PART THREE: MIND HEALTH
As designers we are naturally driven, detail-obsessed, workaholics. However could it be said that our biggest weakness is our precision to detail?
During job interviews its common to be asked, “What’s your biggest weakness?”. The cheat’s answer is “I’m a perfectionist”. We hope this will give our potential employer an image of us as a detail-obsessed workaholic who will not finish working until a project is completed to the highest possible standard, and is also the best reflection of our creative talent. The truth is, perfectionism isn’t an advantage masquerading as a weakness, it really is our weakness. It is destroying our health and can make us desperately sad. Feel free to scroll to the end to see my go-to table for a summary on the key factors for maintaining our mental health, and consult with your doctor or health advisor before embarking on any new exercise, food and supplement regime.
This blog is about maintaining mental health when stressed and super busy. It aims to condense vital knowledge on this subject into one platform, so that you can recognise what is happening to your mind when you are feeling overwhelmed and over worked. This blog will hopefully give you the tools to manage your mental wellbeing more successfully, because, happiness comes first.
To recap, I feel the main six elements that make up our overall wellbeing are:
1. RELAXATION and SLEEP
2. FOOD is a priority, healthy food is essential as it nourishes our bodies and souls as well as protecting us from many illnesses.
3. MIND, or mental health; its important to check our perfectionist tendencies, and to focus on our health and happiness instead.
4. GUT health, (links 2 and 3), through our guts are we absorb the nutrients from the food we eat, our digestive system and our brains are interconnected.
5. Essential MOVEMENT, in the form of leisure or exercise
6. SKIN health
HAPPINESS: How To Work Smarter (Not Harder)
Perfectionism is particularly prevalent amongst designers (especially those with the catechol-O-methyltransferase(COMT) gene, and millennials). I happen to be all three, though I hate to admit it, so it's no wonder I’m a perfectionist.
Millennials are the collective term for people born between the years 1981 and 2000. The era of social media began when millennials were coming of age, for a decade now we have been encouraged to think of our public life as a performance instead of a participation exercise. This has encouraged us to feel shame that we haven’t achieved enough with our lives yet, as if time is running out. Maybe it's time we calm down, slow down, and take a collective breath. We don't have to do it all at once, and beating ourselves up for not having done enough isn't just bad for us, it's bad for everyone. When we feel like we aren't achieving enough, our self-esteem drops. We become more unhappy and less present in our lives. This is a disservice to all, since it is when we're relaxed and in flow that we show up as our best selves. It's also when we're the most creative, the most inspired.
I have suggested several books throughout the blog relating to different aspects of our mental health, have a read of the ones that appeal to you. Amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and worldofbooks.com are great websites for lower, priced books and audio books.
Fashion Design is fast paced with intense, seasonal, surges in work. Amy Poole is a freelance designer whom manages her work by planning ahead for each season. As the next season approaches she makes a detailed, weekly, job plan week-by-week as well as prioritising going to the gym upon waking. She finds this helps her visualise her day’s work. Yes she has to work late sometimes and at weekends when there is a big project due in, but she manages this by using the app ‘Headspace’. Headspace helps with stilling the mind, and meditation.
Andy Black was a graphic designer, now turned Operations Manager where he designs software for telecoms products. He offers the following advice in that the skill is not always the creation itself but knowing when to stop polishing a design. He suggests getting feedback from the client or another person in the early stages of a project, as ‘we aren’t always a good judge of our own work’, (as we have a tendency to become too attached).
The key is to stop, step back and hit the deadline with a design that’s 90 percent to your satisfaction, rather than handing in a project late because you are not 100 percent happy with it. We as artists are never going to be 100 percent happy with our own work. Black also offers the advice that perfection is very often within our own personal taste, what we see as perfect isn’t necessarily what our client sees as perfect.
In my personal experience I found I designed faster and more fluidly when I first worked for another designer, because, I didn’t care as much. It wasn’t my name above the catwalk that the garments and textiles I was creating were going to be displayed on, at London Fashion week, so I was detached. I’m not suggesting for one second I didn’t care about my work, in fact I produced some of my best creations at the time. As a result I tried to harness this, shall we say, less-attached attitude and directed it towards my personal work, as a result my productivity improved immensely.
