August Bank Holiday: Healthy ways to make the most of it

Photo credit: Martin Abegglen/twicepix via Flickr

It’s a rare gift to have a day off work, especially for those who are connected 24/7 to the office via emails and smartphones. The August bank holiday is an ideal day to recharge your batteries, as there are no family meals or religious rites to observe. So, if you have the bank holiday off, here are some wellness tips to make the most of it.

1. Unplug
Rewind the clock back 10 years before the advent of smartphones and all-day virtual connection to work. Put your phone away for a few hours and don’t check your emails. Instead, pick up a book or listen to some classical music (try Pachelbel). Take a bubble bath if that’s your thing or just look out the window and watch the colourful scenes unfold.

2. Sleep
Many people suffer from a lack of sleep, whether it’s not having enough hours in the day, or not being able to unwind at the end of the day and staying up awake half the night. Besides being detrimental to our health – research has shown that a lack of sleep can lead us to make unhealthy food choices – it is terrible walking around with the grogginess of a stuffy helmet. Most people agree that a short nap (no more than one hour) is ideal for catching up on a lack of sleep but still allowing you to fall asleep at bedtime. However, if you need to sleep 15 hours, then don’t force yourself to do otherwise. It may seem like a shame to spend half the day in bed (especially if it’s a nice day) but if your body is screaming for it, allow yourself this little bit of decadence.

3. Reconnect
It’s ironic isn’t it that, with all the Facebook and Twitter and online news and cats on Youtube, we don’t make enough time to reconnect with relatives and friends. Loneliness could have negative impacts beyond depression, according to the Mental Health Foundation it could also lead to excessive drinking, unhealthy eating and less motivation to exercise. So meet up with friends, or call them on Skype. Have that chat and a giggle and enjoy each other’s company.

4. Explore
Use your day off to try something new. Join that pottery class you’ve always thought about but never had the time to or try Zumba instead of your usual spinning. Learn a new language or visit that new restaurant. Exploring the things around you create an exhilarating sense of satisfaction that children take for granted. It doesn’t even have to take dedication; I sometimes pop in the Curzon Soho in Central London to see the next available movie. Yes, I’ve been bored to death on occasion but most likely I saw a brilliant movie I would never have thought to watch.

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Sleep: The forgotten key to health and wellness

Image: Hugh Buzacott/HBuzacott via Flickr

Do you know the difference between sleep deprivation and insomnia? Not getting enough sleep doesn’t only mean you’ll feel cranky and sluggish. It has profound effects on your physiology and therefore your health and wellbeing.

I see quite a few people in my acupuncture practice with sleep disorders. Our hectic lifestyles today mean that there is more stress leading to lots of over-thinking. How many times have you gone to bed and your mind is still whirring away? Others fall asleep fine but they have difficulty staying asleep or they wake up early. The common factor is that all of this results in a sense of drowsiness when you wake up. Waking up feeling refreshed really is a gift you don’t notice until it disappears.

This is a very informative talk given by Dr. Ellen Hughes at The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

Be warned, it’s not a short ten minute clip; in fact it’s practically a movie but Dr Hughes’s enthusiasm makes the hour and the half fly by. The Q&A section at the end is quite interesting too.

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Red Valentine: Taking care of your (TCM) heart



The arrival of February can only mean one thing: Valentine’s Day. Through years of commercial conditioning, and also possibly because of Chinese New Year’s tendency to fall somewhere around the end of January and the beginning of February, this period of the year has a very definite “red” characteristic to it for me.


Mention heart in a clinical sense, and cardiovascular diseases will most probably pop up, along with blood pressure (high or low) and possibly breathlessness. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) the heart’s responsibilities are mainly that of controlling the blood circulation (easy enough) as well as mental and emotional activities (hold on, what?). To understand the heart’s functions I find it’s a lot easier if you step back and look at the symptoms when things go wrong.


Think of the fragile invalid typical of Victorian literature: delicate constitution, weakness due to prolonged illness, shortness of breath, palpitation, pale complexion, dizziness. These are all typical symptoms of a heart deficiency syndrome, which makes sense due to the poor/blocked blood circulation. Heart deficiency can also result in anxiety, restlessness, insomnia or frequent dreaming and this is what we mean by mental and emotional disturbances.


On the other end of the spectrum, common symptoms of excess conditions affecting the heart include palpitation, an oppressed feeling on the chest, dizziness, and in extreme cases, chest pains. There may also be signs of confusion, insomnia or difficulty falling asleep and a tendency to be easily frightened.


Acupuncture can be very useful in balancing the heart’s functions and settling the mind. But what can you do on your own?

