How to de- stress

Stress is very common at the moment with so much uncertainty and a lack of control so it’s no wonder that we are frazzled and left feeling exhausted.

Many people are on the redundancy rollercoaster too, which can understandably hit confidence, sap energy and create worries about finances and the future.

Redundancy is hard at the best of times, and add in the global pandemic which we’re currently navigating and its no wonder stress is on the rise.

Stress takes its toll on our body and brain health and when our energy levels are running low and there’s a feeling of fatigue with the mundanity of day to day living as we tentatively move to the new normal, 

our mechanism for handling stress is probably lest robust than we’d like it to be. It’s important to learn how to identify and manage symptoms of stress. 

These symptoms manifest in different ways and can include over eating, drinking too much, a feeling of lethargy, disturbed sleep, general lowness and irritability. 

In order to reduce the stress on our bodies and our mental wellbeing and brain health it’s worth asking yourself the following questions and pin pointing what you can change.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

What is the main source of your worry?

How is this manifesting itself?

Are you overthinking situations?

Is there someone you can talk to? ( A problem shared is a problem halved )

What can I do today to positively impact my future? ( Go for a walk, do your CV, phone a friend )

Are you taking care of my emotional, spiritual and physical needs?

Are you eating properly?

Are you sleeping well?

And the most simplest one we neglect – are you drinking enough water?

Once you know the answers it may help give you some clarity as to how to tackle your stresses – whatever the source or sources of the issue is.

To help alleviate stress there are a number of things you can do:

Breathe deep

Eat well balanced meals

Avoid nicotine and caffeine stimulants

Watch your alcohol intake

Take breaks from your routine

Get enough sleep

Connect with your friends and family

One final thought I will leave you with – the Serenity Prayer has been put to good use ion late by friends whom take comfort in its wording when you feel its all a bit too much:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

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

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 does the New Normal feel for you?

As we slowly start to emerge from lockdown, how can we rebuild confidence, positivity and support our mental wellbeing ?

As a GP and a Mum and wife, I know only too well the anxiety we can face when we are about to take on the ‘new normal’.
It’s fair to say the global Covid-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of our life, the world over and  we’re all experiencing unprecedented challenges – both personal and professional. Our way of work, how we see our families,  shop, socialise, and go about our daily lives has been deconstructed as we’ve been forced into a new way of living.

It’s no surprise then that our confidence levels have taken a knock, whether its how you feel about you mental wellness, your body-image, social distancing with long overdue family, or rising to challenges if you’re back to work. 
It’s a very uncertain time for many, with research from BUPA Health clinics says 65 per cent of Brits are anxious about returning to the workplace.


Here are some tips if you’re anxious about the ’new normal’ :

Good habits

Confidence is a habit and like any habit, if we don’t keep it up we lose it. Add in the stress of coming out of lockdown with fears around what life is going to look like, and it makes sense that many of us will be feeling more than a little unsteady at the moment, and that is ok to feel this way.

Hark back to more confident times

Think back to a time when you felt most at ease – confident in your abilities and the person that you are. Ponder on what it was about this situation that made you feel this way. Was it surrounding yourself with supportive people, or getting lost in something you really care about? As you start to ease yourself back to normal, try to recreate these moments.

Positive Affirmations

Think about what it is that you want to achieve, or the qualities and things that you need to remind yourself about.

I am strong and confident

I am worthy of love

 I am worthy of respect

I am capable of overcoming the challenges that come my way

I believe in my ability to achieve my personal and professional goals

I am enough

Dress the part

What makes you feel good? Is there an item of clothing that has the power to make you feel confident and strong?friends and family? Maybe there’s a colour or print that perfectly captures your energy, and the energy that you want to give out into the world. Find what it is, and strut your stuff.

Go easy on yourself

Don’t push too hard or have too high expectations to begin with. This is new territory for most of us and setting unrealistic goals won’t help.Keep your intentions positive and be mindful when you can – thinking neither of the past or the future, try to just be in the moment and accepting of what is right now.

You’ve got this.

Good luck and Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

5 Ways To Eat Your Way To A More Positive State Of Mind

5 Ways To Eat Your Way To A More Positive State Of Mind


More than 4 million people in England are on antidepressants  and a recent article in The Telegraph states there has been a 10-15% rise in antidepressant prescriptions. 

And as we emerge from COVID-19 lockdown, many people are even more stressed and anxious.Nutritional medicine has made developments in exploring the link between mental and physical health and research shows depression is more common in those with compromised immune function.

So what can we do?


It is possible to eat food to support our hormones, brain chemicals and our mood.

We’ve kept it super simple with 5 top recommendations.
Consider eating these foods on a regular basis. 