HAPPINESS: Be True To Yourself
In terms of fashion design it’s so important to design in a way that’s integral to yourself. Often a client, customer or a mentor doesn’t really know what they want and you could spend hours creating design boards. You may be causing yourself unnecessary stress developing an initial idea on many tangents, hoping you have covered all bases, only to find the employer preferred your initial idea and just wanted to see a little more, they just couldn’t communicate this in the correct way to a person who’s creative mind runs wild and free. If you believe in your work, follow it through and secure your voice.
Whilst studying at The Royal College of Art there was one phrase that constantly came up from the tutors and peers, ‘is that idea original enough?’. I thought a lot about originality and I spent many, many hours researching originality specific to fashion and textiles design. I found that although there was an obsession with trying to be original, no one had actually ever written about it. The closest discussions on this subject were found in philosophy books. So I decided to write the first Thesis about originality. My conclusion was, amongst many things, to stick with your own style over and over again. This way you will authenticate it as your own voice, then you are seen as the master, and the originator of it.
HAPPINESS: Sunshine, Vitamin D, Magnesium And Great Sleep
Take a breath of fresh air and get outside for at least 20 minutes a day. When the weather is good throw open your windows to dilute the concentration of any home pollutants; these are from things like gas cookers, chemicals used in furnishings, fumes from cleaning products, and mould spores (see Part 1 of this series for more on how mould can negatively impact on your health). Being outdoors, ideally amongst natural scenery, provides an uplifting boost. Extra sunshine makes us happy and nature calms us down by drawing our attention to the greenery around us.
Sunshine is important for the production of Vitamin D, a lack of which can leave us feeling zapped of energy. A vitamin is a compound that cannot be produced by the body and since vitamin D is produced in the skin, as a result of exposure to sunlight, it is more accurately described as a hormone. Those with white skin need about 5-15 minutes of daily sun exposure without SPF; darker skin may need 30-40 minutes. It’s important to wear SPF at other times, and it helps to wear shorts and short-sleeved tops for maximum skin exposure. A healthy and balanced diet can at the maximum supply us with 5 -10 percent of the recommended daily Vitamin D (approx 3000iu), through foods like calf’s liver, almonds, oatmeal, dairy, oily fish, eggs and mushrooms. Small amounts can be found in fortified milks, but we would need to drink 20 glasses of milk everyday to maintain optimum levels of Vitamin D (too much cow’s milk comes with its own health issues such as bloating, not to mention taking up a lot of your daily calorie requirements). A large amount of research has and is still being carried out on this vital vitamin. What we now know is that the vast population may well have around 95 percent Vitamin D deficiency in their blood stream.
Research has found Vitamin D has a role in our bodies’ well beyond that of calcium absorption and bone growth. This is because vitamin D receptors have been found in over 50 organs and sites within the human body. In short this means the body’s requirements (set many years ago at around 300iu) are greater than we initially thought (modern research has reset these ideal levels between 2000iu and 4000iu).
Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating the immune system to reduce inflammation, the accumulation of fluid and immune cells to injured tissue. A lack of vitamin D is also linked to diabetes, depression and even cell mutation. It's role in depression is not fully understood however we do know that vitamin D receptors exist in the brain. Studies show vitamin D increases serotonin levels in the brain, which helps to improve mood and a sense of wellbeing.
With all this in mind it probably is a good idea to take a vitamin D supplement and perhaps cod liver oil (which contains vitamin D and A). I would take a lower dose in the Summer months than the Winter (please bare in mind that it is possible to overdose on vitamin D). Try an initial daily, dosage of 1000iu, and next time you have blood tests at the doctors please request that your vitamin D levels are tested too. Its worth noting the NHS range for optimum vitamin D levels (20 nanograms/millilitre to 50 ng/ml) is a lot lower than what a private Doctor and natural health practitioner would recommend (70 -100 ng/ml).
