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Exercise, Nutrition & Sleep

Hugh Van Cuylenburg from The Resilience Project talks about 3 daily research-backed activities that have been shown to help prevent mental health issues in children and adults, and improve symptoms where there are existing problems.  These 3 activities are:

  • Gratitude
  • Mindfulness
  • Empathy.  

The research is showing if you practise these 3 things everyday for 21 days it will improve your happiness.

Sounds simple!  Although these tools are the focus of his talks, he did say they will not work without exercise, good nutrition and sleep – so in this blog we’ll explore why that is.

Exercise

Moving your body a lot (whether it’s sport or walking the dog) will release feel-good chemicals (hormones) in your body called endorphins.  You want endorphins because they make you feel happy and relaxed.  Exercise also releases other chemicals important for mood and motivation, called serotonin and dopamine – and if that’s not enough, it releases growth factors which help your brain to grow and adapt (a process known as neuroplasticity). Conversely, sitting for hours on end, on computer games, or computer or watching TV makes most people feel tired and grumpy and is disruptive to our brain chemistry.

Nutrition

Having a few treats every now can make us feel happy, but when we have too many it can affect our mood. There is a connection between what you eat and how you feel. Research is showing that if you eat lots of fruit, vegetables and whole-grains it can boost your mood.  Eating loads of sugar and processed food (ie ‘junk food’) may cause your mood to decline.  Although it’s complex, this could be related to the link between our gut and the brain (called the gut-brain axis) – for example, over 90 percent of the mood enhancing neurotransmitter serotonin is produced in our gut and not our brain. If our gut isn’t happy, it sends messages up to the brain and in turn affects our mood.

Sleep

Sleep is as important as nutrition and exercise. Nothing good comes from not getting enough sleep. Sleep affects mood, learning and behaviour.  It also helps us get better if we’re sick. When we’re sick, sleep produces infection-fighting proteins called cytokines, which also make us feel sleepy. That’s why when we’re not feeling well, we also feel tired.  It’s our body telling us to rest. Sleep is also the time when our brains flush out toxins and repair and strengthen our brain cells. It’s like sleep is the time our brains take out the rubbish.

So, in summary – practising gratitude, mindfulness and empathy along with eating well, moving a lot and getting a good night’s sleep are the keys to a healthy, happy life.

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Acts of Kindness

When you do something nice for someone else, it can actually make you feel better too. This isn’t just something that happens coincidentally – it has to do with the pleasure centres in your brain. Doing nice things for others boosts your serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of satisfaction and well-being. Like exercise, altruism also releases endorphins, a phenomenon known as a “helper’s high” (1).

Being nice to others can also affect the actual chemical balance of your heart. Kindness releases the hormone oxytocin. According to David Hamilton, a doctor and best-selling author, “oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and therefore oxytocin is known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone because it protects the heart.” Oxytocin also helps reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation in the body can be associated with all sorts of health problems such as diabetes, cancer, chronic pain, obesity, and migraines. Kindness can actually help manage or prevent illness (2).

Not only that, but in our busy, always-on-the-go lives, we’re constantly looking for ways to reduce stress, and kindness may be one answer. Helping others allows you to step outside of yourself and take a break from the stressors in your own life, and this behaviour can also make you better equipped to handle stressful situations (3).

Acts of Kindness can be as simple as holding the door open for a stranger, smiling at people around you, donating money to a charity, or doing a work colleague a small favour. If someone thanks you, ask them to just “pay it forward” by doing something for others.

 

REFERENCES:

1 https://www.quietrev.com/6-science-backed-ways-being-kind-is-good-for-your-health/

2 http://drdavidhamilton.com/the-5-side-effects-of-kindness/

3http://www.readersdigest.ca/home-garden/giving-back/4-reasons-why-being-kind-is-good-you/view-all/

 

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Cold Shower Therapy

One of the Rituals many of our Ritualize members have on their Ritual board, is to take a cold shower a few times a week. If this brings feelings of dread into your stomach, don’t stop here …. keep reading!

