Category: mental health

Nurturing Wellness: Self-Care Strategies for Preventing Burnout in Healthcare

In the high-pressure environment of healthcare, self-care is often sidelined, yet it is crucial for longevity and effectiveness in this field. From Live Free From Stress this guide aims to offer you practical and essential self-care strategies to help balance your professional and personal life, ensuring you avoid burnout and continue to thrive in your demanding career.

Implement Self-Care Rituals

You must carve out time for activities that replenish your energy. Whether it’s engaging in physical exercise, indulging in your favorite hobbies, or cherishing moments with your family and friends, these activities are not just leisure; they are essential for rejuvenating your spirit and mind. Regularly engaging in these practices helps maintain a healthy equilibrium between your professional duties and personal life, ensuring neither gets neglected.

Mind Your Consumption

Being mindful of your caffeine intake is crucial for maintaining your overall wellbeing, as it can significantly impact your health. Trendy coffee and energy beverages, in particular, often contain high levels of caffeine, which, while providing a temporary boost in energy and alertness, can also exacerbate stress and anxiety levels in some individuals. To ensure you’re consuming a healthy amount, it’s wise to look up the caffeine content of your favorite beverages online. This simple step can help you make informed decisions about what and how much you drink, allowing you to enjoy the benefits of caffeine while minimizing its potential downsides.

Be Assertive and Establish Boundaries

It’s imperative to learn the art of saying “no.” Setting clear boundaries is not selfish; it’s a necessary step in managing your workload and stress levels. By politely but firmly declining additional responsibilities that exceed your capacity, you safeguard your time and energy, preventing the onset of exhaustion and burnout. This assertiveness is a key component in maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Reassess Your Career Path

Earning a master’s degree online is an excellent strategy for those in a role that’s no longer challenging or for individuals ready for a career change. For instance, the benefits of a Master’s degree in nursing are substantial, offering a range of concentration options such as nurse education, informatics, nurse administration, or advanced practice nursing options. This level of specialization enables you to tailor your career to your interests and goals.

Online degree programs provide the flexibility to work full-time while keeping up with your studies, ensuring that advancing your education enhances your career prospects without sacrificing your current job. This approach to higher education, particularly in nursing, opens doors to leadership roles and specialized fields, significantly enriching your professional life.

Prioritize Mental Health

Acknowledging the need for professional help in managing stress and emotional challenges is a sign of strength. Seeking counseling or therapy is an integral part of self-care, especially in a field as emotionally taxing as healthcare. These services provide a safe space to unpack your thoughts and feelings, offering strategies to cope with the challenges you face, thereby fortifying your mental resilience.

Build a Supportive Network

Building a network with fellow healthcare professionals is invaluable. These connections offer a unique form of support, as they understand the specific pressures and challenges of the medical field. Sharing experiences, advice, and encouragement with peers can provide a sense of community and belonging, which is crucial for emotional well-being in a high-stress environment.

Consider Taking a Rejuvenating Break

Taking a sabbatical offers a valuable chance to step back, providing the rest and rejuvenation you need both physically and mentally. It’s an opportunity for you to reconnect with yourself and delve into interests beyond your professional life. Upon returning, you’ll find yourself re-energized, armed with a new perspective. These breaks can be transformative, often leading to a revitalized outlook on both your career and personal life.

In the healthcare profession, self-care is essential for maintaining both effectiveness and fulfilment in your career. By integrating these self-care strategies, you prioritize your well-being, a critical step in sustaining your dedication to healthcare. Ensuring your own health and happiness allows you to continue delivering high-quality care with passion. Self-care is the bedrock that enables you to care optimally for others. Remember, your ability to provide the best care for others is deeply rooted in how well you take care of yourself.

7 tips on dealing with financial stress

Money concerns can place a strain on your mental health, and vice versa. Here are 7 tips to help you cope with financial stress.

In recent years, we have become more aware of the importance of looking after our mental health. And we have seen the negative impact events such as the pandemic have had. A survey conducted last year by mental health charity Mind, found that around a third of adults and young people said their mental health had significantly worsened since March 2020.

This added pressure has meant that more people are feeling anxious about their financial futures. Kerry McLeod, Head of Information Content at Mind explains the link between mental health and financial stress. “Poor mental health can make earning and managing money harder and worrying about money can make your mental health worse. It can start to feel like a vicious cycle.

“Certain situations might trigger feelings of anxiety and panic, like opening envelopes. Money problems can affect your social life and relationships too, and they can make you feel lonely or isolated, if you can’t afford to do the things you want to.”

While sorting things out might feel overwhelming, she advises, “learning how mental health and money are connected might help if you’re struggling. Try taking things one step at a time.”

