A workaholic’s guide to staying healthy

Image: tash lampard/tashmahal via Flickr


It’s Thursday afternoon and you’re feeling hungry. You also have a deadline and don’t have time to make a nice, healthy snack so you reach for the easiest thing which just happens to be some cookies. You munch on these as you spend the next four hours sitting in front of the computer.


Does this sound familiar?


Sure you know the many benefits of staying healthy and active, but let’s admit it- it’s so much easier to stay motivated in the nice sunnier months. Here are some tips to help you stay healthy despite your busy schedules:


1.  Have a brain clearing session

Otherwise known as the “take a break” moment, this means getting up and move away from your work area. If you are tied to a desk during much of the day, go put the kettle on and move about while you wait. If you’re on your feet all day, go to a quiet place (a park if it’s a nice day) and stretch your legs and loosen up your shoulders.

If you can, dedicate half of your lunch break to getting some air outside. Just a little walk around the block can do wonders for your mind and senses.


2.  Be the master of willpower

Research has shown that our amount of willpower is not limitless. Like petrol, it is something we can all run out of so the important thing to remember is to play offense rather than defense. Which scenario is easier: to not have that cheesecake in the fridge or to not have a slice of that cheesecake that’s already in the fridge?

If you find your willpower waning remember what my friend says: “I don’t want to work to lose the weight, so I try not to gain the weight in the first place.”


3. Have water (or herbal teas) at hand

Many people have trouble differentiating thirst from hunger so have a full bottle (not plastic) or glass of water nearby. There’s no need to take great big gulps if you’re not terribly thirsty but just stay comfortably hydrated.


4.  Plan and organise

If you’re a workaholic, chances are you plan and organise a lot of things already to help manage your workload. Are you planning time for yourself though? One of the main reasons people don’t exercise is because they pencil it in their brain but time is never actually set aside.

Put it down as an appointment in your diary and stick to it. Do the same with your acupuncture or massage appointments. If you don’t actually book and commit, there will always be endless tasks that will creep into its place instead.


5.  Eat with mindfulness

You should be aware of every bite that you put into your body. It’s easy to snack away on sweets and savouries so start surrounding yourself with nuts, fruit and vegetables instead.

There will be times when only that packet of crisps will do and that’s fine too. The important thing is to stay mindful so savour every bite of it and let the taste linger. This should help with your cravings and also stop you from munching through another five more bags.


6.  Breathe

Take the time to breathe, even if it’s only for 30 seconds. It can do wonders when you’re feeling stressed. Breathe in deeply through your nose and out your mouth and do it when the annoying colleague is nearby, when you’ve had an intense meeting, during your lunch break. Anywhere is a good place to breathe and take a moment before you jump right back in there.


What tips do you have to stay healthy with a hectic schedule?


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pointspace’s April roundup | Why stress makes you sick and what makes a superfruit?

Image: ajbatac via Flickr


Bank holiday #1, Easter, the London Marathon and the hosepipe ban meant that the glorious first sightings of spring in March became a complete washout. For five minutes, followed by brilliant sunshine and then howling wind, some more sunshine and then a smattering of hail. Ah, the lovely London spring where you get four seasons rolled into one day, what thrill!


1. Politeness is great when you’re meeting someone for the first time, such as your future father-in-law or your new boss. But when it comes to your health, you can be too nice. Here are three ways that being polite can jeopardise your health and explain how to make better choices.


2. When you’re already plagued with relationship spats and financial woes, why is it that your immune system seems to abandon you too? Doctors have long known that high levels of stress may make people more vulnerable to illness, but now researchers report how psychological stress can wreak havoc on your health.


3. There is evidence that acupuncture is effective in treating a range of conditions including spinal injuries, infertility and the side effects of chemotherapy, and that its effects aren’t entirely due to the placebo effect. However, despite extensive research, the mechanism of this ancient healing art remains unknown.


4. Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is characterized by intense pain in the face and new research shows that acupuncture is effective for its treatment.


5. Over the years, a lot of produce has been given the “super” label, usually over levels of antioxidants. You may wonder what is it about these fruits that lifts them out of the ranks of the ordinary into exalted superfruit status.