You may be surprised at how beneficial taking a cold shower is. We’re talking immune boosters, mood enhancing and weight loss to name just a few.

Before we talk about the cold shower Ritual, let’s briefly delve into the science of cold emersion. Cold emersion (or what can be called cryotherapy) has shown to release noradrenaline in the brain. This is a neurotransmitter that is linked to your bodies resistance to stress, reduced inflammation and improved mood. It can even improve your brain’s ability to create new brain cells. It has also shown be effective for short-term pain reduction and has shown to help the symptoms of chronic arthritis.

And if this wasn’t enough to turn the shower handle to cold for your next shower, it has shown to increase ‘brown fat’ (a type of adipose tissue). This brown fat is different to white fat in that it produces heat by burning calories. In other words, brown fat is a calorie hungry, internal heater. One study showed that 250 extra calories were burned through brown fat after a 3-hour period of cold exposure.

Feeling down? Take a cold shower

One of the most immediate benefits of a cold shower is feeling energised and happy. This is caused by norepinephrine to be released in the brain, which is great for mood. Studies are currently being carried out on cold emersion and clinical depression, so watch this space.  In the meantime, people taking cold showers, even just once a week, tell us how great they feel afterwards.

Try doing 20-30 seconds at the end of your shower. Rather than it being a sudden hit of cold, try box breathing before and during the cold shower.  It really helps and after a few time, you’ll start incorporating a cold shower into your routine.  The benefits feel too good to stop!

Interested in reading more about Cold Water emersion? Read our blog on a first-hand experience.

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Finding the Silver Lining

We all react to different problems in different ways. Ever noticed that some people can stay calm under adversity while others are obviously stressed out? One of the best ways to help change your emotional response to a bad situation is something called cognitive reappraisal.

Cognitive Reappraisal is:

1) attending to the emotional situation, which will elicit an automatic judgment of the situation,

2) a cognitive re-evaluation of the situation in a more neutral or positive direction.

What happens when you take a split second to cast a better light on an otherwise dark situation is that you can actually up-end your emotional experience entirely. What was once an idiotic, reckless driver, is now a guy just trying to get to work on time. What was once a bad interview, is now good experience and something to improve on next time. Studies have demonstrated that the use of cognitive reappraisal can change how you view the emotional experience very quickly and even decrease the physical effects of emotion on the body. For example, anger typically causes your heart rate, respiration, and skin conductance levels to elevate, but upon reappraisal, these responses don’t spike nearly as highly.

An effective way to do this is to create a Catastrophe Scale. Form your scale of how bad things are from 1 to 10 – 10 being the worst possible thing that could ever happen and 1 being something mediocre. Refer to this scale to get a bigger picture of how bad the situation currently is.

Here are some examples:  

  1. Getting caught in a rainstorm while on your way to work
  2. Kid fails a test at school
  3. Work presentation doesn’t go as well as you hoped
  4. Car breaks down and you’re late for work
  5. Miss a very important business meeting or job interview
  6. The doctor says that you have high blood pressure
  7. Broken limb and it interferes with work
  8. Losing a close relationship/marriage/friendship
  9. Someone you love dies
  10. The whole family dies in front of you and having to witness it in a war-torn country

Obviously, the circumstances surrounding all of these can be personal to you. But the point of a catastrophe scale is to step back and see the bigger picture and use it as a reference point whenever times call for it.

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Get Your Game Face On

Athletes regularly practise mental rehearsal, or what we like to call mental sculpting before a competition, and in little breaks during a competition. The top tennis players in the world use their mental strength to help them succeed. In fact, Serena Williams considers the game of tennis is 70% mental. Below is a list of positive statements which Serena Williams writes down and reads before and during the match.