Top tips

1. Ask for help

If you’re struggling because of money issues and related anxiety, talking to someone can be of great benefit – a loved one, a health professional like your GP, or an advice service such as the Government’s Money Helper service. Advice services can offer some help with next steps, such as any financial assistance you may be entitled to.

2. Spot the signs of financial stress

It’s important to manage financial stress, as leaving it unchecked can impact your health. Too much stress can lead to sleep problems, anxiety and depression. Physical symptoms, such as headaches and high blood pressure, or even unhealthy coping methods such as heavy drinking, which will likely make things feel worse. Try to manage your stress with free, regular exercise. Techniques such as mindfulness and healthy eating will also help. If you are concerned about your mental or physical health, talk to your GP.

3. Check your finances

It’s easy to lose track of what you’re spending. Note down all your outgoings and work out what you spend your money on, weekly or monthly. Try free, easy-to-use apps and tools such as Money Helper.

4. Get organised

Having all your financial information (bank accounts, bills etc) in one place can help reduce money-related stress. Also, schedule a regular time to deal with money tasks and plan a relaxing (and stress-busting) activity afterwards such as a walk or run.

5. Know your money and mood patterns

Keep a diary of your spending and your mood. Are there certain times when you’re more likely to spend money, which aspects of dealing with money make your mental health worse? Understanding your relationship with money could help you plan ahead for difficult times.

6. Take control

Make a plan to help ease your financial stress. Deleting apps and not saving your card details on websites can stop the temptation of impulse purchases. Hand over your cards to someone you trust or avoid debit/credit card payments by taking out a set amount of cash every day or week.

7. Get help with debts

Reduce your anxiety related to debt by talking to a free professional debt advice organization such as Citizens Advice. You may be able to get a break from paying debt interest under a Government scheme.

Remember that being afraid to open bills or check your bank account will only store up future problems and may potentially cause even more stress. It’s important to know that there are many people in the same situation, and that by asking for help, you are taking a positive first step to improving both your financial and mental health.


Written by: Becky Bargh

Around two million people in the UK are affected by the winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, as the shorter days trigger many of us to feel more lethargic. While we can’t hurry winter along, we can give you some tips on how to navigate the colder, darker months. Here are just five… 

Like its predecessors, 2022 was a tough year for many people.  

But at the dawn of a new year, January brings with it positivity and plenty of promise.  

As we move through the winter months, however, the winter blues – otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – can start to creep in.  

SAD has been described as a “winter depression” that occurs annually during the winter months. 

While its cause is still debatedlow vitamin D levels and lower levels of melatonin are a few suggestions for the onset of SAD over the darker season.  

Symptoms are similar to that of depression and include persistent low mood, lethargy and irritability.  

The good news is that there are plenty of tips and tricks that can help to combat the winter blues, as well as treatments depending on the severity of the symptoms.  

Here are some suggestions.  

1. Get active

Described as a “miracle cure” by the NHS – the benefits of exercise are vast. 

It’s something that everyone can do to improve their health; whether it be little or a lot, you’re guaranteed to feel the benefits.  

To combat SAD, the NHS recommends exercising outside in as much daylight as possible. 

This could be something as simple as a gentle stretch or a midday walk.  

“Exercise release endorphins – chemicals that help us to feel good,” explains rugby legend, Jonny Wilkinson. 

“It also gets the body moving, the blood pumping and helps to avoid stagnancy. Completing goals and challenging limits are small victories that help us build momentum and a sense of self-worth.” 

However, we know it can be difficult to be motivated to get regular exercise in the winter months.  

We recently provided some inspiration on how to get active in the winter months and why it’s so good for our mental health

2. How your diet can help

Good health is achieved through a balanced diet. This doesn’t just mean eating a plethora of foods, but also in the right proportions.  

The Associations of UK Dieticians recommends eating regular meals to help combat depression, along with a healthy portion of protein at each meal, due to its high tryptophan content – an essential amino acid needed to make proteins.  

Sources include fish, poultry and eggs.  

Vegetarians and vegans should opt for leafy green vegetables and pulses.   

The Eatwell Guide advises to eat five portions of fruit and veg every day

Meanwhile, recommendation number one from The Eatwell Guide for a balanced diet is to get five portions of fruit and vegetable every day. 

Adding more vegetables to your favourite meals is one way to ensure you’re hitting the recommended allowance. Or swap out one of your less healthy snacks for a piece of fruit.  

A nutritious diet safeguards your mental wellbeing, it can improve your mood, boost your energy levels and help you think more clearly, according to the charity Mind.  

Meanwhile, Vitality’s Head Mental Health and Wellbeing, Belinda Sidhu, says that foods that are rich in vitamin D and B can help with energy levels.  

