Real health #31 The importance of gratitude and celebration for your health

I wanted to choose the subject of gratitude for the final post in this series to say thank you to anyone who has stuck with me this whole month. I really had fun writing these posts, I hope you enjoyed them too and maybe learned something that will help you to improve your health. If you haven’t read the other posts you can find all 31 here and feel free to share with friends or family that you think could benefit. If you really absorb and implement all of these lessons you will be well on your way to becoming your own health coach! Now back to the topic of gratitude…

Gratitude is something that is talked about so much these days and rightly so. Being grateful for the things we have in our lives has been shown to improve both our physical, mental and emotional health. It is a real super power when it comes to improving your overall health and wellbeing. Gratitude helps to boost your happiness and also reduces feelings of frustration, anger and depression. When you feel better mentally, you are much more likely to make healthier choices like eating nutritious food, getting enough sleep and moving your body which can take your physical health to a whole new level. But how exactly do you practice gratitude?

I think of gratitude as a feeling state rather than an exercise that you do once a day. Sure, writing down 3 things you are grateful for each night can help you to reflect on the day and go to sleep with a more positive mindset. It is good to be grateful for every small thing in your life, especially at times like these when things feel so dark and uncertain. But I think to really soak up the benefits of gratitude you need to feel it in your entire body. Not only do you need to write the things down but you also need to really allow the emotion of gratitude to rise up and overwhelm you. When you really allow this feeling of gratitude and love to take over, it pushes out everything else and lifts your mood.


As I shared in my previous post, to change your habits you need to change your mind but when you are stuck in a negative mindset, sometimes it can be really hard to see a way out. Spending some time in a true state of gratitude can train your body to feel those positive emotions and make it easier to access them in your day to day life. Often we are limited by how we normally feel meaning that our typical mood affects the range of emotions we can access. For example, if you are in a bad mood and something positive happens, you might not get as excited as if you were already feeling happy and cheerful. We tend to resist feeling better for some reason and it can be really easy to get stuck in a downwards spiral, at least in my experience!

But the same thing works both ways. You can also set yourself for an upwards spiral by purposely spending some time feeling positive emotions each day. Yes it helps to practicing feeling good! I’m not talking about “toxic positivity” here where you pretend that your problems don’t exist. I’m fully aware we are in the middle of a pandemic and none of us should be expecting to feel amazing all day long. What I mean is there is benefit in acknowledging that life might be difficult right now but allowing yourself to squeeze the most joy out of the things that are going well in your life. Allowing ourselves to truly celebrate the wins, no matter how small, helps to keep our spirits strong and make it easier to deal with the struggles and things we are missing out on.

As for the actual practice of gratitude, I have tried following the advice of just writing down things I am grateful for and it just didn’t have the same effect for me. I have tried gratitude journals, writing post it notes to myself and countless other techniques. I would neatly write “I am grateful for my cat for making me smile”, “I am grateful for my lamp for creating beautiful light in my room” or “I am grateful for my books for letting me escape into my imagination”. But writing those things down felt more like a tick box exercise and I got bored pretty soon. I never kept it up for more than a few weeks and it felt like an extra thing on my to-do list that I had to do rather than something I looked forward to.

So what did I do? Of course I went to my favourite channel The Mindful Movement and found a gratitude meditation (I am always recommending them and they likely have no idea I exist!) . This was the game changer for me. Listening to the guided meditation below for cultivating an attitude of gratitude really helped me to truly focus my awareness and connect with the intense emotion of gratitude. I have actually cried a few times practicing this meditation! If I am feeling really down, I know I can always go back to this practice to lift me out of a hole. I usually come back to the same few things and people in my life that I am thankful for. I never try to mix it up and choose new things, I just go for the ones that feel the most meaningful and that works well for me. Let me know what you think if you try it out.

Now it’s time for me to take a break from writing and recharge my creative batteries… I’m not sure where I want to go next with my posts now this series is over but I do want to continue sharing regularly. You can expect all sorts of topics relating to nutrition, yoga and women’s health. I am also starting to record some yoga sequences for my own Youtube channel as well as my weekly live online classes. If you are interested in trying out yoga, especially if you are an absolute beginner to the practice, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and enjoyed the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences with practicing gratitude and whether it has improved your health.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

computer stress

Real health #21 A new perspective on insomnia. How to get a good nights’ sleep

Insomnia.. where do I start?! It’s crazy that something as natural as sleep seems to be slowly getting more and more difficult for us humans. Insomnia rates in the UK were already high at 1 in 6 but, according to the Guardian, since the start of the COVID19 pandemic this has increased to 1 in 4. There are so many articles out there giving tips on how to wind down at night and get a good nights’ sleep. I even wrote a post last year about dealing with sleep disturbances and how to create a calming evening routine to help you fall asleep fast. I still think this is very relevant and definitely a good place to start for anyone struggling with insomnia. But something that I have been thinking about lately is that getting a good nights’ sleep actually starts in the morning.

What do I mean by this? I mean that if you are spending all day in high-alert stress mode, an evening routine can only do so much. Sure it will help you to relax and calm down but for some people it isn’t enough. Especially for those who have been struggling with insomnia for a long time, or for those who are struggling with early waking insomnia where you might have no problem falling asleep but can’t seem to stay asleep. This was exactly the problem I had, I would always fall asleep within minutes of getting into bed as I was so exhausted. But no matter how tired I was I would wake up between 2 and 4am and lie awake for hours on end, feeling tired and wired. Or if I did sleep through the night, my sleep would be so restless and unrefreshing that I’d still feel like a zombie the next day. If you are currently going through this, I totally understand how frustrating it can be but trust me, it can get better!

