What Is Your Favourite Simple or Guilty Pleasure?

Some people call it their guilty pleasure whilst for others it’s a simple pleasure – or perhaps you’ve a penchant for both? If so, well done!

I’ve always been an advocate of celebrating the simple pleasures in life and how they can impact your brain health and there’s a science backed research paper to prove its positive benefits.

Using a unique real-time survey method, researchers from the University of Melbourne  have for the first time, found that experiencing more simple pleasures during the day is related to making better progress on personal goals. 

They also found that having a bad day full of annoyances derails people from their goals, but that the negative effect of such annoyances can be completely cancelled out if people experience a counter-balancing high number of simple pleasures.

The study’s lead author, Associate Professor Nicole Mead says the results have implications for life both at home and at workplace and with so many of us currently in WFH mode is really is crucial to take time out. 

Why are simple pleasures vital for goal progress? Modern day life, even without the stress of Covid-19, is full of struggles and challenges, which erode the very psychological resources we need to make progress on our goals. 

This study suggests that simple pleasures have the power to restore those feelings of positivity and happiness, giving you the energy and perspective you need to pursue the difficult but important things in life.

“Our results suggest that the real power of simple pleasures that make us feel good seems to come from when things aren’t going well. A simple pleasure seems to restore people’s psychological reserves to do well,” says Associate Professor Mead

Taking time to indulge in a simple pleasure like leafing throw a magazine, going window shopping or enjoying a take-away coffee in your local green space may actually help to fortify us psychologically to make progress on our goals. 

When it comes to TV my guilty pleasure is Modern Family (Cam makes me laugh every single time), First Dates or re-runs of Come Dine With Me. On the simple pleasure front it’s going for a walk on the beach, anything to do with new stationary, browsing bookshops and ordering a takeaway to enjoy with my family.

In fact the book I am currently reading is from The School of Life and its title is ‘Simple Pleasures’. It’s dedicated to the little things that can charm, enrapture or entertain us.

The mission of the book is to build a philosophy of appreciation that encourages us to explore more deeply and get more out of it – the many sources of happiness that are currently a bit neglected.

So please don’t be neglecting your happiness, it’s so important in these every changing times. 

Keep Well,

Dr Clara Russell

7 everyday ways your may be sabotaging your brain health

Too Little Sleep

Sleep deprivation can have a huge effect on how your brain functions throughout the day.

One study, for example, limited the sleep of test subjects to 4.5 hours a night and the result was that these people experienced significantly more stress, anger, sadness, and mental exhaustion.

Not exactly the best things for a well-running brain. Lack of focus and forgetting things like your face mask, car keys or phone can also be an effect of prolonged sleep deprivation.

Too Busy

It’s important to take time out do do nothing or relax or do whatever helps you unwind.

Whether it’s reading, walking, cooking, watching Come Dine With Me or exercising, make sure you have a sure fire way to switch off from work, the news and your responsibilities.

Too much busyness is unhealthy, in so many ways. Try to mindfully switch off from being busy in your brain and your body.

Too Little Stimulation

Much like your body needs exercise to stay in shape, your brain needs to be exercised as well. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

Research suggests that the more you think, learn, and engage in mentally stimulating activities, the better your cognitive abilities get. 

Mentally stimulating activities also decreases the risk of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Too Much Sugar and Food

High-sugar diets can result in dental issues, diabetes, acne, weight gain and some evidence even suggests it promotes the growth of cancer .

Sugar can also cripple the function of your brain and research has also found that a high sugar diet can negatively affect your memory and ability to learn new things.

Overeating, especially unhealthy foods, is another factor that can negatively affect your brain and body. Studies show that an obese person’s brain ages faster compared to that of a person who is more lean.

Too Much Doomscrolling

Spending extended time periods on social media, checking the news and generally being in a vortex of reading the news is not good for your mood or your brain health.

This type of activity can upsets your cortisol levels and keep you awake at night. Try to get off devices at least an hour before you start your wind down routine before bed.

Too Much Alcohol

Moderation is the key here. Too much alcohol can damage your gut health, liver, and impair the function of your brain.

Researchers have found that heavy or chronic drinkers have a smaller brain, diminished memory, an inability to think abstractly and reduced ability to focus.

