Stress and anxiety: lifestyle changes you can make to help restore some calm

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

Stress and anxiety levels are likely to be at an all-time high right now, for obvious reasons. Feeling anxious can be very unsettling and result in us not living our lives as we would like to.

Rather than trying to cope with it and accept it as ‘normal’, why not look to diet and lifestyle changes which could help to soothe your mind?

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some of her top tips.

Nutritional swaps

It’s sometimes difficult to imagine that what we eat can have a marked effect on brain function, anxiety levels and mood.  For example, certain gluten-containing foods can cause low mood in some people.  Equally a lack of nutrients, especially zinc and B-vitamins can adversely affect mood and also cause anxiety.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

It’s important to make all mealtimes count as an opportunity for nourishing the body. For example, simple swaps such as wholemeal pasta instead of white and including fish (particularly oily fish such as salmon) rather than fish fingers, twice a week is a great start.

A range of green vegetables

Additionally, try to eat vegetables (which can be from frozen), particularly the green leafy variety, every day. They can make a big difference to brain function as they are rich in the calming mineral magnesium.  Aim for at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with 3-4 of these being vegetables.

Always think brown rather than white when it comes to choosing whole grains, for example brown wholemeal bread and whole grain brown rice. All these foods are nutrient-dense and will help to stabilise mood.

Avoid the agitators

Whilst many people think that alcohol makes them happy, it’s actually a depressant, therefore having plenty of alcohol-free days is essential. Alcohol also upsets blood sugar balance, especially the day after. This can leave you feeling tired and often craving sugary, carbohydrate-heavy foods, which further deplete energy levels.

A cup of green herbal tea

Caffeinated drinks also cause blood sugar disturbances, which in turn affects mood.  Drinking decaf tea and coffee or herbal and fruit teas, together with 1.5 litres water daily will really reduce the caffeine load. Some people are more susceptible to the effects of caffeine than others, but there will always be some kind of effect which may exacerbate anxiety.

Sleep support

Anxiety can cause sleep issues.  Changes to diet and lifestyle can have a really positive impact on getting a peaceful night.  However, if sleep is still an issue then it may be worth trying a supplement of 5-HTP, readily available in health food stores.

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

5-HTP is the pre-cursor to tryptophan which produces our happy hormone, serotonin and in turn, melatonin, our sleep hormone.  It has the dual effect of reducing anxiety and encouraging restful nights. 5-HTP is best taken about one hour before bedtime with a carbohydrate snack.

Lavender oil and fresh lavender on a pillow

Traditional remedies such as spraying lavender on the pillow can also be incredibly effective.  Even having a warm bath with some lavender oil an hour or so before bedtime can make a real difference.

Herbal help

Nature has incredible healing powers. The herb passionflower works on one of the brain’s calming neurotransmitters, GABA, helping soothe anxiety and a nervous stomach.

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

Camomile works in similar ways, so drinking camomile tea before bedtime is great, but also through the day can help too.  Additionally, valerian helps calm the body without causing excess drowsiness, and can also help solve sleep issues.

Treat yourself to kindness

It’s all about the messages you give to yourself.  Often without realising we beat ourselves up, bemoan that we could be better or get unnecessarily angry about things we can’t change right now.

A woman relaxing in a bath reading a book

Resolve not to listen to the inner voice when it chatters on your shoulder but take some time out for you.  Think about the simple pleasures that bring you joy and help calm the mind; a movie you’ve been meaning to watch for ages, a home spa treatment or a great book that you can escape into.

Allow yourself to enjoy these moments; don’t feel guilty and try to push away any negative thoughts to help promote feelings of calm.  Take some positive actions in order for the changes to be felt.

So, with a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can help to calm an anxious mind and body.

Stay well.

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All images: Shutterstock

 

Natural Travel Health: top tips to stay well this holiday season

CLose up of smiling woman on the beach enjoying her holiday

With the holiday season in full swing, many of us will either be travelling to other parts of the UK or further afield. Wherever you’re going, you want to be feeling at your best and you don’t want to be struck down with any unwanted bugs whilst away.

Thankfully there are some simple things you can do to help yourself to stay well naturally.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips for travel health.

Drink ginger

If you’re like me, you tend to feel ‘queasy’ when travelling in a car, on a boat and sometimes on a plane. Ginger has been found to be a very effective remedy helping to quash those unpleasant travel sickness sensations. It also seems to help blood flow so is very useful for treating headaches.

Close up of root ginger and ginger tea

As with everything, prevention is better than cure, so it’s good to start sipping warm water with sliced root ginger at least an hour before you set off. If you can take a water bottle with you and continue sipping, this would really help. When travelling by plane, you cannot take water through security but it is a good idea to take an empty, refillable bottle with you and get a food outlet to fill it with water once on the other side. You can then take this on the plane with you. Have plenty of ginger drinks before you leave and take ginger tea bags with you on the plane.