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Pointspace’s March roundup | Is meat bad for you and one easy step to improve your posture

What things in life make you happy?


4 ways to de-clutter your mind and feel calmer

Bird_flying

 

A friend I hadn’t seen for a while remarked the other day that I seemed different. Not more relaxed per se but calmer. Without wanting to invoke images of Mother Nature with flowing locks being gently teased by the breeze and a calm serene smile on my face as I stand basking in the soft glow from the strategically placed lamp (this is definitely not a description of me) but I understood what she meant. So I thanked her graciously for the compliment.

 

What does this say about either me or my friend you may ask? In fact, is this even a compliment or was she implying that I’m usually a complete nightmare to be around? Am I juggling too many things and starting to feel the strains of spreading myself too thin?

 

Everything around you is what you make of it.

 

My friend couldn’t put a finger on it, but I had been getting rid of unnecessary clutter in my day to day activities. This in turn removed a lot of the mini frustrations that can (if you let them) add up. A case of the straw and camel’s back if you will.

 

What easy changes can you apply?

 

1. Stop checking your email every five minutes.

My brain is like a magpie, anything and everything can attract its attention. While this is great, the domino effect of accumulated interesting articles and videos and blogs and emails and texts and messages means that sometimes things can get a bit out of control. One easy way to help clear that spaghetti junction of information that really works for me is to turn off my email. This allows me to work for a specified period of time without being distracted. Two hours later I’m finished with everything I need to do and I can get on with responding to any emails.

 

2. Remove those red flags.

I am usually quite composed and personable, but wrath to those who taunt me with their terrible points of view or bad grammar.

I avoid certain newspapers to avoid having to rant till the cows come home (and then I’ll probably rant to the cows). This means I’ve instructed my friends to not email me links to the article about the silly person who was stuck in a tree for hours or other silly amusing fun if it comes from certain tabloids.

Bad grammar is harder to predict, and therefore much harder to avoid. Sign makers, I’m sure, are doing it purposely to mock me (Luxury apartments with own balcony’s anyone?).

Your red flag may be waiting ages at the supermarket checkout on your Sunday shop. Try changing the day or time you shop, or better yet find a shop that invests in more staff working to give you a better shopping experience.

 

3. Turn off the 24/7 culture.

I have not had a TV for over five years, and it’s wonderful (although I probably still spend way too much time on youtube). Some people call it channel surfing and it does seem to have quite a sedative effect on them, but I couldn’t find a more irritating activity to spend an evening doing. There is nothing worse than that feeling that I’m probably missing a really good program right now but by the time I go through all 300 channels I will have missed it again as it goes to commercials. So now I choose the shows I want to watch (please email me for my Christmas DVD wishlist) when I want.

Another bonus to not owning a TV is that I don’t have to be subjected to the 21st century phenomenon of 24 hour breaking news. I remember I was a friend’s house once and the news on TV was reporting on a place where a natural disaster had struck. Endless reams of footage looped over and over again. I absolutely advocate reading newspapers and being aware of the world close and beyond, but there is no need to subject our brains to this kind of image and information overload.

 

4. Don’t text and drive (your life).

Smartphones have a lot to answer for by providing an easy platform to access all the social media in our lives. Ignore the temptation to check your emails, Facebook, Twitter, whatsapp or plain old texts all the time.

I am the worst offender. A few months ago I found myself checking my phone during dinner, and then throughout the movie afterwards. I was paying attention to what my boyfriend was saying, but let’s be honest, even if you’re a multitasking master, you’re still not focusing on something 100%. The people around you deserve to spend some time with just you. Just like using mobile phones while driving is now banned, you should try banning your phone while you’re spending quality time with your loved ones watching Police Academy 29.

 

What other things do you do to help make your life that little bit easier? Let me know and do share this with your friends.

 

Photo credit: Alan Strakey via flickr

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Pointspace’s monthly roundup | November

Feather

 

Bonfire Night, pointspace turns one, mild weather, the turning on of Christmas lights all around London. It has been a particularly delightful November this year.