Magnesium works with calcium for the optimal function of the nervous system. Without adequate magnesium, the nerve cells cannot give or receive nerve impulses resulting in sensitivity to all types of stimuli such as lights may appear too bright, noises too loud and emotional reactions exaggerated. A deficiency in magnesium can result in the symptoms of anxiety and irritability since magnesium is required for the manufacture of adrenal stress hormones. Unfortunately, magnesium supplements, either in a multivitamin or otherwise, is ill absorbed by the body with average absorption rates of only 20 percent. Our intestines are simply not efficient at absorbing magnesium from supplements and increasing the intake simply results in diarrhoea.
Magnesium glycinate tablets are the most absorbable tablet form of the mineral, however several studies have shown that using magnesium oil raised magnesium levels to the top of the reference scale within eight weeks (and without side effects) whilst the oral route can take two years or even longer! Magnesium Oil is also available as bath soaks or flakes and this method also delivers therapeutic quantities of the mineral into the bloodstream. Magnesium oil Sprays contain a supersaturated solution of magnesium chloride derived from ancient Zechstein seabed mineral salts. Magnesium chloride is the form favoured by our bodies. In fact whatever the compound we take, it is converted to the chloride form in the stomach for better absorption and retention.
I spoke about the importance of sleep in part one of this blog series, however here I will discuss why dreaming, rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep is important for our brain development, and therefore our mental health. REM is the final phase of sleep and when our brain is at its most active. The first four stages are a progression for shallow to deeper sleep. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that those who spent more time in the REM phase were better equipped to deal with fear and less likely to develop post-traumatic stress following a dramatic experience.
While research has identified the pros surrounding dreaming, scientists are still unsure as to what exactly happens when we dream. Some believe it’s random neurons shooting off, others believe it’s our brains way of processing the day’s events and any concerns or dilemmas we’ve had to face. Can you even remember the last time you had a really truly vivid dream? If you struggle to get eight hours sleep a night, the thought of dreaming can feel like more of an indulgent luxury. More and more research, such as the paper ‘Dreamless: The Silent Epidemic of REM sleep Loss’ by Rubin Naiman (sleep and dream specialist at the University of Arizona Centre for Integrative Medicine), is highlighting the importance of dreams in connection to a healthy mind. Three sleep-inducers: The supplement: Forget your worries and release any tension with the help of Magnolia Rhodiola Complex, £26. The blends of ingredients are second-to-none when it comes to easing anxiety. The pillow mist: Spritz away your worries and lull yourself into a dreamy sleep with This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Mist, £18.The balm: Just a pea-size amount of de Mamiel’s Anchor Balm, £40, warmed up in your hands and applied to your pulse points is the perfect remedy for those who get restless in the early hours.
No one can be happy everyday, but I’m a huge believer that by acting happy and smiling, it will start a chain reaction backwards through the body and mind, resulting in physically feeling happy. When you are out and about (outdoors) maybe choose to smile to at least one person each day. Be kind, even if someone has wronged you. Often work-based stress is due to colleagues, being given large tasks to complete in unsuitable small time frames or without sufficient instructions and support.
“The most important lesson I’ve learned is, don’t let anybody make you cruel. No matter how badly you want to give the world a taste of its own bitter medicine, it is never worth losing yourself”
If someone has caused you distress, take a moment or a day to process things in your head, discuss the situation with family and friend, then, just let it go.
Live in the moment, without regret, tomorrow is a new day.
MEDITATION & STRETCHING (For A Calm, Clear Mind)
When we feel stressed its important to take a time-out, Yoga and Body Balance group exercise classes are great to try as you can learn the art of this from an instructor without feeling on show. The following yoga poses help to restore a sense of wellbeing. They all help by increasing the oxygen flow to the brain for mental clarity, and stretching the hips, ankles, and back where we tense when stressed.
Try a 5-minute meditation, first the art of relaxation; lie in a dim room, on your back in corpse pose and in your mind’s eye scan down your body to help it relax. Relax the muscles around your eyes, your eyelids. Relax your mouth; relax your tongue on the roof of your mouth or wherever it wants to go. Relax the muscles along the length of your jaw towards your chin and relax your shoulders away from your ears. Relax your arms, the palms of your hands. Relax your thumbs and all your fingers. Relax your waist muscles, your thighs. Relax your feet and all your toes. Feel the back of your heels sinking into the floor, calves relaxing on the floor, buttocks relax, your tail bone softly pressing into the floor. Shoulder blades sink into the floor; elbows, knuckles and your head sink into the floor. Become aware of the rise and fall of your breath. Stay with the rise and fall of your breath. See if you can feel where that is in your body.