So back to how getting a good nights’ sleep starts in the morning. The way we start our day and how we think and act during the day is extremely important for being able to relax and sleep at night. Nowadays we have so many things in our lives that cause stress, whether we realise it or not. This includes obvious things like a stressful, high-pressure job, financial worries, family or relationship issues but it also could be “normal” day to day things like the news, technology and social media, excessive productivity or too much caffeine. We have so much information at our fingertips and it can be easy to become overwhelmed. Emails, notifications, news alerts all come directly to our phones meaning that we are switched on at all times. There is always something to respond to, something new to read, listen to or do.

With technology helping us, the pace of life and work is so much faster. We can achieve so much more in a day than in the past when if you wanted to speak to someone you had to call them or send a fax. And if you needed information you had to walk to the file room to search for it rather than a quick search on an online data base. These things are great but what is it doing to our minds now that we can easily send 10 emails in an hour whilst simultaneously searching for an answer on Google the minute a question pops into our heads? We are thinking so much faster but less deeply. We are becoming like machines. The phrase “continuous partial attention” was developed by Linda Stone over 20 years ago for this state of being hyper-connected and constantly scanning for something to respond to. She explains really well in her article the difference between simple multi-tasking, with comes from a desire to be more productive, and continuous partial attention which is driven by a fear of missing out.

Continious partial attention damages our ability to concentrate on one thing and in the long term it puts you in fight or flight mode, increasing stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline that can affect your ability to sleep. Especially if you are a hard worker or a perfectionist, you can easily fall into the trap of doing too much. Maybe you are jumping from one productive activity to the next without taking a breath in between or juggling multiple activities at once. It could be work tasks like trying to write a report whilst responding to emails but also more fun things like listening to podcasts and reading articles. These tasks need a lot of focus and uses a huge amount of brain power to focus on multiple things at once, putting us into a state of high-alert.

If you feel like you are constantly in vigilant mode and struggle to concentrate on a task without your brain wandering and seeking other activities or distractions.. this could be you! Maybe you feel this constant sense of urgency, like you have to rush all of your tasks for no reason. Maybe you have a heaviness in your chest, your breathing is shallow or you find yourself holding your breath. Maybe you feel like if you’re not productive you are losing time. If you spend your day in this non-stop whirlwind of doing, is it any wonder why it’s difficult to fall asleep at night? You might be reading this and thinking you don’t have this problem but you still can’t sleep, and maybe that’s true and this isn’t the message for you. But I am sure I’m not the only one who was living this way.

In my experience, a huge key in overcoming insomnia and getting a good nights’ sleep is slowing down. This means moving more slowly throughout your day, starting from how you wake up in the morning. If this feels relevant for you and you want my advice, I’ll leave you with my top tips for how to overcome insomnia and get a good nights’ sleep:

  • Let your body and mind wake up gently with a calming morning routine. Try to leave your phone alone for the first hour of the day and let the news, emails and any other tasks wait.
  • MEDITATE. I can’t stress this one enough. You don’t need to do anything fancy, just set a timer for 5-20 minutes and sit quietly. If you can’t do it, great, that’s a good sign that you need it! With regular practice you can train your brain to settle, relax and focus.
  • Block out times in your calendar for tasks and try to focus on one thing at a time and not multi-task unless it’s for very simple tasks. Turn off your notifications and keep your phone away from you as every interruption and distraction adds stress to your system. You can set times during the day to check in rather than being available at all times.
  • Take your time and notice if the need to rush comes up. Value your health and happiness over productivity. You might actually find you get more done as your mind will be clearer when you are more relaxed
  • Plan regular breaks throughout your day to check in with how you’re feeling, connect with your breath and maybe go outside or move your body to let go of any built up tension
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and feel inspired to give these tips a go. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences, I’d love to hear from you.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

caffeine and health

Real health #17 Is coffee healthy? Caffeine and health

Caffeine.. one addiction I just can’t seem to shake! I go through periods of giving it up and feeling great then after a bad night or two of sleep I am tempted to go back. I know it’s not good for me, now I am aware of the effects I can feel the stress hormones coursing through my veins even after just one cup of coffee and as someone who has struggled a lot with sleep it is really not a good idea to be drinking coffee. But the love affair continues…

One of the first things I recommend to my health coaching clients is to cut down on caffeine if they are drinking a lot. Ideally, I’d suggest anyone with hormonal imbalance or fatigue to go completely caffeine-free but I totally understand this isn’t always realistic. So I generally suggest sticking to 1 cup of coffee a day (and I don’t mean huge Starbucks size coffee, just a normal cup). Why? There are many ways that caffeine affects both our hormonal and overall health:

1. Caffeine and stress

Caffeine works by stimulating the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This can make us feel good in the moment as we feel energised, motivated and happier and it can also boost our physical and mental performance. But we’re not designed to live with our nervous system in this stressed state, even if we don’t feel stressed as such that “pumped up” feeling that we are addicted to is stressful for our bodies. Caffeine can also speed up our thoughts, making our minds race and can lead to anxiety and keep us stuck in a loop of worry and negative thoughts, especially if we are already in a stressful situation or have an over-active inner critic.

2. How caffeine affects your sleep

Whether we like it or not, caffeine does affect our quality of sleep.  For most people, stopping drinking coffee around midday is enough time for your body to process the caffeine before you go to bed. But for some people even drinking caffeine in the morning can impact their sleep many hours later. Depending on how sensitive you are, you might notice that caffeine causes you to go to bed later wake up during the night, or maybe your sleep feels less refreshing. If you have been consuming caffeine daily for many years, you might not even notice the effect it is having on your sleep. If you are struggling with insomnia or fatigue, try going caffeine free for a week or two, if this feels impossible it’s probably a sign that it could be just what you need!

