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

 

 

Are you getting enough sleep?

Woman awake in bed looking fed up as she cannot get to sleep

According to the Sleep Council one third of us in the UK sleep for just five to six hours per night. It’s generally accepted, and has been well-researched over many years, that the body needs more sleep than this, ideally around seven or eight hours each night. 

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So, what’s going wrong and why are we generally so sleep deprived?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a closer look at why our shut-eye is so important and shares some tips on how to get more.

 

Why is sleep so essential?

It’s no secret that the body repairs and re-generates during sleep. It’s also a time of growth as specific growth hormones are released during the night. However, when sleep is problematic, the body and brain are fatigued and it becomes increasingly difficult to function effectively.

The body’s sleep hormone, melatonin, is naturally released during the hours of darkness. This is likely to be why night shift workers, who have to sleep during the day, will generally need to get their much-needed rest in a fully darkened room.

What to eat

What you eat and drink during the day and before bedtime can have a significant baring on how you sleep. For example, caffeine in coffee and theophylline in tea blocks our sleep-inducing chemical, adenosine. It’s best, therefore not to drink either of these after 3 pm.

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

The amino acid tryptophan is needed to make melatonin, therefore eating tryptophan-rich foods is really going to help you get some shut eye. These foods include turkey, eggs, soya, cheese, nuts and oats. However, tryptophan also needs carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, grains and beans) to work most effectively. Therefore, having a carbohydrate and tryptophan-rich snack before bed-time can really help. Great choices would be oatcakes with cottage cheese, natural yoghurt (soya or dairy), a small bowl of oats or some sliced apple with nuts.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is also needed for the production of melatonin and one of its best sources is bananas. In fact, bananas hit the spot as a pre-bedtime snack because they’re also high in carbohydrates. The best advice is to change your snack each night and see what works best for you. Even more important, is not to go to bed hungry – you’ll certainly be counting sheep into the wee small hours if that’s the case.

Adopt a bed-time routine

It may sound strange, but going back to babyhood with a fixed bedtime routine can really promote good sleep. Most importantly, phones and other electronic equipment emit blue light which stops you from sleeping. Therefore, all these devices should be turned off two hours before bedtime. Ideally your phone should never be by the side of your bed as some studies suggest that the radio waves emitted may prevent sleep.

Have your main meal at least three hours before bed. Whilst going to bed hungry is not good, equally, being over-full may cause digestive upsets and acid reflux. About an hour before bed time try a warm, relaxing bath with some Epsom salts. It may be an old wives tale but they contain plenty of the mineral magnesium which is a natural muscle relaxant.

A woman relaxing in a bath reading a book

Have that bed time snack about half an hour before turning in, spray some lavender onto your pillow and enjoy some bed time reading. And as much as you can try and go to bed at the same time each evening and get up at the same time too. Once you’ve adopted a strong routine, your body will really start to enjoy and expect its nightly ritual.

Enjoy some evening yoga

Yoga is an ancient practise but is wonderful for encouraging controlled breathing, strength, flexibility and relaxation. Hatha yoga is particularly good and really helps the mind and body to de-stress and switch off. Many people have found that attending a yoga class or doing some at home in the evenings has really helped them to sleep better afterwards.

A woman practising yoga in her living room

Practicing yogic breathing techniques is also beneficial, even without the moves. Additionally, if you’re struggling to get to sleep or you’ve awoken in the night, then adopting the 5-7-11 routine can really help; breathe in deeply for five seconds, hold for seven seconds and breathe deeply out for 11 seconds. You should be able to feel your body relaxing after a few rounds of this and hopefully you’ll quickly fall back to sleep.

For more information visit the sleep council website.

Sleep is so important for our overall health, so make getting enough a priority and you will feel the health benefits longer term.

 

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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

 

 

Five natural ways to make sure you have a relaxing holiday

Woman in bikini standing in the sea with her arms in the air to represent a happy holiday

You’ve planned and looked forward to your much-needed and deserved holiday for a long time. It makes sense that you want to squeeze every last bit of enjoyment and relaxation from that break. However, for many reasons, holidays can be a little stressful at times and things don’t always go according to plan.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips on how to make your holiday down-time as relaxing as possible so you come back feeling fully refreshed.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

BANISH TECHNOLOGY

We live in a 24/7 ‘always on’ society. This is great in one way as it makes communication so much easier. However, it has a massive downside in that we can never feel fully relaxed due to outside influences.

It’s no secret that the biggest issue we have is the mobile phone and the fact that we’re always contactable (unless we’re somewhere truly remote!). Therefore, the body and mind can never totally relax. Try to make this holiday the one where you decide to ditch the phone. If it’s switched on, you’ll still be checking emails and social media. The world isn’t going to end whilst you’re away so detach yourself, just for a short while.

Woman in bed looking at her mobile phone

Your body and mind will be so much more refreshed if you take a break from technology and everything will still be there when you re-connect again back home.

EAT RELAXING FOODS

We know that caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea will keep the brain on high alert and put more adrenalin into the system, making it difficult to relax. Equally, highly refined foods such as cakes and biscuits negatively affect blood sugar levels, also encouraging the release of adrenalin.

Whilst you’re away, try to give the body a break from foods that deliver no real nutrient value, and adversely affect mood and energy levels. Brightly coloured vegetables and fruits (think the Mediterranean diet) such as tomatoes, peppers, avocadoes, berry fruits, melons, cucumbers (the list is endless), provide a wealth of nutrients your body will love.

More importantly, many fruits and vegetables contain good levels of the mineral magnesium, frequently depleted in the daily diet, but one of nature’s most relaxing nutrients. Fish, particularly salmon, and nuts also contain good levels of magnesium. Thankfully, they’re all available in Mediterranean countries and around the world so try to make a point of including these foods as much as possible during your break. You’ll come back feeling so much more relaxed.

