pointspace’s July roundup | How to train your brain to be more optimistic

Image: Elena Gaillard/orchidgalore via Flickr

 
I may be slightly biased, but July is my favourite month. Sure there is my birthday (the excitement doesn’t wear off with age, I assure you), but it’s also the most relaxed month of the year. As a child, it’s when you finally settle into the long summer vacation and as an adult it’s when most of us take a little break to recharge and refresh.

 
This particular July has been quite dreary and grey in London. The constant drizzle and decidedly un-summery weather means
I still haven’t retired my scarf and coat. My poor arms haven’t seen the sun in ages!

 
Since the weather isn’t pulling its weight, I have been cheering up the flat with colourful flowers and fruit; the nectarines this year have been exceptionally delicious and juicy.

 
1.  Some brave souls have rebelled against the climate and are waltzing around town in flip flops (well, at least they won’t get wet socks). Unfortunately, these extremely flat shoes (including fashionable sandals) just aren’t that good for our feet.

 
2.  The damp we’re all feeling can be quite tiring, literally. In TCM too much damp can affect your body, and a weakness in your system can lead to damp, a bit of a catch 22 situation. One way to ward off the effects of damp such as lethargy, a sense of heaviness, headaches etc, is to strengthen your TCM spleen which really dislikes cold and damp. Fellow acupuncturist Carlo St. Juste Jr. describes 5 ways to prevent spleen qi deficiency.

 
3.  I’m optimistic the weather will turn though. As Elaine Fox, a psychologist at the University of Essex in England writes: “Optimism is not so much about feeling happy, nor necessarily a belief that everything will be fine, but about how we respond when times get tough. Optimists tend to keep going, even when it seems as if the whole world is against them.” Read more on how to make optimism work for you or as Dr Fox calls it: how to strengthen the “sunny” brain, and weaken the “rainy” brain.

 
4.  While short term stress can be good and have beneficial effects, chronic stress is bad and can siginificant harmful effects on our bodies and health. We can’t eliminate stress from our lives, but you can shift bad stress into good stress. Dr. Firdaus S. Dhabhar, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford, explores how practicing compassion could prove effective in reducing or eliminating chronic stress.

 
5. For my birthday treat this year, I got to see the exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of the human body at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace. It is truly awe-inspiring to see such detailed and thoughtful sketches that are 500 years old.

The muscles of the shoulder and arm, and the bones of the foot by
Leonardo da Vinci at the Royal Collection, Queen’s Gallery

The foetus in the womb by Leonardo da Vinci at the Royal Collection, Queen’s Gallery

You can see all the images here but if you’re in London, I urge you to see the actual exhibition in person.

 
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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.


You might also like:

Sleep: Are you getting enough? | Three reasons you may not be getting enough sleep

pointspace’s June roundup | How important is sleep?


pointspace’s June roundup | How important is sleep?

Image: Jenny Pansing/jjjj56cp via Flickr


June has been quite an exciting month on the weather front. Londoners have experienced rain, sunshine, wind, rain, stronger wind, two hot days and then more rain. It is all very confused.


1.  The wind though has been spectacular. I haven’t actually seen a small child being blown away but I’m sure there were near-misses. Besides playing havoc with perfectly coiffed hair and Marilyn Monroe-esque skirt moments, the windy conditions we’ve been experiencing can have a larger impact on our wellness than you think. Fellow acupuncturist, The Acupunc, takes a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) look at the invasion of wind and offers a soothing tea recipe.


2. The furore of New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to ban gigantic buckets of fizzy drink continues with cries of nanny-state and loss of liberty. In case you missed it, here’s my blog post about the soda ban.


3.  Do you drink tea? You should, it’s a good way to keep hydrated if water is a bit too plain for you. Everyone touts the benefits of green tea, but I would also recommend seeking out pu-erh tea. The flavour is much stronger but still clean and refreshing. Read more to see why tea is good for you.


4.  Lack of sleep can leave you tired and cranky which doesn’t do well for concentration but new research shows that lack of sleep can also lead to unhealthy food choices.


