Stress and anxiety: natural ways to support feelings of calm

Close,Up,Of,Calm,Young,Woman,Relax,On,Couch,With

It would seem there has been a dramatic rise in anxiety and stress levels generally, especially since the pandemic started.  Whilst it can be hard to change the way we are feeling, the body’s response to it can be supported. 

There are certain nutrients and herbs that are great for working with the stress response, helping to alleviate feelings of anxiety, and encouraging feelings of calm.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five recommended nutrients and herbs to help calm the body.

 

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha has been traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years and has much robust research to support its use especially for anxiety.

shutterstock_1181447482 ashwagandha Feb19

It is an adaptogenic herb, meaning it supports the body through the stress response and adapts to its needs.  Ashwagandha is a gentle, but effective herb and is great for alleviating anxiety, aiding restful sleep, and calming the nervous system generally.

It’s not available in foods, so needs to be taken in supplement form.

Vitamin B6

As with all nutrients, they perform several roles in the body.  Vitamin B6 is responsible for over 100 different enzyme reactions. Crucially B6 is responsible for helping to produce two key neurotransmitters and hormones which help stabilise mood: dopamine, and serotonin.  From serotonin, the sleep hormone melatonin is made, so vitamin B6 plays a key role in helping to instil calm.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

As with all B vitamins, they’re water soluble and therefore not stored in the body.  The good news, however, is that vitamin B6 is found in many different foods including beef liver, tuna, salmon, chickpeas, dark leafy greens, and poultry. This list is by no means exhaustive, so having a varied diet will certainly help to ensure you’re having sufficient vitamin B6.

Lemon balm

Officially called Melissa officinalis, lemon balm provides a very gentle sedative and calming effect. It might also help to fight certain bacteria and viruses.

shutterstock_395549032 glass of water with lemon Apr16

As with many herbs, it has been traditionally used, especially in its native Mediterranean region since at least the 16th century. Today, it’s mainly used as both a sleep aid and digestive tonic and can be taken as a supplement, in a balm or lotion, but frequently as a tea.

Some research seems to show that lemon balm works on the calming brain neurotransmitter GABA, helping alleviate anxiety and mood disorders. 

Magnesium

We can’t talk about calming nutrients without a big nod to magnesium. Often referred to as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ magnesium is known to support the stress response in the body and helping calm the central nervous system. Magnesium works in tandem with vitamin B6 in many biochemical reactions within the body, but particularly in producing our calming neurotransmitters.

A range of foods containing magnesium

Interestingly, signs of magnesium deficiency include panic attacks, brain fog, feeling tired but wired, insomnia and lack of concentration; all symptoms we would frequently associate with being stressed. Magnesium also helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

There are a number of different forms of magnesium which can make it confusing when choosing supplements, but the glycinate form is especially great for sleep and anxiety.  However, magnesium is frequently deficient in the heavily refined typical western diet but is rich in dark leafy green. So, load up your plate with kale, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.  Magnesium is also found in beans, legumes, nuts, and whole grains.

Passionflower

The herb passionflower is incredibly effective at bringing calm to the brain and helps lower brain activity generally, which in turn, aids sleep.

A common symptom of anxiety is a nervous stomach and passionflower seems to really help.  Indeed, in ancient times it was often use for digestive upsets perhaps before they realised stomach problems were often caused by anxiety.

Close up of Passion Flower

It’s possible to find some passionflower tea, but it’s much easier to take in supplement form, especially if you’re really on the edge.

Clearly nutrients all work synergistically together so there is no problem with having a wide range in the diet or in supplement form, such as a high-quality multivitamin.  When it comes to herbs, it’s always best to try one first to see how it suits you.  And always remember that what works for one person, may not work for another, so keep trying the many options available until you find relief from your symptoms.

Stay well.

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Trouble sleeping? Discover some top tips on how to get more zzz’s

Woman asleep in bed

How many of us dream of getting a good night’s sleep?  For at least 40% of the UK population, sleep can often be a struggle, and things have become much more challenging over the last couple of years, for obvious reasons.

However, peaceful slumbers don’t need to just be in your dreams. There are a few things that you can do to help get a better nights’ sleep, which will in turn support your energy levels throughout the day.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips on getting a good night’s sleep.