TAKE THE HERB PASSIONFLOWER

Plane journeys, car journeys, coach journeys, families – often all part of a holiday but also a potential cause of stress. If you have a fear of flying for example, or you encounter something on your break which sends your stress levels soring, then the herb passionflower, readily available in health food stores as a Traditional Herbal Remedy, can really help.

Close up of Passion Flower

Passionflower helps to stimulate the release of GABA, one of our relaxing brain neurotransmitters, and it can work very quickly and effectively.   Either start taking some before your trip or pack some just in case.

TRY SOME YOGA

Yoga has increased in popularity enormously over the last few years. It delivers amazing health benefits as well as encouraging feelings of peace and wellbeing. Clearly, if your holiday choice is to attend a yoga retreat then you’re certainly going to come back feeling relaxed.

Woman in downward dog position in Yoga

However, you can still practice some yoga on your own whilst you’re away. Certain well-known yoga sequences such as Sun Salutations can be easily learnt and practised anywhere and there are plenty of free yoga apps and YouTube tutorials to help (you can switch your mobile on for this one!). A few rounds of these every morning is a wonderful way of waking up the body, stretching and encouraging lasting feelings of relaxation.

PRIORITISE SLEEP

Depending on your choice of destination or type of holiday, it may or may not be possible to get restful and rejuvenating sleep. However, it’s certainly worth trying to make your break one where you prioritise sleep. According to the Sleep Council (www.sleepcouncil.org.uk) one third of Britons only sleep for five or six hours nightly, as opposed to the recommended seven or eight hours and lack of sleep can have a long lasting negative effect on your feelings of wellbeing and relaxation.

Woman asleep in bed

Interestingly, just having fewer caffeinated and stimulatory food and drinks, turning off equipment emitting blue light (like your mobile phone) and keeping alcohol to a minimum, can have a marked positive effect on sleep patterns. Plus the herb passionflower also greatly aids relaxation, therefore improving sleep.

Your skin, mood, immune system and whole body will really appreciate some extra shut-eye.

So with a little forward planning, and these top tips, your holiday can be the most relaxing one ever!

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

 

Five ways to have a happy and healthy holiday

The holiday season is here! Whether you’re planning to venture overseas or having a staycation, you and your family all want to feel happy and healthy so you can enjoy your summer break to the full.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer offers her five top tips for great holiday health.

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HAPPY TUMMIES

Gut health is still big news and it certainly holds the key to maintaining great all-round health. If your internal systems aren’t working too well then everything else is going to struggle. In order to try and prevent any nasty tummy troubles on holiday, you need to prepare your gut beforehand; about a month before your holiday or planned staycation would work really well but taking helpful measures at any time will be beneficial.

Enter kefir. Kefir is the king of fermented foods and helps encourage the good gut bacteria, which we all need, to flourish. In fact, it seems to encourage a diversity of good bacteria. It may also be that kefir is more resistant to stomach acid than probiotic supplements, so it will be of even more benefit to the digestive system.

Kefir is readily available in supermarkets. The only downside is that it’s quite sour so it’s best mixed with plain yoghurt and berries on top of muesli or granola.

WATCH THE WATER

We’re generally wary of tap water when travelling to countries not always known for their cleanliness. However, it’s surprisingly easy to pick up a germ (such as a parasite) from water anywhere. Sometimes these can live in the body without making themselves known for a while and then they may start to give you digestive problems. Worse, you could pick up something that really upsets your stomach and spoils your holiday.

The best advice is to drink bottled water wherever you are and brush your teeth with water that has been boiled. Alternatively, you can buy water sterilising tablets to use when you’re away – always better safe than sorry.

Drinking sufficient water is also essential when the weather is hot. Aim for around two litres of bottled or filtered water daily during the summer months. You’re going to sweat more when it’s hot plus if you’re drinking alcohol then this will further dehydrate the body. Any holiday hangovers will be lessened too if you’re well hydrated.

DETER MOSQUITOS

Many a holiday or trip can be ruined by mosquitos feasting on unsuspecting humans. As always, prevention is better than cure. Eating foods high in vitamin B1 may deter mosquitos; beef, liver, wholegrains, oats, brewer’s yeast (think marmite) and brown rice are all good sources of vitamin B1. Also, it’s best to avoid eating refined sugary foods; these make the skin sweeter which will further encourage mosquitos. Plus, of course, alcohol is going to further entice them to your skin!

If you’re prone to insect bites, then it’s also worth packing some repellent spray. Whilst you may not like the smell of it, neither do they!

SUN PROTECTION

Whilst sun cream protects you on the outside from sun burn, they’ll often be parts of the body that get missed when applying it, plus the skin still dries out when exposed to the sun. So, it’s really worth protecting yourself from the inside too!

Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that’s found in many fruits and vegetables, especially yellow and orange ones. Sweet potatoes and yellow peppers both contain lots of beta-carotene. Therefore, make sure your diet is packed with vegetables and some fruit all summer long. It’s not always easy to eat everything you need when holidaying abroad, so make sure you’ve eaten plenty before you go.

POST PLANE YOGA

Sitting on a plane for a few hours (or more) can really give you stiff muscles and joints, not to mention digestive issues. The muscles in the back, quads, hips and glutes all contract. However, with some gentle stretching once you reach your hotel room, you’ll soon be feeling back to your normal self.

Forward bends from standing wide legs, extended child’s pose from a kneeling position and then extending forward as far as possible, and the cat stretch – on all fours breathe deeply, back arched on the inhale and rounded on the exhale – can really help. Do all of these stretches a few times and your muscles will be lengthened again and you’ll be ready to really start your holiday!

So with a little forward planning you can better enjoy your well-earned break.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

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 Herbfacts