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7 surprising things I discovered when I tried a ‘brain sensing’ meditation headband

Muse 2 brain sensing headband
Credit: Interaxon Inc

It’s not every day that you stumble across the sight of two men wearing sci-fi-esque headbands but that’s exactly what happened to me when I attended the Mindful Living Show earlier this year.

Both chaps were seated in an upright position. Both had their eyes closed. And both looked blissfully at peace – quite a feat in a hall awash with people.

It turned out they were meditating with the help of a ‘brain sensing’ headband called Muse 2.

I was fascinated. Meditation has long been touted as a way to reduce stress, tackle anxiety, improve creativity and enhance focus but for many of us, it’s not an easy thing to do.

That’s why Interaxon, the Canadian company behind Muse, launched the headband.

So how does the Muse 2 ‘brain sensing’ meditation headband work?

The research-grade EEG (electroencephalograph) technology uses sensors on the band and arms to monitor heart rate, brain activity, breathing patterns and body movement. This real-time information is transmitted to the Muse app on your smartphone and used to shape your meditation experience based on how your body is responding.

So, imagine you’ve had a stressful day and need to clear your head. You might opt for the ‘mind’ meditation coupled with, say, the rainforest soundscape.

The sensors detect when your mind is busy by triggering the sound of monsoon-like weather but when you start to unwind it quietens to a drizzle and eventually stops if you remain calm. You know you’ve hit a prolonged period of relaxation when birdsong is heard.

The idea is that with regular use you effectively train your brain to become more in tune with your body and become aware of your active, neutral and calm states.

At the end of the session, your performance is captured in a graph which enables you to track your progress.

I gave the Muse 2 a quick try at the show but was lucky enough to test it again at home for a longer period as part of the day job.

Here’s how I got on.

Muse 2 brain sensing headband

Credit: Interaxon Inc

7 surprising things I discovered when I tried the Muse 2 ‘brain sensing’ meditation headband

1.Be prepared to be surprised

There are four experiences to choose from: mind, heart, body and breath as well as a selection of relaxing soundscapes – from desert and beach-themed to ambient music, wind chimes and the sound of a beating drum depending on your choice of meditation. It’s worth testing out all the options to see what works for you.

I assumed the ocean would be my favourite as I love the sea but the crashing waves  – which signal an active mind – left me feeling rather uncomfortable. My brain refused to stop wandering and I couldn’t settle the water. I didn’t get on with the ambient music either – it felt eerie.

However, I adored the rainforest option for the ‘mind’ meditation

Now, I’ve written before about my love for Barbados and although the island does not have a rainforest, the noise of the heavy rainfall – which on Muse indicates an active mind – reminded me of the downpours experienced in the Caribbean. During my session, the showers never lasted very long and on many occasion – sometimes as early as 30 seconds in – the joyous chirping birds would announce themselves suggesting a very calm state.  At night I chose the ‘heart’ experience where a beating drum mimics the rhythm of your heart. This practice turned out to be a soothing and relaxing way to end the evening and it hugely helped my sleep (see No.6)

2. Meditation can be fun

Okay. I know it’s probably not supposed to be. The whole point of such a practice is to achieve a calm, zen-like, non-emotional state, isn’t it? But if you’re a beginner who finds it hard to meditate, are easily bored, too busy to relax then the Muse 2 headband could be the introduction you need. Personally, I find it impossible to just sit and be still without help. I’ve always preferred guided options like the Headspace or Calm apps. Heck, I’ve even attended a group meditation class. However, I loved this new approach and selection of meditation sessions to suit your mood. The tweeting bird feature is genius.

3. It can make you competitive

Yes. Those tweeting birds are great because the moment you hit that calm state you feel incredible. It’s addictive though. I found myself desperate to hear the birds and was sorely disappointed when their beaks remained firmly closed for one of my sessions. Being sporty by nature – well, I was until my chronic illness took hold – I’m naturally competitive, especially with myself as this practice revealed! I appreciate this goes against the whole ethos of letting go, and releasing all expectation but the very nature of being able to track your progress and build on your improvements means (well for me anyway) you’re always striving to do better. As with anything, practice makes perfect so I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing although some may disagree.

Muse 2 brain sensing headband

Credit: Interaxon Inc

4. You have the time to meditate even if you think you don’t

It’s hard to switch off when you’re self-employed and, like many people, I barely seem to have a spare moment. But the design of the app makes it easy. Even if you meditate for one minute a day in the morning and one minute at night that’s two minutes a day which is 14 minutes a week, which is almost an hour a month.  That’s better than doing nothing at all and, chances are, you’ll feel so good that you won’t stop at one minute. I certainly didn’t.

5. It makes you aware of bad habits

As mentioned, my first foray into Muse 2 was with the Mind (rainforest) experience. I tried just three minutes at first. My mind was calm for 1 minute 16 seconds, neutral for 1 minute 8 seconds and active for six seconds. In that time, I accrued 12 birds, signalling I’d hit a super relaxed state.

For session two I upped the duration to five minutes. I was thrilled to see my brain remained calm for three minutes and 37 seconds, neutral for 1 minute 23 seconds and there were 0 minutes under the active tab. Wahoo. I’d also amassed an impressive 26 birds!

That was at 10.03pm. A quick dabble on social media – namely Instagram – followed and at 10.22pm I thought I’d have one more three-minute session. OH BOY.

I was staggered at how quickly my mental state had altered. I only managed five birds, my calm reading fell to 1 minute 23 seconds and my neutral result came in at 1 minute 37 seconds.

I often try to switch off my devices before bed and this is a stark reminder of why I need to do it.

My brain had been in such as calm state after session two and I’d swiftly undone my good work with a quick Insta scroll!

Muse 2 brain sensing headband

Credit: Interaxon Inc

6. It can help you sleep when you think you can’t

I’m not the best sleeper. I can lie awake for hours tossing and turning and even when I do eventually nod off I wake several times in the night. One evening, around 7.12pm, I did a 20-minute Mind meditation in five-minute increments. My calm state rose from 26% to 60% by the end of the session.  I dropped off quickly and slept through the night. I was flabbergasted. I assumed it was a fluke but the same thing happened again two days’ later!