Review your diet

If you want great sleep, it’s important to eat right during the day. A diet that’s rich in low to medium foods on the glycaemic index, which includes whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and starchy vegetables, is the way forward.  These will help to keep the body in good balance and encourage it to rest.

Low,Glycemic,Health,Food,For,Weight,Loss,&,Fitness,Concept

Foods lower on the glycaemic index also provide sustained energy throughout the day, without spiking blood sugar levels.  This means you’ll avoid those highs and lows, but also feelings of anxiety which often accompany blood sugar imbalances. Anxiety is certainly not helpful when you are trying to get to sleep.

Keep it regular

This means adopting a regular routine.  The body loves routine, so keeping regular sleep and waking times is essential for maintaining a healthy sleep pattern.  Generally, we need seven to nine hours sleep per night, therefore think about what time you need to be in bed depending on when you need to get up, in order to achieve this.

CLose up of an alarm clock and a woman getting out of bed to represent getting up at the same time every day

Trying to ‘catch up’ on sleep at weekends tends to push the body out of routine, so this can become a negative strategy.  Once you’ve got a routine going, it’s amazing how well the body will adapt.

Keep calm with magnesium

The mineral magnesium is often referred to as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ because it has a calming effect on the body, down to its work as a muscle relaxant. Poor sleep, with long periods of tossing and turning during the night is often associated with magnesium deficiency. Plus, stress further depletes magnesium levels in the body.

A range of foods containing magnesium

The good news is that magnesium is found in whole grains and foods that are also low on the glycaemic index. Plus, green leafy vegetables are your friends in this respect too.  So, load up on broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and spinach.  This will help to keep the body calm and balanced and able to rest and relax.

Consider trying adaptogen herbs

Stress is obviously going to impact our sleep patterns.  And whilst we can’t eradicate all stress from our lives, we can take steps to support the body during stressful times by using adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogens, as the name suggests, bend and flex to meet the body’s needs. Herbal adaptogens primarily relieve stress by working on the adrenal glands from where the body releases stress hormones.

shutterstock_1181447482 ashwagandha Feb19

The adaptogenic herb ashwagandha has long been studied for its benefits on sleep, with a recent trial further confirming its effectiveness. If stress and anxiety are effectively managed because stress hormone levels are balanced, then many sleep issues can be resolved.  The herb Rhodiola rosea is another adaptogenic herb, which can help the body get through stressful times, and in turn aid restful sleep.

Reduce caffeine and sugar intake

As we all know, caffeine is a stimulant which frequently impacts on getting a good night’s sleep.  For those of us who are especially sensitive to caffeine even having one high-caffeinated drink during the afternoon can have a detrimental effect on peaceful slumbers.  Plus, ‘decaf’ drinks still contain a small amount of caffeine unfortunately.

Coffee,Cup,Behind,Red,Forbidden,Sign.,No,Caffeine,Before,Bedtime.

Caffeine, and especially coffee, can cause more anxiety generally; often we don’t realise the overall effect on the body.  If you’re struggling to get some rest, then it’s really worth cutting out all caffeine for a week and seeing if things improve.

Sugar is also a stimulant so be mindful of overall sugar intake too.  Sugary snacks are going to send blood sugar levels up and the body’s overall balance will be upset. Try to keep the diet as ‘clean’ as possible and follow some of these simple strategies.  Improvements can be felt really quickly in many cases.

So, try some of these strategies to help you get a better night’s sleep.

Stay well.

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Boost your mood naturally this January: top nutrients to support your mood

Happy woman outside in winter with energy

It’s that time of year again when we all tend to feel low in mood and generally lack-lustre.  Grey skies and post-Christmas blues all contribute to these feelings.  However, all is not lost! 

There is an unequivocal link between what we put into our body nutritionally and how we feel and there are some important nutrients that can contribute to your mood.

This Blue Monday Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top mood boosting nutrients and natural herbs, to help put a smile back on your face.