  • “My good thoughts are powerful”
  • “My only negative thoughts are weak!”
  • “Decide what you want to be, have, do and think the thoughts of it.”
  • “Hang on to the thought of what you want. Make it absolutely clear.”
  • “Positive thoughts”
  • “You will look at balls”
  • “You will move up”
  • “You are #1 (No 1)”
  • “You are the best”
  • “You will add spin”
  • “You will win WIMBLEDON”

This approach can be used by anyone in their daily lives, not just athletes. One way we can do this is by thinking “what is my best self?” and presenting that version of yourself.  You can ask other people, friends or family, when they have seen you at your best and then create this best version of yourself. The You that is positive, the You that is open, friendly and welcoming to others, the You that is focussed and determined. You can also select a role model who has the traits you could benefit from in your own life. This could be a sporting star, an actor, activist or even your neighbour. Write down the traits you admire and if you are in a situation where you need them, ask yourself, what would they do in this situation?

The idea is to then use this lots of times throughout the day. Before you have a meeting at work or are one on one with someone, or a customer interaction. Just give yourself 20 seconds of space to say “Ok, what is my best self”, and visualise it. What are the emotions, the body language and the intention that you’re going to bring to the conversation? Emotions are contagious, so by doing this regularly throughout the day, you will actually improve your level of interaction and it will have a positive impact on those that you interact with. Plus you will notice that your performance level goes up.

The single most important time to do this Game Face or Mental Sculpting ritual is when you come home. It’s easy to bring the stress of the day home with you if you don’t consciously switch your mindset. Before you go into the house, just sit outside and for 20 to 30 seconds just say to yourself “What part of me does me or my partner, or my kids or my parents want to see?

Just do that visualisation, walk in with intention around your emotions and notice how that will impact positively on your friends and your family.

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Box breathing: The Military Secret

In 2012, the New York Times wrote an article, called “The ‘Busy’ Trap”, about how so many of us over-schedule ourselves in order to feel more important or to avoid being alone with our thoughts but our busyness can be self-inflicted. We often take on too much work and other obligations and can let our ambition or drive come before our health.  It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this; it’s something we’re collectively – albeit unknowingly – encouraging each other to do (1).

So, if being too busy – and not challenging ourselves to be more mindful of how we choose to spend our time – is ruining our health, taking time out of our day, even just 2 minutes, to relax, unplug and clear our minds can have enormous benefits.

Box Breathing, otherwise known as Four-Square Breathing or Controlled Breathing, is a great way to reduce stress and to give your mind a break for a few minutes. The Special Forces, public speakers, and surgeons use tactical breathing to help control their thoughts and emotions when faced with challenging situations that obscure their clarity. (2)

HOW DO YOU DO IT?

Box Breathing is a technique where you take slow, deep breaths while counting to four while you breathe in, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold for four.

  • Start by relaxing your whole body and be seated if possible.
  • Sit upright, and then slowly exhale, getting all the oxygen out of your lungs. Really focus on this and be conscious of what you’re doing.
  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four, very slowly in your head.
  • Feel the coolness of the air you’re breathing in and the way it fills your lungs, one section at a time until they are completely full.
  • Hold your breath for another slow count of four.
  • Exhale through your mouth for the same slow count of four, expelling the air from your lungs and abdomen. Be conscious of the feeling of the air leaving your lungs, how the coolness has become warmth.
  • Then hold your breath for another 4 counts and repeat the whole process again (3).

If you have trouble clearing your thoughts, trying humming in your mind or really focus on the counting.

 

WHEN AND WHERE CAN YOU DO IT?

It’s almost like meditating, and so it works best in a quiet, stress free environment. However if you cannot find a quiet place, it’s something you can easily do with your eyes closed in a quiet spot with your eyes closed, at work or at home or anywhere in between. Give it a go while you’re standing waiting for your kettle to boil, or on the train to work, or in the bathroom before a meeting, or after you park your car, before you head into your office for the day. Repeat your mantra and count to yourself and no one will even notice that you are performing a stress-reduction exercise.

WHY DOES IT WORK?

