The world needs you. And it needs you to be the best version of yourself - physically and mentally - because only then do you have the headspace and energy to follow your dreams, support who/what you care about and make an impact on this planet.
2020 has not made it easy for us to be our best selves. Social and political injustices, a pandemic, uncertainty, isolation, anxiety and sleep issues are just some of the side effects this year has thrown at us.
So the question is, how can we find the time and mental bandwidth to look after ourselves amongst all of this?
This is a global issue. Yet, the easiest place to look for solutions is in your own daily habits and behaviours. And trust me when I say: YOU have to prioritise yourself. Because no one else will. And because you can’t serve from an empty cup. There is nothing selfish about self-care. In fact, it benefits everyone around you if you look after your body and mind.
So how can you do this? I want to share with you five easy nutrition and lifestyle tricks to decrease stress and support your mental wellbeing during lockdown.
Photo: The writer of this blog, Nina Fischer-Yargici
1. Choose Mood Boosting Meals
The majority of research into what you should eat to balance your energy and improve your mood points towards following a Mediterranean-style diet featuring plenty of whole, natural foods. That also means learning to balance your blood sugar levels to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. An incredible 50% of low mood is down to blood sugar imbalances.
My top tips to stabilise your blood sugar in order to support your mental wellbeing are:
Eat regularly, ideally 3 main meals and if needed a healthy mid-morning and a mid-afternoon snack.
Eat low GL (glycaemic load) carbohydrates, such as porridge, bulgur, whole wheat pasta and bread whole-grain rice, that minimise mood-altering blood sugar dips.
Have some form of protein with every meal and snack, such as beans, lentils, pulses, tofu, fish and meat.
Include foods high in mood-boosting nutrients (vitamins B and D, zinc, magnesium and essential omega-3 fats) in your diet every day: oily fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines or herring), free-range eggs, chicken, or turkey, flax and pumpkin seeds, almonds, all beans, all berries (frozen ones are great), apples and pears as well as green vegetables (broccoli, kale, spinach, cabbage, watercress, Bok choy, asparagus, peas, artichoke, rocket).
2. Get Your Move On
Exercise helps with detoxification, boosting energy levels, stabilising weight, mood and stress reduction, to name just a handful. With the release of endorphins, your body receives a natural mood boost, resulting in reduced stress levels, which in turn puts less pressure on your immune system. Double win!
Physical activity also dramatically reduces stress by ‘working off steam’ when you are upset or angry. But rather than jumping on the next online HIIT class or running until your face is bright red, I would recommend you explore some gentler options to support your mental wellbeing.
How about yoga, pilates, a nice long walk or a dance party in your kitchen? Resistance or weight-based strength exercise is also good to help prevent muscle loss.
I get it, sometimes it seems like a chore. If you're not a natural exerciser, it comes down to how you mentally programme yourself.
Ask yourself: Is there a form of movement you used to enjoy? What did you like about it? And what is the impact of not exercising or not being as fit as you want to be?
Now think about three ways you could get yourself moving. Take an in-action-selfie and send it to your friends to connect, inspire them and to create accountability.
3. Sleep More and Better
Aim for 7-8 hours of good quality sleep each night. Easily said, right? But sleep is just so important. It affects your concentration, immune system, levels of stress, willingness to move and even your food choices - that’s because sleeping less increases hunger and appetite.
I probably don’t need to tell you that you’re in a better mood and mindset after a good night’s sleep.
According to research, stress is what keeps more than 40% of us awake at night. If you’re struggling to unwind, here are few ideas to improve your sleep quality:
Reduce stimulants such as coffee, non-herbal teas and chocolate after lunch.
Remove electronics from your bedroom, their light can negatively affect melatonin (sleep hormone) levels.
Keep your room dark and cool by removing or covering any LED lights, using blackout blinds and opening a window.
Create a bedtime routine, for example with a warm (foot) bath with Epsom Salts (they contain the muscle relaxant magnesium), a few minutes of gentle movement or journaling, and a relaxing book.
Keeping a consistent sleep schedule sets the body’s "internal clock".
4. Stay Hydrated
Water makes up about 60% of your body, and every single cell needs water to function properly. Water is needed for all kinds of functions in the body, including circulation and digestion and maintenance of your body temperature. And it’s crucial for your brain function and mental wellbeing.
Drinking water also keeps you energised and your skin hydrated. Studies have shown that drinking water raises your metabolism and improves your blood sugar balance and thus reduces your urge to snack constantly.
Ideally you want to work your way up to 8 glasses (about 2 litres) of water per day. Little and often is better than all in one go.
You just don’t feel thirsty and keep forgetting to drink? Get yourself a transparent bottle so you can see the water level. The bottle is a visual reminder of how well you are doing. You can also stick a friendly reminder post-it on your screen or try the various apps to encourage you to drink more and record what you drink.
5. Check In With Your Squad
Building strong social connections has proven psychological and physiological benefits. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, having a support group – no matter how big or small – boosts mental wellbeing by creating a stress cushion.
Being able to share stress or concerns with close family or friends, even if it is via phone or video call, provides you with an opportunity to get outside support and advice, which alleviates the sense of loneliness you might be feeling during lockdown.
“When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves.” – Jack Kornfield, American author and Buddhist mindfulness pioneer.
Make sure you check in on your loved ones and even your neighbours.
Writer: Nina Fischer-Yargici
Nina is a nutrition and lifestyle coach helping busy millennials eat, rest and move to be healthier, feel more focused and confident. Her nutrition and lifestyle advice is focused on making sustainable choices around buying and preparing food and using or properly disposing of food waste.
A great organisation Nina would encourage you to support is Feedback (@feedbackorg) who organise campaigns such as “Feeding the 5000” events around the world, where they serve up a delicious communal feast for 5000 people made entirely out of “wonky” food that would otherwise have been wasted.
If there is anything that has come up for you as a result of this blog, you are invited to book in for a free 30-minute health & energy review with Nina to see if a personalised nutrition and lifestyle plan might help.