Second the art of stillness, of clearing your mind by focusing only on your breathing, or perhaps play some of the relaxation music, suggested in Part One of this blog series, and focus only on the sounds in the music. If any thoughts enter your mind, think ‘thought’, and it should disappear. Let your forehead, brows and eyes relax, visualise any facial tension drifting across your cheeks and out through your skull.
Thirdly smiling meditation: without doing anything physically, visualise a smile forming on your face and expanding towards the corners of the room. Sense the warmth that brings into your mind, the brightness and how it opens your mind. Start to see your eyes smiling; the outside edges of your eyes lifting up a little. With your eyes smiling, your mouth smiling and your mind smiling, create an image of a smile in your heart-filling your heart space with warmth, energy and calmness.
For further information I recommend the App ‘Downdog’ and reading the following articles:
M.Bond ‘Mind Gym: Putting Meditation to the Test’ (New Scientist, 5 January 2011)
“Flow Can Help You Achieve Goals" www.verywell.com/what-is-flo-2794768
The book ‘Flow: The Psychology of Happiness’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Rider 2002). This book is a great summary of Mihal’s years of research in this area. Now a widespread and often misused term this book gives a solid grounding into the research and implementation tips behind the topic of ‘Flow’, “a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to complete absorption in an activity”.
Productivity: Goal Setting
Its important to set goals as this gives us purpose in life. However, by giving ourselves a huge list of daily tasks we are setting ourselves up for feeling a failure when we don’t have time to complete each task. Instead prioritise and if you have time to fit more responsibilities in then that’s a bonus. Set bite-sized, daily goals and remember you’re not going to master the rest of your life in one day. Just relax, master today, then keep doing this everyday. Try this tip, decide how long a task is going to take… then give yourself twice as long to carry it out. Its important to celebrate every small achievement, as this will spur us on, and soon these small goals will amount to something bigger.
Productivity: Create A Positive, Personal Environment
This may sound simplistic but get rid of drains on your life, these are people who sap your energy and make you feel bad about yourself. Instead surround yourself by radiators, people who radiate positivity or humour, and in turn bring the best out in you. Do you really have time to waste with people who bring you down? Let alone if you are extremely busy and stressed. If you can, clear your life of what is making you stressed, eliminate what doesn’t help you evolve.
“Don’t let the behaviour of others destroy your inner peace” - Dalai Lama
PRODUCTIVITY: How To Break Up With Social Media
A note on Social Media, we need to take a break from e-devices to allow the body to truly relax on a deeper level, which I also discussed in Part One of this blog series. Is social media making you anxious? Is social media taking up so much of your time you feel you are too busy to even take care of yourself by preparing proper home cooked meals? It can easily make us feel insecure, overwhelmed and as if we are underachieving in our lives, its also very addictive… something to think about perhaps, do you really need ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ to quantify who you are as a person?
Fiddling with our phones when we are in a queue, on the train or sat eating our lunch isn’t doing much for our concentration spans. The daily average number of times a person takes a look at their phone is 2,617! (study by dScout, Inc, June 2016). The constant flitting between tabs, emails and texts can make us distracted and fidgety. We need to put them away and allow ourselves to be bored. When we are bored we ignite the default mode in our brains’ and this is where we do our most original thinking, especially important when your job is based around creativity. It’s important to turn your phone back into a tool, not a temptation.
As mentioned in Part one of this blog series it may be worth keeping tablets and phones out of the bedroom in order to sleep better. Artificial, blue light given off by these devices inhibits our production of melatonin, which makes us feel sleepy. Great sleep is important for health, productivity and feeling positive about the day ahead.