3. Light therapy

In an effort to simulate sunlight exposure, light therapy is becoming an increasingly popular method to counter winter blues. 

The act of light therapy itself involves sitting by a specific type of lamp for around 30 minutes to an hour, giving the illusion of more natural light throughout the shorter days.  

Studies have found that using light therapy it can effectively adjust users’ circadian rhythm, which improves our sleep. 

These lights come in a number of different forms, such as desk lights, screens and clocks.  

While it’s a compelling idea, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is yet to determined light therapy’s effectiveness. 

For more information, visit the NHS website here.  

4. Mindfulness and meditation

As mentioned above, theories around the onset of SAD come from a higher production of melatonin. 

This natural hormone is produced by the brain’s pineal gland and controls the sleep cycle.  

The body begins to produce melatonin when it gets dark, meaning it is produced for long in the winter months, and can disrupt our circadian rhythm.   

There is some evidence to show that meditation can be used as an effective tool to overcome SAD. Meditating helps to increase the body’s serotonin levels, which modulates melatonin to a healthy level. In turn, this can help change your thoughts around negative thinking, a common symptom on SAD. 

Mindfulness is another practice that can be beneficial in combatting SAD.

5. Speak to someone

A problem shared is a problem halved, as the saying goes, and it’s been proven to an effective one, too. 

Research by Age UK found that around one in three adults share their worries and 36% feel better as a result.  

Meanwhile, Wilkinson says that, for him, speaking out is how he moves towards his goals:  

“When you feel like you’re overcome from the outside, it’s an opportunity to realise what you need to let go of in order to grow and face those challenges,”   

‘Brew Monday’, is also one way that people are reframing ‘Blue Monday’, whereby people grab a hot drink and have a chat with someone, in order to ask how they’re feeling about their mental health.  

But for those that are struggling with more serious forms of SAD, counselling can be a very positive form of treatment.  

The NHS offers psychological therapies without GP referral. 

Meanwhile, more severe cases of SAD might call for antidepressants as a form of treatment, however, this should be discussed with your GP.  



Running mental health physical exercise forest mental health

Physical activity has many positive benefits on our mental health and wellbeing, from reducing anxiety to better sleep quality and even reducing symptoms of depression. Here, we explain the science behind why exercise is good for us, and some simple tips to help you get active this winter. 

It is widely accepted that physical exercise is good for our mental health.

Whether that’s to relieve stress or just to help us to feel better about ourselves. But what might be surprising is how wide-reaching these positive effects can be.   

Day to day, physical activity can improve sleep quality, while helping us to function more easily and feel better overall. But did you know it can boost our cognitive skills too?  

This includes our ability to plan and organise at work and at home, it also helps us control our emotions, improve our memory span and deliver academic performance.  

Research into 15 studies, involving more than 33,000 individuals, found that physical activity is associated with 38% reduced risk of cognitive decline – and that can include everything from the ability to concentrate to the onset of dementia.  

Here, we break down four ways in which physical activity positively impacts us that are backed by science.  

1. Sleep  

There is strong evidence that moderate to vigorous physical activity improves quality of sleep in a number of ways, including reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and increasing the amount of time spent in deep sleep. It can also help to reduce daytime sleepiness.

Even small amounts of exercise can improve our quality of sleep, however how and when we exercise will affect our sleep patterns in different ways – and some of us benefit more so than others. For example, evidence suggests moderate resistance training and stretching exercise are particularly helpful to people with insomnia.  

2. Mood  

It might seem obvious, but physical activity can improve how we feel. And there is science to prove it. One study asked participants to rate their mood following a period of activity, such as going for a walk, and after periods of inactivity, such as reading a book.

Participants felt calmer, had more energy and felt more content, compared to those following periods of physical inactivity. Exercise can also be very effective in relieving stress. Highly active individuals tend to have lower stress rates compared to individuals who are less active, research has suggested. 

3. Anxiety  

Anxiety affects a large number of people every year. Findings show there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK in 2013. While anxiety can affect anyone at any age, in England women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder than men. 

The good news is that engaging in regular exercise can help reduce individuals’ acute symptoms and chronic levels of anxiety, according to findings. Most importantly also, if you’re looking for a fast results, the benefits of physical activity on anxiety can take effect immediately. 

8.2 million people in the UK were suffering with anxiety in 2013

4. Depression  

Alongside more subtle benefits to our overall wellbeing, physical exercise or increased activity has been proven to help alleviate even severe forms of mental illness too.

According to the World Health Organisation, depression is a leading cause of disability, affecting more than 264 million people worldwide at any age; women more so than men. Meanwhile, around 800,000 people die each year due to depression, and it is the second leading cause of death for people aged between 15-29 years old globally.  