 

1.  In case you need even more reason to avoid sugary beverages, a new study has found that women who drank two or more sweet drinks (sweet tea, soft drinks, coffee drinks that look like desserts) were at an increased risk of heart disease even if they did not gain weight. Even more reason to kick that caramel frappuccino habit.

 

2.  Saunas always evoke that lovely feeling of calmness and maturity for me (there was no way you could get my 15-year-old self to sit there and just be for more than five minutes). It turns out that saunas really can improve your mood and your heart by improving your heart function by increasing the heart’s ability to pump blood (and boosting the amount of exercise you can do) as well as allowing the body to release more serotonin (the happiness molecule).


3.  What is your view on the nature or nurture discussion? Well when it comes to your health, it may appear that your living conditions as a child does have an impact on your biological being, more specifically your DNA.

 

4.  Stress has been in the top three of health concerns I’ve seen amongst my clients this year, regardless of what their actual main health reason was when coming to see me. How does traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and acupuncture approach stress? At its simplest, as with a lot of disease and disorders, it’s down to an imbalance. This easy to understand article, by acupuncturist Janis Egan, gives quite a good explanation of the concept.

 

5.  Video: Work out like a Hong Kong action hero. I came across this set of exercise routines from Michael Nevermind (that’s his name, not because I couldn’t be bothered to write it up). It seems like a great fun way to work up the heart rate in your living room, shades optional. 

 

6. And finally, something truly inspiring: watch this video of what a simple bottle can do.


Photo credit: mendhak via flickr

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Stressed? 7 things you need to remember

Clothes_to_the_wind

 

In my previous post, it was reported that stress is now the most common reason for long-term sick leave.

 

Stress, and the depression that can sometimes accompany it, is not something that we should expect to have to deal with alone. Whether the cause of the stress is due to work, relationships or life changes, here are some things you need to remember:

 

1.  Self-care. You are the most important person in the story. No matter what the cause of the stress is, remember to take care of yourself first and foremost.

 

2.  Pinpoint the problem. I know this sounds slightly obvious, but even if you can’t change the situation right away, knowing the cause makes you aware of the problem so that there’s always the potential for change.

 

3.  As in pain, everyone’s threshold is different. You may have a friend who seems to live (and flourish) in a highly chaotic and stressful lifestyle, juggling work and family and volunteer work. However, you are not your friend, and it’s okay to say that you’ve taken on too much and to take a small step back. This is not defeat, it’s self-preservation.

 

4.  Make sure it actually is stress. Stress is such a strong word, and it can be very empowering to some people to know that they aren’t failures and that there is good reason they’re struggling at that specific point in time. However, because it’s such a powerful word, it can often be a crutch that may be overused. Perhaps it’s just a new situation that needs adjusting to and once you’ve adapted it is no longer a big issue. This way you can save your resources to tackle the bigger problems.

 

5.  Seek out things you enjoy that bring out the good feeling endorphins. That could be a zumba class near work or home (there is no need to trek half way across town unless you really, really love that particular class); acupuncture to give that calming and reenergizing feeling; massage to ease away the physical stresses; a local book club where you can meet other people outside of your usual circles; the world really is your oyster.

 

6.  Eat well. A healthy mind and body makes an incredible difference to how you can deal with the effects of stress. If you are feeling run down, the chances of being ill increases and you may find that mentally it seems much harder to cope.

 

7.  Finally if it’s getting a bit much, do seek outside help. This could be talking to a good friend you trust, a healthcare practitioner or a counsellor. Sometimes just a bit of release is all you need knowing that confidentiality will be kept. Other times you may need more directed guidance in which case a talking therapy can do wonders.

 

Photo credit: Jonatas Cunha via flickr

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Stress is now top reason for long-term sick leave

Head_in_hands

 

Last week a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and healthcare provider Simplyhealth revealed that stress is now the top cause for long-term sickness absence in Britain’s workplace. Incredibly, it now overtakes manual injuries, such as repetitive strain injury, and serious medical illnesses, such as cancer.