Omega-3 fats

We might not want to see the word ‘fat’ in January but, trust me, these are the good ones!  The omega-3 essential fats are part of the brain’s cellular make up and are essential for mental wellbeing.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fatsIf you’re following ‘Veganuary’ or are already vegan, then you might want to add at least a tablespoon full of ground flaxseeds to your morning cereal as they are a very rich source of omega-3s.  However, if you can eat fish, especially the oily kind, then omega-3s from these sources tends to be better absorbed by the body. As an example, wild salmon at least three times a week is recommended for you to notice an improvement in mood.

 

Vitamin B6

As with all the busy family of B-vitamins, Vitamin B6 fulfils many key functions within the body.  As well as helping with hormonal balance, thereby improving mood, vitamin B6 is needed to produce serotonin, our ‘happy’ hormone. 

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

B-vitamins are water-soluble so need to be eaten really regularly. Food which is high in vitamin B6 includes fish, liver, bananas, starchy vegetables, and other non-citrus fruits.  Why not cook a delicious root vegetable casserole including sweet potatoes, onions, parsnips, white potatoes, and broccoli. Add some vegetable stock, coriander and serve with cheddar cheese on the top. Root vegetables are all in season currently and this dish is certainly going to put a smile on your face.

Vitamin B12

If you’re vegan or just starting Veganuary, then do take particular note of vitamin B12.  It’s only really found in animal produce and is essential for the production of serotonin.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B12

Interestingly, some vitamin B12 can be produced in the gut and fermented foods may encourage this process.  Foods such as tempeh and tofu (great in a delicious Thai curry or stir-fry), miso soup and sauerkraut are your friends in this respect and will also provide plenty of other health benefits. However if you follow a vegan diet, a B12 supplement is recommended.

Vitamin D

Known as the sunshine vitamin because it’s produced on the skin in the presence of sunlight, vitamin D is deficient in the UK population especially during the winter months.  As well as being essential for healthy bones, teeth, muscles and immunity, research has also found it be essential for mood.  So, there’s certainly a physiological reason why we often feel low during January.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

Whilst you can get some vitamin D from a few foods, namely oily fish, milk, and mushrooms, it’s not nearly sufficient for the body’s needs.  Therefore, it’s important to supplement with vitamin D (at least 10 micrograms daily) if you want to feel brighter.

Ashwagandha

The herb ashwagandha is known as an ‘adaptogenic’ herb. This means it helps the body better cope with stress and improves energy levels.  However, this effect also helps improve mood (it’s often recommended for people suffering from depression), and generally encourages people to feel more balanced.  It’s found only in supplement form.

shutterstock_1181447482 ashwagandha Feb19

However, it’s also worth noting that if you’re feeling low, it’s generally not just one food or herb that makes all the difference: it’s generally a cumulative effect.  Nutrition also needs to be combined with lifestyle changes; why not write down a list of things that make you happy and things that you are grateful for.  Even if it’s only having clean sheets on the bed more often, small changes can have big effect.

So, help your mood naturally by including these nutrients more frequently into your diet.

Stay well.

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How to boost your immunity this Christmas

 

Christmas,Wishes,Concept,-,Key,With,Inscription,Health,On,Tag

Whilst it’s traditionally the season to be jolly, Christmas is also the time of year when colds and nasty bugs proliferate.  And this year is no exception, plus there is the ongoing risk of more Covid infections. 

It’s certainly time to boost defences this festive season and there are many ways that you can support your health through diet and lifestyle changes.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top ways of boosting immunity this Christmas.

 

Take a Vitamin D supplement

In terms of supporting the immune system, this is probably one of the best defences you can employ.  With so much research on vitamin D now emerging, the essential role this vitamin plays within the immune system is unquestionable.

Yellow,Pills,Forming,Shape,To,D,Alphabet,On,Wood,Background

Whilst Government guidelines recommend a minimum supplementation of 10 micrograms daily, many people need more than this.  If possible, it’s worth having your blood levels checked by the doctor.  However, if you have lots of aches and pains or are suffering with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), chances are you may need more vitamin D for a while. In terms of diet, mushrooms are a good source of vitamin D so try to add these to your festive menus. 

Eat plenty of colour

Vitamin C is another essential nutrient to help support the immune system and it’s rich in most fruits and vegetables.  If you’re eating plenty of colour, then the chances are you’re getting sufficient vitamin C.

