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Little ways to boost your mood

There is plenty to be down in the mouth about at the moment- especially if you put on the news or scroll through social media. 

Whilst the little things may not be able to change the course of a global pandemic, they can make a difference to how you feel and how you deal with the difficulties that may be going on around you

Here’s some science backed ways that can make a wee difference to how your feel- 

1.Kindness Rules- being kind has been shown time and time again to help boost both our happiness levels and those of the person you are being kind too. Every kind gesture- from a hello to an elderly neighbour, offering a helping hand to arranging an adventurous charity challenges- makes a difference.

2. Exercise- getting moving releases endorphins, the feel good brain chemicals, that give your mood a boost within minutes of getting active.  You can do anything active you feel like- whether its walking, yoga, playing with the kids or having a boogie on your own.  If you can, get active for around 20 minutes to get your heart rate up (and break a sweat) to see the best results.

3.Buy Flowers- and give them to yourself. Harvard researchers have found that keeping fresh flowers helps with anxious feelings and low mood. Who doesn’t like to get flowers as a gift? So treat yourself! 

4.Add Mushrooms to your shopping list- one of the few food sources of Vitamin D- the sunshine vitamin that helps with the production of our brain chemicals ( neuro transmitters). For your mood, serotonin production is key so ways to boost this are important.  For more on serotonin and how important it is for brain health have a read https://nogginbrain.co.uk/hello-is-it-me-you-are-looking-for/

5.Chocolate time- yes your read correctly, chocolate is great for your mood. But I think you knew that one… the main reason it helps immediately with a mood boost is the sugar content unfortunately BUT chocolate also contains tryptophan which is another vital ingredient to serotonin production. Other tryptophan rich foods include eggs and poultry 

6. Green tea- rich in anti oxidants, green tea is a health boosting drink that makes a great addition to your day time drink repertoire. However, to get the mood benefits you may have to drink quite a lot! A study has shown that people drinking 5 cups or more a day have a reduction in stress levels of up to 20% versus those who only drank one cup

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

5 words which can help your brain health

5 words which can help your brain health


If the last few months have taught us anything, it’s the small, seemingly insignificant experiences that we have much gratitude for.Whether it’s a hand written note from a friend, the colourful joy in a bunch of fresh flowers, the crisp clean feel of new pyjamas or a freshly baked croissant from your local bakery. Pre-covid we probably took much for granted and now is a great time to re-set your brain to be more attuned to gratitude.


“Today I am grateful for…” are the 5 words which can alter your mood. Our brain chemistry shifts when we use gratitude as a way to train your brain away from negativity and focus on positivity.The emphasis is on train, as our brain is a muscle and the more we use it or train it, the more our brain chemistry benefits. Over the past two decades scientists have made great strides toward understanding the biological roots of gratitude, the various benefits that accompany gratitude and the ways that people can cultivate feelings of gratitude in their day-to-day lives. The studies comprising this science of gratitude are the subject of much research .


Some of my friends and patients use a gratitude journal to help them develop positive emotions.If you’re able to get into the habit of focussing on gratitude you’ll be able to switch your brain and mindset from lack to abundance and form a low mood to a happier one, especially over time.The more you do it, the more you become attuned to the positive benefits of experiencing gratitude.Here are my 8 simple tips to help you get into a groove with gratitude:


What are you looking forward to? Whether it’s a socially distanced BBQ with friends or a weekend break in a hotel by the seaside, or pre-ordering a really good book or treating yourself to a takeaway dinner.It’s good to visualise and think about what you’re excited about, positive anticipation is a good feeling to cultivate.


Make it into a ritual You could set yourself a challenge to acknowledge three things you’re grateful for each day. It needn’t be earth shattering – getting a parking space first time, having a yearned for coffee from your favourite local barista or for the fact the sun is shining during British summertime. The little things as we know, mean a lot.


Write it down Keep it in your diary or treat yourself to a lovely notebook and keep a record. Writing it down or storing it as notes on your phone is a powerful way for your brain to acknowledge the gratitude.