7. It can change your behaviour

Whether I’m by the sea, on a mountain or walking in the forest I instantly feel at peace and connected to nature, which is probably why I repeatedly chose the rainforest soundscape.

Well, the other day I was working from home, on deadline, quite stressed and opened the window to get some fresh air. I instantly became aware of the birds chirping in the garden and a sense of calm washed over my body. It was a noticeable shift. I then realised the birdsong reminded me of the calm state experienced during the Muse sessions.  My brain had been trained to recognise this and I was blown away when it worked especially as I hadn’t meditated for a while. Bonus!

The Muse 2 meditation headband costs £239. For more information visit  choosemuse.com

If you enjoyed this post you might like to read the following:

Can mindfulness save your relationship? 

The Surprising thing I discovered when I tried flotation therapy 

Review: The CBT Journal (how to avoid feeling stuck)

7 ways to stop making life so stressful 

REVIEW: The Stress Solution by Dr Rangan Chatterjee

Health, Wellness

11 ways to remain resilient (in the face of chronic illness)

11 ways to stay resilient / Relax Ya Self To Health

It can be hard to stay resilient when you’re contending with a chronic illness, especially one that’s not very well recognised like Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.

The symptoms can make everyday living downright exhausting plus you feel like you’re in the middle of a never-ending war. It’s a battle to see a consultant who knows about the condition.

It’s a battle to get a diagnosis. It’s a battle to take the meds or eat healing foods because you react to what seems like every flippin’ ingredient. It’s a battle to meet friends or travel anywhere because fragrances set you off.

Heck, even sitting in the sunshine – a joyful treat for most – is no longer the pleasure it once was because heat is now a damned trigger.

On top of this shizzle, you’re still trying to lead a remotely normal life, so it’s no wonder your mental wellbeing takes a hammering.

Anxiety creeps in. You isolate yourself. You become trapped in a cycle of negative thinking and the next thing you know you struggle to see any light at the end of the tunnel.

I know, because I’ve experienced all these things.

Before my health fell apart you can read the night it all began hereI’d always, fortunately, been pretty resilient.

But I can honestly say this pesky illness has turned me upside down and tested me every which way.

For much of the past 3.5 years, I’ve been wearing a cloak of disbelief, anger, frustration, fear, doubt and anxiety, threaded with immense sadness.

And that’s okay.

Because I was, and in some respects still am, grieving for the old life I so enjoyed.

11 ways to stay resilient / Relax Ya Self To Health

Nonetheless, with the onset of acceptance, my mindset has shifted somewhat.

Instead of getting caught up in fear and worry, which is so easy to do with such a dastardly and unpredictable condition, I’m now focused on what this experience is teaching me, rather than what I’ve lost.

And I now look at every challenge I encounter as an opportunity for personal growth be it mentally, physically or spiritually – an approach has helped me enormously.

So why am I telling you this now?

Well, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK.

Truth be told, I was in two minds about writing this post. A) because everyone has wildly different chronic illness experiences and B) being ‘vulnerable’ and open on a public platform is, well quite frankly, terrifying.

Nonetheless, if opening up in this way gives a little hope to just one person then it will have been worth it.

So, below I’ve rounded up some of the things that have helped me on my journey so far.  *Please be aware that we’re all different. What works for me may not work for you. If you have depression, please seek medical help.

BE FLEXIBLE IN YOUR THINKING

At Christmas, I started reacting to other peoples’ aftershave and perfume. It had never before been a problem. I noticed it on a commute one day and then when I was freelancing in an office I’d worked in hundreds of times before without issue. Thankfully, my editor moved me to a spare bank of desks and the meds controlled my tongue swelling but I started to worry about the implications for flights and travelling on public transport. I’m now looking to buy an air filtering mask which I can whip out in similar circumstances.

LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING AROUND EVERY CLOUD

A few weeks ago, I was involved in a pretty nasty car accident. Someone ploughed into the side of my vehicle causing it to spin and wrote it off. “You have the worst luck,” a colleague said to me a week later.  I was taken aback. I thought I’d been lucky. Yes, I had bruising, back and neck pain and had lost my car but at least I didn’t have any broken bones and was able to walk away. If the accident had happened two seconds earlier it could have been a very different story.

JOIN A SUPPORTIVE CHRONIC ILLNESS GROUP

Social media is great in the respect it can link you up with people who are in the same predicament as you and things like Facebook groups can provide some much-needed support, especially if you have a rare illness or ‘emerging/new’ condition. However, be mindful too. Some people might be in a worse predicament than you. If you’re prone to anxiety this may cause your thoughts to spiral and spark fears about deteriorating health.

RELEASE WHAT NO LONGER SERVES

Align with people who are on the same path and friends and family who support and understand you. Find coping mechanisms that work for you. If you like positive affirmations (which I do), great. If this isn’t your bag then that’s fine too. We’re all different and responsible for our own happiness so do what works for you.

BUILD AWARENESS AND PAY ATTENTION

I’m forever harping on about how beneficial I’ve found meditation but it really has had a seismic shift on my life. I use apps like Headspace and recently discovered the Muse 2 meditation headband (a review is coming soon). Regular practice has enabled me to tune into my body (which is helpful when I’m trying to pin down triggers), as well as observe and notice how I am responding to situations in other areas of my life. I’ve also become very aware of my internal chatter [see next point]. Whenever I meditate a sense of peace washes over me. Physically, it calms my stress response which plays an enormous part in managing my reactions.

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK

While I’m always supportive and encouraging of others, I speak very harshly to myself – something that has been brought to my attention through meditation. Old narratives of not being good or worthy enough or being a failure are slowly being ironed out and I’m finally giving myself a break!

