How our mood affects our food

When we feel stressed, anxious and low in mood this has a direct affect on how we behave towards food and drink. This change in behaviour towards food and drink may further compound low mood and anxiety levels alongside having a negative effect on our weight, waistline, immunity and physical health.

Do you stop eating or loose your appetite when under times of stress or low mood? If the answer is yes the act of not eating has an affect on our blood sugar (glucose levels). Lack of food causes them to drop and we may quickly feel irritable, more angry, snappy, lower in mood and more anxious. Eating little and often every three to four hours helps stabilise our blood sugar levels and has a balancing effect on our mood and anxiety levels.

Have you noticed you are eating more food during the lockdown. Feeling stressed, anxious and poor sleep all affect the hormones which regulate what we want to eat and how full we feel. Are you comfort eating with sugary foods, high fat foods, refined carbohydrates like bread, pasta and chips? All of these foods affect our digestive system and gut health. They change the gut bacteria. Our gut bacteria have a big impact on our mood and how we feel physically. High sugar foods affect our blood glucose levels causing spikes and big dips. This rollercoaster of blood glucose levels affects how we feel through the day and how we behave at our next meal or snack. We all know high sugar, high fat foods contain calories and in the long term excess consumption leads to weight gain that further affects how we feel about ourselves, our self – confidence and self – esteem.

Do you reach for more coffee when under stress or feeling anxious? Caffeine is seen internally by the body as a stressor and increases our internal fight or flight response. At present we may all be in a heightened state of alert with our fight or flight response already over active. Adding caffeine throughout the day and especially more so after lunch keeps stress hormone levels high. When the stress hormone Cortisol stays high in the afternoon and evening we have poor sleep which then affects how we feel the next day and how we behave to food. Keeping caffeine intake low and avoiding after-mid day may help sleep, mood and anxiety levels.

Did you know being dehydrated is a contributing factor to anxiety? When we are dehydrated we feel light headed and dizzy which then make us feel more anxious. The weather has been kind to us, so on these hot days drinking 2 litres of water is really important for our physical and mental wellbeing. Caffeine is a diuretic meaning it causes your body to excrete water and can lead to dehydration.

Have you noticed you have been drinking more alcohol during the lockdown? Many people cope with stress, low mood and anxiety through alcohol. Excess alcohol (more than a glass a night) affects our sleep and hydration levels which then affect our mood and anxiety levels. Poor sleep due to alcohol affects our bodies ability to rest, repair and digest. When we have a good nights sleep and eat regularly are bodies ability to rest, repair and digest is optimised helping to lower internal stress responses, lower blood pressure, lower circulating fats and help release the immune boosting hormone DHEA.

Being mindful of what we are eating and drinking is an important part of managing both physical and mental wellbeing. Following a balanced diet low in sugar, high in fibre such as the Mediterranean diet has been found to help lower depression alongside lowering the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. The Mediterranean diet includes a rainbow of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, whole grains, pulses, red wine, olive oil, fish, nuts and seeds.

Written by Sharon Elizabeth Best : MSc Nutrition, Physical Activity & Public Health

The power of kindness

Kindness has the power to calm our mind and ease our hearts especially at this most challenging time in the world.  Being kind to ourselves is important. Having spent weeks in lockdown we may feel frustrated, angry and fearful. All these negative emotions chip away at our mental health and have a negative affect on our physical wellbeing. They can drain our energy, lowering our immunity and affect our behaviour towards exercise, food and alcohol. When we become unkind to ourselves we may be critical of what we are thinking, what we are doing or not doing at home, how we look and how we are around our immediate family. We may feel guilty for the way we react under times of pressure. Taking the time to be kind to ourselves to remember we are all human is important. When we say a few kind words to ourself each day this can help shift from a negative to a more positive mood, boost our self- esteem, self-worth and self-confidence and directly affect how we behave in our day. We may feel more motivated to exercise, eat healthily and less likely to react to others. When we judge ourself less and add a touch of kindness our view of the day can change. 

Affirmations are a sentence that you can create to help reduce internal negative, critical talk. They are based on the present tense and help you to be mindful. They should contain a positive statement and be relevant and meaningful to you. For example –

‘ I am feeling happy today because..’

‘ I am grateful today for …’

‘ I enjoy each day because …’

Repeating a positive affirmation though the day helps reduce negative internal dialogue. It has a powerful affect on the brain opening the door to a new way of thinking, communicating and viewing the world and helping reduce anxiety and low mood. Try it today and every day it only takes a few seconds to help change the way you feel and think!