According to the Mayo Clinic, a medical research clinic in the United States, there is a sufficient amount of evidence to suggest that intentional deep breathing can actually calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system, a system which regulates involuntary body functions like temperature. It can lower blood pressure and provide an almost-immediate sense of calm, and improve your mood. But the benefits of deep breathing also extend beyond in-the-moment stress relief. It’s an exceptional treatment for conditions like generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. It can also help treat insomnia by allowing you to calm your nervous system at night before bed. Box breathing can even help with pain management (4).

References:

  1. https://www.wellandgood.com/good-advice/stop-glorifying-how-busy-you-are/
  2. https://thepreppingguide.com/box-breathing/
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/box-breathing#tips
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/decrease-stress-by-using-your-breath/art-20267197?pg=2
  5. https://www.livestrong.com/article/225192-sudarshan-kriya-breathing-technique/
  6. https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/?_r=0

 

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Blue light casts a new light on sleep deficiency

Sleep is affected by many things. When you think of what affects your sleep, the usual suspects are things like caffeine, alcohol, stress, noise.  What has come to light (pun intended) is our increased use of artificial light which is affecting our sleep.  It may be time to question Thomas Edison when he reassured that electric light ‘is in no way harmful to health, nor does it affect the soundness of sleep’

Our body’s biological clockwork around circadian rhythms, which are affected by the amount of light and dark we are exposed to.  Our organs even function to these rhythms, which determine our sleep, feeding patterns, brain activity, hormone production and the effectiveness of cell regeneration. Sleep affects our lives in so many ways – mood, hunger, stress and energy which affects how much we move.

If we lived purely in natural light, our brain would signal the body to start releasing sleep hormones, like melatonin when it started to get dark outside. Our temperature would drop which would start the sleep process.  When it got light again, our temperature would rise and our body would start producing hormones like cortisol to wake us up (1). 

When our bodies are exposed to artificial light, such as LED’s and screen lights, we are confusing it and all these natural processes are disrupted. The body doesn’t know when it’s time to get ready for sleep and stays alert.

Studies have shown that melatonin is suppressed by approximately 85 percent when it’s exposed to room light during the night compared with dim light (2).

With more blue light in our lives emitted by room lights and screens, our quality and duration of our sleep is negatively affected (3). Although we are staying up later on computers, watching TV or on our mobiles, it’s also the blue light we are exposed to during the day that is impacting our circadian rhythm and therefore our sleep (4). Sleep deprivation has a powerful impact on our overall wellness and there is a lot of evidence to support it (5). 

We live in the modern world, so it’s not realistic to start living purely in natural light.  There are a few things you can do to limit your exposure and improve your quality of sleep.

TIPS ON LIMITING EXPOSURE TO BLUE LIGHT

  1. Turn off all your devices at least one hour before you go to bed. Try not to keep your mobile phone next to your bed to avoid the temptation to check it. Read a book, take a bath or have a no-screen wind-down routine.
  2. Turn lights off gradually at night, or use a dimmer switch.
  3. Use orange or red light bulbs in lamps (found in most hardware stores) instead of bright room lights.
  4. Consider red or orange tinted glasses while looking at screens.
  5. Use Nightshift if you have an iPhone and MacBook. This is a setting which makes the colours on your screen warm. Most smartphones have the night option – look for it under settings. Set a time for it to automatically switch on and off so you don’t have to always remember.
  6. Turn daytime lights off if possible and spend as much time as you can in natural light. If you can’t, there are lights that mimic natural light that can help.

Sweet dreams!

References:

(1) https://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom/see.php
(2) https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/96/3/E463/2597236
(3) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170822103434.htm
(4) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140203191841.htm
(5) https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article-abstract/65/suppl_3/S244/1911960

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Don’t Believe Everything You Think

Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that – thoughts” – Allan Lokos, author

Most of us want a mindset that helps us feel good and helps us be productive, kind, helpful and just all-around awesome. But our mindsets are not always an environment of roses and fluffy clouds as we’d like them to be. This is often hard to be aware of and hard to change.

Think of the set in mindset.  It’s rigid, stubborn …. it’s set.