Healthy,Eating,Concept,,Assortment,Of,Rainbow,Fruits,And,Vegetables,,Berries,

However, vitamin C is quickly lost from the body and is also utilised more during stressful times; unfortunately, as we know, Christmas can be challenging for many of us.  Why not give your vitamin C levels a boost by enjoying a daily vitamin C-rich juice including apples, celery, carrots, and parsley to really get the day off to a healthy start?

Try to ensure that as many meals as possible contain green leafy vegetables, carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, or butternut squash.  These vegetables contain beta-carotene which is turned into immune-boosting vitamin A, as needed, as well as providing loads of vitamin C.

Enjoy some R & R

Stress raises cortisol levels which in turn can suppress the immune system – definitely not what you need right now! It’s important, therefore, to try to keep everything balanced and take some time out to rest and recuperate.

A woman relaxing at christmas with her eyes shut in front of a christmas tree

This is often difficult if you have a really busy life and/or have young children demanding your attention.  However, just taking 10 minutes out to lie on your bed and do some deep breathing, meditation or listen to some music, can work wonders. 

Having a warm bath before bedtime and adding some Epsom salts which are rich in relaxing magnesium, can also have an amazing restorative effect.  Try to find what works for you and practice it every day.

Take some exercise

Moderate exercise helps to increase production of viral-fighting immune cells.  This doesn’t mean spending hours tormenting yourself in the gym, but just taking regular exercise that raises the heart rate.

Winter,Snow,Walk,Woman,Walking,Away,In,Snowy,Forest,On 

Walking is an incredibly effective form of exercise. It helps to maintain strong bones and supports your mental wellbeing.  It’s also important to do some form of resistance exercise, which is especially key for ladies during and after the menopause; women can lose as much as 30% of their bone mass after menopause. Lifting a few hand weights, doing some weighted squats, or using your own body weight in postures which form part of a yoga practise such as plank can really help.

Support your mental wellbeing

There’s so much being discussed right now around mental wellbeing which is a positive change.  However, many people are still unwilling to admit they’re struggling.  If this sounds like you, then are many walking and talking groups, or online forums you can join, which can provide much needed support. The most difficult part is admitting that you have a problem.  If you reach out, there is plenty of help available.

Team,Holding,Building,Blocks,Spelling,Out,Support

If anxiety is a problem for you, then both the herbs Rhodiola and Ashwagandha are incredibly effective at calming the nerves.  They are known as adaptogenic herbs, which means they help to manage the stress response and reduce cortisol levels.  Both are available in supplement form.

Prevention is always better than cure so ramp up your immunity defences this festive season and enjoy a healthy Christmas.

Stay well.

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How to destress naturally: top lifestyle and nutrition tips for reducing stress

A woman looked worried sitting on a sofa

Stress is a much talked about subject.  In small doses it can be motivational but frequently it is detrimental to our health and needs to be managed. 

It can be difficult to eradicate stress completely but there are some nutritional and lifestyle changes that you can make which can help.

This Stress Awareness Month Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer tells us how.

Feel alive with Vitamin B5

The family of B-vitamins complement each other really well.  However, vitamin B5 stands out from the crowd when it comes to managing stress.

Vitamin B5, also called pantothenic acid, is needed to effectively produce our stress hormones (namely cortisol and DHEA) from the adrenal glands.  Our natural ‘fight or flight’ response is an essential bodily function, providing us with the motivation and energy to deal with difficult situations. However, the body doesn’t like to be in this state too much.  Too much stress depletes production of these hormones over time, which can make us feel more agitated and stressed.

Foods,Highest,In,Vitamin,B5,(pantothenic,Acid).,Healthy,Food,Concept.

Foods such as mushrooms, meat, dairy produce, beans, lentils and nuts and seeds are great sources of vitamin B5 and can better help the body deal with stressful events.

Cut down on the agitators

We often reach for alcohol or sugary treats when the going gets tough.  However, these are stimulants, which release adrenaline, kicking off the stress response.  This then produces the opposite effect of what we actually need which is to feel calmer.