Ginger also helps feed the good gut bacteria so you’ll be less susceptible to tummy bugs whilst you’re away.

Take probiotics

Whilst it’s great to travel to other countries, many of them do not have the same hygiene standards that we have in the UK. I’ve even known people to contract parasites in France. Any change of routine, food or water can potentially cause tummy troubles.

Having a good balance of friendly bacteria in the digestive tract can really help prevent any unwanted invaders. Make sure your diet is generally rich in fibre by eating plenty of wholegrains, pulses and vegetables that help feed the gut bacteria.

A word cloud around Probiotics

However, taking a course of probiotics for at least a couple of weeks before travelling and whilst you’re away, will really help protect your digestive tract during your trip. Probiotics are readily available in health food stores. Additionally, foods such as natural live yoghurt, sourdough bread, miso soup and almonds are also very gut-friendly and are often available wherever you are in the world.

Up your vitamin C

One of our key nutrients for supporting the immune system is vitamin C! If you only take one nutrient with you, then it’s got to be this essential vitamin! Whilst you’ll hopefully be having some fruits and vegetables on holiday that contain vitamin C, if you get struck down by a cold or start to get a sore throat, then you’re going to need slightly higher levels.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

It’s easy to pack some vitamin C powder in your suitcase (readily available in health food stores). If you do start to feel that tell-tale ‘tickle’ in the back of your throat or your nose starts to run, then take 2,000mg of vitamin C powder straightaway to ward off any nasty bugs and continue doing this every day until it passes.

Additionally, try to include plenty of citrus fruits, red peppers, garlic, ginger and green vegetables in your diet whilst away as these all contain good amounts of vitamin C.

Pack some Milk Thistle

When we travel, then our whole routine can get upset. Since the liver is the organ that literally has to process everything we eat and drink, it often gets overloaded. The herb milk thistle, is one of the most liver-loving herbs and can really help support detoxification. You can sometimes feel sluggish on holiday and this can often be down to a congested liver.

Close up of a milk thistle flower

The herb milk thistle also helps with digestion so if some of the ‘foreign’ food is not quite agreeing with you, it can help everything sit more comfortably in your tummy. Make sure to pack some and take it with you wherever you travel.

Sleep well

Whilst you obviously want to make the most of your time away it’s equally important to get plenty of rest and restorative sleep. Too many late nights will affect your immune system, making you more susceptible to bugs, either whilst away or immediately on your return.

Close up of woman sleeping wearing an eye mask

It’s advisable to pack an eye mask wherever you go. The body produces melatonin, our sleep hormone, when it’s dark so if your room is too light when the sun comes up, then you’ll also wake up and possibly miss out on precious sleep.

Lavender oil and fresh lavender on a pillow

Pack a small spray of lavender which you can use on your pillow before bedtime which really helps relaxation and you can also spray it during the night if you’re feeling restless. Alcohol and caffeine are the two biggest sleep disrupters so have both in moderation (or abstain), if you want to come back from your travels looking and feeling refreshed!

So with a little planning, and a little bit of natural support, your travels can be healthy ones. Bon Voyage!

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How to practise Self-Love this February

Close up of a note book with a woman writing 'Love Yourself'

Valentine’s Day and the month of love is upon us. And whilst it’s often a time when we think about how best to treat our loved ones, we shouldn’t forget about the greatest love of all – the love we should have and show to ourselves.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Practicing self-love and self-care has wonderfully positive effects on health.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite ways of practicing nutritional and lifestyle self-love.

Sleep like a baby

As we know, babies always prioritise their sleep. It’s just their exhausted parents that don’t manage to do this! However, why not go back to when you were a baby? With a very high percentage of the population suffering from sleep deprivation, make sure that getting a good night’s sleep is a priority and at the top of your self-love list.

Happy woman sleeping, cuddling pillow and smiling

Adopt a ‘baby’ routine. Turn off all electronic devices at least two hours before bedtime; blue light disrupts sleep and brain chemistry. Eat your last meal around 7 pm at night so you’re not bloated when you go to bed. Have a small tryptophan-rich snack half hour before bedtime to promote the body’s natural release of the sleep hormone, melatonin: try oat cakes, a banana, some nuts or yoghurt.

Have a warm bath, grab a good book and spray some lavender on your pillow. If sleep is a real problem, then try taking some herbal relief such as valerian which will help. You and your body will love the benefits you gain from sleeping soundly.

Eat dark chocolate

Valentine’s Day would not be complete without chocolate and what better news that it can actually be healthy! Cocoa is super-healthy; it’s packed with antioxidant-rich polyphenols that help reduce blood pressure, prevent serious degenerative diseases and keep the brain sharp.

Pieces of dark chocolate

It is the other ingredients that manufacturers use in chocolate products that make them unhealthy, packed with sugar and fat-laden. So look to buy chocolate made from at least 80/85% cocoa solids. Chocolate is the food of love, so make sure you give your body what it deserves!

