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.

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

 

 

Self-care: it’s all about you!

Relaxed woman looking happy sitting outside at a table overlooking a garden

It’s National Spa Week, reminding us that we need to take time out to care for ourselves.  We often spend so much time ‘giving’ to everyone else – children, parents, friends and work colleagues – that we don’t make enough time for ourselves.

Self-care is essential to support our physical and mental wellbeing and there are lots of ways you can improve your diet to help you have a healthier lifestyle.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great ways in which you can take better care of you.

Make your diet more colourful

What you put into your body is the cornerstone of life.  How you look and feel is primarily governed by what’s within, meaning your nutrient intake.  The body requires around 45 different nutrients daily (including water), so each mealtime needs to count.

The more colour you have on your plate, the more nutrients you’ll be taking in without even thinking about it.  For example, a dinner plate that contains poached salmon, roasted red peppers and asparagus, mashed sweet potato and a portion of broccoli really embraces this concept.

A selection of fruit and vegetables covering all colours of the rainbow

It’s the beautiful dark, rich colours in foods, especially in fruits and vegetables, that really pack a nutrient punch, so have some fun with creating your colourful plate.

Also remember that sugar, in all its forms, has no nutritional value and can even prevent absorption of certain nutrients, so really watch your ‘empty’ calorie intake.  Plus, you might appreciate the instant sugar rush and feel energised at the time but overall, you’ll feel more sluggish and not very spa vitalised!

Prepare for the next few months

Whilst we can often feel down as the colder weather and shorter days approach, autumn can be a magical time in the great outdoors; autumn colours are truly beautiful.  If you can get out for some longer walks in the countryside, this can be a great stressbuster plus you can literally lose yourself in the colour spectacle.

Changing seasons can unfortunately herald the start of the ‘bug’ season.  However, taking good care of your yourself can also help prevent their onset.  Cleaning up your diet is important.  Plus, poor sleep and over-indulgence in alcohol or too many late-night parties will deplete the immune system, so do pace yourself.

Stri fry showing garlic as an ingredient

Tap into Mother Nature’s little helpers in the form of immune-boosting herbs and spices.  Make your own ginger tea with lemon every day, using fresh squeezed ginger root.  Other great immune-boosting ideas include adding cinnamon to your morning porridge or cereal and using plenty of garlic in your cooking (stir fries are quick and easy). Try adding fresh rosemary to your roasted veggies or roasted sweet potato wedges and sprinkling turmeric over as much as you can (even scrambled eggs taste great with some added spice).

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

Using shitake mushrooms rather than button ones will give you a real immune-boost (they also contain some vitamin D) and drinking two or three cups of green tea each day provides you with a range of antioxidants.  These few simple changes will protect and invigorate you over the coming months.

Take time to breathe

This means literally and metaphorically. When you’re stressed and racing around at 100 miles an hour, the body can quickly feel depleted of energy.  Deep breathing exercises can bring instant relaxation.  Even just lying on your bed or in a quiet place and breathing in for five seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds and exhaling for eleven seconds, a few times, can bring peace and relaxation to the body.  Try this a few times and just enjoy the feeling.  It will also help you to sleep if you’re struggling or will calm the body and mind during the day when life is too frenetic.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

Taking time to breathe also means stepping back sometimes.  When you’re in the fast lane all the time, the mind and body can become overwhelmed.  This can cause anxiety, restless sleep, poor concentration and low mood.  Whether it’s taking a 20-minute walk away from your desk at lunchtime or after dinner, doing a yoga or Pilates class or reading a book, try to book some ‘you’ time in every day.  Try to recognise the signs of feeling overwhelmed in yourself and take time out, whether that’s a short break or a holiday.

So take a step back this week and decide how to create the ‘spa’ me time we all need to promote self-care.

 

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

 

 

Autumn wellness: is your body fit for winter?