HAVE A MIND DUMP

I write down my thoughts at the start of the day. Everything. I just get it down on paper. Worries, fears, to do lists, dreams, goals, plans. Then I prioritise. The process mentally clears the space for me to get on with my day and I feel a though I’m not holding on to potential stressors in my body.  I’ve now started keeping a dream journal to help understand my ‘unconscious’ mind, too. My dreams have always been incredibly vivid (and on many occasion, I’ve had premonitions but that’s another post).

PACE YOURSELF

I’m Miss Reliable so what really frustrates me about this illness is not being able to commit to things in advance because, a night out for a friend’s birthday, say, will very much depend on how I’m feeling and if I’m in the midst of a flare. I’ve always been notoriously bad at relaxing but this illness has at least taught me how to pace myself and not overschedule on both the work and social front.

FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL

I used to have a super active lifestyle and while I know I’ll never run the London Marathon again, dwelling on what I used to be able to do makes me unhappy. I’ ve now accepted it. I’ve since found yoga and forest walks and am looking forward to discovering new hobbies in the future.

PRACTISE GRATITUDE

Every night I write down ten things I’m most grateful for. It can be anything from having a roof over my head and food on the table to doing a yoga class reaction free or catching up with a friend.

NEVER GIVE UP

Advances in medicine happen every day. New tests are always being developed.  I remain ever hopeful.

If you think this post might help someone you know, please feel free to share. I’d also love to hear about any positive approaches that have worked for you in the comments below.

As always, thank you for reading

x

Relax Ya Self To Health is on Facebook, and Instagram and you can subscribe (for free) to our newsletter here. 

Health, Helen's Health, In the news

Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the planet

Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the plane

MS hit the headlines recently after it emerged that actress Selma Blair has the condition. Reports revealed the 46-year-old has struggled with symptoms that include falling over, dropping things, foggy memory, and numbness in her left side for at least 15-years.

Multiple Sclerosis, which affects the central nervous system, is one Amanda Jones, from Nottinghamshire, is all too familiar with. The 50-something mum-of-two was diagnosed in 2010.

“Initially, it all felt very overwhelming, hopeless and was a very scary time,” she tells Relax Ya Self To Health. “But in true ‘Amanda’ style,  I hit the research button, and luckily found the Overcoming MS website.

“It’s a healthy lifestyle programme for people with MS, and adopting it has slowed the progress of the disease right down. My MS was very aggressive before, fuelled I think from the stressful life I led.  I now eat a plant-based diet, keep my vitamin D3 levels healthy, and have simplified my life to keep my stress levels as low as I can.”

In fact, Amanda’s approach to destressing and simplifying her life – mainly through decluttering and responsible purchasing – has made her an Instagram sensation. Her Small Sustainable Steps account, which carries the tagline, “What I’m doing might be a drop in the ocean but at least my drop will be clean”, has become a hit with more than 26,000 followers thanks to her helpful, informative posts.

Relax Ya Self To Health caught up with Amanda to find out how the platform has helped her cope with MS and is inspiring others to lead a plastic-free, low waste lifestyle. 

Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the planet

PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS

Amanda, please tell us a bit about yourself…

I live in Nottinghamshire with my husband, and our two teenage girls. My husband and I are both in our fifties. I took early retirement six years ago. I used to work with vulnerable children and families, it was great but very stressful. When I finished I was in a leadership role. Last year my husband took redundancy. He is now studying music production at university. You could say, we are living the life we love.

What were your MS symptoms?

I’d had the symptoms for well over 20 years. I temporarily lost my sight when my baby was just three weeks old and the use of my right side for a while – it’s still weak. I also had an episode lasting several weeks, where I had mini epileptic seizures, about 350 a day. It was a very difficult time.

How does MS affect your daily life?

It’s a bit like having a brain that short-circuits constantly. I never know what’s going to happen next. Sometimes I feel so fatigued, that even getting out of bed is difficult. I manage my fatigue by not over-committing to anything, and to rest as much as possible. Sometimes my body just won’t do what my brain is telling it. My mobility is one of the areas most affected. Not being able to go for long walks in the countryside, like I used to, is still a difficult concept for me. I’m a passionate gardener, it’s important for my mental health. I was finding it very difficult to continue, so we decided to adapt my garden, in order for me to carry on. I had paths laid and raised beds built. This has meant that I can carry on gardening. We are now in the process of adapting our home, in order to future proof it, if needs arise. MS affects every part of my life.

Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the planet

PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS

When did you discover Instagram and how has this helped you on your healing journey?

I’ve had an Instagram account now for several years. In that time [the content] it has changed and adapted, reflecting the changes I’ve made to my lifestyle. Initially, it helped me deal with the loss of my mother to Alzheimer’s and having to leave my much-loved career through illness and deteriorating mobility. I expressed how I managed my grief (both for losing mum and walking) through my kitchen garden. It’s been a very creative, and cathartic thing for me to do.

When did you realise you needed to simplify your life?

The need to simplify my life came from a particularly difficult episode. A few years ago, I was caring for someone who was very ill. It meant I was getting no sleep – being chronically fatigued anyway, this was a dangerous situation. One night, when I crawled into bed, I was convinced, I would die. I felt so ill and stressed, my heart would surely stop. I did a mental check in my head of all the wonderful women in my life who would be there for my daughters. I thought about my husband and how he would cope. I thought about our finances – yes they’d be okay. Then I panicked. I thought about all the stuff I had accumulated in my 50 years. I panicked, even more, when I realised how my husband never puts anything away. I imagined my girls grieving for me, and the house in utter chaos, with piles of stuff and boxes everywhere. Needless to say, I was still here the next morning

At what moment did you realise that clutter was stressing you out?

The next day I had a lightbulb moment. I couldn’t change a lot of the stresses in my life and I haven’t – they are still there, ebbing and flowing – but I could change my physical environment and all the ‘stuff’ which was making me feel overwhelmed. When everyone left for the day, I made myself a strong coffee, opened one of my cupboards and dived in. Within half an hour I had got rid of five carrier bags worth of stuff. Looking back, I can’t even remember what it was, that’s how important was!