3. Effects of caffeine on blood sugar

One of the effects of caffeine stimulating the adrenal glands is a spike in blood sugar as it causes stored glycogen from our muscles to be converted to glucose and pumped into the blood for us to use as energy. Coffee is known for it’s appetite suppressing effects and is often used by dieters to curb cravings. It works in the moment but often leads to increased hunger and cravings later in the day. Especially if we consume caffeine on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, this can cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a crash an hour or 2 later when we crave.. guess what.. more caffeine and/or sugar. This results in a blood sugar rollercoaster which can leave us feeling exhausted and wrecked by the end of the day.  Often when people try to quit drinking coffee they notice more cravings for sugary foods and this is why!

4. Caffeine affects digestion and absorption

As well as  affecting our cravings, coffee can also impact the way we absorb nutrients. For example, caffeine has been shown to reduce absorption of vitamin D and calcium which are both necessary for maintaining healthy bones and teeth. It is also not recommended to consume tea or coffee within an hour of taking an iron supplement as caffeine reduces absorption of this key mineral for energy and vitality. Women are more likely to develop iron-deficiency anemia because we lose blood each month during our period and those who drink coffee regularly are even more at risk. And if that wasn’t enough, as caffeine is a diuretic (it causes you to pee more), it can lead to flushing out water soluble nutrients such as vitamins B and C as well as causing dehydration.

5. Caffeine and masculine energy

The balance of masculine and feminine energy is important for all humans but especially women who are trying to balance their hormones. I will write a whole post on this topic but for now I’ll summarise by saying that masculine energy is the “doing” associated with productivity, activity, busyness and logical thinking and feminine energy is the “being” associated with creativity, softness, surrender and going with the flow. In today’s Western world we so often focused on productivity and work is at the centre of our lives. It’s very normal for us to get up, get ready, have our coffee and start work. I think of caffeine as a way to get myself to do things I don’t feel like doing such as working when I’m tired and need to rest or doing a boring task when really I want to do something fun or creative. In this sense coffee and caffeine can be used as a way for us to suppress our bodies needs and remain in our masculine energy rather than taking the rest and relaxation we need.

How to consume caffeine in a healthy way

That being said, coffee and caffeine can also be a source of pleasure and a social activity. Right now I am living in Greece and the culture revolves around coffee. And I am British so I can help but love a good cup of tea and a chat. If you can’t imagine giving up coffee and tea, try to wait least 30 minutes after a meal rather than drinking it on an empty stomach or with food as this will help to minimise the impacts on stress hormones, blood sugar and nutrient absorption. But for those healing from insomnia, fatigue or hormonal imbalance I recommend choosing decaf, at least most of the time and not becoming reliant on that boost from caffeine to get through the day. As well as decaf coffee and and black tea, lower caffeine alternatives include:

  • Green tea (has some caffeine but also lots of anti-oxidants)
  • Cacao/cocoa (still stimulating but easier on the adrenals)
  • Herbal teas (mostly caffeine free)
  • Chicory coffee (caffeine free coffee alternative)

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article on caffeine and health. Let me know your thoughts below on whether coffee is healthy and how easy you would find to cut down or give it up.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on your health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

why diets don't work

Real health #15 The epidemic of burn out and adrenal fatigue

Long before COVID19, there was already another epidemic silently over-taking the world. Adrenal fatigue aka burn out or the “21st century stress syndrome” is a condition which probably affects millions of people but often goes undiagnosed or untreated because it is just seen as normal in our busy society. Have you ever felt totally exhausted, overwhelmed and like you just can’t handle the stresses of life? Maybe you have experienced it already. Burn out is a phrase people often use lightly but it can actually be pretty serious and have a huge impact on your life and health.

Adrenal fatigue or burn out is the effect of being too stressed over a long period of time. Our nervous systems are only supposed cope with a certain amount of stress and pressure and usually for only a short duration. Our fight or flight responses are designed to give us a quick burst of stress hormones to help us to get out of a dangerous situation and then to relax and go back to baseline once the danger has passed. These days we are constantly bombarded with stressors, from news alerts direct to our phone to high-pressure jobs which demand us to be switched on and ready to respond for most of the day. Our adrenal glands are constantly pumping out cortisol and adrenalin to help us to cope and survive the day. Combine this with too much caffeine, unhealthy habits and poor self-care and you have a recipe for burn out.

I shared my own experiences with adrenal fatigue and insomnia in a previous post. It really is something that is close to my heart as it had a huge impact on my life. I couldn’t sleep, I was experiencing all sorts of weird physical symptoms and I had nearly constant brain fog. I was able to push through and keep up my job, studies and some form of a social life but everything felt like so much effort. On the outside I probably seemed like I had it altogether but I looked completely exhausted and inside I felt drained. Even fun things became a chore and I just wanted to hide away. Luckily I was able to get myself out of the hole and now I want to help others who are struggling with the same thing as I know it’s such a dark place to be.

How to recognise burn out or adrenal fatigue

Often the symptoms of burn out start gradually. You hit snooze a couple of extra times in the morning, you feel more tired throughout the day and you start to lose interest and motivation for your work or your daily activities. Over time it can gradually get worse to the point where you don’t feel like yourself anymore. Some symptoms to watch out for:

  • Feeling tired even after a good nights sleep
  • Not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep (insomnia)
  • Low energy and lethargy
  • Loss of interest in work and hobbies
  • Feeling heavy and achy, especially in your legs
  • Not wanting to socialise and preferring to be alone
  • Blood sugar issues, craving sweets and crashing an hour after a high carbohydrate meal
  • Craving salty foods more than usual
  • Relying more on coffee and tea to get through the day
  • Feeling zoned out or “brain fog”

What to do if you have burn out or adrenal fatigue

The most important thing to do first is to identify your stressors. Take some time to reflect on all areas of life including work, family, relationships, hobbies, diet, exercise and creative projects. Make two lists, one of the things that steal your energy and the other of things that boost your energy. Once you have your lists, you can make a plan for how you will decrease the “energy stealers” and how you will increase the “energy boosters” in your life. Some things will be harder than others but start with a few of the low-hanging fruit and notice the impact it has on your overall wellbeing. Then move onto the more challenging things on the list.