Encouragingly, physical activity has been shown to help reduce depressive symptoms for those with or without clinical depression, while lowering the risk of an individual developing clinical depression. As little as 30 minutes can bring down the likelihood of depression by more than 40%. 

    How To Reduce Stress Levels

    In its simplest form, stress can manifest in temporary feelings of frustration and hopelessness, but in its severest form, it can become something a lot more sinister, affecting your work and social life, and even developing into depression.

    Unfortunately, feelings of stress are often inevitable. The good news is that there are ways in which you can reduce your stress levels before they become too dangerous.

    Develop a positive mind-set

    Reducing your stress levels starts with a positive mind-set, and the willingness to try and change your situation. Health professionals know that doing this isn’t as straightforward as reading a few inspirational quotes – it will take a concerted effort over time.

    Try writing down three things at the end of each day that made you happy, which were a success or that you are grateful for. You may find that this brief shift in perspective becomes more infectious, and feeds into your normal mind-set. It’s also good practice to examine your habits and attitude and identify anything that could be causing unnecessary stress. For example, your deadlines might be stressful because of your tendency to procrastinate, rather than a lack of ability.

    Swap out temporary stress busters

    By ‘temporary stress busters’ we mean things like cigarettes, alcohol and the tendency to withdraw. While they may provide a brief reprieve from stress, they can themselves go on to create additional problems. Instead, replace them with healthy alternatives like peppermint or chamomile tea (which are known for their calming properties), a healthy refreshing snack like some fruit, and some quality time with your loved ones.

    Take exercise

    We’ve all heard of endorphins, otherwise known as ‘happy hormones’. These little mood-boosters are the body’s natural opiates and are produced more often during exercise – a trait which is thought to increase our wellbeing. It makes sense, then, that exercising can help to reduce our stress levels, but endorphins aren’t the only reason why exercise can help. Going for a run, doing yoga or even just going for a walk gives you something else to focus on, as well as time to think through the source of your stress.

    Eat a balanced diet

    The sugary foods we turn to during periods of stress may provide temporary gratification, but are typically followed by a crash in both energy and mood levels once their effect wears off. Eating the right things, on the other hand, can provide balance and lift the mood, and don’t produce the same crash in energy and mood later.

    Avocados, for example, contain folate, which helps to promote feelings of calm, while raspberries and blueberries contain high levels of vitamin C, which is shown to be helpful in combating stress. Even dark chocolate (in small doses) can help to lower blood pressure and promote a feeling of calm.

    Get enough sleep

    It’s no secret that we aren’t getting enough sleep. In fact, our Health of the Nation survey revealed that the average person in the UK only sleeps for around 6.4 hours a night, as opposed to the recommended seven to eight hours. When you consider that sleep helps to heal the body and mind, and helps us to process the day just passed, it becomes clear why a lengthy visit to the land of nod is so helpful in reducing stress levels. Feeling tired can increase irritability, meaning we become more highly strung and likely to think irrationally.

    Designate a time for relaxation

    Did you know that the UK workforce works the longest hours in Europe? It’s no wonder we find so little time to relax. Designating a time for relaxation is incredibly important, however, and can help to reduce your stress levels. Whether it’s using your lunch break to read a book, setting aside an hour in the evening for a long soak or freeing up each weekend just to go for a walk, do something that keeps you calm.

    Talk to someone

    Whether you decide to confide in your loved ones or visit a trained professional, don’t be afraid to talk about your problems. Letting everything out can be a huge weight off your shoulders, and you may find that other people are experiencing exactly the same thing. It might be that you simply can’t cope on your own, which is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

    There isn’t a one size fits all solution to reducing your stress levels, but by trying out some of these coping methods, you will at least have a head start in deciding what works for you.

    How to Change What Your Brain Does After a Breakup

    Have you ever been through a breakup?

    We’re sure most of us have experienced a breakup more than once. It’s an awful feeling. One moment you are in love and the next moment your world is torn apart.

    You don’t know what to do with yourself and try to numb the pain in some way. Over time, your heart heals and you start taking back control of your life, but the harm has already been done.

    Control After a Breakup

    Relationships instill a perception of control. People believe they can control what the other person is doing, what they are doing themselves, and how it affects their relationships.

    During a breakup, this sense of control diminishes.

    Losing a Relationship

    Researchers in Germany conducted a study to understand how perceptions of control affected individuals after different types of breakups.

    They focused on normal relationships between two partners, as well as relationships ending in separation, divorce, or the death of a partner. 

    Over a period of three years, researchers studied 1,235 individuals, from various age groups, that had lost a partner. They wanted to see what level of control participants felt they had after a relationship ended.