 

The report showed the impact of job insecurity and mounting workloads as the underlying cause for the increased stress levels. While this publication was primarily commissioned to show a snapshot of the current UK workforce (it notes ways employers can tackle the problem), I believe it is still relevant to us all.

 

It is extremely important to spot the early signs of feeling under pressure before it escalates and you find yourself banging your head against the wall in despair. There are certain things that may be out of your control, such as the economy, but by putting your mind and body in the best possible position, you are more equipped to deal with the repercussions of stress.

 

In my next post I will be discussing things you need to remember when it feels like you’re being buried under a mountain.

 

To read the full report, click here. 

 

Photo credit: Alex Proimos via flickr

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Pointspace’s monthly roundup | May

May_flower

 

Greetings! Can you believe it’s mid-week already? Or more importantly (and scarily) can you believe it’s almost mid-year?? May has always had a nurturing feel to it: you have Mother’s Day; my dad’s birthday is in May; the name lends itself to many May Fairs and Fayres out there with their abundance of delicious cakes.

 

So what was interesting this month?

 

A few years ago I lost my voice for three days. It all started from a cough that just refused to go away; in fact they are the bane of my life. If my body was a castle (I know it should be my temple but the architect got the plans wrong) then I have a reasonably good defence against intruders. I have guardsmen placed strategically at the towers and walking along the fort walls to warn of any suspicious activity. Those who wish to enter must knock five times in rapid succession and then utter the password (cheesecake) whilst hopping on one foot. Then the drawbridge will be lowered, allowing them to cross the moat.

However the cheeky cough-bringers ignore all etiquette and protocol (so rude!) and bypass the drawbridge entirely, preferring to invade by coming through on stilts. They can still be stopped by shaving down the wooden stilts but of course this takes time, and sometimes a few sneaky cretins get through. Sometimes more than a few get in and have a wild party all at my expense and then make quite a fuss when I tell them it’s time to leave.

My strategy is to try to avoid getting a cough, or bringing out all my weapons as soon as I noticed the first signs of an itchy throat. But this particular cough just wouldn’t budge. It didn’t help that my part time waitressing job during university required speaking quite loudly and clearly in a lively atmosphere that included having a live opera singer (oh how my ears suffered, they would still be ringing the next day in a much more subdued ethics lecture). I would find myself shaken violently with horrible coughing fits. My chest hurt, my throat hurt and my taste buds despised me for the awful Red-Bull flavoured (western) and bitter (herbal) cough syrup that I knocked back.

And then one day I woke up to find I had lost my voice. Actually it took quite a while to notice as I don’t tend to speak to myself in an empty flat, but imagine my surprise when I tried to answer the phone and nothing, not even a squeak, came out.

This lasted for three days during which time I couldn’t participate in any conversations. Lounging comfortably on the couch lost its appeal as I couldn’t ask for certain things to be brought to me (I was still sick, remember). Most annoyingly of all was losing my expression. Things just aren’t spontaneous when you have to scribble something down in shorthand on the back of an envelope.

1.  Now imagine if this loss is more permanent, would you be able to deal with it? In this evocative essay from this month’s Vanity Fair, writer and speaker Christopher Hitchens describes the loss of his voice due to cancer, and dying.


2.  An online survey of Nursing Times readers revealed a depressing snapshot of nurses’ health and wellbeing in spring 2011. Two-thirds of nurses have suffered from the side effects of work-related stress. What does this mean? There is a decrease in exercise and eating healthily, and an increase in drinking and smoking. How can the NHS survive if the skeleton of healthcare is unwell?

 

3. A study has shown that fat removed by liposuction comes back within a year, just in a different area. Liposuction is usually used to remove fat cells from the thighs, buttocks or abdomen so when the fat cells reappear, they tend to migrate to the stomach, shoulders and upper arms. This is due to the body having a strict attitude towards the number of fat cells it wants but liposuction destroys the fishnet structure under the skin where fat cells live. A depressing side note of this study is that even when the women in control group of the study were told of these results, more than half still wanted to have the procedure done.

 

4.  Many people still associate acupuncture with pain relief, and rightly so due to its effectiveness as an alternative option. However acupuncture can be beneficial for other symptoms and conditions. In my guest post for Dr Zak Han’s acupuncture blog, I talk about using acupuncture for nausea and vomiting.