5.  And now for the catch-22: more studies show that obesity and depression are the root causes of daytime sleepiness. The common denominator seems to be that weight is definitely a factor with sleep issues, but is being overweight causing sleep disorders or does sleepiness and fatigue result in weight gain?


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pointspace’s May Round-up | How a little exercise brings big benefits and does a lack of vitamin D affect our health?

Is green tea really all that good for you?


Pointspace’s February roundup | Acupuncture Awareness Week and top sleep-deprived occupations

Phone_boxes

 

Snow in London two weekends in a row was a lovely impromptu present. It brought out some creative folk who deemed snowmen terribly passé: instead there were creations like a “Snowasaurus” and a giant turtle. Then as if being a leap year wasn’t enough, February this year decided to give us early sightings of spring with daffodils in bloom. 

 

1.  What do you think has more of an influence on our health and longterm happiness: conditions under which we were born with or decisions we make in mid life? Happily, a study had shown that we may indeed have more say in destiny.

The study of normal adult development at Harvard, one of the longest studies at 74 years, has shown some surprising and obvious answers. It turns out that having a difficult childhood matters a lot in early adulthood but less so as the years go by. Education is more important in determing life success than income or social status. The big revelation to have come out of the study so far is that your situation at 50 is a bigger indicator of your health and happiness at 70 than the earlier years.


2.  I once saw a documentary on Pixar, the animation company that made some of my all time favourite movies including Toy Story (1, 2 and 3) and Up. From great fun, open spaces to employees using kick scooters to get from one department to the other, it seems like a wonderful place to work. Silicon Valley has always had a long tradition of being geekily cool, which is probably what keeps their creative juices going. Therefore it should come as no surprise that companies like Google and Twitter offer their employees acupuncture  as “antidote to staring at computers all day” and to benefit wellness.


3.  This week (27 Feb – 4 March) is the UK’s first ever Acupuncture Awareness Week. TV presenter Clare Nasir talks about having acupuncture to support her IVF treatments (video).


4.  A chain of restaurants in the States has come up with a limited edition milkshakebacon-flavoured. Yes, it left me speechless as well.

 

5.  Finally, do you get enough sleep? A look at the most sleep-deprived and well-rested occupations in the US shows that there isn’t much much difference between the most rested and the most sleep-deprived: they still get less than the recommended 7-9 hours).

 

Photo credit: Mark Hillary via flickr

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Ten ways to get a good night’s sleep

Sleepy_baby

Image: Paul Sapiano

 

So, you’ve been tossing and turning all night and you can hear the birds chirping outside (Note: this usually means daybreak, but if you’re in a city like London birds chirp at 3am; you might want to confirm that they aren’t the reason to your insomnia).

 

My previous post discussed some reasons you may not be getting good quality sleep, which is so essential to maintain good energy levels so you can be ready to take on the day. Here are ten tips to helping you sleep like a baby (Another note: maybe that simile has subconsciously hindered our sleeping patterns- most babies I know don’t sleep that easily either, but you know what I mean):

 

1.  Well first you need to turn off that standby switch.You need to understand that there are certain things in your control. Your job and life may be stressful but you can choose to tune out the attack of information from smartphones, internet and TV. Make it a habit to not have that kind of interference at least an hour before bedtime.

 

2.  Try acupuncture to help with any pain or bodily dysfunction that could be keeping you up at night. As well as treating the problem and not just the symptoms (so that your body heals and relearns the sleep patterns again), you’ll find that you can maintain good energy levels so that you’re ready to take on the day. Acupuncture is also effective for those with insomnia that seems to stem from no specific reason when diagnosed by western medicine, but can be related to other causes in traditional Chinese medicine.

 

3.  As tempting as it may be, try not to have siestas or naps. Power naps (under 20 minutes) are fine, but I’m talking about falling asleep at 3pm and not waking up till 5pm.

 

4.  Don’t exercise at night. The rush of endorphins may feel great and your body is thankful that you’re being active and healthy, but it won’t help you sleep.