Energy stealersEnergy boosters
Working 2 hours overtime a dayTaking a full hour lunch break
Responding to email notifications immediately 5 minutes of deep breathing
Drinking coffee in the afternoonDrinking more water
Speaking on the phone with X friendGoing to a dance class

Another really important thing is planning and organizing. Being reactive and responsive is one thing that keeps us constantly on alert. Maybe you work in the emergency services where you have to be ready to respond at all times, but if you work in an office job, feeling like you have to react and respond to every phone call or email right away could be contributing to your stress and feelings of burn out. If you can, try turning off your email notifications and setting a couple of windows throughout the day to go in and check your inbox. Use your calendar to block out time windows for specific tasks and try to stay focused. Being interrupted and distracted by multi-tasking uses up a lot of brain power! Keeping a task list with both to-do today and a “later list” can be helpful for prioritizing so that you don’t spend your day fire-fighting small tasks and can actually get something done which helps you to feel accomplished.

Next up is getting true rest and downtime. You might think you are resting and relaxing when you are watching TV or Youtube videos but your brain is still being active and stimulated. If you are suffering from burn out, you want to try to get yourself into a deep relaxation state at least once a day, more if you can. You can do this by lying down and listening to relaxing music or a guided meditation, sitting outside or going for a slow, mindful walk, taking the time to stretch out your body or having a bubble bath. These things might feel difficult, especially if you are in the stressed phase of adrenal fatigue where you are stuck on high alert mode. It might feel challenging to sit and do nothing, you might feel like you are wasting time and you should be doing something productive, you might feel agitated and restless in your body or your thoughts might start to go crazy once you let go of busyness and find stillness. All of these are signs that you need to stick at it!

Let yourself feel the agitation and notice any thoughts and resistance that comes up. Stay with the feelings and wait until the dust settles. If you are feeling physically restless, yoga or moving your body to music can be a great way to release some of that trapped energy and soothe your nervous system enough that you are able to let go and allow yourself to be still and relaxed. You’ll know you are there once you start to feel your body melt and your mind drift. You want to be in that almost-sleep brain state where you aren’t actively thinking or planning and thoughts can drift in and out of your mind. This is such a healing state to be in for anyone with burn out as the parasympathetic nervous system state is engaged and the adrenals are able to rest and recharge.

Taking time to relax a few times throughout the day is like emptying your “stress cup”. Imagine your stress capacity being a glass and every stressor throughout the day adds a drop or a splash of water to the cup. Once the cup is full and starts to overflow, you are going to be experiencing a state of stress or over-whelm. Taking breaks to breath deeply, go outside or just to be with yourself is like emptying out a bit of that water to give you more space in your cup i.e. more capacity to deal with stress. The idea is to keep the level as low as possible, either by reducing the inputs (stressors) or increasing the outputs (relaxing activities). If you can reach the end of the day with your cup half empty then you are on the right path to healing your adrenals and recovering from burn out. Having a solid morning routine including yoga, breathwork and meditation can also be a way to strengthen your nervous system and increase the capacity of your stress-cup over time.

Over to you…

So those are my thoughts on adrenal fatigue and tips on how to recover. Let me know in the comments below your experiences with burn out and how it has affected your life.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

Real health #14 The power of a morning routine for mental health

Imagine this scenario… you wake up at 7.45am, 15 minutes before you need to start work, you rush to have a shower and get dressed, switch the TV onto the news channel, make yourself a coffee then turn your laptop on and start working through the 200 new emails in your inbox. Or maybe you wake up, lie in bed for half an hour scrolling social media then jump into your car and join the hour long traffic jam via the Starbucks drive through. By 10am you are feeling ravenous so you grab a chocolate bar or pastry that you can eat at your desk and maybe another coffee to keep you going for a couple of hours. How do you think you will feel by the time your lunch break arrives? Probably frazzled, ravenous and irritable! How we start our morning can set the tone for our entire day.

Now think about an alternative scenario… you set your alarm for 7am so you have an hour to spare until you start work. You take a few deep breaths before getting out of bed then go and brew your coffee or tea, pour it into your favourite mug and take 15 minutes to sit and enjoy it slowly, taking some time to tune into your body and how you are feeling, maybe making a to do list or writing in your journal or chatting with your partner or kids. You have your shower, playing some music in the background, and get dressed for the day. You still have a bit of time before work to prepare yourself a healthy, filling breakfast before switching on your laptop or heading out to work. At 10am you are ready for a break, so you go outside for some fresh air or a 10-minute walk and grab a piece of fruit for a little boost on the way. How do you think you would feel after a morning like that? Probably much more energetic and positive!

Ok I’ll stop with the Bridget Jones references now, but you get the idea. I know it might seem idealistic, but I’m not talking about creating a picture-perfect Instagram worthy artsy morning routine every day. I am talking about some really simple changes that you can implement into your life which have huge results. If taking an hour for yourself in the morning is unrealistic, even half an hour or 20 minutes can be enough to totally shift your mindset for the day ahead. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of the first scenario. We lead such busy lives these days that we can feel like we don’t have time for a slow morning routine, or we are so exhausted that even getting up 20 minutes early feels impossible. The reason I am writing this post today is because this morning I was in such a rush to go out for an appointment I totally skipped my morning routine and now I am feeling it!