Why does this happen?  It’s a cumulation of past experiences, previous thoughts, relationships, what others have done and said (even as small children), what we’ve seen in the media and what the most important people in our lives have said or done that make up our current mindset. The beliefs, opinions and attitudes that make up our mindset are pretty much hard-wired in us but this hard-wiring can be changed.

There are so many ways to look at a situation, so many different ways to think about the things that happen to you and around you. Remember the story of Pollyanna? She saw the good in everything, even in the worst situations.  The first step is to be aware of your thinking choices.  We have around 50,000-70,000 thoughts a day and many of these are repeated and many not logical.  

Cognitive bias, false assumptions, misinformation, ego and limited beliefs are just a few patterns of unhealthy thought that interfere with our judgement. With a rise in mental health issues worldwide, there are a lot of us out there with unhealthy thought patterns. One in 4 people worldwide are affected by a mental health disorder (1) and 4 million people in Australia are experiencing a Mental Health issues (2) with Tasmania ranking the highest for hospital admissions due to mental health issues.(3) Mental health can be a complex issue.  Having awareness of whether you have a positive or negative mindset can be a help.

If you tell yourself you’re a failure, you believe you’ll never be good enough, you believe that people in the street look at you because they’re judging you, you believe you could never get to where you want to get to – you may want to start challenging these limiting beliefs.  

Here are some tips for rewiring your brain to create a positive mindset – often referred to a ‘growth mindset:

  • Use positive words instead of negative ones. Words create thoughts which create a feeling, so try and keep them positive.
  • Be grateful. Research is showing us that a daily gratitude ritual makes us happier. Add the gratitude ritual on the Ritualize app and make a note of something you are thankful for each day.
  • When talking or thinking about something you’d like to have or do, use aspirational and positive language, for example:
    • Instead of “I can’t run 5km” you’d say “I can’t run 5km yet”
    • I can’t run 5km yet/however I can go swimming more often.
    • I’m not sleeping well YET but it’s something I’m working on.
  • Be empathetic to others. We are often so entrenched in our own beliefs that we don’t see others points of view.

Taking control of your thoughts is the first step to a more positive and happier mindset.  Listen to your thoughts before you react.

 

REFERENCES

http://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/

http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4364.0.55.001

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-14/community-based-care-needed-to-curb-mental-health-hospital-admi/9049808

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Not all calories are created equally

Calories are often at the centre of our decision as to whether or not to eat a certain food.  Many of us are counting our calories and many weight loss programs require you to do the same, but is it an effective long-term strategy?

We would say no, for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s very time consuming, and not a realistic long-term strategy for most people.
  2. Manufacturers are allowed up to 10% leeway when estimating calories in their products, so you may be eating more or less than you think.
  3. Calorie amounts found on food labels are based on something called the Atwater system, which basically involves estimating the energy of foods by measuring the heat given off when it is burned. However, the accuracy of the system is strongly disputed –  for example, a 2012 study by a USDA scientist concluded that the measured energy content of a sample of almonds was 32% lower than the estimated Atwater value. Furthermore, it is known that some calories are lost in waste, without ever having been chemically converted or stored. It is really just generally accepted as true because there is no better way to estimate calories from food at this point.
  4. Calories from different foods are not all equal. 

Calorie Inequalities

Professor Robert Lustig carried out a study. For example, you could eat a doughnut which is around 240 calories. The same calories are in a cup of avocado.  One is a highly processed food and the other is picked off a tree.  Same calories, same effect?  Absolutely not.

With that in mind, let’s look at some examples of how the body breaks down, metabolises and uses food. The food contains the macronutrients fibre, protein, fat and carbohydrates.

Fibre

Nuts are high in fibre and there is some research to say that lean, healthy people tend to eat a lot of them. How can this happen given they’re high in calories?  Let’s say you eat 160 calories in almonds. Because of the fibre in the almonds, some good things happen. First, the fibre keeps your blood sugar from rising too high, which keeps your insulin down.  Secondly, the fibre bypasses the small intestine and goes intact to the large intestine and the good bacteria living there end up chewing it up instead of you absorbing them. So, even if 160 calories entered your mouth, only around 80% of those are actually available for you to absorb. This is because not all calories are created equal.