Gratitude for what you don’t have This sounds counterintuitive – but for a moment think about all the things you’re not having to deal with – many people are experiencing ill health, work stress and losing their livelihoods. It could always be so much worse.


Who are you grateful to?
Your partner, your kids, your clients, your patients, your next-door neighbour, your friend, your hairdresser, your pharmacist, your Doctor, the NHS,  the Amazon delivery person? There’s always someone you can silently thank in your mind.


Think about the positive gains The global pandemic has taken it’s toll on all of us, in one way shape or form but what are the upsides ? Have you spent more time with your partner and kids, does your dog love you even more?Are your house plants looking particularly healthy and happy? Have you enjoyed a slower pace of life, not doing the daily commute and enjoying quality chats with friends on the phone?


Say thank you
Super simple but really acknowledging your thanks is powerful and has the ability to make someone’s day and your brain will register this with a dopamine hit.A study from 2019 shows that expressing gratitude affects not only the grateful person, but anyone who witnesses it.


Be kind Being kind is a win win, you don’t just change your own brain chemistry, you have the power to change the recipient’s brain too. Read more on the science of kindness here.


Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, we are grateful for your time and the opportunity to help improve your brain health and mental wellbeing.

Dr Clara Russell

Take a break

Take time off, hug a tree or head to the seaside to enjoy your own version of a holiday – your brain needs a break.


Your brain and your body need a break and with British summertime upon us it’s time to look forward to a change form the everyday routines we’ve experienced in dealing with the global pandemic.Many of my own friends and family are exhausted, lacking in energy and low mood due to the monotonous existence we’ve had to endure – whether that’s been working from home, being a key worker, home schooling, being furloughed, being made redundant, worrying about the future, being unwell, losing a family member, having to cancel precious plans. 


The last 100 or so days have been extremely hard on us all. So please give yourself permission to take a break.


Nuffield Health, the UK’s largest healthcare charity conducted a study and discovered there are striking effects of not going on holiday. They discovered those who didn’t go away for a break had higher blood pressure, didn’t sleep as well and had higher levels of stress. It’s not surprising that holidays help us de-stress, because we tend to do things that give us pleasure and distract our mind away from the challenges we are all facing with Covid.


Scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine, University of California and Harvard found that just six days away  from our usual routine can trigger genetic changes which dampens stress, boosts the immune system and lowers levels of proteins linked to dementia and depression. If you’re feeling low, perhaps a little bit of travel and break from every day covid-ness will provide temporary respite and help your brain and mental health.


So the science and the research backs up what I’m suggesting. Be kind to yourself, take time off and even if it’s just little things like having ice cream in the park, fish tea by the sea or going hill-walking for a day, schedule in pleasure and break from the routine. It can be one day or one week, your brain will feel refreshed from the change of routine.


Schedule time off Book time off from your job or WFT set up and step away from the laptop, in fact don’t even go near your work station. Put your out of office on and record a voicemail on your mobile explaining that you are off work for the time being. Don’t be tempted to have a quick look at emails on your phone – you’ll regret it later.


Staycation Take time off – even a long weekend, mid week break or a fortnight, whatever works for you. It looks like holiday-ing at home will be hugely popular – the uncertainty around covid, quarantine restrictions, wearing masks and also the cost of holidays mean that many of us might just be taking a few days of here and there to do a long weekend, city break or trip to the coast. Whatever you decide to do – book it in advance, its good to have something to look forward to.


Get off devices FOMO is not a thing anymore.Be in the moment, forget about what other people are doing or not doing. Be mindful, be present and enjoy what you are doing, there and then. Manage time on apps, and when on holiday aim to cut your phone usage by more than 50%. Your eyes, brain and wrists will thank you for it.