The fashion industry in particular has been altered by social media applications, or platforms, namely Instagram, due to its focus on aesthetic and images. Instagram is a photo dominant platform with an 800 million-strong community. The money brands now invest in Instagram marketing is unprecedented. If a brand has one influencer with, say, one million followers, these followers will create a huge ripple effect of advertising. Due to the success of a few people who have been skyrocketed into fame by playing the Instagram ‘Game’, most of the 800 million users are trying to do the same. I call it a game because ‘likes’ 80 percent of the time no longer mean someone genuine likes your photo and statement you are putting out there. A ‘like’ nowadays means ‘like’ me back, or ‘follow’ me back. Desperate users spend their days following hundreds of people a day in the hope they will be followed back, then promptly ‘unfollow’ most of those people a few days later. You can even purchase followers, which makes it a mockery that companies will only work with users with many followers, how many of those are organic and how many are bought I wonder? Do we invest energy into playing along? I think unfortunately we have to be involved to a point as so many businesses rely on these apps, and potential customers initially judge a business’s viability by seeking out its online presence. It’s also a fantastic collaboration of easily accessible and invaluable research and information. I personally feel platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are all becoming increasingly fake, and we may be on the brink of a social media revolt. There are quite a few books now available to help us digitally detox such as ‘How To Break Up With Your Phone’ (Catherine Price, Tapeze, 2018). This book in particular influenced the known fashion journalist Pandora Sykes to take an extended break from Instagram, during Fashion Week no less.
Apps’ like Instagram can create a more brittle sense of self. Where validation becomes external, rather than internal. We shouldn’t feel guilty or blame ourselves these apps’ have been created solely aware of the human psychologies’ vulnerability in this area. Distraction is our brain’s natural preference, and social media merely reinforces the same mental circuits that made it hard to sustain concentration to begin with. Add to this our craving for dopamine hits from instant social validation feedback and you can understand how it is so addictive, it’s exactly the way gambling machines work. Dopamine is a chemical neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s pleasure centre. A few years ago none of us really knew what it was, but the creators of apps like Facebook consciously understood this expectation, reward (dopamine seeking) behaviour. For example, we post, like and comment online, in the hope that the likes and nice comments also come our way. The problem is these little ‘hits’ or quick check-ins on our apps are inherently unsatisfying, even anxiety-inducing.
The solution; try and limit how many platforms you use, perhaps pick just two social media platforms to focus your energy on. Limit the time period you use social media to between say 9 am and 9pm, whilst also considering a weekly hiatus from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset (or which days suit better for work commitments). This 24 hours of freedom from the digital space should force us to fill the day up with activities like cooking, drawing, fishing, walking, seeing friends etc basically living inside your body rather than a ‘brain fog’ inducing screen. Whilst on the subject of seeing friends with so many digital ways of interacting it could be fair to say real-life, meaningful, conversations are happening less and less. Yes emails and texts are certainly great for convenience, but as a result do we need to re-hone our real-life social skills as a result of too much emoji-speak?
Something to think about perhaps?
“A few years ago, going online felt like an escape from real life. But now, real life feels like an escape from being online”
I think anxiety affects most of us at some point in our lives; in short it’s a sign we need to change our lives. Thereare many anxiety-related disorders, and they are divided into three main categories:
1. Anxiety disorders
2. Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders
3. Trauma and stressor- related disorders
Anxiety disorders are characterized by a general feature of excessive fear (i.e. emotional response to perceived or real threat) and/or anxiety (i.e. worrying about a future threat) and can have negative behavioural and emotional consequences. Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders are characterized by obsessive, intrusive thoughts (e.g., constantly worrying about staying clean, or about one's body size) that trigger related, compulsive behaviours (e.g. repeated hand-washing, or excessive exercise). These behaviours are performed to alleviate the anxiety associated with the obsessive thoughts. Trauma and stressor-related anxiety disorders are related to the experience of a trauma(e.g., unexpected death of a loved one, a car accident, or a violent incident) or stressor (e.g., divorce, beginning college, moving).
Being stressed can bring on an anxiety attack and sometimes being super busy ‘indulges’ it. I didn’t even realise I had anxiety for a long time, I just knew something was holding me back and on the days I needed to be my most productive I somehow found myself procrastinating. I would be shaking with energy, as if I had too strong a coffee, but somehow unable to direct it to the imminent tasks in hand. Many people with anxiety function outwardly well, and so don’t look as if they have a problem. Anxiety can drive us to make diligent lists and rush purposely from one task to the next. We are the picture of efficiency and energy when really we are working way to hard, and avoiding things, rather than taking a step back, and figuring out how to move forwards with our lives by working smart. This is because anxiety is a nervous energy that’s easier to direct into doing more of what we know, a routine that we have mastered, rather than face a new task that could change our lives for the better.