 

Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the plane

PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS

Tell us about Small Sustainable Steps

Small Sustainable Steps emerged last year when I started to talk more about the small sustainable steps I was taking to simplify my life. The community has grown so much since then. Every day I’m inspired by the people who drop by.

What advice would you give to those who want to de-stress, reduce clutter and lead a simple life?

In order to change, you need to know why. Your why gives you the conviction and then it becomes easier. I’ve let go of so much…duplicates of things, stuff we never used, stuff that was still in its packaging. Even sentimental items have gone, it’s not always been easy, but with each thing I let go of, I felt the burden of my stuff lift. The guilt, too, of buying things I never needed. Once I started to declutter, it became a regular part of my life. With my energy levels being so low, I’ve only ever done this in very small bursts, hence why it has taken three years to get to a level I’m happy with. There are many different approaches to decluttering, for me, however, just targeting a small area for 15 minutes a day was all I could manage.

Meet the woman who is using MS to help save the planet

PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS

How has decluttering transformed your life?

Over the last few years, I have got rid of over 70% of the contents of our house. Everything now has a place or is either useful or loved. We buy quality over quantity, and we practice intentional consumerism. We don’t make impulsive purchases anymore. We now only purchase things that we need or things that we know we would love for many years to come. We now have more disposable income because we buy less. This has allowed us to make bolder decisions – my husband decided to take redundancy and go to university. We could not have done this, without changing our mindset, away from physical possessions to life experiences.

How has decluttering reduced your stress levels?

We now have a much bigger house, even though we have not extended, because we got rid of so much furniture that stored the stuff, we didn’t need. I personally feel less stress, by living this way. I no longer feel overwhelmed by my physical environment. It is now much easier to look after our home. I think decluttering the house, and changing my mindset, also naturally evolved into adopting a low waste lifestyle. Having MS means that everything I do in life needs to be as easy as possible. I couldn’t do this if the changes were complicated.

Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the planet

PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS

Your low waste and sustainable living tips are truly inspiring. Can you tell us a little more about your approach?

Low waste for me doesn’t mean zero waste. My family still produces waste, however, over the last two years, we have reduced this by two thirds. We’ve made a concerted effort to reduce the plastic that we consume. We get our meat, fish, dairy, from the deli counter in the supermarket, using our own containers. We rarely buy processed meals, which cuts down on the packaging. We don’t buy crisps, biscuits, or cakes very often and we bake twice a week. We get most of our vegetables from the market, again because there’s less packaging. We don’t buy disposable items anymore – no wipes, tissues, or bottled water.

As well as stress reduction, a low waste lifestyle has also saved you money? Can you tell us more

Yes, we pay a fraction, of what we did on cleaning and washing products, by making our own from cheap ingredients like vinegar.  We have drastically, cut down on our plastic consumption, just by taking these small steps. For anyone wanting to start this journey, of simplifying their life, my advice would be to start small. Change one thing, and then go from there. That way you will create the life you love without being overwhelmed by the changes you’re making.

Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the plane

PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS

Thanks, Amanda for taking the time to share your story with Relax Ya Self To health. To check out Amanda’s brilliant Small Sustainable Steps Instagram account click here.

 

 

 

Health, In the news

9 tricks to keep cool

9 tricks to keep cool

Are you struggling to keep cool in this heatwave? I know I am. And that’s saying something.

I couldn’t believe it when I read in the Telegraph that the Met Office is predicting the UK’s hottest day on record tomorrow [27 July]. Temperatures are expected to possibly exceed 38.5C (101F) on what has been dubbed Furnace Friday.

Now don’t get me wrong – I have always been a hot weather enthusiast.

It’s in my blood – my mother hails from Guyana – and Barbados and South Africa are among my favourite holiday haunts.

But my love for this prolonged scorchio spell has waned somewhat given my recent (MCAS) Mast Cell Activation Syndrome diagnosis.

A couple of years ago I had no idea why my tongue would start swelling up or why I’d start itching for England whenever I set foot inside a boiling hot car. But now I know why – read more here. 

Heat, it turns out, is one of my triggers and so it’s essential for me to remain cool.

Except – like most people – I don’t have air conditioning in the house or a swimming pool in the back garden and I have succumbed to a fair few tongue swelling episodes over the past month (hence my lack of blog posts).

Even so, I have discovered some simple tips that have helped me beat the heat so thought it would be handy to share them below. I hasten to add that these are not scientific – just based on my own personal experience.

9 tricks to keep cool

SLEEP UNDER A DUVET COVER (MINUS THE DUVET)

I’ve written about Auntie Chris and her wise words before on this blog and sure enough she’s shared another gem – remove the duvet and sleep under the cover. AC, as I call her, came to stay with me during Wimbledon and when I walked into her room I found she’d had a field day with the bed linen.  “The duvet cover gives you that extra bit of weight that sleeping under a just sheet doesn’t but is still cool enough,” she laughed on seeing my expression. That night I tried it and had the most remarkable night’s sleep. Who knew?! Just make sure the material is breathable cotton.

PLACE A WET HAND TOWEL BETWEEN YOUR THIGHS

I know. I know. This sounds a little odd but on one particularly sweltering night, I’d had enough so at approximately  3am I found a small gym hand towel and soaked it in ice cold water. I’d initially planned to leave it on my forehead but this didn’t work as I sleep on my side (*eye roll*) so I wacked it between my legs instead. I reckon I fell asleep within five minutes. No joke.

INVEST IN A COOLING MIST

About four years ago I went on a press trip to France as part of the day job to learn about Avene skincare brand which is designed for sensitive, hypersensitive, allergic and irritated skin. There I was introduced to its Thermal Spring Water, a soothing, anti-irritating mist. While many people use it to rehydrate and ease itchy skin, I use it to cool down! I pop it in the fridge and then leave it by my bed so that I can spritz my pulse points and face whenever I wake up in the night. I always walk with it on holiday too.