If life is stressful, then the body needs to be treated calmly. Green tea does contain a little caffeine but also has some theanine, a calming amino acid, so try to make some swaps from fully loaded caffeinated drinks.

shutterstock_391949488 green tea Nov16

Additionally, there are many very acceptable non-alcoholic beverages around now, so you don’t have to feel you’re missing out. And why not save the sugary snacks for one treat day per week?  Your body will thank you for it.

Make an achievable plan

Many of us write a daily job list and this can feel overwhelming because there is often far too much on the list to be achieved sensibly in one day.  However, why not break each challenge down into much smaller tasks, so that one big task looks much more achievable?

shutterstock_243120193 woman writing in note pad diary Feb17

It’s always a good idea to write things down that either need to be done or that are causing stress.  And then sit quietly with the list and see what is realistic without being over ambitious in what can actually be completed.  Just by listing things rather than it all spinning around in your head, can make everything seem rather more doable and less stressful.  Plus, it’s a great feeling when you can cross things off the list.

Get some help from nature

Nature has provided us with a wealth of health, from nutrient-packed foods to herbal helpers. Top of the herbs list are ashwagandha, ginseng and rhodiola, which are all adaptogenic herbs.  This means they support the body to better cope with stress, helping you feel calmer and more in control.

shutterstock_390988804 green leafy vegetables Dec16

Additionally, green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Pak Choi are great sources of the mineral magnesium, which helps muscle relaxation.  If you find switching off in the evening difficult, then make sure you include some of these veggies in your evening meal to help calm the mind and body.

Exercise your stresses away

Exercise can be a great way of alleviating stress for many people.  And whilst some of us might find doing a big workout in the gym most effective, others may opt for a gentle stroll in the fresh air to blow away stress.  Do whatever works for you: if adrenaline is powering through your veins, it needs an outlet and taking some form of exercise can really do the trick.

shutterstock_218997220 woman walking trainers Mar18

Another effective way to reduce stress is to do some exercise where you have to concentrate on the game (such as tennis or even table tennis). This keeps your mind distracted from any mental issues, helping the brain unwind and re-set.

So, whilst we can’t completely avoid stress in our lives, we can hopefully minimise its impact with a few lifestyle changes.

Stay well.

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Enjoy a staycation: top tips for holidaying at home

A road sign saying 'staycation'

With a massive increase in staycations this year for obvious reasons, many of us are disappointed at not being able to plan our annual ‘get-away’. 

However, maybe just changing our mindset can make us realise that staying at home can be hugely fun too.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyers shares some wonderfully healthy and fun staycation tips.

Healthy cocktails

Cocktails often remind us of holidays and fun times so why not get your mix on at home?  Cocktails are traditionally very sugary and calorific which can bring on feelings of guilt and dampen down the enjoyment.  But all is not lost because there are many ways you can enjoy cocktails without the guilt pangs!

Grapefruit margarita cocktail

Why not mix up a great summertime Skinny Margarita?  Simply use Tequila, Triple Sec, freshly squeezed lime juice and some freshly squeezed ruby or pink grapefruit juice.  Finish off with a wedge of lime. Grapefruit has been associated with weight loss, and whilst simply eating or drinking grapefruit juice is not going to solve all your weight issues, it’s low in calories and sugar, high in fibre, and, most importantly, a delicious addition to this margarita!

Eat Mediterranean food

You might not be in the Med but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of their delicious traditional recipes, without spending hours in the kitchen.  Think about a traditional Turkish Mezze which is both easy and can be super-healthy too. Plus, it makes a great sharing platter for entertaining friends and family.

Hummus and beetroot dips mezze platter

Dips and hummus always play a key role in any mezze plate.  Traditional hummus is made from chickpeas which are loaded with protein, energising B-vitamins and phytoestrogens for hormone balancing.  Create a beetroot dip (an amazing super food), mixed with garlic and natural yoghurt, and throw together a traditional olive salad, with fresh green leaves and feta cheese.  Roast some red peppers and include loads of crudities and toasted pittas to fully enjoy the dips. A great way of bringing the Med to you!

Spend time outdoors

Holidays are very much associated with being outdoors, so make sure your staycation doesn’t disappoint on that front.  Why not try some new activities?  Or head for the coast and do some water sports; paddle boarding is incredibly popular right now and can be mastered fairly quickly.