If you think you have a problem with alcohol, please contact your GP.

Too Much Stress

Too much of this and if reaches extreme levels, stress can cause significant harm to your health, weaken your immune system, cause insomnia, depression, and even increase the risk of heart disease.

Chronic stress can damage or kill off brain cells, this is because stress causes a surplus of the neurotransmitter called glutamate, which creates free radicals in the brain.

These free radicals can cause damage to healthy brain cells. Make sure you have stress busting skills you can turn to when you need to.

Keep well, Dr Clara Russell

New habits, new neural pathways

New habits, new neural pathways – 8 hobbies great for your brain health


Research from Harvard Medical School and neurologists tell us that learning a new skill has a variety of effects on the physical structures of the brain itself. 
New information introduced to our mind connects new neural pathways, which makes our thinking more agile and more efficient and crucially, maintains good brain health.
It also makes our brain matter denser, speeding up our thinking even more and this has even been shown to help the elderly avoid the effects of dementia and slow our cognitive ageing. 


With this in mind, here are some new skills you can learn from the comfort of your home.


Join an Online Choir Music charity Nordoff Robbins invites you to sing together from the comfort of your own home using video platform Zoom. Find out more here.


Learn a new language Whether it’s just a few conversational basics or if you want to learn in-depth, apps like Babbel and Duo Lingo mean you can learn some new lingo. You could try Polish to Danish, Norwegian to Turkish and a few more besides.


Cook up a storm Google celebrity chefs on You Tube or look up your favourite chef on Instagram or Facebook and you’ll find chefs sharing their best how-to recipes for simple suppers or midweek meals. One of our favourites is Tom Kerridge on Facebook.


Embrace Mindfulness The Headspace or Calm apps on Google play come highly recommended. This online course from Be Mindful is also excellent. 


Learn Flamenco If dancing floats your boat and you’d like to learn, this website has lots of videos, tips and blog and lessons online.


Learn CalligraphyExplore your creativity and learn a new art form. Skillshare has lots of courses on creativity.


Make a Macaron or two There are lots of online forums dedicated to these French custardy little cakes. Apparently they’re quick tricky to make though this website makes it look quite easy!

Get into Quilting If you’ve ever fancied learning how to do this, you can do it on this website which is dedicated to Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit.

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

Why getting Creative is good for your Brain Health

Creativity Boosts Brain Health

When it comes to boosting your brain health, one of the easiest ways of doing this is by getting creative. This needn’t be design led work or immersing yourself in meditation, it can be as simple as drawing, crocheting, playing music or cooking.

Creativity – in whatever form –  is powerful, it goes beyond just making you happy and connected to a new experience, it’s also great for brain health, today and for tomorrow. Writing helps people manage their negative emotions in a productive way, and painting or drawing helps people express trauma or experiences that they find too difficult to put in to words. A number of studies have shown positive results.

It’s also an effective treatment for patients with dementia and creativity reduces anxiety, depression and stress. Studies have shown that creative engagement can reduce depression and isolation and can also help people with dementia to tap back in to their personalities and sharpen their senses.

For the music lovers amongst us, did you know that studies show that people who play instruments have better connectivity between their left and right brains? The left brain is responsible for our motor functions, while the right brain focuses on melodies. And when the two hemispheres of your brain communicate with each other, your cognitive function improves.

The average person has about 60,000 thoughts in a day and a simple creative act like gardening or cooking can help focus the mind and keep us centred.It has even been compared to meditation due to its calming effects on the brain and body. Getting creative releases dopamine which is as we know, is a natural anti-depressant.

We’ve been reading a new book by author Susie Pearl. In ’The Art of Creativity’ Susie shares insight into how to boost your creativity. A small and mighty read, there are tips on boosting your brain wave states and tips, tools and life hacks to help boost your creativity. You’ll begin to find that creativity is at the heart of all that we do – whether you recognise it or not. Everything starts with an idea, whether you’re launching a new product, decorating your bathroom or planning a little holiday, it all begins with our thoughts.

Grab a pencil and start writing or sketching, get your green fingers on in your garden or with a window box, book tickets to that art exhibition or plan that weekend break.