DO NOT OPEN THE CURTAINS

It feels somewhat slovenly to keep the curtains drawn all day but I’ve found it doesn’t half make a difference in keeping the interior cool when the sun is beating down outside.

PLACE A BOWL OF ICED WATER IN FRONT OF YOUR FAN

It is absolutely stifling in my home office because the sun is streaming onto the window when it’s at its strongest. On the days I work from home I keep the curtains drawn and use a desk fan. Recently I’ve been placing a bowl of iced water a sensible distance in front of it to circulate cooler air and it really works!

KEEP THE FRENCH DOORS CLOSED

And the windows for that matter. I discovered this by accident today when I opened them and felt entirely engulfed by hot air. Obviously throw ‘em open if there’s a breeze or it’s cooler outside and if the temperature drops in the evening, but if its hotter in the garden there’s no sense in opening them at all.

GO FOR A LATE NIGHT DIP

Swimming is a new habit I’ve got into of late – partly because intense activity sets off my tongue and throat swelling reactions – but also because of the heatwave. I’ve been hitting the pool of my local gym for late night sessions. It’s empty at 8pm, there are no screaming kids and I emerge feeling relaxed, refreshed and much cooler. Result.

SLEEP WITH DAMP HAIR

We’ve always been told to avoid going to bed or out of the house with wet hair but the common cold is in fact caused by a virus. Personally, I find that going to sleep with towel-dried hair helps me drift off quicker than when it is dry if the temperature is overbearingly warm.

MAKE HEALTHY ICE LOLLIES

The week before last I was working a shift for a trade magazine when I nipped home for lunch at midday. On the way back to the office I eased myself into the furnace that was my car and my tongue started to swell within five minutes. I had to pull over and immediately take two antihistamines. That night I decided to make some almond and coconut ice lollies with cacao powder – my first attempt and I was surprised at how well they turned out. Now, just before I set off I eat one of those and it’s good to know they’re in the freezer if I feel as though I’m overheating.

How are you finding the heat? Are you loving it or hating it? Have you found any unusual tips that work for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Health, Helen's Health

7 easy ways to lead a stress-free life

7 easy ways to lead a stress free life

Did you know that today is International Stress Awareness day? And while we all need a degree of stress to be able to function well, modern life can easily become overwhelming. “Work, family, and social pressures can all conspire to make our lives too difficult to manage,” Dr Rafael Euba, a consultant psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre, explains. “A specific difficulty we encounter in modern life is that we are not expected to switch off. We are constantly connected and engaged but there are some things we can all do to avoid excessive stress.” Here, Dr Euba shares his top stress-busting tips.

MANAGE YOUR TIME
Don’t pretend the day has 27 hours and be realistic about how many things you can do in 24. Make a sensible to do list and don’t worry if plans change. A key way of managing your time is being comfortable in saying ‘no’ to things. Remember that a ‘yes’ to one thing, means a ‘no’ to something else. I also try to keep my leisure time as simple as possible so I don’t feel under pressure to constantly be achieving something.

DON’T MULTITASK
While you might feel as though you’re being extra productive, multitasking will only clutter your brain and make you less productive. Studies show that we’re not designed to “task-switch” and we function better when we are doing only one thing at the time. Researchers at Stanford University found that subjects who multitasked while performing cognitive tasks experienced significant IQ drops similar to those seen in individuals who skip a night of sleep or who smoke marijuana. Multitasking has also been found to increase production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Having our brain constantly shift gears pumps up stress and tires us out, leaving us feeling mentally exhausted – even when the working day has barely begun.

DON’T TRY TO BE A SUPERHERO
If you’re a busy mum, wife and climbing the career ladder all at the same time don’t beat yourself up if you’ve not been able to vacuum the house or forget your child’s clarinet lesson. Give yourself credit and focus on all the good things you do instead. We can often be our own worst critic, so if you feel this is you, then pretend it’s your best friend that is feeling this way. What would you say to them? We are often far more critical of ourselves than we would be of loved ones. This approach can help you take a step back and look at the situation in a better light.

IGNORE SOCIAL MEDIA
Studies show that too much time spent on social media can be linked to feelings of isolation and low mood. Part of the reason social media makes people feel socially isolated (even though they may not actually be) is the comparison factor and we make judgements about how we measure up. This kind of comparison is linked to depressive symptoms. One study found that more friends on social media doesn’t necessarily mean you have a better social life—there seems to be a cap on the number of friends a person’s brain can handle, and it takes actual social interaction (not virtual) to keep up these friendships. So feeling like you’re being social by being on Facebook doesn’t work. Since loneliness is linked to a myriad of health and mental health problems, getting real social support is important. Virtual friend time doesn’t have the same therapeutic effect as time spent with real friends.

KEEP A NOTEBOOK BY YOUR BED
Sleep has a big impact on our mood, with studies showing that having a sleepless night can make us more irritable, short-tempered, and vulnerable to stress. One study looked at how people who were sleep deprived responded to emotionally negative imagery, and it revealed that those who were sleep deprived had a 60 per cent higher stress response than those who were rested. Once you sleep well, your mood often returns to normal. But getting enough shut-eye is easier said than done when you are feeling stressed. If you feel like you can’t switch off, having a notebook on your bedside table, writing down any thoughts and allocating a time to go through them the following day will help to put your mind at rest. Dimming the lights and spending the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading will also help put your body in sleep mode.

APPRECIATE THE SIMPLE THINGS IN LIFE
Noticing the world around you and being grateful for the little things in life is linked to feeling happier and reducing feelings of depression. Research shows something as simple as going for a walk and spending time surrounded by nature can be a highly effective way to restore your sense of calm and boost your mood. But you don’t need to head to the Amazon rainforest to feel rejuvenated. Why not get your nature fix by joining a local walking group, going on a cycle ride or simply relaxing and enjoying the countryside?