Family cycling in countryside

Bike rides are a great family activity and enable you to view places you might not otherwise see, and from a different scenic perspective.  Lots of landmarks and views can get missed on car journeys so get out and about on foot to explore your local area.

Relaxation

It’s not all about rushing about; having some down time is very important for overall health and wellbeing.  Life has been and continues to be stressful for many people and long-term stress can raise cortisol levels.  Symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, poor sleep and unwanted weight gain are all signs your stress hormones need support.

Woman reading in garden

To be effective and properly restful, you need to give yourself real ‘down-time’.  Whether that’s just reading a book or listening to some music in the garden find something that works for you.  You can also try taking an adaptogenic herb such as ashwagandha which helps manage stress and reduces cortisol levels.  Holidays are all about investing in some ‘you’ time, so make this happen.

Have fun!

Most important!  Staying at home doesn’t have to be dull.  Like any holiday it needs a little planning so that you really enjoy the time you have, and you can look back and feel you’ve had a proper break.

Children looking at giraffes at the zoo

Why not plan the days with a calendar in front of you? Research local attractions for day trips, catch up with friends and family if you can, and do things that you wouldn’t generally get time to do.

Whatever you decide, you deserve some time off. So, make the most of every staycation moment!

Stay well.

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Five top tips for a peaceful night’s sleep

Woman asleep in bed

We all long for a restful night’s sleep and to wake up feeling fully refreshed.  But, how much attention do we really pay to our sleep hygiene? 

Are we really giving ourselves the best opportunity of getting some good shuteye?

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for ‘cleaning-up’ your bedtime routine.

Your day is as important as your night

What you eat and drink during the day has a massive impact on how well you sleep.  For example, if you’re overloaded with caffeinated or fizzy drinks, or alcohol, these are all sleep disrupters.  It’s best not to have anything caffeinated or stimulatory after lunchtime.  Whilst the effects of caffeine may wear off after a few hours, they have a lasting effect on blood sugar balance which will stimulate stress hormones, keeping you more awake.

A glass mug of coffee alonsgside some biscotti

Additionally, drinking alcohol during the evening (or even throughout the day), may make you feel drowsy at bedtime, but it will still disrupt your sleep.  Waking in the middle of the night is pretty normal after a ‘heavy night’ again partly due to imbalanced blood sugar levels and dehydration.

Stress can keep you awake

Most of us lead busy and, often, stressful lives.  However, it’s how we deal with stress that has the biggest impact on how well we sleep.  If you’re constantly juggling during the day, then your adrenal glands that secrete stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, require some support to help you feel more balanced and calmer.

A range of fruits and vegetables

To work effectively, the adrenals need plenty of vitamin C, found in most fruits and vegetables.  Therefore, make sure you’re eating plenty of colour every day.  The more stressed you are, the more vitamin C you’ll burn.  Additionally, the family of B-vitamins, especially vitamin B5, is key to good adrenal function.  Include plenty of fish, eggs, broccoli and legumes in your diet – all especially rich in vitamin B5.

Take some herbal helpers

There are several herbs, known as adaptogens, which balance the body and help support it through stressful times as well as regulate sleep patterns.  The herbs ashwagandha, rhodiola and ginseng will all provide great help at getting sleep back on track.

A woman looked worried sitting on a sofa

Sleep patterns can often be disturbed because cortisol levels are too high in the evening.  In these cases, cortisol maybe low in the mornings (when it should be higher) which is why some people struggle to get out of bed.  Adaptogenic herbs are effective at getting stress hormones back into good balance.

Adopt a regular routine

Just as the body loves (and needs) to be fed regularly, it craves a regular sleep pattern.  Sleep is essential for the body to rest, repair and detoxify.  The body is much better able to complete all these functions if it’s used to a regular routine.  For example, try to go to bed at roughly the same time each night and get up at the same time.

CLose up of an alarm clock and a woman getting out of bed to represent getting up at the same time every day

Good sleep hygiene means trying to achieve seven or eight hours of sleep per night.  If this is a struggle for you because you wake early, then find a sleep or calming app that you can use if you find yourself waking too early.Try to resist the urge to get up, just because you’ve woken up.  You can re-train your body, it just takes a little patience and perseverance.