 

5.  And finally, biologist Adam Cole’s lovely, folky Mother’s Day song. It is a bit late now, but it made this geek smile. Who says scientists can’t be creative?

 

Enjoy the bank holiday!

 

Photo credit: Greg Clarke via flickr

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6 Ways to Help You Deal with Exam Stress

Post-its_by_katy_warner


As the days and weeks fly by (can you believe it’s mid-May already??) and Spring eyes her closet to see which outfit would be best for Summer’s homecoming gala, it may seem like serenity is the buzz word of the season.

 

During the lighter months of the year I relish in getting a window seat on the train home and seeing the London skyline as the tracks lead my fellow commuters and I southbound across the river. Book reading takes a back seat until October when the darkness drapes over the city like a giant curtain way before my belly grumbles for dinner.

 

The lovely whispering breeze wafting honeysuckle through the air.

 

I didn’t always used to have this love affair with spring, in fact my 16-year-old self would’ve positively hated it. May in northern Greece is a signal for all the pine trees to shed their shyness and flaunt their lovely yellow blush. In short, pollen galore. Thick, yellow powder that would cover every balcony, every garden chair, every doormat. The tears and sniffling and stifling headaches would have been a lot easier to handle if it hadn’t also been exam time.

 

Yes exams, remember those? As we all look forward to meeting with friends for an al-fresco meal after work, spare a thought for all the kids (and mature students) preparing for exams. And now that I think about it, what about all those people having their driving tests or citizenship tests? Read on for some tips to help with exam stress.

 

1. Be prepared. This may seem slightly condescending but it never ceases to amaze me how many people wait till the night before to revise. I always started the weekend before. Jokes aside, having a realistic schedule can do wonders to alleviate the stress levels. Some people prefer blocking a whole day for one subject, allowing time for different topics. I myself liked mixing 2 different subjects during the day. The boredom of history could then be alleviated by the wonders of physics. Whatever your preference, it’s best to remember that the schedule is a tool to help you study, not to procrastinate. Don’t spend hours drawing up a beautiful timetable with different highlighters and index cards.

 

2. Eat well. As tempting as it may be to order that pizza after a long day of brain activity, make an effort to eat healthily. The exam stress will invariably make your body weaker, so during this period you really need to keep your health at an optimum. If you really cant eschew the convenience food for nice steamed broccoli served with grilled pork chops, take a vitamin C tablet every day. To make an occasion out of it, drop an effervescent vitamin C tab in a glass of water instead of just swallowing a capsule.

 

3. Exercise. Physical activity is a great way to help cope with stress. You don’t have to commit yourself to an hour at the gym, just 10 – 20 minutes walking briskly can make a difference. My friend and I used to play catch with a tennis ball; each person had to name a cranial nerve in order with each throw.

 

4. Sleep. Many survivors who have come out victorious swear by caffeine (be it coffee, tea, Red Bull or caffeine pills). I recommend getting some rest even if it’s only 3 hours, as the refreshed you will be able to concentrate and focus so much better. Some people may have additional stress when they worry that there’s no time to sleep, but if the awake you isn’t functioning properly, I don’t think a few hours is going to matter.

 

5. Take a break. You need to take a short little break every so often. Get up and go pour yourself a glass of water, make a cup of tea, wash some fruit. The activity provides a definite break in your activity and is beneficial to helping you focus when you return to your books. Just make sure the break is just that, not a whole afternoon.

 

6. Sometimes you may need a bit of help from the outside. The exam stress may be tiring you out, or you may have trouble sleeping. Some people get incredibly irritable and lash out, which doesn’t help as that adds a new weight on your mind. You can try

  • Aromatherapy (lavender is very calming)
  • Acupuncture to help you relax and feel revitalized,
  • A counsellor from school/uni for a bit of talking therapy or
  • A nice massage, just to treat yourself.

 

On the day, remember to have a light bite to eat and breathe, knowing that you’ve done everything possible to best prepare yourself.

 

Photo credit: Katy Warner via flickr

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