Eat mindfully

This may be a well-quoted phrase but it’s a really important part of your self-love programme. Most importantly, eating food on the run and in a rushed state means the body can’t digest it properly, leading to bloating. When the body is in the fight or flight mode (during the stress response), blood flow is moved away from the digestive organs and sent to muscles which also doesn’t help digestion.

Woman eating a healthy breakfast with berries, yoghurt and orange juice

One of the most important things about eating mindfully is to eat lunch away from your desk and really appreciate every mouthful. Many afternoon digestive issues have been solved by taking a complete break from emails (and social media) and really enjoying a meal.

Have lots of vitamin C

If you’re not feeling great about yourself and want some self-love, then freshening up your complexion can really help. Vitamin C is key in keeping skin looking young, fresh and wrinkle-free. This is partly due to its key role in the production of collagen, the body’s main structural protein.

A selection of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C

As vitamin C is easily lost during storage, preparation and cooking of food, then you should be aiming to eat around seven portions of fruit and veg daily (aim for 80%/20% Vegetables to fruit to avoid too much sugar). However, it’s certainly worth also including a vitamin C supplement every day in order to maximise its activity and get working on your skin from the inside out.

Get your B’s

That’s B vitamins! There are eight of them and they all work together. Most importantly, they’re essential for keeping your nervous system running smoothly, balancing your mood and increasing energy levels – all key ingredients for making sure you ‘feel the love’.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Foods such as eggs, salmon, nuts, oats, bananas, spinach and broccoli (plus many more) are all rich sources of B Vitamins. B-vitamins are water-soluble so easily excreted from the body. If you’re feeling low and lacking in motivation, then it is really worth looking at your diet to see what’s lacking. Low vitamin B12 is often implicated in cases of depression and is only found in animal produce, so supplements may well be needed.

So enjoy the month of (self) love and don’t forget about YOU in the process.

 

 

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Eat to beat anxiety: top nutrition for lifting your mood

Dark days, post-Christmas blues, money worries, body issues and more all affect our mood and can cause anxiety. The early part of the year often brings distress for many people.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

The good news is that there are lots of foods and herbs that can help lift our mood and ease anxiety. Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite mood-boosters.

 

Eggs

Eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, containing all the essential amino acids that make up proteins. Most importantly, they’re rich in vitamin B12 which is needed for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Indeed, deficiency of B12 can affect the brain and nervous system first which in turn can affect your mood.

Scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms and tomatoes

Eggs in all their forms, make a great start to the day and because of their high protein content, you will also stay fuller for longer.

Portobello mushrooms

Portobello mushrooms are high in vitamin B3, otherwise known as niacin. In years past, severe deficiency of vitamin B3 lead to something called pellagra characterised by dermatitis, diarrhoea and dementia. Symptoms also include depression and anxiety. Thankfully, this has mostly been eradicated, though it is still a problem in developing countries, but it proves the importance of this nutrient in brain health and for helping banish anxiety.

Portobello mushrooms in a basket

The great news is that Portobello mushrooms also contain some vitamin D (widely deficient at this time of year), and a lack of which causes low mood.

So, get chopping and add them to stir fries, pasta dishes, on toast with beans for breakfast or simply roasted as a vegetable side.

Lavender

Top of the list as being one of nature’s most calming herbs is lavender. Many people report improved sleep after spraying their pillow with lavender. It appears to work in a number of ways on the nervous system, but it certainly seems to activate GABA, one of our relaxing brain neurotransmitters[1].

Lavender oil and fresh lavender on a pillow

Lavender also makes a really delicious tea infusion. All you need to do is pour boiling water over one teaspoon of the dried herb, cover and leave to infuse for about five minutes. You can sweeten with a little honey if desired and you’ll soon be feeling more relaxed.

Green Tea

All teas have some health benefits, particularly for their immune-boosting antioxidants. However, green tea contains the amino acid, L-theanine, which, just like lavender, helps promote GABA. Green tea is especially high in something called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. This is a particularly powerful antioxidant that works on brain function, also helping to promote GABA.

A cup of green tea

If you’re feeling anxious, then it’s good to get into the habit of drinking three cups of green tea daily. It can also help reduce the anxiety-promoting effects of caffeine if you’ve succumbed to that early morning double espresso!

Oats

Oats are high in the amino acid tryptophan which is converted into serotonin in the body, our happy hormone. Serotonin is then converted into the sleep hormone melatonin; a lack of sleep can also contribute to higher levels of anxiety.

Bowl of warming porridge with spoon of dry oats next to it

Oats will also provide you with sustained energy throughout the day, plus your mood will be lifted from having a boost of serotonin. Alternate an egg-based breakfast with porridge through the week and you should start to notice a difference.

So if you are struggling with anxiety or low mood this winter, then don’t despair; nature has provided a wealth of remedies for you to try.

[1] Peir Hossein Koulivand et al. Lavender and the nervous system. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2013;61304

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