Happy woman in autumn playing with autumn leaves

As our beautiful UK summer comes to an end, just as night follows day, winter will be upon us before we know it! Sad as it is to feel the cooler days (and nights), it’s also the perfect time to ensure your body is well equipped to prevent any nasty bugs or infections from getting a hold this season.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for winter immunity.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

OVERHAUL YOUR DIET

Whilst it’s often hard to eat the ‘perfect’ diet every day, the more foods you can eat that help boost your immune system on a daily basis, the better. In fact, your diet is the first port of call when it comes to ‘prepping’ your body for winter.

Eating some protein such as fish, chicken, eggs, dairy produce, beans, lentils and wholegrains at every meal is key. The immune system needs these types of foods to produce immunoglobulins – blood proteins that act as disease-fighting antibodies. Plus, many other nutrients such as vitamin C (found in most fruits and vegetables), vitamin E (in wholegrains, nuts, seeds and avocadoes), vitamin A (high in liver, cheese, eggs and sweet potatoes) and zinc (especially rich in pumpkin seeds and lean red meat) are all key immune boosters. So try to keep your diet as varied and colourful as possible to ensure your body gets the spread of nutrients it needs.

Range of foods to show a balanced diet

It is also important to keep sugar to a minimum; try to reduce the amount of refined carbs, alcohol, and fizzy and caffeinated drinks on a daily basis. Sugar in all its forms has an adverse effect on the immune system.

INCREASE YOUR HERBS AND SPICES

There are a wealth of herbs and spices that have strong immune-boosting powers and even anti-viral and antibacterial properties. Plus, they all enhance the flavour of many popular dishes.

For example, garlic is probably one of the best known infection-fighters and works well with so many different foods; meat, fish, and vegetables – the list is endless. Additionally, ginger is equally beneficial to the immune system. Both herbs can be used in easy stir-fries, for example.

A range of fresh herbs in pots to add to cooking

The herb thyme is delicious added to casseroles or pasta dishes and is great made into an infusion with boiling water and gargled if you’re unlucky enough to get struck down. Thyme tea is recommended for all types of infections, including earache and sinusitis. All herbs and spices will have far-reaching health benefits, so add as many as possible to your dishes!

BOOST YOUR MOOD

A healthy mind is equally important for a strong immune system and can reduce your likelihood of getting struck down with a cold or flu. If you’re suffering from low mood, then you’re more likely to suffer from infections. Sharing problems with friends or family can often help. However, it may also be helpful to seek out some complementary therapies such as massage, aromatherapy and acupuncture to help lift a low mood.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

Equally, self-help strategies can be very powerful. Daily meditation, for example, is very effective for many reasons and may really help alleviate stress. It takes some practice (and obviously a little time, initially), but it is well worth persevering.

However, if low mood persists or there are emotional issues in your life, then it may be helpful to seek the services of a qualified counsellor. Often talking to someone who is properly trained to deal with problems can be very beneficial.

ACTIVITY AND EXERCISE

There are so many positive reasons to get moving! Not only will it support the immune system by boosting infection-fighting white blood cells, it will help relieve stress, release mood-enhancing endorphins and better nourish your body generally by enhancing oxygen to every part of your body.

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

You may not want to spend hours in the gym, which is fine. However, any form of exercise carried out four or five times a week, for around 30 minutes, is going to be hugely beneficial to the immune system. And don’t forget that a brisk walk every day certainly counts as great exercise. If you haven’t got a dog to walk, maybe ‘borrow’ one from a friend to help with motivation!

SUPPORTIVE SUPPLEMENTATION

If your diet isn’t always as nutrient-dense as you’d like or you’re under a lot of stress, this is going to put a strain on the immune system. It makes sense, therefore, to take a good quality daily multivitamin to help plug any nutrient gaps and to ensure you’re definitely getting the sufficient vitamins and minerals associated with a strong immune system.

Echinacea flower and tea

There are certain herbs, licensed as herbal remedies, which are great to take as a preventative measure. Echinacea is a popular herb, which has been used for many years to help prevent and treat colds and flu. It’s worth starting it now for a few weeks, since it increases white blood cell production. Equally, the herb pelargonium is anti-viral and antibacterial and can be taken at the very first sign of a cold, if you’re unlucky enough to get caught! Both herbs should be a medicine cupboard staple for the winter months.