By stepping into the unknown we can end up feeling less productive and worse about ourselves, a voice telling us we are not good enough and we are wasting time. Most anxious people are good at doing; we convince ourselves it achieves something, when in fact we can be wasting energy working in the wrong direction from our end goal.
Sugar is linked to anxiety and encourages ‘brain fog’ and yet unfortunately when we are stressed sugary, refined carbohydrate foods are often what we reach for as props. Please see my previous blog Part 2: FOOD for further information, and also the link below that gives more in depth information on how sugar effects the brain:
B.S. Lennerz et al., ‘Effects of Dietary Glycemic Index on Brain Regions Related to Reward and Craving in Men’, (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 98 (3), September 2013: 641-7), http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/98/3/641.
I have included refined, sugar, free ‘treat’ alternatives in this blog to ease you in to reducing sugar and encouraging to you savour what you eat to prevent grabbing unhealthy food mindlessly. Sarah Wilson who was the editor of Australia Cosmopolitan and author of the ‘I quit Sugar’ books, has recently written a book about anxiety (I recommended it in my previous blog part 2:FOOD) ‘First, We Make the Beast Beautiful’ (Bantam Press, 2018).
Wilson’s anxiety coping strategies are as follows:
Reframe Anxiety As Excitement
“At a biological level the two sensations are very similar, making the heart…flutter….Interpret anxiety as a buzz, which makes it more FUN”
2. Give Yourself Space
“A bipolar person once told me they need to be alone to play out conversations in their mind. Without space we can’t see the whole picture and we lose ourselves”
3. Stick With Anxious Feelings
“Do this until your fear is exhausted, to build…distress tolerance. Long-term problems are best dealt with alongside a counsellor or doctor, but you can experiment with less intense anxiety-provoking scenarios…You will feel empowered”
4. Make Routines
I would add to this in saying I make partial routines, too much constraint without room for the days plan to deviate if necessary could cause and anxiety attack, and a day without any plan could cause a nervous procrastination break down. Instead ;-
“Drop anchors into your day such as a morning routine so that you have fewer decisions to make…other certainty anchors that ritualise tiny decisions and ease anxiety include buying the same brands and saying yes to anyone who comes to me with definite plans, so that I don’t have to think”. (Edited extract from Sarah Wilson’s book on anxiety, ‘First, We Make the Beast Beautiful’)
MENTAL POWER: New Habit Building
Hypnotists believe that bad habits like Insomnia cannot be reversed, apparently its not how the brain works. You have to build a new and better habit over and over again until this becomes the new norm’. The new thoughts build up layer by layer and create a new habit that is stronger than the old one.
This is exactly the same with physical movement patterns as it is with mental thought patterns. For example; take a classic, modern-day example of someone who sits at a desk or drives long hours sat behind the steering wheel of a car most days for work. Their shoulders become rounded, their spines compressed and their Abdominals and Gluteus (abs and glutes) become lazy. As a result this person stands stooped, which instantly ages them, has lower back pain, and consequently finds it very difficult to perform exercises like squats with good form.
It takes approximately 100 hours for such people to stand, sit, and exercise with their shoulders rolled back and down, chest proud, and head pulled back inline with spine until it becomes a new habit. In most cases by creating a new great posture habit, the back pain will have reduced greatly, and the abs and glutes will start to fire up and share the spinal load with the back muscles more evenly. If you feel this example describes yourself seek out a good Pilates class, and possibly a Personal Trainer who is also qualified in Level 3 Pilates.
In terms of mental habits, I had an old mental habit where I would suddenly think I had to switch the light on, and wave my hands in the air to check for spiders hanging down over my bed, just as I was about to fall asleep! My new habit was to calmly resist this urge, to visualise lying in bed and it being OK not to check.