Eggs-Rich in zinc and tryptophan. eggs can boost serotonin levels.


Avocado-Rich in omega – fatty acids which have an array of benefits and these are healthy fats.


Fish, chicken and lamb-These proteins provide a complete mix of the amino acids we need for the building blocks of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.


Quinoa-Rich in protein, magnesium and B vitamins which we need to produce anti-anxiety brain chemicals including GABA.


Salmon-Full of healthy fatty acid to support our hormones and libido. 

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

Why a good night’s sleep can help your memory

What goes on in our brains when the lights are out

Sleep is essential for rest and repair of our bodies and minds. It is also vital for our immune system and broken non restful sleep and impact on our bodies ability to deal with disease. 

What happens when we sleep?

When we sleep our brain takes on a life of its own. Moving between the different stages of sleep including non REM and REM sleep our brain is processing what has happened in the previous day, or days. Our brain is managing memories and moving them into long term storage and also processing ‘a deep clean’- a benefit of sleep that is becoming increasingly of interest regarding risk for Alzheimers Disease. 

Dealing with emotions 

Whilst we are in REM sleep we have dreams that we may or may nor remember the following day, 

This REM stage of sleep also helps us process our feelings.  Research has shown that people who had their REM phase of sleep disrupted were still being annoyed by challenging events that had happened in the previous day. This was compared to those who had slept better who were more able to get some perspective on the emotions that had gone on before and therefore less irritable. I think we can all relate to that feeling!***

Anxiety

Poor sleep can also impact on our anxiety levels – a study in the US showed that one night’s poor sleep can increase anxiety levels up to 30% in some. 

‘A Deep Clean’? 

The non REM phase of sleep is where a lots of the hard work goes on. Reach has shown that during this stage of sleep, slow waves of fluid actually wash over the brain. 

Why does this matter ? This fluid clears the so called metabolic build up. Within this there are some proteins that are known to be associated with Alzheimers disease including Tau and beta amyloid

This cannot happen in our brains whilst we are awake as our neurons ( brain cells) are firing in different ways and all nutrients and oxygen are needed to help them do this. Essentially they are busy with the day job. *

Magic moments 

I always used to think that sleeping gave the brain a chance to switch off but this is totally not what is going on! 

Filing away memories is another key thing that happens whilst we are in the land of nod. Without enough sleep, our brains don’t get a proper chance to store what we have experienced. Research has showed that remembering something that has happened, even a small thing,  weeks or months later is easier for your brain if you have been sleeping well **

A good nights sleep is important for so many reasons four our brain health and overall well being

Simple ways to help get a good nights sleep:

  1. Regular Routine- not just for kids, we thrive on a sleep routine
  2. Keep your room dark and cool- cosy is a nice idea but having your bedroom too warm is a common reason for a disrupted sleep 
  3. Avoid caffeine after mid afternoon- yes even an afternoon cup of tea can impact our ability to fall asleep if we ares sensitive to it. 
  4. Eat early- going to bed whilst still digesting your evening meal or snacks can make it harder to us to sleep properly and get the rest we need
  5. Avoid screens in the evenings – especially at the moment, the stress and anxiety caused by late night scrolling is a real threat to getting a full nights rest and recharge. Blue light from our screens also confuses our natural melatonin production and confuses us as to when it is night time. 

Keep well, 

Dr Clara Russell 

*https://www.wired.com/story/scientists-now-know-how-sleep-cleans-toxins-from-the-brain/

**https://news.mit.edu/2009/memories-0624

***https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psychiatry-and-sleep/201908/sleep-and-memory-how-they-work-together

Noggin Nuggget- Take a deep breath….

Breathing – it’s easy right? We do it without even thinking.

Shallow breathing can lead to feelings of stress, nervousness and even fatigue. To get a really deep proper deep breath we have to engage more than just our mouth, nose and lungs.

First a small anatomy lesson:

Underneath your lungs sits your diaphragm. This is a muscle that forms the dividing line between your chest and your abdomen. As you breathe in, the diaphragm becomes flat. As you breathe out the diaphragm relaxes and returns to its natural slightly curved shape. The air is then released out of your lungs

Using your diaphragm to take deep breaths is a key way to decrease stress. This works by triggering relaxation centres in your brain. This way of breathing also helps with blood flow into your heart and cardiovascular system. 

This type of breathing takes focus and concentration, This alone can be a way of focusing you in the moment and helping us feel calmer. With this conscious effort to breathe, plus the additional benefits of breathing in this manner, we are activating 2 ways to help us feel calmer, 

There are different exercises and techniques but we like to keep it simple at Noggin HQ. 