So with a few simple tweaks to your diet and lifestyle, you can have a bug-free autumn and winter!

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

 

Five essential well-being tips for a happy and healthy holiday

You’ve planned for that long-awaited holiday and now it’s time to pack those cases. However, if you want to have the happiest and healthiest of holidays, then there are a few extra things you can do to make sure this happens.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for a healthy holiday.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

BEFORE YOU GO:

PREPARE YOUR TUMMY

Wherever you’re travelling to in the world, even if it’s not too far away, you’ll still be out of your normal eating routine, plus you may be visiting countries where people are generally more prone to tummy troubles.

Close up on woman's stomach with hands making a heart shape to show a healthy tummy

The best advice is to take a course of probiotics at least a couple of weeks before you leave. Readily available in health food stores, probiotics are the friendly bacteria that keep your digestive system running smoothly, but also protect it from unwanted infections and tummy bugs. Look for a probiotic supplement that contains the strains Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus.

It’s also good to eat plenty of natural yoghurt before you go on holiday, as well as during your stay. And don’t forget to pack the probiotics too, so even if you don’t have time to start a course before you go away, you can take them throughout your holiday.

PREPARE YOUR SKIN

We all want to have glowing skin, particularly whilst on holiday but certainly when we come back. For a couple of weeks before you go, use coconut oil as a moisturiser; it’s one of the best. Skin can become very dry on holiday and using coconut oil means your skin will be super-soft and really well moisturised. Keep up the regime when you return and hopefully you’ll not suffer from any post-holiday flakiness.

Prepare your skin from the inside too by eating foods rich in beta-carotene before you go. That means lots of orange and red fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes and red and orange peppers. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant which will help protect your skin against sun damage. You’ll still need to wear sun cream, but it can help prevent any unwanted burning. And of course include them as much as you can in your diet whilst you are away.

PACK SOME ALOE VERA

Aloe vera was said to be the ‘Elixir of life’ by Cleopatra. As with so many of these ancient remedies, they deliver a wealth of health benefits, and aloe vera is no exception. Its benefits for the digestive system are well-documented, and it’s also great for the skin.

You can readily buy aloe vera in gel form; it’s a holiday essential as it will soothe any sunburn or irritated skin and also calm other skin complaints that may flare up whilst you’re away. And don’t just save it for your holiday; keep it in your medicine cabinet all-year round! It can also help soothe tired and aching joints and muscles.

WHILE YOU’RE THERE:

USE YOUR TIME WISELY

When on holiday, hopefully you’ll have some free time to just be in your own head space. You can really use this time to great effect by either learning something new (TED talks are great for easy listening and learning) or maybe even practice meditation.

As with anything, meditation does take some time to properly learn and many people give up along the way because they struggle to clear the mind or can’t feel the benefits. However, it’s worth persevering because meditation can really help to relieve stress and anxiety, and many practisers report feelings of inner calm and peace. You need a place of peace and quiet to meditate so try to plan this for a short time every day during your holiday.

DRINK PLENTY OF WATER

It may sound an obvious one but of all the things you should do before and during your holiday making sure you’re properly hydrated is key. It’s easy to forget how dehydrating the combination of alcohol and sun can be.

A couple of weeks before you leave for your hols, really increase your liquid intake. Always start the day with some warm water with lemon and ginger which helps cleanse the liver and alkalise the body. You can carry on drinking this throughout the day or if you prefer iced water then add some refreshing and inner-cleansing cucumber. Try to drink eight glasses of water each day. The body needs to be hydrated at a cellular level to function well, so preparation is key.

Close up of woman on beach with a glass of water to represent hydration

Whilst you’re away, it’s important to drink as much water as you can but obviously be mindful of drinking tap water. It’s always best to drink bottled or boiled water wherever you are in the world; parasites can be present in the water in many European countries as well as far-flung ones.

So with these five key tips, you should have a wonderfully healthy holiday – enjoy!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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