  • Avoiding stress is a good start as stress greatly influences the heart’s ability (it’s no coincidence it houses the body’s mental and emotional activities). This includes violent images from TV or movies; swap watching the news with just reading headlines online but not the entire story – you don’t need to know all the details.
  • Add a relaxation routine into your day: try tai chi, yoga, swimming or just simple walking. Rather than just doing nothing, your relaxation should have a positive sense of gentle activity.
  • At the same time incorporate some concentration training like crosswords, sudoku or meditation.
  • Have a regular bedtime routine to ensure you get good quality sleep (and enough of it!).
  • Cut back on sugar and caffeine. If you can cut them out completely, that’s even better.
  • Eat regularly and eat mild, easily digested food. Avoid chillies or really spicy meals.


The general idea here is one of gentleness: gentle exercises, mild (not bland) meals, simple nurturing of your body. Rather than the pounding of a boxing match imagine the slow stretch of a ballet dancer.


Photo credit: Neal Fowler via flickr

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4 ways to de-clutter your mind and feel calmer



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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Stressed? 7 things you need to remember



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



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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What things in life make you happy?



I read a lot on my commute, but sometimes just to rest my eyes I enjoy listening to podcasts. After much trial and error, I have decided I can’t listen to audio books- you just need one bad reading voice to ruin a perfectly good book. Also, the books I do enjoy reading don’t have audio versions. I’ve tried listening to podcasts that enrich the mind, but they’re best heard on a Saturday afternoon with the sunlight flooding through my sash windows.


As I commute with only one earphone in (how can you be aware of the world around you with all the cars and cyclists and pedestrians if you have both earphones jammed into your head with the volume up to 11?) I have found that fun, intelligent nonsense is the best form of entertainment. And there is no better intelligent nonsense than Adam and Joe.


My ancient ipod nano seems to agree as well, because out of 535 items available, it consistently brings up one Adam and Joe podcast for every 7.3 songs. This is on shuffle!


The podcast I listened to the other day was an old one from the archives (their BBC 6music show on 1/12/2007 if you’re interested) during which Adam mentioned a scene in the film, Manhattan, where Woody Allen’s character lists things that make life worth living. Now, because Woody Allen’s character was reminiscing to his Dictaphone things that made life worthwhile, the list was quite poignant and sentimental. Joe’s list of things “you really like and love in life that make you happy” was slightly yet distinctly different:



Fruit smoothies

Long Sunday breakfasts

Driving over the river Thames at night

Fresh bed clothes

Falling asleep on the sofa with the telly on

Finishing a project and getting paid

Getting recognized by somebody who likes you

Swimming in shallow, warm, seawater

Tickling a purring cat’s tummy

A haircut that’s grown to the perfect length

A new item of clothing that makes you look like some kind of a model

Walking along the Southbank

The village of Dulverton in Somerset

Seeing films in foreign countries

Going on big rollercoasters

Getting packages delivered from Amazon



Spending the whole day in pajamas

Things going wrong on live TV

Temporary deafness after a live gig

Coming home from holiday



Isn’t that brilliantly sincere? What would your list be? Do you think the things that make us happy change as we get older?



Photo credit: K Leoungk

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Information overload of our 24 hour news culture



The events of the past few days in London (and now in the rest of the country) have been shocking and alarming. It has been somewhat disconcerting to see how ill-informed I was. From being a news item over the weekend it quickly became a lot more real when I went to the local supermarket and found it closed. Tesco closed on a late Monday afternoon? My brain immediately thought there had been a fire alarm but no, it was to remain shut.


Twitter was the source of information for me that evening and later on into the night. After getting the latest update from BBC when I got home, I made the conscious decision to turn it off and only allow written liveblog updates. Much later in the night it became clear that people on Twitter were not always factual and tweets about this and that on fire were just rumours. Sirens were ringing in the darkness and helicopters raged overhead (although these were most probably news helicopters).


Overload of information does nothing to help the situation, instead I believe it increases the stress and panic for the individual. Images have such a higher impact than what our brains could ever see with the written word and that is why I disagree with today’s 24 hours news channels that play five minutes of footage on a loop. I only read enough to stay informed and no more. I don’t want to be crippled by fear or consumed by anger. I generally enjoy the banter and information on Twitter but I eventually turned that off as the graduation from shock to anger to harshness to blame to jokes just didn’t seem right.


Many people seemed unable to tear themselves from their TV screens and computers and smartphones and became increasingly jittery. The next day heart-warming news came through of the cleanup teams in different neighbourhoods. I was greeted by a quiet high street that had left every single independent shop unharmed, although most were in the process of boarding up their windows as a precaution. Some shops looked unrecognizable without their usual display of fresh fruit and vegetables that often spilled out and covered half of the sidewalk.


It was a beautiful sunny day yesterday and yet in my part of London, things were eerily quiet save the few children playing right outside their houses. At 6:24pm I heard the ice cream van pass by with his little jingly-jangly tune and it was the most wonderful sound.


Be safe everybody.


Photo credit: mendhak via flickr

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