The morning is such a precious time of the day for you to start building your energy. You wake up after a nights’ sleep replenishing your “energy credit” for the day. From there on it’s your choice how you prioritise where and how you spend that energy. Every action you take either depletes or builds on your energy reserves. There are some things we can’t avoid but why not preserve our energy where we can? Slowing down, being mindful and avoiding information overload from the TV, phone and the internet during the first part of our day can help to reduce some of the “mini-stresses” which deplete our energy before the day has even begun. And adding in activities that boost your energy reserves like yoga, meditation and breathing exercises can help us to feel energised and motivated for the day ahead.

I’ve used the idea of creating an energy bubble with my health coaching clients and it really works. If you have a busy and stressful day ahead, you hate your job or you are dealing with difficult people, taking time for yourself in the morning can really help you to raise your energy and mood and things become much easier to handle. It might seem selfish to put your own needs and self-care at the top of your to-do list for the day, but I am telling you now that if you want to be your most energetic and happy self, you need to do just that. I’m not saying to focus on yourself at the expense of everyone and everything else. But I am saying that you need to prioritise a few things that keep you feeling good in order to show up at your best for the other demands of your life.

So, today’s challenge is to spend some time thinking about the things that you genuinely enjoy that leave you feeling energised and alive.

I’ve listed some examples below that fall into 4 categories: physical, sensual, creative and spiritual. Feel free to use these as inspiration to create your own list. Try to fit at least one thing from your list into your morning routine each day and notice the impact on your energy and mood and you never know, once that becomes a habit you might be tempted to add more!

PhysicalSensualCreativeSpiritual
Walking
Stretching/yoga
Dancing
Fresh air/sun
Mindful shower
Upbeat music
Drawing
Writing
Playing music
Journaling
Prayer
Meditation

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article on the power of a morning routine. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts favourite morning routine ideas in the comments below.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

benefits of journaling for mental health

Real health #10 The benefits of journaling for mental health

Yesterday I ordered a pack of 6 of my favourite A5 bound notebooks that I use to write my journal and it got me thinking about the benefits of journaling for mental health. I have been journaling on and off for over 10 years and in the last 3 it has become part of my routine that I can’t do without. My journal is like my therapist, friend, co-worker, spiritual guide all in one. I use my journal to keep track of the highs and lows of my life, to work through struggles with my work, relationships, family or inner life and to dig deep into what is under the surface of my conscious thoughts. My journal is there when there are things on my mind that I can’t say out loud to anyone and it is there when I don’t even know what is on my mind. Journaling is what finally helped me to overcome disordered eating and move on with my life.

Some of the benefits of journaling for mental health include better processing of difficult emotions, management of stress and anxiety, increased clarity and direction for your life and cultivating gratitude, mindfulness and present awareness. I’d recommend to anyone to start a journal, even if you think your life is boring or you have nothing to write. Trust me there is always something! Don’t let the fact that you “aren’t good” at writing stop you from starting a journal. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Nor does it have to be interesting to anyone but yourself or even be legible. Just the act of getting things down on paper can be extremely therapeutic, even if you never look at it again or decide to rip it up or burn it afterwards as a sign of letting go.

Journaling techniques for mental health

There are many journaling techniques you can use if you’re not sure where to start. In her book Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth, therapist and author Kathleen Adams describes ways to use a journal to work through past and present relationship issues, find your creative expression and get to know yourself on a deeper level. Some of the techniques she includes are:

  • Stepping stones (journaling prompts)
  • Dialogues (with people, situations, feelings)
  • Captured moments (descriptive writing)
  • Free association (mind mapping and lists)
  • Stream of consciousness (letting your unconscious speak)

You can experiment with different ways of using your journal depending on the outcome that you want. If you want to record the moments of your life, maybe a big travelling adventure, your child growing up or a special occasion you want to remember, you can use captured moments to engage with the present moment and capture everything you feel with all of your senses. Writing in this way helps you to be present and mindful and to let your creativity flow. If you’re feeling stuck in some area of your life, you can use free association techniques such as mind mapping or list making to get creative and seek innovative solutions. Or if you are feeling numb and disconnected, you can use stream of consciousness writing and see what comes up.

Written dialogues can help you to see the perspective of someone you are currently in, or have previously had conflict with or to see the positives in what seems like a dire situation. Journaling dialogues are a good way to process and let go of past hurts, even with people who are no longer in your life. The technique that has helped me the most is stepping stones or journaling prompts. Sometimes all it takes is for you to ask to right question for you to find the solutions you are looking for. Journaling about my disordered eating patterns led me down the path of asking questions about my self-worth, my values in life and discovering hidden shame, anger, disappointment and fear that were underlying my behaviours.

Journaling also helped me to understand why I was struggling with insomnia. Using the mind mapping technique was a way to uncover some underlying worries and situations which were affecting my sleep. Some of the things that came up were obvious such as work stress, drinking coffee and feeling physically uncomfortable but through this journaling technique I also had some realisations that I hadn’t thought of before including being stuck in the victim mentality, worrying about not being productive if I didn’t get enough sleep, comparing myself to others and getting jealous of their ability to sleep (any fellow insomniacs will understand this one!) and suppressing my anger. Understanding these things helped me to overcome my insomnia and start to finally recover my energy levels.

How to start journaling for mental health

Starting a journal practice is easy because there are no rules! All you need is a notepad and pen of choice, some spare time and the motivation to explore. You can choose a dated journal or a blank notebook, lined or plain paper, pocket sized or A4. You can write in ballpoint pen, coloured pencils, fountain pen and ink or a mix of them all. You can write in prose, bullet points, poetry and add doodles and sketches to the page if you feel like it. You don’t need to worry about writing neatly, spelling correctly or perfect grammar. In fact, the less you censor yourself the better when it comes to journaling. Just sit down, set an intention for your journal session, choose a technique and write until you don’t feel like writing anymore. This can be five minutes or an hour. You can include journaling in your daily routine or you can write when the mood strikes. Really it is up to you to find whatever feels good and feels like you.