 

5.  Have carbs for dinner. This may go against some of your diet plans, but carbs like pasta and potatoes (or protein like a big turkey dinner actually) make you all happy and sleepy inside. In fact look for foods with tryptophan, which converts to melatonin in the dark (so wear an eye mask as well). Melatonin is the sleepy hormone and is your friend.

 

6.  Make sure your bed is comfortable. Buy the best quality mattress you can afford. Low back pain keeping you awake is bad, but a springy mattress digging into your sides keeping you awake is your own fault. Invest in a good pillow as well. The objective is to sleep AND wake up feeling rested, not haggard because you’ve spent all night tossing and turning.

 

7.  A hot shower right before you jump into bed helps as well.

 

8.  Don’t lie in bed thinking about how you can’t sleep. After 20 minutes, get up and go read something, preferably a light article about the superhero hamster rather than the latest policies from the government. The point is to get sleepy bored, not indignant bored.

 

9.  Avoid TV. Again, this stimulates your mind and like above, you may find yourself indignant and angry at the latest reality TV contestants. However, some people do find that they need the TV on to fall asleep. In that case, have the TV on (with the timer set) to something soothing. There must be loads of inane re-runs at that time of night. I’ve been told that romantic comedies are the way to go, let me know about your preferred genre.

 

10.  And seriously, that glass of warm milk really does help.

 

Remember, it’s not how much sleep you can get; it’s the quality of the sleep that matters. 

 

Other posts you may be interested in:

Sleep: Are you getting enough? | Three reasons you may not be getting enough sleep 

Are you feeling irritable and cranky? | Acupuncture isn’t just for back pain

 

Sleep: Are you getting enough? | Three reasons you may not be getting enough sleep.

Cant_sleep

 

Last Sunday clocks went back an hour, and everybody relished in the joy of getting an extra hour of sleep. Of course this extra hour was just on loan to us, as it would be cruelly grasped from us come April, but never mind. Let us concentrate on that one compensation we have for enduring the long, cold, dark days of winter. (Note, I’m not even going to enter the debate right now about whether we should continue this “spring forward, fall backwards” attitude for our clocks. That is one for another time.)

 

“I’m tired all the time.”

 

A 2010 survey from the Sleep Council found that an amazing 36% of people polled had thrown a “sickie”, often to spend extra time in bed. Sleep is an important part of our bodies’ functions and yet it’s so easy to have it disturbed.

 

Stress

Most people today live and work and play much harder than those from two generations ago. As a consequence, many of us are like TVs left on standby; we’re never switched off completely. Inevitable, fatigue and discomfort will set in as a result of the lack of sleep.

 

Discomfort or dysfunction

Some people naturally tend to sleep less; older people don’t need as much sleep as teenagers. However some people cannot physically sleep for any length of time due to pain, or physical discomfort. There are others who find themselves being woken up by a full bladder (or the feeling of a full bladder). Waking up 2 – 5 times or more a night is going to play havoc with your sleep patterns, and if you’re not getting enough rest… Well it’s obvious that you’ll wake up worse in the morning and the problem will exacerbate.

 

Insomnia

Then there are those unlucky ones who can’t sleep for any obvious reasons. They don’t feel particularly stressed (although if you live and function in today’s hectic lifestyle, you are bound to be stressed; you may not notice it but every time you rush to get onto the tube on your commute to work or get stuck in a traffic jam, your body is registering it as a stress factor) and they’re not being woken up in pain. In fact they wish they could be woken up in pain, as they can’t even fall asleep. They lie there listening to that extremely loud internal grandfather clock with its swinging pendulum. The more they think about sleep, the less chance they’ll ever get of having it.

 

Regardless of the reasons you’re not asleep, the important issue is that sleep helps our bodies repair so that they can function well and efficiently.

 

Of the 36% polled who pulled a sickie, some may have been genuinely ill. However, it is concerning that so many people alike lack of sleep to ill health, or need to pretend to be sick to get some rest.

 

“What can I do to get some rest, then?” 

It’s not all doom and gloom. I’ll list ten ways to get a good night’s sleep in my next post.

 

Photo credit: Steph McGlenchy via flickr 

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