This exercise is called 4-7-8 breathing

First thing is first- it might feel a bit weird but stick with it!

Find a quiet spot to sit or lie down. 

Keep your feet slightly apart and out one hand on your chest and one on your tummy

Blow out all the air in your lungs thought your mouth gently and then breathe in carefully and slowly through your nose for a count of 4. You can press on your tummy slightly as your do this 

Hold for at least 4 and up to 7

Breathe out through your mouth for a count of 8- feeling your lungs and tummy fully emptying of air. 

Repeat for at least 2 cycles, working your way up to 5 cycles with some practice. 

Like riding a bike or learning any new skill it’s not always easy first time so keep persevering and it will get easier

It’s also a great breathing exercise to do as a family – even little ones can benefit from focusing and concentrating on breathing 

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

Podcasts to soothe, nurture and recharge our brains

Here are some podcasts which are all centred around issues of mental health and thinking.  These podcasts will provide tips and tricks for positive thinking during this period. Happy listening!


Brene Brown

#1 New York Times best-selling author Brené Brown as she unpacks and explores the ideas, stories, experiences, books, films, and music that reflect the universal experiences of being human.This includes the gamut of the bravest moments to the most brokenhearted.( Brene is a big favourite here at Noggin HQ)

Mental Illness Happy Hour

The Mental Illness Happy Hour is a weekly online podcast that interviews comedians, artists, friends, and the occasional doctor. Each episode explores mental illness, trauma, addiction and negative thinking.


Mad World by Bryony Gordon

Rebooted for 2020 mental health champion and Telegraph columnist, Gordon speaks to featuring people talking about their mental health, Nadiya Hussein is in there as is Mel B, it also features Prince Harry.

Meditation Minis

Perfect for both beginners and those with less time, these simple and snappy guided meditations will calm your anxiety, help overcome negative thinking, increase your confidence and sharpen your mental focus. A perfect addition to your work from home routine!

The Overwhelmed Brain

This podcast series discusses a variety of topics we’ve all thought about. From relationships to self-worth and adversity. 

Happy Place by Fearne Cotton 

This aims to bring simple happiness to everyday life through candid conversations with people in the limelight on how they have managed their well-being. The conversations are delightful and focus on aspects such as body positivity, depression, motherhood, stress and recovery.

Happy Listening!

Dr Clara Russell

What happens when we eat and why the Microbiome is important

Before we get into the microbiome a quick revision of digestion from biology

Ready?!

Digestion starts when we put food our Mouth. Our gnashers work to grind the food down  in partnership with our saliva. This chewing action, combined with release of enzymes ( chemicals that help with the break down of our food) ensure that the food is broken down in such a way that we can absorb what we need to from the food as it passes through our digestive system 

Food travels from the mouth, down the Oesophagus tube and into our Stomach – the balloon like structure we can feel when we push between the lower part of our ribs ( don’t push on it too hard, it will hurt!) 

The stomach can stretch to accommodate large amounts of food. The stomach is where the food is further broken down with the action of more enzymes and a type of acid (hydrochloric acid) and swizzled around to get it ready for its next destination. 

This process takes around 4 hours

When our stomach is empty, a chemical messenger hormone – ghrelin ( greh-lin) – is produced to tell our brains that we are ready to eat again

Next up on the digestion rollercoaster is the  (not very small) Small Intestine.

On average our ‘small’ intestine is thought to be about 20 feet long! Now we have nothing that looks like what we ate but actually a liquidy mass that is further broken down into smaller elements for absorption and removal at the end ( ahem)

It takes up to 6 hours for the food to move through this not so Small Intestine tube proving that there is a lot of work going on here. The food moves through in pulses and this is where nutrients get absorbed into our bowel and nasty bacteria gets kept out. Depending on how efficient the worker cells in the small intestine are, this, as you can imagine, is a big job. 

From here the end is in site –  the Large Intestine.

Here water is absorbed from what is left and anything that has been to tricky for the small bowel to deal with can be further broken down here. Although this is the last stop before ‘excretion’, this is the home of the Microbiome. A huge , HUGE pool of bacteria and micro organisms which we now know are very important to not only digestion but to our general health. 

( micro organisms are living things that are too small to be seen by the naked eye)

The Microbiome

What is it? Between 1000 and 1150 species of bacteria living in the human gut with 3 million genes between them. This is considerably more than the human genes that we have giving rise the to notion that we are more bacteria than we are human. This may be true but a bit weird ( and yucky) to think about so let’s go back to what we know about the Microbiome.

What does the microbiome actually do? 