ADDRESS YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Does your partner make you stressed and anxious? Look at the way he/she makes you feel. Ask why this might be, sit down and try to work things out or alternatively seek help from a counsellor. Remember that a partner should be a source of comfort, not stress: it might be that you’re no longer right for one another.

Finally…

If self-help methods aren’t helping, and if you’ve been feeling stressed, depressed or anxious for more than a few weeks and it’s affecting your daily life, it’s important to talk to your GP. Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do I dread starting the day?
  • Do I have to multitask in order to be able to cope?
  • Am I always tense?
  • Do I have trouble sleeping, or digesting my meals?
  • Am I irritable with my partner?
  • Do I have problems concentrating?

 

Dr Rafael Euba is a Consultant Psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre where he specialises in repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) for the treatment of depression, an alternative to anti-depressant medication. www.psychiatrycentre.co.uk

Health, Wellness

7 top tips for beating stress

7 ways to beat stress

Have you ever heard of the term ‘brain fade’? No, me neither until today. Apparently, it relates to accidental habits such as putting your keys in the fridge and leaving the milk on the side – something I’ve done before in times of stress.

The poll of 2,000 adults commissioned by Rescue to mark the launch of its new Rescue Plus Dropper and Spray flower essences range, found that 94% had experienced moments like these. More than two thirds (75%) blamed a lack of sleep, 60% attributed it to trying to do too much at once and a quarter cited being busy or under pressure at work as the reason.

I’m not sure about you but I can certainly relate to all of the above. And while we all know the importance of keeping our stress levels in check, it’s often easier said than done, so I asked Dr Marilyn Glenville Ph.D., a respected nutritionist specialising in women’s health and best-selling author, for her top stress reduction tips. Below is what she had to say:

EAT LITTLE AND OFTEN
Fluctuating blood sugar levels, common in women, cause your body to release adrenaline – the same hormone that’s triggered when you are under stress. Try and keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable by eating every three hours. A Mediterranean diet – rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, olive oil and oily fish – can help. Blood sugar and insulin are closely linked with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Many experts now refer to the resistance to insulin in the brain as Type 3 Diabetes. One large study has shown that a Mediterranean diet is linked to a reduced incidence of cognitive decline.

NEVER DRINK COFFEE ON AN EMPTY TUM
Caffeine is a stimulant which activates your adrenal (stress) glands. Limit caffeine to one cup or avoid if possible and never drink coffee on an empty stomach. This is because it gets straight into the bloodstream, triggering the release of your fight or flight stress hormones. You don’t want them being activated in response to something you have drunk. Also, caffeine contributes to fluctuating blood sugar levels because it has a fast acting effect on the body.

GET MOVING
When stressed, our bodies expect action. The rush of energy we experience is caused by the release of adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine, hormones which help us react quickly in dangerous situations. However, being permanently stressed is not a good thing as raised cortisol levels can lead to high blood pressure. Stress is also thought to be linked to the development of hypothyroidism as high cortisol levels reduce the amount of the thyroid hormone T3 and encourage your body to break down muscle to provide glucose for your brain resulting in a slower metabolism. If you’re feeling stressed go for a brisk 30-minute walk, go for a swim or find an exercise DVD you can do at home.

UP YOUR B VITAMINS
Some vitamins and minerals can help manage stress levels. B5 is good for stress relief and energy, chromium helps with blood sugar balance, while magnesium – found in bananas – is considered nature’s tranquiliser. Siberian ginseng acts as a tonic to the stress hormone-releasing adrenal glands, and L-theanine helps reduce stress and anxiety.  A good supplement I use in my clinic is NHP’s Tranquil Woman support, which contains all of the above plus more.

GET FRISKY
Sex is a mood booster. The release of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, into the brain during is thought to be responsible for this benefit. A study of more than 6,800 people also showed that those who were still active in the bedroom had sharper cognitive function.

PLAY AN INSTRUMENT OR BOARD GAME
Stress is linked to cognitive decline and memory loss.  A 40+ year study of 800 women found that those who experienced the most stressful events in middle age had a 21% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s in old age and 15 per cent higher risk of developing other forms of dementia compared to those who didn’t. Unwind by reading, dancing, playing board games or musical instruments. These hobbies have also been shown to reduce dementia risk. Doing crosswords has been found to be particularly beneficial in delaying memory decline – by 2.5 years.

SLEEP BETTER
Refrain from looking at your phone, computer, or TV at least an hour before bed. The light from these devices can decrease melatonin levels which should be high in order to induce sleep. Try listening to relaxing music, reading a book, meditation or some deep breathing exercises.

I’ll certainly be taking these tips on board. How about you? I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below or over on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter 

Dr Marilyn Glenville Ph.D. is the author of a number of bestselling books – her latest is Natural Solutions For Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Dr Glenville runs clinics in Harley Street, Kent and Ireland  www.marilynglenville.com

 

 

 

Health, In the news, Wellness

WHY IT’S OK TO SAY NO

Lean how to say no

It’s official. I’m a giver. I like to help people and can never say no.  It’s the way I’ve always been. Except I hadn’t quite realised how much I take on until this week. It took the words of my friend’s aunt with whom I’m staying in North Devon for me to sit up and take note. “You’re like a sponge Helen,” she said shaking her head. “You absorb everyone else’s problems. You’re forever trying to help people and investing all of your energy in them. When are you going to stop and help yourself?”

Auntie Chris blurted out the words after I received two texts and one email within the space of ten minutes. Each message was from a different person and each asked me to sort out a situation they couldn’t handle. AC, as I fondly call her, disapprovingly shook her head. The night before my tongue had spontaneously started to swell in front of her eyes.

You’re like a sponge

Hours earlier she’d seen me battle through an extremely stressful day work-wise. I’ve always thrived on the adrenaline of deadlines and juggling numerous pieces but the last minute demands on this particular day were off the scale. So the plan that night was to chill in bed with a book but my throat began to tighten within five minutes of settling down. “I can’t be having a reaction,” I muttered to myself. “Just have a glass of water, breathe deeply. It’ll be OK in a minute.”

