This Monday was Blue Monday, what a fab day. Firstly I just want to say that we’re not helping ourselves by creating such a day. So much of our mental wellbeing is to do with mindset and if we actually allow ourselves a designated day to be gloomy then we’re not even going to get off the starting blocks.
So that being said, setting yourself unachievable goals, like being in the gym 6 times a week and not eating carbs is a sure fire way to set yourself up for failure. Honestly, the first and almost the most important thing is this: give yourself the best possible opportunity to feel happy and content 100% of the time by changing your mindset.
Now, if you already try to do that but feel like you’re always fighting an uphill battle against stress and anxiety then there are some effective health hacks that we can use to support our bodies and minds through the beginning of the year.
1. Eat a balanced Plate. Forget what you’ve heard about Keto or the carnivore diet…carbs are not the devil. Different parts of our bodies run on different sources of energy and our brains run on 100% glucose which comes most readily from carbohydrates. Yes, it is possible to convert proteins and fats into glucose but it takes much longer and is a much more energy wasting process, so why would you make it hard for your body when you could make it so easy? A bit of brown rice never hurt anyone! So a plate that’s balanced with some complex carbs, a good source of protein either from plants or animal sources, plus a tonne of rainbow vegetables is the easiest and simplest way to boost your mood.
2. Maintain good gut health. Our gut bacteria, or microbiome, are responsible for so, so many reactions in our bodies: they help us break down our food, they help synthesise hormones like serotonin and they protect us from invasion of potentially threatening bacteria. Serotonin is our happy hormone and it's made in our gut! Getting yourself a really good probiotic and eating lots of fermented foods like saurkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha can all help boost your happy gut bugs.
3. Take control of your Lymbic System. This one is all to do with managing stress and anxiety which can make us feel super low and depressed in January. There’s a very primitive part of our brain called the Lymbic system, and this is the part of our brain that is constantly trying to work out where we are in space and time and it gathers data from our environment to do this. There are 3 major points of data
1 – Our ankles, which tells us where we are on the ground, where we’re walking, if the ground’s moving beneath us or if it’s steady.
2 – Our ears. These are like our spirit levels, there are actually flakes of calcium in them that are floating around a bit like a snow globe and the receptors in our inner ear pick up on the movement of these snowflakes to determine whether we're swinging about or moving.
3 – Our Eyes, which can find a point of reference like the horizon. This is why getting out into nature is so, so valuable for calming us down and I literally can’t stress this enough. Trees and landscape give us an invaluable point of reference to tell our bodies where we are in space and time.
So, if you’re wearing shoes, or even worse high heels, then your brain can’t pick up the signals from your feet. If you’re in a busy crowd and can’t see the horizon then again, it can cause us anxiety and stress. Any one of these points that’s out of balance can trigger anxiety because our bodies don’t know if we’re falling. So, top tip for when you’re feeling low, unhappy or anxious is get outside, breath in deep and fix your eyes on the horizon. And if you’re really into this kind of stuff, take your shoes and socks off so that you can feel the ground beneath you.
4. Exercise. This one is pretty obvious but it's well worth a mention because it's so crucial. There are numerous studies showing how exercise is absolutely essential for boosting our mood. But one thing I would say is that all exercises were not created equal and in actual fact is about finding the right exercise for you, and this is something I touch on in my podcast episode with TBalance, yeh CPRESS have a podcast – get on it!
HIIT workouts are not for everyone, personally I used to be that gym gal drinking her coffee then doing a weights workout but I always felt awful, so tired and sore, stressed out and low in energy. I switched to yoga and jogging outdoors and I haven't looked back! So, do what makes YOU happy and not what Instagram is telling you to do, and feel those endorphins come rushing in!
5. Eat foods that boost your Serotonin production. Ever heard the term “comfort food”? That big bowl of pasta or jacket potato with lots of butter and cheese...really hits the spot right? That's because carbohydrates can boost serotonin to the brain; great news. Also look out for foods rich in tryptophan (that's an amino acid, part of what makes up protein), which is the precursor to serotonin, our happy hormone. Oats and eggs are two great sources, and if you're plant based look out for a 5HTP supplement at your local health food store.