Some days you might feel stuck or just a few words and others you might write pages and pages with the words seeming to flow out from nowhere. Whatever happens, try not to judge yourself and just let the process unfold. You can create an atmosphere by clearing out your writing space, maybe lighting a candle or playing some music to set the mood. Start by closing your eyes and taking a few slow, deep breaths to centre yourself and focus your attention on your intention, whether that is to explore a certain topic, vent out some trapped emotion or to reflect on the day. Start to write and if you get stuck, try taking a break to read back what you have written and take a few more deep breaths. Once your journaling session feels complete, close your notepad and store it somewhere safe. Having a ritual with a clear start and end gives your journaling practice that touch of magic and mystery that we all need a bit of in our lives these days.

Your challenge for day 10 is to think about how you could include journaling into your routine and maybe get yourself a journal and start your own practice.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed these quick tips on the benefits of journaling for mental health and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on how to have fun on your journey to health.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

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yoga for relaxation and letting go - twist

Yoga, relaxation and letting go

Last night I taught the last online “yoga for women” class of 2020 and the theme I chose was letting go. It seemed appropriate as we are coming to the end of the year and what a year it has been. I feel like the whole world is emotionally charged right now.. we have all been cooped up indoors, barely able to see friends and family for nearly 10 months now. I know I’m feeling a complicated mixture of frustration, anger, sadness, confusion most days and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that. Of course there are good moments too and we are making the best of things, and I am so grateful that my loved ones haven’t been affected by the virus but still, these are testing times!

But back to the theme of letting go.. the end of the year is a great time to reflect on our lives and our inner world. How are we feeling? Are we living a life we love? Are we on track to reach the goals we set for ourselves? What patterns are we ready to break? The new year is a perfect time for a clean start, for us to let go of any habits which are no longer serving us, to let go of any heavy emotional baggage we have been carrying and to let go of any unhelpful self-judgement or criticism which is holding us back. Like that feeling of your body warming up and relaxing after you have been outside in the cold, tense and shivering to keep warm, letting go allows you to release tension from your body and mind and find comfort and relaxation. Sometimes we don’t even realise how some things are affecting us until they are gone.

Some things that I am ready to let go of are:

  • Comparing myself to others. This is a habit that is hard to break! I used to compare the way I look to others a lot and feel less than. Now it’s more about how my business is growing and feeling that I am “behind” somehow
  • Excessive screen time. I don’t use my phone too much but I’ve definitely noticed myself spending more time on my computer during the lockdown and I know it makes me feel tired and dazed. I want to at least have a couple of hours totally screen free in the mornings and evening
  • Negative self-talk and limiting beliefs about my physical fitness. I recently started to exercise again after being recovered from HA nearly 4 years and I am feeling a bit disheartened about my loss of fitness. I know I am improving and it takes time but it’s easy to fall into the trap of criticising myself

Yoga and letting go

So how can yoga help us to let go? Yoga encourages us to be present with ourselves and bring our awareness to what is happening in our body and mind. We are encouraged to notice any areas of tightness or tension and to use our deep, conscious breathing to let it go and relax, creating a sense of softness. Often when we arrive on our yoga mat and check in with ourselves, we find we are holding tension in our neck and shoulders, our jaw and face or our hips which we weren’t even aware of. As we move through yoga asana (physical postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises) we can learn how to let these things go and over time this ease within the body and mind becomes our natural state.

A yoga practice for relaxation and letting go looks like moving slowly, finding ease in the poses and allowing your body to open up in it’s own time rather than fighting against it, trying to force yourself into painful positions. To help with letting go, practice longer holds, anywhere from 1-5 minutes, and really stay present and focused on the sensations within the poses and the steady rhythm of your breath. You can practice scanning your body for any resistance to the pose, maybe a feeling of clenching or gripping in your muscles and try to surrender into the posture, melting deeper with each exhale. If this feels difficult you can even try purposely clenching your muscles on an inhale and releasing everything on the exhale.

I find that seated or lying poses help the most with letting go and relaxation, any pose where you are close to the ground and can really feel supported by the mat beneath you. Poses like extended child’s pose, sleeping pigeon pose, supine twist and butterfly pose are all great for finding peace and relaxation by opening up the shoulders, lower back and hips. For an even more relaxing practice, you can use props to support your body in postures, especially forward folds and reclining back bends (like in my yoga sequence for your period). Supporting your body with yoga blocks, bolsters or cushions can help you to find the comfort that allows deep relaxation and true letting go.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this quick post on yoga for relaxation and letting go. Let me know in the comments if you have a favourite pose or sequence to help you relax and let go.

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My experience with insomnia and fatigue

Fatigue is such an awkward topic to discuss. It’s one of those conditions that people who haven’t experienced just don’t understand. It isn’t visible so unless you go around complaining about it all of the time, people assume you are fine. Or if you do try to explain to others they think it is the same as just being tired after a bad nights’ sleep. You go to the doctor and if blood tests come back normal, they tell you you’re healthy and act like you are making it up. Maybe fatigue is “all in your head” in a way as often it does have a psychological root but that doesn’t mean the physical symptoms aren’t real and often debilitating.

My experience with fatigue started 5 years ago. In my final year of university, after 4 years of too much stress, caffeine, partying and terrible eating habits, I developed gastritis. This is a painful inflammation of the stomach that would plague me all day but be even worse in the middle of the night when my stomach was fully empty. The pain would be so bad I’d wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep because it was like someone was stabbing me in the belly. The sensation was like the peak of the hunger pangs you get when you are really starving, except it wouldn’t come in waves it would just stay at that intensity. Horrible.