When we start to be kinder and less judgemental to ourselves we may also notice our kindness and compassion increases to others. There are many mindfulness meditation exercises based on loving kindness meditation. If we wish everyone we meet love, happiness and and good health each day we reduce judgement, bitterness, anger and irritation all emotions that cause us to feel stressed, anxious and unhappy. Taking a few minutes each day to pause, notice your breathing, sit calmly and bring our attention to wishing wellness to the ones we love, the people in our community and the people suffering in the world helps build compassion in us all. We cannot change the world but if we choose to we can increase our levels of compassion and kindness in times of need.

Having positive emotions each day such as feeling kindness and compassion and taking a few minutes to be mindful actually helps our bodies lower our internal stress response (fight or flight). Positive emotions towards ourselves and others have a calming affect on our mind and body. This helps to lower our heart rate, blood pressure, reduce stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol and helps our body release immune boosting hormones DHEA. When we find feelings of calm, love and compassion this helps boost not only our mental wellbeing but also our physical wellbeing.

Human being!

Funny how we were not named human doings! In these uncertain times we may now start to truly undertand the word human being.

Our brains have two different modes doing and being. In our busy lives we are so used to doing things we spend very little time just being. Now that we have all been at home for weeks we may start to notice how much we feel the urge to do things. Just being isn’t something most of us practise unless we are on holiday or at the weekend. Being during the week may not be your normal, it may not feel comfortable as we wrestle with the resistance of wanting to do things.

Of course we need to do things in our day but is equally important to learn just to have a sense of being in our day. When we can consciously come out of doing mode and allow ourselves to just be this has a dramatic affect on our minds. At first the doing mode will try to over ride the being mode. Learning just simple mindfulness meditation exercises help reduce a busy, doing, overthinking mind to a calm and peaceful mind within a few minutes. Noticing without judgement when doing thoughts come to mind but bringing your attention back just to being present. Learning just to enjoy being in the moment noticing the sky, clouds, flowers, the air what ever is around you. Mindfulness meditation and being present help reduce anxiety and fear that come from a busy overthinking mind. We only live in the moment, take time to enjoy the special moments what ever they may be at home. Being present is a gift the same as human is to being!

Try this for 2 minutes each day and gradually build up to 5 or 10 minutes each day

Daily mindfulness meditation

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair
  2. Notice your feet connect to the floor and feel grounded
  3. Place your hands on your lap, palms open
  4. Relax your shoulders, and any tension you notice in your body
  5. Bring your attention to noticing your breathing
  6. Notice the sound and sensation as you breathe
  7. Notice something that is happening or you see in the present moment
  8. Focus and concentrate on what it is, if you can feel it
  9. If your mind wanders to doing thoughts accept this is normal, notice what the thought is and then bring your attention back to being present
  10. Sit with this for 2 minutes to begin with and gradually increase the time daily in different situations or places inside or outside

Written by Sharon Elizabeth Best

Fearing the future

In these uncertain times many of us feel fear about what will happen in the future. Never before have we all been faced with not being able to plan holiday’s, weddings or plan for the future. Whilst having goals for the future is important, now more than ever before noticing just today, this hour, this minute is of far greater importance for our mental wellbeing. We have never existed in the future and we can’t predict what will happen tomorrow, next week or next year.

Mindfulness helps us to stay with today, to be present and to let go of thoughts about the future. Being present is an increased awareness of what is happening right now in a non -judgemental way. As we become more self- aware in our journey of mindfulness we may start to notice our thoughts and feelings. Through practise we may be able to learn to observe our thoughts and catch when our mind wanders into the future.

Overthinking, feeling stressed, anxious and in pain may all be exacerbated by thoughts based in the future. We do not live in the past and we haven’t yet existed in the future, we only ever live in the present moment. Taking a moment to pause and notice your breath helps you collect your thoughts, ground yourself and connect to the present moment. Noticing what you can see, feel, hear and smell all help connect you to the present moment.

Mindfulness meditation helps us to become more comfortable with our thoughts and feelings. Feeling fear is normal, observing it, breathing with it and staying present help you to take control of the feeling. We cannot change the world but we can change how we react to situations in our daily lives. This is nothing new but is more important than ever before. If we can manage our fear and stay present we can still notice all the good things we have today that give us love, joy and happiness. We can notice what we have in our daily lives. By being mindful we create a peaceful mind, a heightened state of awareness and control over our thoughts and feelings.

Our emotions are like waves

What we think about and how we feel are transient. They change throughout the daytime dependant on what we are doing, where we are and who we are with. Being in isolation during Covid-19 may have had a big impact on the way we feel and think each day.

Mindfulness meditation helps us to understand that we can learn to view our thoughts and feelings almost as though we were on top of a wave riding with it rather against it. When we learn to see the emotion over time we may begin to accept it, see why we feel the way we do. We can then identify if there are things we can control that may be affecting the way we feel. We cannot control the universe but we can control what we have eaten, had to drink, how much exercise we have taken that day. We can control whether we have taken the time to connect with others, taken the time to do something we enjoy, learnt something new. All these things we can control and have an impact on how we feel and think.