Hug a tree Since we’ve been unable to have contact with friends and family and with social distancing in place, maybe the next best bet is to hug a tree. Iceland’s forestry service is encouraging citizens to hug trees for five minutes a day to help them during isolation.  It may seem like a strange practice but research suggests it could help people feel better. We also know that nature is great for our mental health, so make the most of the green spaces around you. Hugging a tree increases levels of hormone oxytocin and this hormone is responsible for feeling calm and emotional bonding. When hugging a tree, the hormones serotonin and dopamine make you feel happier. Try it. 


Spark joy Holidays are the best time to throw out the rules, do what you really want to do, enjoy doing something or enjoy doing nothing.Sleep late, have breakfast in bed, eat pizza, order take-away, have a glass of wine with lunch, lie in the sun and read a book, go fishing, play golf or tennis or go swimming the sea – do things that will spark joy. Having fun needn’t cost lots of money, here are 50 free things to do in the UK

And if you want to send us a post card, please do, you can send it to: 
Team Noggin

Noggin The Brain People Ltd

.64a Cumberland Street

Edinburgh

EH3 6RE

Dr Clara Russell

What’s on your plate?

Nutrition cheat sheet 

What we eat gives us energy to survive and thrive. But what are we actually eating and how does it benefit us, or not?

Let’s break it down.

Macronutrients are the different types of food sources that we need- carbohydrates, protein and fat. There are regular headlines about how much of these  we should be eating but safe to say these are the main sources of energy that fills our plate

Carbohydrates are huge energy sources and they come in many different forms, some of which are more beneficial than others. The most nutritionally beneficial sources of carbohydrates are wholegrains, vegetables and legumes also known as pulses. These types of carbohydrates are good for the health of our gut as they support a healthy balance of bacteria here ( the microbiome) and give us sustained energy release.

Processed carbohydrates are quickly broken down into sugar and these are less beneficial when thinking about energy release. Often calorie dense and nutritionally low, processed carbohydrates have been linked to increased risk for diabetes and obesity. They are however usually pretty tasty – cakes, pasta, pizza, donuts- so its important to be mindful how much of these fill your plate on a regular basis, especially if you are looking to lose weight. 

Fat- fats from animal sources are saturated fats and plant sources are considered monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Beneficial fats for brain health include omega3 fats and DHA which are most richly found in oily fish sources. Historically we were taught that saturated fat is all bad and should be kept to a minimum however there is a growing body of evidence that casts doubt on how concerned we need to be about this type of fat. We do know that plant based sources of fats as well as omega 3 sources are important for brain health and should form a regular part of a brain healthy diet 

Protein– essential for our cells, this can be obtained via plant or animal sources. 

Fibre– study after study has shown that most of us do not eat enough fibre. Plant based sources- vegetables and legumes are important sources of fibre which help keep our gut healthy and supporting our immune system and overall health 

Micronutrients-

Vitamins and Minerals– essential vitamins and minerals are found in what we eat. Vitamins A, D, E and K are found in daily and plant sources of fat. Water soluble Vitamins B and C are found in fruit, vegetables and meat.  Vitamin D can be found in some foods but our main source of Vitamin D is exposure to is sunlight which is why supplementation is usually recommended 

Phytochemicals

These are found in high quantities in plant based foods- fruit, seeds nuts legumes and of course vegetables. Different colours of these naturally occurring foods have a variety of different types of phytochemical and the more different colours we eat then the more phytochemicals we absorb. 

Phytochemicals are high in anti oxidants which make them superstars in fighting chronic inflammation. Research is ongoing as to how they could be increasingly important for gut health and other serious illnesses. 

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell 

Hello? Is it me you are looking for….

Neurotransmitters- how our brain cells communicate. 

Big word, complicated topic- what does this mean and why does it matter for your brain health

Here comes the sciencey stuff:

Basically neuro transmitters (NT) are chemicals that are released from brain cells (neurons) to communicate with other target cells. This can then be translated into other effects in our mind and body. There are different types- broadly this can be divided into 3-

1)NTs that have a simulating effect on the target,

2)NTs that have a modulating effect and  

3) NTs that have a role in inhibiting the job of the target cell.

Once the NTs have done their job they are then recycled by our body

Phew that’s over, here are the ones you need to know about:

Serotonin– commonly talked about – this falls into the category of a an NT inhibitor. It regulates mood and has an effect on appetite, our natural body clock ( circadian rhythm) and sleep.  We can boost our own natural serotonin by more time in sunlight and exercising

Dopamine – released when we are are happy and doing something that brings us pleasure. Dopamine is also linked to muscle movement as well as learning and memory. At the extreme end, having low levels of dopamine is associated with Parkinsons Disease. Natural ways to boost our own dopamine? Exercise, do things that bring us joy, ensuring that our diet is protein rich

Endorphins – ‘ natural high’ is associated with a rush of endorphin, this guy can be stimulated by yes, you guessed it , exercise. Also known as a natural pain killer as they inhibit (block) pain signals.

GABA– affects our mood and anxiety levels as has a calming ( inhibitory) effect on its target cells.  Not enough GABA production can cause anxiety.

Acetylcholine– a stimulating NT which is linked to muscle movement, memory, some hormones and heart rate. We need to eat enough choline ( found in egg yolk and other sources) to ensure we have enough Acetylcholine. At the extreme end, low levels of acetylcholine have been found in those with Alzheimers Dementia and some of the current drugs used to try to slow progression of Alzheimers slow this pathway down.

Adrenaline– unsurprisingly this has an stimulating effect on its target cells and is also classified as a hormone ( chemical messenger)

Surges of adrenaline are vital to survival – they keep us safe in the face of danger and help us act quickly when faced with life threatening circumstances. But  adrenaline can also be released situations where there is stress ongoing and this can have a negative effect on our health and increase the risk of developing chronic diseases including depression.

Meditation and exercise have been shown to mediate our bodies responses to chronic stress

There are more neurotransmitters- but these are the ones that we read most about and are commonly affected by our everyday behaviours and also medications we often are prescribed.

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell 

Why Yoga is Good for Brain Health

There is nothing new about the practice of yoga having been around for many centuries particularly in Eastern Cultures. In recent years, yoga has become increasingly popular world wide for its benefits both in physical and mental health. 

Yoga is the most popular form of complementary therapy and has been shown to help with relaxation and mindfulness practice as well its many benefits to physical health

Yoga and Brain Health

Researchers at the University of Illinois have reviewed how yoga practice affects brain health.

They looked at 11 studies to review how yoga may affect this brain health  as well as blood flow to the brain. 5 out of the 11 trials looked at people who were new to the practice of yoga and took part in one or more session per week over 10-24 weeks. They compared the markers for brain health before and after the introduction of this regular practice.

The other 6 studies looked at measure of brain health in those who practiced yoga frequently versus those who did not. 

MRI scans and other forms of imaging were used to look at the results and all studies looked at the practice of Hatha yoga which focuses on meditation, breathing and movement. 

Reviewing the studies, the researchers found brain changes related to yoga practice were associated with an improvement in cognitive performance and interestingly, emotional regulation.

Yoga and Stress

They found that regular yoga practice may help with an improvement in the cortisol stress response  and overall, that the positive benefits of yoga on brain structure and emotional processing improved overall brain function.

Researchers concluded  that regular yoga may have brain protecting effects although agreed that there was more research to be done before absolute concluding advice could be given. Other areas for research would look at results over a longer time frame and also consider how yoga compares to other forms of exercise with regard to benefits for brain health 

Looking to give Yoga a go?

With many forms of yoga available, there is something for everyone and thankfully  there are lots of online options to get started with whilst we continue to make our way through lockdown.

For more suggestions and details on these look at 

https://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/gallery/best-online-yoga-classes

As a yoga beginner, my personal favourite is Yoga with Adriene! 

No age is too young to get started, for kids we love www.cosmickids.com

Keep Well,

Dr Clara Russell 

The Sound of Silence

Between Zoom calls, home schooling, devices and just generally more people in your house than there would normally  be during the day lockdown has been noisy.

Whilst the roads remained silent and the shops were boarded up there was an eery silence on our streets – yet indoors things were very different. 

Why Silence can help your Brain Health

“I just cant hear myself think”- how many times has that been said in your house in the last few weeks? 

Too much noise can raise our blood pressure and also increase stress hormone release.

Silence is one way to be able to hear ourselves. By quieting noise around us we get a chance to intentionally focus on what we want to think about. This power of intention is important for our brain health as it is one step in the process of mindful thinking.

Being in the moment, or being present with where you are right now, has long been linked to improved stress levels, happiness and a sense of calm 

Periods of silence can also help us with creativity and focus. With so many distractions surrounding us, it is very easy to distract ourselves with music, TV or social media as a way to put off tasks we want or need to complete.

Taking a few minutes for intentional silence can help reset our focus and this in turn can help us with productive and concentration in the longer term 

How to be silent

Whether you live alone or in a busy home being silent can be difficult. 

The first step is to decide you are going to have this quiet time and if you live with others ask/tell them you need these few minutes

These moments of silence can be used for thinking, reflection, deep breathing or perhaps journaling thoughts.

Decide where you can be silent, set you timer and let things quieten down. 

See how you feel after 5 minutes has passed of total silence – bliss!

For more about the benefits of quiet time and silence have a read

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/07-08/silence

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

5 ways you can help your Immune System every day

As the global pandemic marches on, being mindful of our health and wellbeing is essential. As we start to move around a little more, possibly return to the workplace or even go on holiday it is important we remember that we need to look after ourselves.

Our immune system is complex. How we respond to infection and disease in general is determined by multiple individualised factors.  However there are everyday things we can do to help support and strengthen our immune system – and at least 2 of them are free!

  1. Exercise – Keeping active and exercising regularly improves our circulation. This also helps with production of antibodies – the bug fighting army that we need to fight infection and illness. Release of feel good endorphins from exercise also helps with feelings of stress and anxiety. This is important for our brain health and our immune system and stress has a negative impact on how we cope with infection. If we can exercise outside thats even better as nature has its own immune improving abilities.
  1. Load your plate with fruit and veg – Vitamin C, Zinc and Iron are just some of the nutrients that help our immune system fight and recover from infection. Leafy greens, brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are everyday ways to help us mainaitan our levels of these essential vitamins and minerals 
  1. Vitamin D-many of us are vitamin D deficient, the NHS and WHO have supported taking a maintenance dose of vitamin D for sometime now so if you don’t already, get started on 10mcg vitamin D daily. And get outside in the sunshine when you can ( and if there is any!)
  1. Sleep – poor sleep affects our immune system and impacts our ability to deal with and recover from infection. Whilst sleep routines have been set haywire during lockdown and the level uncertainty remains high it is understandable that getting a good nights sleep may still be challenging. If you are sleeping poorly and feeling tired read here for some tips https://nogginbrain.co.uk/one-thing-you-can-do-tonight-and-every-night-to-help-support-your-immune-system/ and keep trying. Every night brings a new opportunity to sleep better and like all habits, once you get into a routine of sleeping well it is easier to maintain this
  1. Omega 3 – found in fatty fish such as salmon, these healthy fats are important for brain health as well as your immune system. Omega 3 fats are directly involved in production of some of the white blood cells (lymphocytes) that mount your defence against infection.

Keep Well,

Dr Clara Russell

Anxious about getting back to work in the new normal?

Whilst the Sunday Scaries used to be limited to the end of the weekend feeling, we are now in a whole new world when it comes to the prospect of returning to work and what that means in terms of our mental and physical health. Self care and awareness of our own worries has never been more important. 

How to support your mental health in the new normal:

  1. Acknowledge that these are times like no other. This is hard and difficult and not something we have faced in a scale such as this before. Recognising the challenges and that it’s ok to feel worried or anxious about about going back to the work place is important. Somedays will be easier than others. Talk about it. We are all in the same boat of not knowing what the future will clearly look like so talking about our fears and how it is affecting us is an important tool in managing how we feel. If your fears or anxieties are having an impact on your day to day function talk to you doctor as it may be a sign of something m 
  1. In practical terms, make a list of specific concerns to discuss with your line manager or HR team
  1. Self care has never been more important. Many day to day things impact our mood and how we feel and at times like these the effects of these can be heightened. Simple examples include caffeine intake and hydration. 
  1. Stay present- literally no one knows what is coming with this, we’ve seem experts all over the world go back and forth with ‘the science’ and what our options are. That in itself is anxiety inducing. We need to focus on the here and know and work hard to take each day as it comes. Look out for your mind racing or taking you to the ‘what if’ place and try to reel yourself back in to the current moment. What you are doing now, what you want to achieve today and focus on that
  1. Sleep-if we are not sleeping well it is very hard to have good mental health. Sleep has been hard for many in lock down so if that’s still an issue for you or someone you care about work on it. Look at your daily routine, eat early, minimise caffeine, alcohol ensure you are getting some exercise and exposure to day light during the day 
  1. Positive mental health champion- be a positivity ambassador. If you think you are coping well be aware of those around you that may not and look at ways you support team members. Whether its a 5 minute dance off or a walk around the office, or even just an extra wee tea break those few minutes can help both you and others feel better. 
  1. On line resources- reliable resources can help with movement, healthy recipe suggestions, relaxation, exercise or sleep. Set your favourites and stick to these.  Having a select few reduces the desire to mindlessly scroll through pages and pages of recipes or exercise tips which can fuel anxious thoughts . 

 

Keep Well,

Dr Clara Russell

How to sleep in a heatwave

How to sleep in a heatwave: the science says to drink this hot drink before bed in hot weather

There’s nothing worse than not getting a good night’s sleep and at the moment with the UK temperatures hitting the high notes, it can be tricky to get a proper night’s rest.


We’ve pulled together a list of tips on how to ensure you enjoy some quality rest. 


Why is sleep SO important? Sleep is super important for brain health, our immune system and our mental wellbeing. You can read more on this in our blog post on why sleep is so important for brain health.Sleep is also very important for our memory.


Avoid exercise in the evening
Exercising too close to bedtime raises the body’s core temperature, which makes sleeping in hot weather even more difficult. IAlternatively, opt for exercise first thing in the morning to kick start your metabolism.


Opt for cotton nightwear and sheetsDitch polyester for cotton nightwear. Cotton’s breathability due to the natural fibres, help allow air to move freely and circulate through the fabric, which helps to keep you cooler through the night. 


Have a warm bedtime drink
Sounds contradictory to have a warm drink does cool you down- you can read more on the science behind it here.


Drink milk A bedtime milk drink contains tryptophan, an amino acid which helps you produce serotonin and melatonin, hormones that help you to sleep. If you’re dairy-free, almond milk is thought to have , serious insomnia-busting properties: it’s rich in B vitamins, zinc calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. All of these vitamins and minerals can help regulate brain activity, relax the muscles and increase the secretion of sleep-inducing compounds like melatonin.

Don’t have a cold shower Keep your evening shower tepid to lower your body temperature. If you opt for a freezing cold one your body will react to the sudden change in temperature by preserving heat.

Boost your fan If you’ve fan, fill up a large water bottle with water, freeze it then put it in front of the fan. Chilled breeze guaranteed.


Leave your feet out
An old fashioned tip which works! Our hands and feet are key to keeping cool, so keep your feet out.

A face cloth My parents used to put a cold flannel face cloth on my forehead and as a GP I’ve used this trick on my son. Wet it, pop it into the freezer for an hour and put it on your feet or your forehead.

Sleep well,

Dr Clara Russell