So I started getting only 4-5 hours sleep a night and from 3am I’d be awake trying anything to ease the pain and relax so I could get back to sleep: herbal teas, dry snacks, gentle yoga, guided meditations. This continued for months and at first it was manageable but after a while I started feeling like a total zombie during the day. I went to the doctor and he put me on PPI medication for my gastritis which didn’t help and actually made my fatigue worse because it affects absorption of certain nutrients so I came off it after a few months. I remember being at work during that first year after graduating and nearly falling asleep during meeting on so many occasions. Looking back I probably should have been off sick but it was my first job I was so determined to keep going and find a solution.

Over the next few years I did find things that helped and eventually managed to cure my gastritis fully. I still have a sensitive stomach so I can have a flare up if I drink too much coffee, alcohol or fried food but on the whole I don’t have symptoms. However, my sleep patterns still didn’t improve much even after the gastritis faded. I would still wake up during the early hours and not be able to get back to sleep or if I did sleep through the night I would still feel exhausted the next day. I look back at photos of myself from that time and it’s pretty emotional to remember how I felt. And I struggled to understand how people couldn’t see that I was suffering when it was written all over my face!

It’s crazy for me to think now how I kept going for years like that but I did. I barely had the energy to maintain my social life but I still managed to work, enjoy my relationship and my family. I remember going on trips or days out and enjoying them but feeling like I wasn’t fully present, like I just couldn’t fully immerse myself in the moment. I felt like I was dragging myself through every day doing things because my mind wanted to make the most out of life, even though my body just wanted to lie in bed all day. I couldn’t engage in conversations and being with people often felt draining.

Last September we moved to a new city and I think this is where I hit rock bottom with insomnia and fatigue. I started a new job and I was completing my research project for my nutrition degree alongside. I was so depleted and still couldn’t sleep. It was like my body was on alert mode all of the time. There were a couple of nights where I didn’t get any sleep at all and by the next day I would be feeling so out of it and delirious. You’d think that by the next night I would be so exhausted that my body would make up for it but I’d still have that “wired but tired” feeling. I would pass out at 9pm only to wake up again at 2am. I had so many mini break downs and emotional outbursts. The weekend would come and I would be crying all of Saturday morning. I felt like a 2 year old not able to control my emotions at all.

Fast forward to 2020, this is where the real healing began. I actually think being in lockdown helped a lot as working from home full time meant I could take breaks and naps during the day when I needed to. I also managed to cut out coffee completely for long periods which I had never been able to do before. I was definitely leaning on it as a crutch, especially when I needed to show up for something and wanted to do my best. But being stuck at home with no schedule no social obligations was a blessing in disguise for the first few months. Finally I realised that it was ok to be tired and that instead of fighting my body I would just have to listen to what it was telling me.

I ate really well, building up some nutrient stores that had been depleted through lack of sleep and stress. I went for walks in nature every day and really got back into my yoga practice. I focused again on menstrual cycle awareness and living in tune with my cycle as best as I could. I spent alot of time reading, reflecting and journalling, trying to weed out some of the old mental and emotional patterns which were causing me stress and keeping me stuck. And finally I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I started to get 6-8 hours sleep most nights (even though I was still waking up at 5am it was a big improvement!). I had days were I felt energised and had waves of random happiness that I hadn’t experienced for a long time. I felt my silliness and playful start to come back which I didn’t even know was missing.

Even though I have come so far I still feel like I am on a healing path with this. I don’t feel like my energy levels are as high as they could be and I am still sensitive to stress. But I have learned through all of this how to manage it and to look after myself when I have low days. And I trust that things are only going to continue to improve. Recently I have been really busy at work and preparing to move house and I have felt the fatigue coming on again in the last few days. Actually that is what motivated me to write this, to remind myself how far I have come and that overall things are getting better! I have the energy to pursue my passion for writing again and to help others through my nutrition and health coaching which I’d only dreamed of doing a year ago.

Over to you…

I hope that by sharing my story I can give hope to anyone who is suffering with fatigue for any reason that things can get better! I am so grateful for all of the people who supported me in my life during this time (especially my parents, my nan and my boyfriend) and I want to do what I can to help others in a similar situation. Please leave a comment if you feel like sharing your experience or can relate to any of my story. I think one of the hardest things about insomnia and fatigue is the deep loneliness that you experience when you feel like everyone around you is free whilst you remain trapped in this cage. But that is the beauty of online spaces, you might not know people in “real life” going through similar things but you can find others to relate to and connect with from all over the world which is amazing 🙂

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on dealing with fatigue and how to recover and regain your health and life
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How to reduce stress and balance your hormones

We all know by now that stress plays a major role in our overall health. Stress has been linked to diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and most definitely to hormone related conditions such as PCOS and hypothalamic amenorrhea. Managing stress and calming down your nervous system is so important for healing from any physical condition. Hopefully this post will offer you some tips on how to manage stress in your life and support your healing journey.

1. Reduce the external stressors

With the world we live it today it can feel impossible to reduce stress.. how can we be calm when we have so many demands on our time, high pressure jobs, children to look after, financial worries, family emergencies. The first thing I will say is that you will never be able to reduce all stresses in your life. Even if you disappear to a remote island you will find something to stress and worry about if this is the tendency you have. However, it’s still a good idea to take a good look at your life and see if there are any areas where you can reduce the load.

Practising minimalism can be a really good way to do this. I don’t mean to sell all of your possessions and go couch surfing but by focusing on things that really bring value to your life and forgetting the rest you can really reduce financial and time pressures and in turn reduce the stresses in your life. This can be material possessions.. maybe you have a lot of clothes, products or clutter in your house that could benefit from a good clear out. But it can also relate to non-material things such as activities or habits that don’t bring you joy, obligations that you stick to to keep others happy even if you don’t have the time or the resources, time wasted on social media or other technology. Simplify your life as much as possible and make sure that you are spending time doing things you love every day.