Except the situation quickly worsened and when I checked the mirror my tongue was three times its usual size. I necked my medication. And swore. This is why:

  • I’d made my dinner from scratch and hadn’t eaten any trigger foods
  • I hadn’t exercised
  • I wasn’t hot
  • I wasn’t sweating

All of the above can set off a reaction – something I’ve painstakingly discovered over the past 18 months. So why the bloody hell was I reacting just as I’d hit the sack? I acted swiftly. And the meds stopped my tongue swelling any further – although it would remain grossly enlarged for the next 48 hours.

The next day AC ​sat me down in the dining room of her beautiful ​200-year-old farmhouse and gave me a stern talking to. “I think stress is a factor,” she said with a beady look in her eye. “You had a nightmare of a day yesterday workwise. I’ve been watching you since you arrived. You’re supposed to be having a break but you don’t help yourself at all. You start work at the crack of dawn. Some days you don’t eat breakfast or lunch and you’ll be sat at your desk for between eight and ten hours. That’s not good.”

Learn how to say no

“But I can barely eat anything at the moment because of my reactions,” I retaliated. “It’s not good enough Helen. Your job, by its very nature, is stressful. You’re working for lots of different publications which place numerous demands on you at short notice, you’re constantly firefighting plus you’re working on your blog until the early hours of the morning. You put loads of pressure on yourself. It’s not healthy.”

I was lost for words (unusual for me). I knew I worked hard but maybe she had a point. Then my phone vibrated. “Who’s that?” she enquired. “My cousin,” I answered. AC noticed the worried expression that fell over my face. “I need to sort this out.”  The very next minute I received an email from a work colleague who was asking for help. By this point Auntie C was ready to explode.

“You really cannot take on the world’s problems. It’s nice that you want to help people but you’ve got enough on your plate. Your body wants to heal but doesn’t know how to respond because it’s being bombarded by stress in all directions. Of course you can still help people but for the time being you need to invest time and energy in yourself, not others. You really need to learn to say no.”

Her words echoed around my head. Then I remembered something my dad always said: “Helen Gilbert. Other peoples’ messes cleared up by appointment.” At that moment everything started to sink in.

“Turn off your phone now,” AC ordered. Reluctantly, I agreed and although I went to check it three times in the hour that followed, I did not turn it back on.

Then I switched my out of office on before heading to Saunton Sands for an evening in front of the surf. I sat contemplating on that beach for 2.5 hours. And I left with a plan of action. For the rest of my time in Devon I’ll open the emails just once in the morning and once in the evening. Likewise, the mobile shall only be checked three times a day maximum.

Learn how to say no

 

Going forward, I’ll start prioritising and saying no to people *eek*.  It won’t be easy. H​ow the heck do you do this when it’s in your nature to help and worry about others? It feels bizarrely selfish. But being pulled in all directions is just not sustainable with the way my health is right now.

I’ll let you know how I get on and whether I​ experience fewer reactions as a result  of simplifying my life. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you find that you spend a lot of your time sorting out the problems of others? Do people constantly offload on you but disappear when everything is going well in their life? How have you learned to say no and look after yourself?

Please do comment below or on Facebook , Instagram or Twitter. 

 

Health, Helen's Health, Wellness

A plea for help: Get me a diagnosis

Helen Gilbert seeks diagnosis for baffling condition

Do you remember that time my tongue started to swell up on a long-haul flight? Well, it happened again. Only, this time I was on my way back from Austria. “Would you like anything to eat?” the air hostess politely asked as we departed Innsbruck for London Gatwick. Ordinarily, I’d decline but didn’t on this occasion.

I’ve previously written about the need to be prepared if you’re travelling with allergies or, in my case, suffer from bizarre reactions that cause your airway to close up. Usually, I’m well-organised but I’d been on a press trip with a jam-packed itinerary and ran out of time on the last day.

Unlike my companions, I couldn’t eat at the airport because every option contained a trigger food. And by the time I’d settled into my plane seat, I was absolutely famished. So, I did something I would never usually do while cruising thousands of feet above the ground – I bought a packet of crisps. I quickly scanned the ingredients list; potato, sunflower oil, and salt and figured I’d be safe.

Uncomfortable sensations in body

“I’ll be fine with this,” I smiled, before quickly working my way through the bag and drifting off into the land of nod. Shortly afterwards, I awoke with a start. “We’re circling because there was a bird strike involving another plane and the runway’s being cleared,” our friendly host explained.

Being an animal lover, I’d usually feel for the deceased flock in a situation like this but my mind was distracted by the uncomfortable sensations in my body. “I don’t feel right,” I blurted out as beads of sweat trickled down my forehead. “Oh no, in what way?” the PR replied. “My throat feels sticky. It’s hard to swallow.”

Now, our host was well versed in the trials and tribulations of my baffling condition. Fortunately, I’d only had one reaction on the three-day press trip; that wasn’t particularly nasty so she immediately knew what to do. “Let me see your tongue,” she demanded. Her eyes widened. “It’s enormous,” she screamed before running off to get more water from the back of the plane.

Airway affected every time

As some of you know, my peculiar tongue swelling and throat closing reactions first took hold 20 months ago and doctors remain perplexed as to why they occur. Histamine intolerance – the body’s inability to metabolise the chemical histamine found in certain foods– is one possible theory. Symptoms mimic an allergic reaction – in many people these present in the form of a rashes or itching – but my airway is affected every time, which means I must carry an emergency kit of antihistamines, steroids and adrenaline pens wherever I go.

Trigger foods include lemons, limes, oranges, mature cheese, Marmite, alcohol, anything aged or fermented. Oh, and vinegar, which is in everything – from condiments and pickles to salad dressing and makes eating out and buying lunch almost impossible.  What’s more baffling is that my symptoms also occur when I get hot (which, incidentally also happened on the flight) or do any form of cardio, so I’m constantly walking on eggshells.