    Perceived Control

    Perceived control is defined as a person’s capability to influence their own mental state and behaviors. This sense of control also extends to a person’s ability to influence their external environment.

    In relationships, that means regulating your own emotions and how you feel toward the other person. Perceived control also considers how you influence your partner and the relationship in general.

    When perceived control is high, you may experience improved relationship satisfaction, better health, and increased well-being. However, a decreased sense of perceived control may result in uncertainty, anxiety, feeling distracted, and poor mental performance.

    Less Control to More

    In general, researchers found that directly after a breakup, participants felt they didn’t have as much control as during the relationship although this wasn’t the case for all participants.

    As the years progressed, participants regained their sense of control. For some, this happened quickly, while others took longer to do better.

    Female participants experienced a greater sense of decreased control in comparison to men. Similarly, older individuals also felt a decrease in control following relationship loss.

    When a participant’s partner passed away, they showed increased signs of perceived control. This growth was faster for older individuals; younger participants who experience partner death struggled more with the consequences.

    Interestingly, researchers uncovered no change in perceived control when participants separated from or divorced their partners.

    Researchers concluded that decreased perceived control followed by gradual increases shows that people can grow after stressful events. However, more research is needed to understand these effects when it’s the first time that a person experiences relationship loss.

    Relationships Are Scary

    Breakups are hard, but so are relationships. It’s normal to be scared of both starting a relationship and the potential of breaking up with someone.

    Fear can prevent you from having fulfilling relationships. Take back control and welcome relationships without being fearful by changing the way you think about them. Learn how to do this during our training on Winning the Game of Fear.

    Life-Changing Events

    The results from the study could be familiar to you too. After a breakup, you may have felt like you don’t want to be in a relationship ever again or that you no longer know who you are. These are normal feelings.

    After a while, you start building yourself up again. You may realize you no longer need external validation to be happy or that you are content being single. That is when your perceived control improves.

    If it’s possible to regain control after a relationship, it’s also possible to change other areas of your life.

    Personal Beliefs

    Control relates to what you believe about yourself. Similarly, you have beliefs about relationships and breakups. Every part of your life is built on beliefs.

    Your beliefs are central to everything you do and think.

    Beliefs refer to fundamental ideas you have about yourself, other people, the world around you, and even the future. You might believe that you are hardworking, deserve only the best in life, or that you don’t deserve love. (The last one is quite popular after a breakup.)

    Negative beliefs are frequently referred to as limiting beliefs because they place limits on your life. Luckily, it’s possible to change these beliefs.

    A Different Mindset

    If it’s possible to overcome limiting beliefs, then it’s also possible to change your belief system.

    Just think about your post-breakup mental state. There are a bunch of negative things you will initially believe. After a while, you realize they are lies, and you’ll start repairing your self-esteem.

    You rebuild yourself in a new way, and that’s growth. You are changing your beliefs about relationships. In reality, you can change entire belief systems even if you have held them for a long time.

    Being Fearless

    You cannot live your life in fear as it will prevent you from doing what you truly love. How you think about fear is part of your belief system so it can definitely change.

    Attend the Winning the Game of Fear event and go from being scared to courageous.

    Change Your Belief Systems

    If beliefs can change then you have the power to change them whenever you want to. You can ‘breakup’ with one belief system and create an entirely new one that works better for you.

    Identify Your Core Beliefs

    Start by identifying a belief that you think could be problematic. Let’s use the example of feeling out of control after a breakup.

    Thoughts usually trigger these beliefs. You might think that if you had been a better partner, then your ex-partner wouldn’t have cheated, or that you don’t deserve to be loved.

    Beliefs tend to begin with the words “I am” so whenever thoughts like these come up, identify them as beliefs.

    Question Yourself

    Once you recognize a belief, question yourself about it: Is this belief constructive or limiting? What consequences does this belief have? Where does this belief come from?

    The last question is especially important. Understanding the origins of beliefs can help you determine whether they are useful or destructive.

    For instance, negative thoughts like “I am unworthy of love” could come from childhood experiences because your parents didn’t display love toward you. It’s a valid experience but it shouldn’t have a hold over your future relationships; someone else will find you worthy of love.

    Similarly, the culture or community you grew up in, your education, and your friends and family can all impact what you believe. These beliefs are inherited since you didn’t come to these conclusions yourself, and if that’s the case, why do you believe them?


    Questioning core beliefs is only the start. You need to create experiments that help you determine if your belief is true or false.

    Think about ways to test your belief. Let’s continue with the breakup example and the belief that “I am not worthy of love”.

    Some experiments to see if this is true could include:

    • Write down a list of all the people in your life that love you. (Friends, children, family members.)
    • Identify the reasons why previous partners loved you. (Being present, supporting your partner, making compromises.)
    • Make a list of your good qualities. (Kindness, intelligence, empathy.)

    This simple experiment—with potential answers in brackets—shows that you are lovable. It reveals the truth: Your belief was wrong.

    Change Your Perspective

    Another great way to investigate your beliefs is by considering them from other perspectives.

    The most basic perspective is to flip the script and consider how your life could be if the opposite of the belief was true. In the previous example, this would become “I am worthy of love.” What would that look like? How would you feel about it?

    It’s also a good idea to use entirely different perspectives. For instance, imagine how your current situation (a breakup) will affect your life when you are retired, or how your three-year-old self would view this situation.

    Trying out different perspectives may reveal that what you believe isn’t factually sound or that it’s just a temporary situation.

    Create a New Belief

    Finally, decide on what you want the belief to be. It should be something that makes sense and works for the greater good.

    After a breakup, it could be that “I love myself” or “I will find someone that loves me wholeheartedly.” These kinds of beliefs are constructive and focus on the life you want instead of your current situation.

    Write down your new belief and repeat it to yourself daily. The more you do this, the more the new belief will become ingrained in your brain.

    Take Back Control

    You are in control of your life. You decide if you are making progress toward your goals or whether you let other things, like fear, stand in your way.

    When you address one aspect of your thinking, you gain the power to also change other elements of it. Let’s start with how to Win the Game of Fear.

    Once you see the powerful effects it has on your life, you will want to use similar strategies in other areas. It’s an exciting prospect!

    Five reasons why a trip to the seaside is great for your health

    Whether you’re four, 40 or 104, the chances are you enjoy a trip to the seaside. And it’s great for your health in these five different ways.

    1. It’s great for stress busting

    The sound of the waves, the view of the horizon, the smell of the ocean breeze – many of us would say these things help us feel relaxed.

    To prove why this is the case, Californian marine biologist Wallace J Nichols has been investigating the connection humans have with water. His book Blue Mind shares studies that illustrate how being by any large body of water floods the brain with the feel-good hormones dopamine and oxytocin. These studies also found that levels of the stress hormone cortisol drop.

    Additionally, on sunny days the heat of the sun raises our serotonin levels – the hormone we need to boost our mood and help us to feel calm.

    2. You’ll exercise without realising it

    Walking in dry sand uses about twice as much energy as walking on a solid surface, according to the Journal of Experimental Biology. Trying to gain traction on the shifting surface exercises all the muscles from your feet up to your glutes.

    Even building a sandcastle is good exercise as you will be stretching and moving muscles all over your body to do so. It’s estimated that an hour of sandcastle building can burn 100 calories.

    Of course, walking isn’t the only exercise available at the beach. Swimming is well known to be a great exercise to tone your whole body and build cardiovascular fitness. Plus, the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine has reported that if you regularly swim in cold water, you’ll boost your body’s levels of antioxidants, which helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

    3. You’ll top up your vitamin D 

    We all need vitamin D to keep our bones, teeth and muscles healthy. And our bodies create vitamin D from sunlight. The darker your skin, the longer it will take for your body to produce vitamin D.

    But make sure you don’t overdo it – as too much sun raises the risk of burning, dehydration and possibly skin cancer.

    4. Your skin may benefit too 

    As long as you take the right precautions in the sun, a bit of sunshine and sea can work wonders for skin complaints such as psoriasis and eczema. Sea water is rich in minerals that can help to repair skin, especially magnesium, an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial mineral which is particularly effective in the treatment of eczema.

    People often feel that a beach holiday leaves them with a glowing complexion. Salty sea water helps to open pores and remove toxins while also having a mild exfoliating effect on dead skin cells.

    5. Supports your physical health  

    A study by the government found that a 10-minute brisk walk each day has a number of physical health benefits. Your chance of developing type 2 diabetes is reduced by 40%, cardiovascular disease (35%), dementia (30%) and some cancers (20%). Make the most of the fresh sea air and you’ll be feeling healthier and happier in no time.


    Published: 12 April 2022. Written by: Hattie Parish.


    If stress threatens to get too much, try these quick, simple and scientifically proven coping mechanisms to leave you calmer and more clear-headed. 

    You might feel the last couple of years have left you stress-proof – after all, we’ve made it through the worst of a global pandemic. But everyday stressors, such as work and family responsibilities, can still overwhelm us. So much so that 65% of people in the UK have reported feeling more stressed since the first lockdown in March 2020, according to a survey by packaging retailer RAJA. But what can we do about it? The good news is there are a number of effective, expert-backed ways to tackle stress. 

    What is stress?

    First things first. It’s important to note that feeling stressed isn’t always a bad thing. ‘It’s normal to experience stress, and it can at times motivate us, and help us to meet the demands of home, work and family life,’ explains Belinda Sidhu, Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Vitality.

    Zoë Aston, Mental Health Expert at Headspace and London-based psychotherapist, agrees: ‘Our stress response is what helps us survive dangerous situations. Short-term stress can even boost memory function and help us learn from our experiences.’ 

    That being said, it is, of course, important to determine the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ stress, especially as too much can ‘affect our mood, our body and our relationships – particularly when it feels out of our control,’ advises Sidhu.

    While it’s different for everybody, Sidhu suggests that signs and symptoms of ‘bad’ stress tend to fall into the following three categories:

    1. Behavioural eg having trouble making decisions, solving problems, concentrating or getting work done.
    2. Physical eg aches and pains, muscle tension or jaw clenching, stomach or digestive problems, bloating, high blood pressure.
    3. Emotional eg feeling more irritable than usual, getting angry or frustrated easily, feeling overwhelmed or on edge.

    How can we manage stress?

    Once you’ve identified the stress symptoms, it’s important to identify ways of managing it. ‘What helps us navigate stress best is to become aware of our own warning signs, which are alerting us to take some kind of restorative action,’ explains Suzy Reading, Chartered Psychologist and author of <Sit to Get Fit>. So, the next time you begin to see stress manifesting in your everyday life – or better, even before you do – try these easy and effective strategies to keep you on course: 

    1) Declutter

    To the brain, clutter represents unfinished business, and this looming presence of incompleteness can be highly stressful. ‘There has been lots of research which shows that decluttering can have a beneficial effect on managing stress,’ explains Sidhu. In one study, women who described their homes using more positive language had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than women who described their homes as cluttered. 

    Try taking a few minutes each day to tidy up a different area of your home. Use this time to put things away, recycle, set items aside for charity and to invest in smart storage solutions. 

    Time taken: 5 minutes

    2) Have a cold shower

    Wild swimming is a fitness craze you’ve no doubt heard of, but its popularity isn’t purely down to the fact that it’s great exercise. Cold water swimming is said to increase stress tolerance, improve mental resilience and boost levels of the ‘feel-good hormone’ dopamine, among other positive effects.

    ‘As stress and anxiety cause an increase in blood pressure, in theory, submerging or showering in cold water may help bring it down,’ says Sidhu. Cold water may also decrease levels of cortisol. If you can’t make it to a body of water, you can reap all the benefits from your shower, either by including a quick blast of cold at the end of your usual shower, or jumping in for a couple of minutes whenever stress threatens to overwhelm.

    Time taken: 2-3 minutes

    3) Limit mobile phone use

    Lockdown led to a huge surge in screen time, with UK adults using their phone for up to 40% of the day. But having our phones constantly at arm’s reach means we are continually raising our levels of the stress hormone cortisol, impacting our health. 

    Plus, the constant stream of information, notifications and the expectation to be ‘always-on’ are key contributors when it comes to raising stress levels. ‘Technology has not been around quite long enough for us humans to have figured out the boundaries around it, unlike things like driving, smoking or drinking,’ says Aston.

    So how do we limit our use? Aston suggests having regular ‘phone detoxes’. ‘Once a month, go through your social media and empower yourself by unfollowing or muting accounts that cause you stress or upset.’ She also recommends having your phone set to ‘do not disturb’ when at work, or with friends.

    Time taken: 10 minutes

    4) Practise self-care

    An often-overlooked part of a busy schedule is self-care, but those who neglect it are at risk of deeper levels of unhappiness, low self-esteem and feelings of resentment. ‘Self-care helps us cope in the moment,’ says Reading. ‘It helps us to restore following challenging experiences, and gives us a protective buffer against future curveballs.’

    Ideally, Reading says, self-care should be woven into your daily routine, and you can begin by looking at how you approach everyday activities such as showering, dressing and eating, as well as activities like yoga, breathing practices and journalling. Reading says, ‘It’s as much about skills like curiosity, compassion and appreciation as it is about taking the time out with a self-care practice.’

    Time taken: 20 minutes

    5) Connect

    One survey, commissioned by Schulstad Bakery Solutions, found that of the top 50 things that make Brits feel the most content, spending time with our family or loved ones came out on top. And it’s little wonder – socialising (as well as things like hugging and hand-squeezing) increases levels of a hormone called oxytocin that decreases anxiety levels and makes us feel more confident in our ability to cope with stressors. 

    ‘We benefit enormously when our loved ones can acknowledge and validate our feelings,’ says Reading. Even a quick chat on the phone during a stressful period can remove you from a situation and help you to gain more perspective. 

    Time taken: 10 minutes

    6) Move more 

    It’s well-documented that exercise is a powerful stress-reliever as it increases feel-good hormones called endorphins. But you don’t need to be pounding pavements to benefit – in fact, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, just five minutes of movement is all that’s needed to feel a difference. ‘Moving your body can have immediate, positive effects,’ says Aston.

    Busy day? Reading suggests breaking up sedentary periods with gentle, joyful movement every 30 minutes – and this can be something as simple as a stretch. ‘A simple stretch has profound effects on stress levels, mood, energy, mental clarity, digestive health and immune health.’

    Time taken: 5 minutes

    Only got a minute? Try these 3 super-speedy stress-busters 

    • Box breathing ‘Breathe in for three seconds, hold for three, breathe out for three and hold for three,’ says Sidhu. ‘Use this in the moment when experiencing heightened stress.’
    • Chicken-wing shoulder roll Reading says: ‘Research shows that a tall upright spine lifts our mood and diminishes fatigue. With your fingertips on your shoulders, breathe in and sweep your elbows up. As you exhale, take your elbows back and down. Do six of these to feel lighter and brighter.’
    • Grounding exercise ‘Use your senses and notice five things that you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste/or are grateful for,’ says Sidhu. This can be used to help you get through moments of stress and anxiety, and calm your mind.


    What is mindfulness? – Understand the mental health benefits

    Mindfulness has been practiced for over 1,000 years, but its benefits are still widely promoted today. This article will highlight the benefits of mindfulness, the key difference with meditation, and useful mindfulness exercises you can try at home.  

    What is mindfulness?

    Mindfulness simply means to be aware of the present moment. It means you don’t need to think about whether something is good or bad, just be aware of it with an attitude of openness and acceptance.

    Mindfulness has roots in Buddhism and meditation, but this doesn’t mean you need to be spiritual or have any particular beliefs to try it.

    Why should I practice mindfulness?

    Practicing mindfulness helps us to reconnect with our bodies and put us back in control with our own lives. Applying mindfulness strategies to various parts of our lives has been linked to a whole host of different benefits, from improving relationships with food and smartphone addiction, to boosting body confidence.

    The busy times that we live in can sometimes cause our minds to become cluttered, and we become guilty of rushing through life and not stopping to notice the important things around us. The way we think can overall effect how we feel and act. For example, if you are thinking or worrying a lot about upsetting events you can find yourself feeling sad or anxious.

    Research has found that people who have practiced mindfulness have reduced their stress and improved their mood. The theory behind mindfulness is that by using various techniques to bring your attention back to the present you are able to notice how thoughts come and go into your mind, what your body is telling you and create space between you and your thoughts. This can be done by focusing on your body and breathing.

    Mindfulness is also now a very common method taught by counsellors and practitioners of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. CBT is a therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave, the techniques can help deal with conflicting and emotional conditions such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders. Practicing mindfulness as part of this therapy can train our brains and the way we deal with our emotions at the point of heightened stress or being in a negative situation.

    What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

    Mindfulness and meditation represent many similarities. They both rely on the ability to be focused on the present moment and increase overall happiness and inner peace, but they are not the exact same thing.

    Mindfulness can be applied to any situation throughout the day, whereas meditation is usually practiced for a specific amount of time, and there are numerous ways of practicing it.

    What mindfulness exercises can I try?

    Different techniques of mindfulness work for different people, so if you don’t find something very useful you can always try out another. You can adapt a lot of exercises to suit you and fit well into your daily life, here are a few exercises you could try:

    • Mindful eating – this involves paying attention to the taste, sight and textures of things that you eat. For example, when drinking a cup of coffee, you could try focusing on how hot the liquid is and how it feels on your tongue, or how strong and sweet it tastes.
    • Mindful moving – take note of the feeling you have when your body moves. You might notice the breeze against your skin when running or walking, or the feeling of your hands or feet against different textures. Maybe it’s the different smells around you, like freshly cut grass.
    • Body scanning – this is where you move your attention slowly through your body, starting from the top of your head right to the tips of your toes. Focusing on the feelings of warmth, tension, or relaxation in different parts of your body.
    • Mindful activities – activities such as cooking, or drawing can be very mindful. Focusing on the different colours and sensation a paintbrush or pencil has on paper, rather than focusing on drawing a particular thing you could use a colouring book. Cooking can bring out a lot of different senses to focus on, the tastes and smells around you can take you to another country almost.
    • Mindful meditation – this exercise involves sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing and your thoughts, all the different sensations in your body and things you can hear around you. Try to keep focused on the present if your mind starts to wander.

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