”. Take a moment to consider how many cosmetics you and your family use daily to realise the true power of this one, and consider how everyone of these is absorbed into the body. Cosmetic labelling is nowhere near as well regulated as food labelling, so it can be very confusing. Click here to access a simple and reliable chart of recommended natural products.

 

7. Avoid chemically fragranced products: body sprays and air fresheners are often rich in chemicals. Aim instead for natural fragrances such as essential oils, which actually provide health benefits. Also be aware of scented candles, some of which:

“produce smoke laced with almost as many toxins as those produced by cigarettes”.

Click here to learn more about the potential health risks connected to candles.

8. Consciously reduce “screen time” for all the family: aside from the impact on our mental health, theories on “energetic stress” are increasingly worrying. Studies suggest that constant exposure to the radio-frequency waves emitted by mobile phone radiation may be hugely detrimental to our health. Click here for my Top Tips to Detox from Tech.

9. Think posture, posture, posture: aside from creating muscular aches and pains, postural mal-alignment can be detrimental to digestion and respiration, and can even enhance chances of cardiovascular disease.

10. Let nature be your doctor: taking care of both physical and mental health by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and putting in place those stress management techniques which are relevant to you will minimise the need for (often chemically laden) antibiotics and medicines as you allow your body to live as it is supposed to.

 

OUR HEALTH AND THAT OF THE PLANET…

In terms of our own health, this last one is perhaps the most important message. The closer we adhere to the sort of life we were designed to live, the more able we will be to deal with those toxins that do creep in. Our bodies are meant to be constantly “detox”–ing, but in today’s society – where the overload of chemical stressors is rising day by day – our organs often don’t operate as efficiently as they should, and so struggle to rid themselves of these toxic substances.

Meanwhile, in terms of the wider issue of our planet, isn’t it time to sit back and take a good look at ourselves and the world we live in – the world we are creating for our children and grandchildren? By selecting  just one of the above pollutants, we can see the sheer enormity of the problem. Plastic waste is choking our oceans and is releasing toxic chemicals into our soil and into our air. Wildlife on both sea and land are affected by this constant flow of pollution from a vast array of plastic materials that many of us use daily: by default, we – and our children –  are suffering too.

There are so, so many small ways in which we can help, and even if each of those makes just a tiny difference, we have to hang on to the hope that a small effort from each and every one of us on this beautiful planet will be the start point for saving both the planet and ourselves.

 

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