Yes, I was hungry on the plane but, with hindsight, I was immensely stupid buying those crisps. Vinegar may not have been listed as an ingredient, but the production belt at the factory could easily have been contaminated. According to my immunologist, antihistamines must be taken at the onset of a reaction to halt the swelling, which can become too difficult to control once set in yet I’d unwittingly wasted valuable time in the ten minutes I’d been asleep.

Vicious circle

“Here, drink this,” the PR instructed as I scrambled for my meds. I shovelled the pills down my throat before being ushered off the plane. The reaction was pretty horrendous – my tongue remained swollen for three days, the medication wiped me out and I suffered from severe brain fog and writer’s block – not ideal for the day job.

Despite being super careful with my diet since – the reactions are now happening again almost EVERY DAY. This requires more antihistamine to control the swelling which – in itself creates a vicious circle – as it can inhibit production of the diamine oxidase (DAO) enzyme in the gut that’s responsible for breaking down the histamine in food.

Over the past year and eight months, I have deduced that certain foods, heat and exercise – even dancing – can set off a reaction but, astonishingly, nobody can explain why and my immunologist admits he has never seen anything like it in his life. He has now prescribed stronger daily antihistamine in the hope it will break the cycle of swelling, which he says is very unusual especially as it is always symmetrical.

I’m determined to try and carry on as normal but am equally desperate to raise awareness, find a reason and gain some sort of control. I’ll let you know how I get on but in the meantime, if you’re going through a similar experience or know someone who is, please do get in touch, share or comment on my post.

Someone somewhere must know the answer.

 

 

 

 

Health, Helen's Health

Meet our ‘adventure playground for adults’ winner

9NINE adventure playground for adults

“It was so much fun – I haven’t laughed that much in ages.” Those were the words of Melissa Bond, who won a pair of VIP tickets in our ‘adventure playground for grown-ups’ competition.

The 33-year-old took along her husband, Cliff, to the Hackney-based event, which gave adults a chance to rediscover their inner child on a raft of equipment including a giant climbing frame, six metre tall slide, log swings, space hoppers and ball pits.

More than 3,000 people attended the sold-out weekend – hosted by seed food brand 9NINE – which aimed to raise awareness around the benefits of play on happiness and wellbeing.

And it certainly worked for this Bexley Heath-based couple, who have two boys aged four and six.

“Cliff and I hardly get any time together out of the house as I work most evenings and it can be tricky to find babysitters,” said Melissa, who runs her own fitness business. “It was lovely to spend some quality time together. Cliff had an absolute blast and it was great way for him unwind after work.”

So what was Melissa’s favourite piece of equipment?

Nine adventure playground for adults

“I couldn’t decide between the swings and the see-saw. I felt free on the swings and loved seeing how high I could get towards the sky.  The see-saw was lots of fun too, although with my hubby being a tad bit heavier than me he had to do all the work and nearly sent me flying on a couple of occasions,” she laughed. “We were also lucky enough to enjoy some of the 9NINE products. The seed bombs were soooo yummy!”

I was able to enjoy the moment

The busy mum also learned a valuable lesson from her adventure playground experience. “I need to take more time out from work and home life and plan more activities that involve play,” she confessed. “For once I was able to enjoy the moment and not let my thoughts distract me from what I was doing.”

Melissa also had some lovely words to say about our blog, which she discovered after 9NINE published our post on the competition.

“I’m thoroughly enjoying the content and getting loads of ideas,” she said. “As a wife, mum to two boys and business owner finding time to relax is a challenge. The more I learn about health and fitness, the more it is becoming apparent that rest and relaxation are very important for body and mind.”

Thanks for your kind words Melissa!

This was our second giveaway. Amanda Johnstone was the winner of our ‘summer skin care’ hamper worth over £100.

And the good news is this isn’t last of our competitions  – we currently have another very exciting one in the pipeline, so watch this space!

If you’d like our blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, just pop your email address in the ‘subscribe’ box underneath my picture.

 

 

Competitions, Fitness, Health, Wellness

Win a skincare hamper worth £100

Wimbledon, The Championships

Who’s excited for Wimbledon 2017? I certainly am.

So, I’ve decided to mark the occasion with our very first competition. And it’s a good ‘un.

We’re serving up an ace box of summer essentials designed to protect your skin and keep you feeling fresh should the temperature start to soar.

Our Champion’s Chest, (RRP: £103) contains:

  • Ladvial Sun Protection (in three different SPFs)
  • Solero Cooling After Sun Lotion x 2
  • Dr Organic Aloe Vera Lip Balm
  • Sukin Hydrating Mist Toner
  • Dr Organic Aloe Vera Wet Wipes
  • Soft & Gentle Cool Boost Antiperspirant
  • Miaroma Citronella Pure Essential Oil

Only one lucky winner will walk away with this fantastic prize but as this is our first giveaway  – and we’re mad about tennis – we are giving you SIX opportunities to enter this fantastic draw.

All you have to do is name the players you think will triumph in the  Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Singles.

It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong  – as our draw takes place on Saturday 8 July – during the first week of the tournament.

This is just a little fun to get you into the Wimbledon spirit.

And if festivals are more your thing, that’s OK too – as you can see, the hamper is ideal for gig-goers too, as well as seaside day trippers.

Remember, you can enter the draw up to six times to be in with a chance of winning this fantastic hamper of summer essentials (RRP:£103.00)

GOOD LUCK!

HOW TO ENTER

Each of the below counts as one entry.

  • Comment at the bottom of this blog post
  • Visit our Facebook page here and share the competition post
  • Comment underneath our Facebook competition post
  • Visit our Instagram page and comment underneath the competition picture
  • Tweet us your answer
  • Subscribe for free to Relax Ya Self To Health by popping your email in the box underneath my bio which is to the right.

 

Competition closes: Midnight 8th July 2017
This Prize Draw is open to residents of the UK aged 18 or over.
Click here for full terms and conditions

Competitions, Health, In the news, Tennis