Don’t sleep with electronics

Falling asleep in bed with your laptop, tablet or phone is definitely not good sleep hygiene. Research suggests that emissions from electronic devices can have a negative effect on the body.  Try and keep electronic devices out of the bedroom and resist the urge to use them in the hours leading up to sleep too. Blue light keeps up awake, so it can have an adverse effect on how easily you can fall asleep.

CLose up of a woman relaxing in the bath reading a book, surrounded by candles

Instead, have a warming bath, maybe adding some Epsom salts, rich in soothing magnesium. Play some gentle music, spray some lavender on your pillow and grab your favourite book.  You’ll be amazed just how effective a strong bedtime routine can be when trying to get sleep on track.

Your body works hard for you so treat it to the best rest you can!

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Natural ways to a stress-free Christmas

A woman relaxing at christmas with her eyes shut in front of a christmas tree

The lead-up to Christmas is traditionally a very stressful time of year.  There’s always so much to do and often many people to please. 

What you eat and how you plan your time can really help support your health and minimise stress, so you can fully enjoy the festive season.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her three top tips for a stress-free Christmas.

Load up on magnesium

Nature has supplied us with everything we need in terms of nutrients.  The good news is that the mineral, magnesium, is especially calming.  Whilst magnesium is important for energy production, it’s also needed for over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body.  This includes playing a role in the production of the brain’s neurotransmitters, especially calming GABA which decreases activity in your nervous system. Magnesium also helps manage the body’s normal stress response as well as aiding muscle relaxation.  No wonder it’s known as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’!

A range of foods containing magnesium

Foods high in magnesium are going to become your best friends over the next few weeks.  Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and kale, wholegrains such as oats, almonds, dairy foods, beans, and meat should all be on the menu.  It may also be worth taking a magnesium supplement.  If you take it about an hour before bedtime, it can help you to sleep peacefully too.

Try some calming herbs

Just as nature has delivered us calming nutrients, it’s also delivered calming herbs. And there are many ways you can use them in meal preparation.

Clearly, time is a precious commodity right now, so spending hours in the kitchen is not on the menu.  However, basil is a tonic for the nervous system: it’s calming and can also help digestion.  Why not use it in an easy chicken pasta dish, using whole wheat pasta (which contains more magnesium and B-vitamins) or with mozzarella cheese and buffalo tomatoes drizzled with a little olive oil?  Two easy supper suggestions.

Mozzarella, tomato and basil salad

Camomile is a popular calming tea which is especially good before bedtime, as is mint tea which is soothing for the digestive system.  Additionally, rosemary adds a wonderful taste and aroma to many different dishes. Think roast potatoes and sweet potatoes, lamb, chicken, soups, or simply rubbed over chunky bread with a little olive oil.

A bunch of fresh rosemary and dried rosemary in a pot

Some herbs can act as both an energy stimulant as well as encouraging calm and relaxation.  They are known as adaptogenic herbs; ashwagandha, rhodiola and ginseng will all have this effect.  They are best taken in the morning in supplement form to help with energy levels, but because they manage the stress response, they body will also feel calm and better able to sleep.

Make time for relaxation

Unfortunately, we often push ourselves very hard at this time of year.  This can suppress immune function making us susceptible to all the nasty colds and bugs flying around, not to mention leaving us feeling low and tired.

The good news is there are many relaxation apps you can download and listening to them won’t eat too much time out of your day.  Meditation can take a little practice, but an app can really help guide you along the way.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

The benefits of relaxation are far-reaching not just at this time of year but for long term health and longevity.  Try and allocate around 20 minutes a day. Just listening to a relaxation app and being still for a short time will refresh your body and mind.

It’s important to give back to the body what it needs.  While it’s working hard and functioning day to day, it’s easy to forget that the stress response uses up more nutrients (especially magnesium and the B-vitamins, which are essential for energy). Therefore, it should be properly fuelled with nutrients and lifestyle changes, so it continues to work as it’s best for you.