MENTAL POWER: Why Your Brain Enjoys Exercise As Much As Your Body
We now know from research that we continue to create new brain cell throughout our lives. The key to this vital function is staying strong physically, mentally and being socially active (as in real-life conversations). When we exercise our bodies’ release a lot of good things, including brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is good for the health of existing brain cells, and the creation of new brain cells. But when we engage in cognitive activity such as brain teasers Sudoku, crosswords, and the social aspect of meeting new people, we form new synapses between the cells. These connections between the cells are where memory is housed and together this results in a healthier brain.
These findings are very interesting to me personally, because at school my Dyslexia hindered my learning ability greatly, also my social skills. However fast forward to the present day and my memory, ability to learn fast, and interaction with other people has improved tenfold since becoming a group exercise Instructor. As an Instructor of classes such as Body Pump, I am required to exercise daily, regularly learn choreography off by heart, and constantly switch up my styles of teaching by connecting with participants in front of me on the day. Collectively these requirements of my job also fit in with the combination of activities that make and stabilise brain cells, plus connect them better.
If you are seeking a form of leisure that combines all of these brain health factors I highly recommend the Body Combat group exercise class that is based around mixed martial arts and is set to inspiring music. It has got the right balance between cardiovascular training, core training, fun, social interaction with other class members, and parts of the choreography are satisfyingly brain engaging.
The concept of leisure activity is really important. A lot of people are put off by the concept of exercise per se. It’s important to find something you enjoy doing, and any form of fitness related activity is better than non. Its true that exercise will help people from developing mental or physical health disorders, there are numerous studies on the internet you could read to prove this, however this won’t get people off the couch, It has got to be something you want to do, something that’s easy for you to do and becomes second nature over time. There are many group exercise classes, sports, leisure groups out there, try the ones that appeal the most at least twice before you decide if its for you or not.
Twelve years ago (when I lived in London), Yoga was having a real moment, however at the time it wasn’t for me. If I thought that was the only form of exercise available I wouldn’t have been motivated to do any, instead I discovered the Body Pump.
You don’t want to treat exercise as something have to cram into an already busy day, it could make you feel more stressed. You need to do it in a way that makes your life more efficient and helps you organise your day’s tasks. This could simply be walking instead of driving, or having a meeting while you are walking.
My Final Word On Nourishing The Mind And Soul...
The beauty of exercise and motivation is that it’s cyclical. The more you engage in activity day after day, the more in control of your behaviour you feel, and that generalises beyond exercise, and makes your feel more in control of the rest of your life. A positive mental attitude is very powerful and to keep this mental energy potent its important to schedule in more of what makes you happy and relaxed before and after a big project. It’s fantastic to be driven and determined but sometimes this masks when we are becoming exhausted so daily mindfulness and meditation is vital, whether we feel we need it or not.
Finally, a little bit of what we fancy is good for the soul. When stressed we can be tempted to grab sugary, high trans saturated fat foods, only to feel guilty soon after, which certainly won’t help our mental state. I've put together a few healthier treat recipes below that you could keep in the freezer to enjoy instead.
‘Black Bean Chocolate Muffins’
Yes, black beans instead of flour! These are easy, super moist, flourless, and refined, sugar free. They are also gluten free if you use gluten free baking powder and oats.
1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
½ cup Plain Greek Yogurt
½ Cup Yacon Syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ Cup Cacao powder
1tsp Baking Powder
1/3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ Cup rolled oats
Method: Blitz all ingredients in a food processor. Optional: fold in Cacoa nibs or finely chopped nuts for added texture. Fill non-stick cake cases two thirds of the way up and decorate the tops however you wish; I have used toasted, flaked almonds in the picture.
Bake at 175 Degrees Celsius for 12 small cakes 18-20 mins baking time, for 6 Full sized muffins bake for approximately 35 mins.
Mum’s ‘Ferrero Rocher’ Raw Enery Balls
These taste just like Ferrero Rocher to me, it’s been hard to tie my mum down to the exact recipe for these as she tends to change the ingredients depending on what she has in the pantry, and yet they always taste delicious. The nuts and seeds boost the protein and fat content, which makes these luxurious, nutritious, satisfying, but also higher in calories than my recipes. They are still much better than refined biscuits and cakes though, and the fats are healthy.
1 Cup Pumpkin seeds
1 Cup Medjool dates (de-stoned and chopped)
3 Tbsp Cacao powder
2 Tbsp Coconut Oil (Melted)