Remember the last bit of digestion that occurs in the large bowel? The hard to digest left overs from the small bowel? The sciencey name for this is ‘indigestible fibres’ usually from plants such as vegetables. The bacteria in the microbiome ferment these indigestible fibres to release something called short chain fatty acids – SCFA. 

These SCFA, released from this very last part of the digestion process before the party is over, are vital in protecting the lining of our whole gut.

The microbiome also has a protective role in forming a barrier to reduce the risk of nasty toxic bacteria getting a hold in the gut and causing all sorts of problem 

The microbiome also interact with our immune system and our nervous system which is one of the reasons that our gut and our brain are in direct communication 

Why is there such an interest in the microbiome?

The types of bacteria and how many we have individually seems to be heavily influenced by our diet, 

The bacteria may also affect how calories are taken out of the food we eat

Our microbiome may also have a major impact on the hormones released when we are hungry or when we are full which may in turn have an impact on other hormones within our bodies as well as impacting our drive to eat and our weight. 

The beneficial bacteria help with absorption of vitamins from our food, and help with digestion

They have also been shown to have potentially have a role in our mood, our anxiety levels.

The genes of these bacteria can interact with human genes  and this is why scientists are so interested on how the microbiome may have a future role with risks for certain conditions 

The research is ongoing in every area of this but one thing that is clear is the bigger the variety of bacteria we have in our large bowel the better for general health, 

How do we influence the bacteria in our gut? 

Ageing, stress, poor diet and some medications are some of the ways we influence our microbiome.

If we don’t have enough of these helpful bacteria then our gut lining may not be as strong as it could be to help us have normal healthy digestion. 

This also can have an impact on our immune system, our weight and how our bowels function.

Tips for a healthy microbiome include :

Drink plenty of water

Increase your fibre intake – ideally through vegetables, as many different colours as you can manage!

Limit processed foods

Limit sugar intake- sugar and your gut bacteria are not friends.

Antibiotics only when essential – vitally important for treating bacterial infections when needed but antibiotics will also wipe out some of the good guys as well as the bad guys. 

Probiotic foods and supplements ( sources of live bacteria to help increase the number of helpful bacteria in your gut) are important to consider , particularly if you have been on some antibiotics recently. 

Keep well,

Dr Clara Russell

Feeling overwhelmed?

With so much going on at the moment, we are all facing a new normal. Simple changes to our daily routines can make a difference to how we feel.

Just say no

For lots of us saying yes to something is our default position. It’s easier to say yes now to a colleague, a friend or relative then work out the why and the how later.  Saying no can be difficult, especially if you are someone who wants to avoid conflict or just finds it easier to ‘go with the flow’. Taking on too many commitments can be a simple yet big trigger for chronic stress. The type of stress you don’t really know you have until you find yourself full of road rage, not sleeping properly at night or constantly reaching for sweet treats. So if you think your diary is bulging at the seams with commitments, look at how you can say no. See how it feels when you have less to do-your energy levels, concentration and focus will improve over time and that ongoing buzzy stress-y feeling will start to reduce. Reducing your stress is important for your brain health and general wellbeing. Try saying no thank you and see how this can help how you feel. 

One thing at a time

Multi tasking is not efficient and can leave us feeling tired, ineffective and as if we have a foot in both puddles rather than walking straight down the road. Yet we still all think we can do several things at once. Sort washing and talk on the phone.  Type an email and plan a shopping list. Then we wonder why we don’t remember all the details from the call or end up forgetting to buy the one thing we actually needed from the store. Focusing on one thing at a time can be helpful in terms of productivity, having a sense of achievement and reducing stress levels. Performing  simple things can also have meditative qualities- such as filling the dishwasher and really paying attention to the sounds and specifics of what we are doing. Focusing fully on doing the simple things can mean when we are finished our brain feels more energised and ready for something more challenging.

Turn the stone

Our brains are programmed for negative thinking. This is how we have survived over centuries- sensing danger, planning with worst case scenario and then working out ways to save ourselves and those around us. Whilst the external threats to us are not what they were when we had to hunt for food and protect ourselves from the elements, our brain still defaults to a negative thought pattern. Imagining the worst when something small happens or focusing on negative aspects of our current situation can happen without us realising. Such as sitting in a traffic jam stressing about traffic and that we might be late and what will happen as a result of this as opposed to thinking that the traffic is out of our control and that we have only to focus on driving safely to get  to our destination when we can. Science has shown that this can be changed by seeking the upside or the positive to a challenging situation that we find ourselves in. The more we look for a silver lining, the easy it is to find it. It’s not always easy as we currently find ourselves in the midst of lockdown in a pandemic. But it is important for our brain health that we turn the stone and try to look at things in a different way when we can. 

Keep well,

Dr Clara Russell