So, just a few small changes can make a massive difference to how well you cope over the next few weeks and can hopefully help you have a happier Christmas.

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

 

 

Nutrition and lifestyle advice for minimising stress and anxiety

A woman looked worried sitting on a sofa

Many of us frequently suffer from anxiety or stress, whether we are worried about a work situation, a relationship or an upcoming social event. This is can often be accompanied by feelings of low mood and a sense of inadequacy.

In our fast-moving ‘always on’ society, pressure to perform can be overwhelming.  And as simple as it sounds smiling more can also really help! 

 

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great lifestyle tips to help us feel calm and more balanced.

What to drink

Certain drinks can have a marked effect on anxiety and mood.  Out should go stimulants such as alcohol (also a depressant) and fizzy drinks (even the sugar-free varieties which contain unhelpful chemicals). Try to avoid caffeinated coffee, tea and colas (providing a quick ‘high’ then an edgy low).

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

In should come calming camomile and valerian teas. Try non-caffeinated varieties such as red bush and green tea which contains theanine, a calming amino acid.  Whilst green tea does contain a small amount of caffeine, the stimulatory effects are off-set by the theanine.  However, it’s best not drunk before bedtime.

And of course, make sure you are getting your daily water quota – aim for 1.5 – 2 litres a day.

What to eat

What we put into our mouths has the biggest influence on how we feel emotionally and physically.  The body needs around 45 nutrients daily to function at its best. When these are lacking we can certainly feel tired and cranky.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

The mineral magnesium, ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ is key to coping with anxiety and is used up more during times of stress.  Therefore, making sure you are getting enough in your diet is important. Green leafy veg such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are great sources of magnesium.

If you find you are waking during the night due to worries or anxious thoughts, eating a few almonds, also rich in magnesium, before bedtime can really help.

A basket of almonds

The B vitamins are also key in controlling the body’s stress response. Vitamin B5 is especially important in helping produce our stress hormones.  The good news is that it’s found in plenty of foods such as poultry, whole grains, oily fish (also rich in brain-loving omega 3s), legumes and dairy products.

Try natural herbal remedies

If you’re struggling with anxiety, then there are plenty of additional herbal helpers.

Both the herbs ashwagandha and rhodiola are known as ‘adaptogenic’, meaning they help the body better cope during stressful times and adapt to its needs.  Both are available as supplements. Ideally take them in the morning as both can stimulate and give an energy boost, whilst reducing feelings of anxiety.  Additionally, the herb passionflower can be taken as a supplement and works really quickly; it’s especially helpful if you’re struggling with a nervous tummy.

Vitamin D written in sand on a beach

Don’t forget to also take a vitamin D supplement, especially now the winter months are upon us. As well as supporting the nervous system it helps lift low mood and also induces feelings of calm.

You are what you think…

It’s very easy to focus too much on worries and anxious thoughts, perhaps over-thinking situations and life itself.  It’s a question of managing your brain and its thought processes.  Sometimes visualising holding up a hand to stop negative thoughts coming in can help.  Equally, practising meditation is one of the best ways of gaining back control of your brain.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

There are plenty of ‘calming’ apps that you can download and listen to; find what works for you.  However, our over-use of technology and social media can have a negative impact on our mental well-being.  Additionally, the blue light emitted from electronic goods can keep us awake. So, turn off the social media apps and switch everything off a couple of hours before bedtime. Try to have good amounts of time during the day when you’re not glued to your laptop or phone; even if it’s only for 20 minutes, make it a habit to take yourself away from your phone or laptop every day.

Get moving

Any form of exercise is incredibly positive for mind and body.  Some people need to do fast-paced exercise to help with stress and anxiety, whilst others do better with calming, gentle activities.  Whatever suits you, doing strenuous exercise in the evening is not recommended as it stimulates the stress hormone cortisol, which will keep you awake.

Close up of two women enjoying a run outdoors together to show benefits of exercise

Yoga and Pilates can help calm and relax you as you focus on the movements paired with your breath. These can even be practised in your own living room, if time or availability of classes is a problem.  However, the benefits of engaging regularly in the type of exercise that works for you can’t be over-stated.

So with some small changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can help yourself to become less anxious and more relaxed.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

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Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts