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HOW DOES EXERCISE ACTUALLY AFFECT DEPRESSION

How does exercise actually affect depression?

Research has shown that for some people, exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in relieving symptoms of depression, but how does it actually work?

It’s not often that we are given an explanation as to how exercise actually relieves symptoms, and so it is often overlooked when suggested by GPs as a self-help treatment. It should be noted that this does not apply to all people suffering with symptoms, and for those with severe depression exercise alone is not enough. 

Symptoms of depression include low energy, changes in appetite, body aches, and increased perception of pain, which can all decrease motivation to exercise. This means it is easy to get stuck in a cycle of being sedentary due to depression, and so losing out on the possible benefits of exercise on your mood.

Hopefully learning about how exercise actually affects your brain will help motivate those struggling with symptoms to persevere with their exercise!

The main mechanisms by which exercise can help relieve depression include endorphin release, neurogenesis, and neurotransmitter release.

All of these things affect your brain chemistry, which is said to be ‘an issue’ for those with depression. Most people have heard about endorphins being released during exercise, and that they provide an immediate but short-term effect on mood.

Neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons in the brain) is responsible for the longer-term improvements to mood. When we sweat, a protein is released into our blood stream which stimulates the release of growth factors. These growth factors support the growth of new neurons in the brain.

This is beneficial to those with depression as research has found that those who are depressed have a smaller hippocampus (the region of the brain that helps to regulate mood) – increasing the size of the hippocampus may relieve symptoms of depression. Neurogenesis is particularly important for those aged 30+ as this is when we start to lose nerve tissue. 

Serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine (all of which are neurotransmitters) are released as well as endorphins when we exercise. Serotonin makes you feel happy and secure, and dopamine is central to motivation, which are all things those who are depressed would benefit from. 

It has not been proven how long it takes for the alleviation of symptoms of depression to take place but it is thought to take at least a few weeks, so don’t give up straight away! Dr Michael Craig Miller (Harvard Medical School) suggests picking an activity you enjoy and that you will want to keep doing, as you need to be able to sustain your activity level over time.

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The Power of Positive Affirmations

Positive Self Affirmation – What, Why, and How?

We wouldn’t think twice about giving encouragement to friends and family, but the majority of us can probably admit that we very rarely encourage ourselves (if at all). Positive affirmations are positive statements used to motivate and encourage, and ‘self’ obviously means you are directing these statements to yourself. They are reminders to yourself of the positive things in your life, whether that’s personal qualities or the people you are surrounded by. 

Research has shown that using positive affirmations can improve your feelings of self-worth. If you often find yourself engaging in negative self-talk, positive affirmations can help to replace these thoughts with more helpful ones. They have also been found to reduce stress, and to view ‘threatening’ messages (e.g. the graphic images on cigarette packets) with less resistance. In relation to that last benefit, the use of positive affirmations has been found to increase adherence to healthy living interventions.

Try picking two or three positive affirmations that feel like a good fit to you. They need to be a genuine reflection of what you think about yourself, not something you do not really believe. Then start repeating them each day in whichever way you see fit. For example, you could write them down in a journal before you go to bed or say them out loud when you get up in the morning. There is no right or wrong as this is truly a personal exercise.

Here are a few examples to get you thinking (but remember, they need to feel right for you);

  • I am confident in my ability to stand up for myself
  • I feel proud of myself when I start new tasks straight away
  • I accept my emotions and let them serve their purpose
  • My drive and ambition allow me to achieve my goals
  • I put energy into things that matter to me
  • I am grateful to have people in my life who make me laugh
  • I am at peace with who I am as a person
  • I believe in myself, and trust my own wisdom
  • I am confident and capable in what I do

You may not feel a difference straight away, but keep at it as regular practice is required to make long-term changes to how you feel. It is easy to be put off by this practice as it sounds quite self-indulgent and awkward (no one likes the idea of bigging themselves up!), but positive affirmations are not statements declaring yourself an exceptional person. Instead, you are focusing on being competent across a number of areas that you personally value in order to be a good, moral, person. 

So give it a go and see if you can feel the benefits!

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Breathing to reduce stress and anxiety

BREATHING TO DECREASE STRESS AND IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH

The use of breathing techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, have been shown in studies to reduce cortisol levels in the body, and reduce anxiety and stress.

NERVOUS SYSTEM

Our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is our flight or fight or stress response. It’s a vital system as it prepares us to avoid danger. However, when we rely and use this system too much in response to everyday stressors it can become a problem to our health. Using this system sends the oxygen to your arms and legs so you are prepared to run or flee. This reduces the oxygen sent to our brain, which makes it difficult to think clearly.

Too much of this stress response can increase blood pressure, supress the immune system, increase cortisol and can contribute to anxiety and depression. 

The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) on the other hand sends signals to your brain to let you know you’re safe. Its sometimes call the rest and digest system. It sends more blood to the brain, it conserves energy, slows your heart rate and increases intestinal and gland activity and helps the body relax. Deep breathing can help reduce SNS activity and increase PNS activity.

Diaphragmatic breathing and relaxation are believed to activate the PNS, reducing stress and anxiety and calming the body down. These deep breathing techniques are great for relieving the symptoms of anxiety. 

BREATHING IN PRACTICE

There is so many techniques out there, but I want to keep it simple.

First rate your anxiety or stress on a scale of 1-10 and rate it again after you finish.

Lay down and place one hand on your stomach and one on your chest.

Take a deep breath in through your nose for a count of 4s, focus on feeling the stomach rise. Imagine using the air to push against the hand on your stomach

Hold for 2 seconds

Exhale through the mouth like blowing out a candle for a count of 4s.

Do this for 5 mins minimum but longer if you have time.

Try to clear your mind and just focus on your breathing.

It will require practice so the more you do it the better you will get

Practice this daily and see if it helps reduce your stress and anxiety levels.

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USING YOUR TIME DURING LOCKDOWN TO STOP AND THINK

Using your time during lockdown to stop and think!!!

As we continue to endure another lockdown and head into a few more months of uncertainty and are becoming used to the idea of a new normal I want you to stop and think about how you want to enter this new phase?

What changes do you want to make?

While some are wanting everything to go back to normal (I would call this our comfort zone) I have to ask is that what you really want? 

Are there things in life you just got used to doing but don’t want to go back to?

Is the old normal a place you were truly happy?  

Could you redefine what is normal for you and take steps towards finding more happiness and a clearer purpose for your life your family.

Our normal is so personal that what we consider normal someone else would define as odd or strange. Have we become so used to the way life just was that we settled and just accepted it as the way it is?

Could your new normal be better than what your old normal was?

In an effort to stop and think about what we want I would ask you to sit down and answer these questions.

  1. What are the things you want to stop doing?
  2. What are the things you want to do less of?
  3. What are the things you want to do more of?
  4. What are the things you want to start doing?

In life there are going to be things we have to do that we hate, but we do them as ultimately it will take us closer to our goal and vision for our life. There are also things we do that we hate, that really serve no purpose and just bring us down or take us away from doing the things we want to do more of or haven’t even started doing yet. There are also things we love doing that don’t serve our goal but make us happy and there are things we really want to do but haven’t started them yet for various reasons.

We have been so busy we haven’t had time to reflect on the next question….

The ultimate question is what life do I want?

From there I would work it backwards and define what you need to do in order for that to happen. I know that it’s not an easy thing to do, and you can’t plan out every area of your life (current situation in point) but you can redefine your goals, your dreams and your vision and see if you are on track or not or think about what adjustments you can make to steer a better course.

I know all of us are negatively affected by the current situation but to various degrees. There are many things to be thankful and grateful for and many things that will get us down.

May I encourage you to look up, look for opportunities and keep moving forward, even if its slowly at first.

We have the opportunity to pivot, move and create the life we want….there is no better time than now to reflect, ask ourselves some hard questions and start paving out a new path that will take us in the direction we want to go.

Just something to think about

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An attitude of Gratitude

GRATITUDE

The idea behind a gratitude journal is taking time to stop, notice and reflect upon the things you are thankful for, no matter how big or small. Doing this daily can increase well-being and life satisfaction.

Try to notice new things your grateful for everyday – it may seem hard at first but with practice you will start seeing more of the good and less of the bad. Little by little how you perceive situations will change as you have adjusted your focus.

Be more specific with your gratitude – such as a moment that occurred in the day. Rather than saying I am grateful for my health, be more specific about something that happened that day or week.

Try to think beyond yourself and look for examples outside of us that we can be grateful for.

If journaling isn’t for you then maybe have a gratitude jar and some paper, when you feel grateful for something write it down and put it in the jar. Then every few months you can go over what you wrote to remind yourself of the good things.

How to have more gratitude everyday

Appreciate everything – Don’t be picky and look for the big things in life, you can be grateful for a clear day to go outside, a good nights sleep, a word of encouragement from a friend or having no dishes to wake up to one morning.

Find gratitude in your challenges – what have you faced in the past that you are grateful for today? What challenges lay ahead? What can you be grateful for in the midst of adversity?

Share it with others – express yourself and show your gratitude to the people in your life. Tell them, it will lift their day and yours as well.

Volunteer – giving of your time to help others in your community. No matter what’s happening there is always someone you can help. You don’t necessarily have to look very far to help out. You could go shopping for a neighbour, offer to take their bins out if they are unable to, cook them a meal or make yourself available for a weekly chat if they are lonely. It takes our mind off our own problems; it will make you more grateful for the things you have; and it makes a difference in that persons day or week.

Gratitude 

Improves physical health

Improves mental health

Enhances empathy and reduces aggression

Improves sleep

Improves self esteem

Increases mental strength

Give it a go and see if it makes a difference 

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LOOKING AFTER YOUR MENTAL HEALTH AND WELL BEING WHILE SELF ISOLATING

mental health

I think we can all agree that the current situation we are experiencing globally has been strange, scary and unpredictable. Whilst society has been advised to self-isolate it is vital that we focus even more on our mental health and wellbeing. There are certain things we can do to maintain our health whilst in lockdown.

  1. Plan your day – Having a regular routine gives people purpose, structure and something to look forward to. As tempting as it is to stay in your PJ’s all day try and stick to the time you would usually get up and go.
  2. Stay active – Being active is great for mental health. It reduces stress, aides better sleep patterns, motivates you, keeps you healthy and makes you feel good.
  3. Meditate – Relaxing your mind can improve your mental health and transmit positive feelings. Set aside some time during your day to experiment with different meditation and breathing exercises. This will be an excellent way to clear your mind especially if you are working from home.
  4. Stay connected – Not having the social contact you would normally have can have a detrimental affect on your wellbeing. Especially if you are living on your own. Try staying in contact with loved ones, work colleagues or friends by using video platforms such as Zoom, Skype or Facetime. Sending text messages or other social media messages is also a great way of keeping in touch.
  5. Sleep – Having a good sleep pattern is also key to mental health. Try to get as much natural light as possible by keeping your windows and curtains open. Sit in garden if you’re able. The body needs to differentiate between night and day. Also try to go to sleep at the time you would normally do and avoid mental stimulation an hour before bed. So, no laptops, phone, or computer games.

Lastly if you know anyone who usually struggles with their mental health, check in on them by giving them a call, text etc to show they still have a support network.