2. Reduce the internal stressors

Much of our worries actually come from beliefs and thoughts that we are constantly running through our minds. Around 95% of our thoughts each day are the same as the day before and too many of them are negative thought loops that we get trapped in without realising. Our brains cycle through all our various worries and it seems like there is no escape. Actually there is a way out and it starts with awareness. Are you conscious of the thoughts you are thinking on a daily basis or have they become so ingrained that you don’t even notice them? This is where a meditation practice an come in really handy.

Many people think that to meditate “properly” you have to be able to empty your mind of all thoughts and give up quickly when this seems like an impossible task. But when you approach meditation from the angle of observing your thoughts and watching where your mind goes when it isn’t distracted, it becomes a tool of self-discovery and you will likely start to see the same repetitive thoughts popping up. Much of it will be mundane stuff such as what you will have for dinner tonight, work tasks or chores that need doing etc. But some will be darker.. maybe some criticism of yourself, anger towards someone in your life, feelings of failure or regrets of decisions you have made in the past.

Get yourself a journal and start to write down thoughts that come up for you. Once you are aware of them you can start to question.. “Does this serve me?”, “Would I feel better without this thought?” This will create space for you to let go of some of your worries and start to ask yourself “What can I replace this thought with?” “What would a more helpful thing to say to myself right now?”. You won’t be able to change your thoughts over night as most of them are habitual and happen without us even realising, but you can make a start and over time things will get better

3. Get yourself into the relaxation state

This is a really important one. Many of us think we are relaxing because we do chilled out activities such as watching TV, reading or writing in a journal. These things might make us feel calm in the moment but if our brains are still active and we are just distracting ourselves, we are often not truly activating the “rest and relaxation” pathways of our nervous system. I really recommend for everyone, especially those on a healing journey, to focus on getting into a deep relaxation state on a daily basis. This means allowing your body and mind to sit back from the stresses of life and melt into pure bliss.

I find guided relaxation tapes really useful for this and relaxing music or delta brainwave frequencies can also work really well Get yourself some headphones, find a comfy space to lie down and block out the world for 20-30 minutes. Focus on letting go of any tension in your body and allow yourself to be held and supported. Notice if your brain feels too “switched on” and try to create some space for you to surrender your stresses for a while. There are hundreds of these available on Youtube but I have shared 3 of my favourites from The Mindful Movement channel below.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post of how to reduce stress and balance your hormones.

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on dealing with stress and hormone balancing
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

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Hatha yoga for hip and hamstring flexibility

Here is a short hatha yoga asana practice to stretch and open the hips and hamstrings. Great for when quarantine has you sat on your butt all day 🙂

Move slowly and mindfully focusing on your breath and alignment in the postures. Hold each pose for around 5-10 breaths. Use props to support you if you need and feel free to ask in the comments if you want specific advice.

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Start in downward facing dog. Aim for a straight line between your head and tail bone – bend your knees if you need to. A straight spine is more important than straight legs.

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Walk your feet towards your hands into forward fold. Relax your spine and release tension from your neck and shoulders. Hands can be on the floor, ankles or shins. Again bend your knees as much as you need to to relax into the pose.

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Step your left leg back into low lunge. Keep your core muscles engaged and focus on rotating your pelvis backward so that you feel the stretch in your thigh and front of your hip.

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Raise your arms above your head and side bend to the right to increase the stretch on your hip flexors and side body.

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For a deeper quad and hip flexor stretch, lift the left foot and catch hold with your left hand (or use a yoga strap if you can’t reach). Gently pull your foot inwards still keeping your core tight and pelvis tilting backwards.

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Move into a hamstring stretch by sitting back onto your left heel. Focus on engaging the right thigh muscle and keeping your spine straight to protect your knee and back.

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If you want a deeper hamstring stretch you can work on your splits practice – use blocks to support your weight and try to keep your torso as upright as possible.

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Stretch back into downward facing dog and move your feet and hips to loosen up.

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Lift your right leg into three-legged dog. Focus on keeping your weight even in both hands and shoulders aren’t shrugging up by your ears.

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Swing your right leg through into half pigeon pose. Keep your foot flexed to protect your knee and place a block or cushion under your hip for support. You should feel a deep stretch in your outer thigh and hip but no sharp pains!

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To deepen the stretch, relax your torso forward and rest your forehead onto your hands. Breathe deeply here, this is an intense stretch but try to relax any tension or resistance you feel in your hip and find ease in the pose.

Now repeat all of the above on the other side 

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Come to a seated position and place the soles of your feet together into cobblers pose. You can press down gently on your knees using your elbows to open up your hips further.

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Bend forward from the hips and relax your torso over your thighs. Rather than head towards your feet aim to move your chest towards your feet to help keep your spine straight. Relax into the pose and breathe deeply

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Move into a wide leg seated position. Reach your right hand to your right foot and raise your left hand over your head to feel an intense side stretch. Repeat on the other side.

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Move into a seated wide leg forward fold. If you have a big cushion or bolster you can place it in front of you to rest your torso and relax deeper into the pose.

Finally (and most importantly!) move into savasana, corpse pose. I didn’t take a photo but it is pretty self explanatory..

savasana

Stay here as long you like, the longer the better. As a minimum take 20 deep breaths in and out and allow your muscles to let go and release any remaining tension. If you feel tempted to get up, imagine roots growing down into the earth from your ankles and hands.. you couldn’t move even if you wanted to so you might as well let yourself relax and be supported by the ground.

I hope you enjoy the practice! Namaste.