When we actively do these things we become more proficient in riding our waves of emotions each day. We can learn to accept their are times we may feel sad, angry, irritated or afraid. We become more aware that these feelings can pass through the daytime to feel less severe if we are mindful of what we do to help manage them. Having less negative thoughts and emotions helps reduce are alarm bell and helps us feel positive calming emotions that help our bodies boost its immune system, lower blood pressure, help maintain a healthy weight and waist size.

Daily wins!

Feeling a sense of accomplishment and that you have achieved something each day is especially important at this time. Setting a small goal each day and achieving it helps boost positive thoughts and emotions. It helps boost our self confidence, self worth and self belief which all contribute to us feeling happier and fulfilled.

What do you feel you have accomplished today? Now we have that time, using it wisely and taking time in your day to set a small goal and achieving it may help with your mental wellbeing. Setting a SMART goal which is specific, measured, realistic, achievable and targeted means that you can feel you have fully accomplished your goal that day.

What will be your goal for tomorrow? :

Two minutes or more meditating in the morning before work/bed on Monday

Trying a new exercise routine such as Yoga for 20 minutes in the morning/ evening

Reading a new book for 5 to 10 minutes at a quiet time of day in a room/place you feel at peace

Trying a new recipe for the evening meal with food you have in the cupboard

Emptying your cupboard and giving it a good clear out in the morning

Weeding the garden and planting new flowers in a specific area in your garden/patio

What ever you achieve try to take a minute to acknowledge what you accomplished and feel a sense of achievement in what you have done.

Noticing the stars

”Only when it is dark enough are you able to see the stars!’

Martin Luther king Jr.

What a great quote. The days may seem dark with the news of what is happening in the world if we choose just to notice the darkness. We can, if we choose to notice what sparkles through the dark times.

It could be our family, friends, volunteers, health care workers all of which help support and care for us. It could be our pets, nature, the hobbies we enjoy doing.

If you haven’t noticed the stars at night recently, come out of routine and take the time to open the window or just look up at the sky. The marvel of the universe, the stars, the solar system are all around us. If we take the time to notice, we can add wow moments into our day. Feeling a sense of awe with the world all help us to boost positive emotions that help build resilience and help manage anxiety and fear.

Enjoyment

What did you you enjoy today? That may sound a strange question in the world as it stands today. However if we are able to see the little things we enjoyed in our day, the things that made us smile, made us feel loved, gave us comfort and that we enjoyed, all of these are so important to help stay positive and build resilience.

When we enjoy something such as cooking, sewing, knitting, colouring, gardening, reading, playing, exercise, music & learning something new these all affected how our brain functions each day. Feeling enjoyment stimulates the pre frontal cortex that makes us feel happy, positive and in control. When the pre frontal cortex is working well this quietens the connection to our internal alarm bell the amygdala. When we feel anxious, fear and panic our alarm bell rings loudly.

Whilst we cannot control the world right now we can control how we respond in our new daily routines. Exercise, eating healthily, practising meditation and mindfulness and doing things we enjoy each day may all help each one us get through each day, one day at a time. Taking time to notice and enjoy the things you do at home may help reduce the amount of times our alarm bell rings and help manage our anxiety and fear.

Creating new habits

As we all adjust to spending more time at home it may be hard to adjust to changing habits and routines. As humans we are all creatures of habit. We only change our habits if we see a benefit or when we choose too. At present our daily habits and routines have been disrupted but that doesn’t mean we cannot take some control.

Having a routine for each new day is important to add structure and allow you to feel in control of your day. Writing down what you are going to do such as when you will exercise, when you will spend time doing something you enjoy, when you will read or take time to relax and focus on things such as meditation all help build resilience to pressure, stress and anxiety.

Taking the time to accept without resistance that a change in habit or routine creates an opportunity to try something new you may never had time for or that you have always wanted to do is important. Focusing on the positive changes in your day, what you have achieved in that day, and what you feel grateful for in each day may all help support mental wellbeing. Resisting change only adds to stress and anxiety, learning new ways to adjust each day at this present time may help support your mental and physical wellbeing.

Finding calm each day

With the world as it is today you may be finding it difficult to feel a sense of calm and peace. Guided meditation is one way that may help you find these important emotions to help build resilience and reduce feelings of anxiety, worry and stress.

We can’t change the world but if we choose to we can choose new ways to cope with daily changes to our lives and routines. Meditation has been clinically found to help support our mental and physical wellbeing. I hope you find the following guideded meditation helpful.

Island of tranquility meditation