Protein

Digestion of food requires energy to create energy. This is called the thermic effect of food and protein requires over twice the energy to digest it if you compare it to fat and carbs.

Fat

Next, let’s look at the demonised fat. There are good fats and there are bad fats. Some fats are incredibly good for you and others will, over time, make you sick.  Good fats are like omega 3s of salmon, flaxseed and walnuts or monounsaturated fat from avocado. Bad fats include trans fats which are found in many processed foods and junk food. Calories from fat are not all equal either.

Carbohydrates

Let’s look at carbohydrates. Like fat, there are good carbs and there are bad carbs. Like fat, there are good carbs and there are bad carbs. Good carbs from real, unprocessed food such as vegetables, legumes, fruit and whole-grains which are high in fibre. Refined carbohydrate is found in processed food, which is low in fibre.  This is the reason the current western diet is low in fibre, which is a major factor as to why people are getting sick.

Ritualize has a simple approach to nutrition – we call it the 80/20 Lifestyle where 80% of your daily food intake is from real, whole food that was recently alive and 20% is your treat food.  This approach means you don’t feel deprived, but maintain control of the treat food while getting all the nourishment your body needs to stay healthy.

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Be Kind To Yourself

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete…” – Buddha

Be kind to yourself

We know that feeling compassionate towards others is a good trait to have.

Feeling compassionate means we are aware and are moved by the suffering of others. Research is showing that being compassionate towards other can increase our well-being.The part of the brain responsible for compassion and empathy is the cerebral cortex. If it’s working well, we feel kindness, care and understanding for people.

Self-compassion is where compassion turns inward and those feelings of kindness and understanding are directed at ourselves at those times when we feel inadequate or if we fail rather than drowning ourselves with self-criticism. With 3 million people in Australia living with depression or anxiety, it seems self-compassion may be missing in a lot of lives. There’s good reason to be self-compassionate and science is showing us why.

A study at Duke University, Wake Forest University, and Louisiana University on self-compassion showed:

  • People who were self-compassionate tended to be more optimistic and had a tendency not to believe that their problems were worse than other people’s problems.
  • A person with a high level of self-compassion experiences the feeling of kindness towards oneself, and takes on a nonjudgmental attitude towards their own inadequacies and failures, recognising that experiencing those failures is normal.
  • People who were self-compassionate had less sadness, anxiety, and negative feelings.


Top 5 Ways to Feel Self Compassion


DO WHAT MORE OF WHAT BRINGS YOU JOY

Whether it’s playing with your dog, gardening or working out at the gym, so more of what makes you happy. Write a list of things that you enjoy so when you are feeling negative you can read the list and choose something that works for you.


PUT YOURSELF FIRST

Many of us spend time tending to the needs of others that we put ourselves at the bottom of the priority list. Putting self-care higher up the list will improve well-being and therefore improve our ability to look after others.


BREATHE

Deep breathing such as Box Breathing or any meditation practice calms the central nervous system, alleviating stress and anxiety.


EXERCISE

Exercise is not only physically good for us, but it taps into the emotional parts of the brain that trigger the release of ‘feel good’ hormones. You don’t have to sweat it out at the gym as even smaller, short bursts of exercise have a positive effect on our mood.


EAT WELL

When we are feeling down about ourselves we often crave high sugar and fat foods which release the hormone, dopamine, making us feel good in the short term. Our brains are wired to seed pleasure, so we turn to these foods to seek the positive feelings they bring. Research is showing a link between mood and food intake which can lead to health problems (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4150387/) Eating a balanced diet of plenty of vegetables, fruit, protein, good fat, complex carbs and fibre will curb the sugar craving and stabilise mood swings.


BE SOCIAL

Being around friends and family who matter most can have a positive effect on your mental and physical health. If you’re feeling negative thoughts about yourself, call a friend you can confide in or even just have a chat. Often speaking with other puts a different perspective on things.