Listen to some music, learn a new cooking skill or pick up an instrument. Whatever you decide to do, it’s time to start getting creative.

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

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

Feeling Overwhelmed?

We’ve all been navigating the challenges of Covid and there’s no doubt it’s taken its toll on our brain health, mental wellbeing and general health, in one way shape or form.

Juggling home schooling, WFH, risk of redundancy, health concerns and adapting to the ’new normal’ are just some of the complex challenges we are facing.

Here are some nutritional tips and lifestyle suggestions on how to improve your mood and limit the damage caused by stress and anxiety.

B Vitamins

These are essential for supporting brain health and normal functioning of the nervous system and a complex vitamin supplement can help.

In terms of your diet, aim to include wholegrains, beans, lentils eggs, fish and meat as they provide these essential vitamins.

Protein

This helps boost serotonin levels as its rich in tryptophan and zinc and help produce ant-anxiety brain chemicals. 

Eat plenty of eggs, fish, chicken and quinoa as these types of food provide a complex mix of amino acids which are the building blocks of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.

Switch off

It’s easy to overcommit to work when you’re WFH so it’s important to schedule in quality downtime into your day and evening – to read, go for a walk, relax, cook or watch a movie – whatever helps you relax.

Many of us now have increased responsibilities and a new way of working and this can be taxing for our brains so it really is imperative that you switch off for your brain health and general wellbeing.

Screen time

Experiment with a social media break and forget about FOMO which is no longer relevant – seeing people holidaying or partying isn’t good for your mental health.

Social media has a tendency to make people compare their lifestyle, wellbeing, weight, happiness, etc with others and as we know, comparison is the thief of joy.

Sleep

Magnesium supplements can help with sleep and restful sleep regulates your appetite and hormone production. A bath in magnesium salts can also help sleep.

Also try to limit blue light from devices and introduce a wind-down routine to get your body and brain ready for restorative relaxation.

Magnesium

The aforementioned supplement is essential for producing energy and the production of neurotransmitters, including dopamine and serotonin.

The best sources are nuts and seeds and greens such as spinach and kale. Seafood is also good.

Essential fatty acids

These are required to help friendly bacteria in your gut do their thing. Healthy fats include avocado and salmon. 

These fast acids support the efficiency of brain chemicals and hormones such as serotonin.

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

Switch off with a Podcast

Now more than ever it’s a good idea to turn on tune in and drop out and lose yourself in a podcast.Switching off from your daily routine or just allowing your brain to take time out are great for your mental wellbeing and brain health.


Here are some of our favourite podcasts :


Ted Talks Daily
These are  educational, inspiring and engaging talks from some of the world’s greatest minds and covers everything from shame, forgiveness, technology and everything in-between.Bill Gates, Brene Brown, Jane Goodall and Al Gore are just some of the famous names who take part but it’s also the names you might not be familiar with that will surprise and delight you the most.


How Did We Get Here? Claudia Winkleman and Professor Tanya Byron tackle personal issues head on in this intimate podcast which advises real people on how to handle the challenges they are facing.Topics include mental health difficulties, dealing with a devastating diagnosis and how to discipline your kids. 


Happy Place Fearne Cotton holds frank and honest conversations with an eclectic mix of guests including Dawn French, Vex King, Glennon Doyle, Ricky Gervais, Hilary Clinton,  and Davina McCall.Topics cover everything from love, loss confidence, setting boundaries, the challenges of setting up a business and family issues.


How To Fail with Elizabeth Day No matter how successful someone is, they will have endured many failures and this podcast is a celebration of making mistakes and failing – both big and small.It’s a whose who of famous people too as the likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Matthew Syed, Marian Keyes and Malcolm Gladwell all opening up about what they’ve learned from mistakes and failures.


Happy Mum, Happy Baby A reassuring listen with Giovanna Fletcher discussing motherhood with an array of famous mums including Alesha Dixon, Paloma Faith, Prue Leith, Lorraine Kelly,  the Duchess of Cambridge, Emma Bunton and Dawn O’Porter. The conversations are franks and warm and are an extension of Fletcher’s best selling book. Nothing is off limits.


My Wardrobe Malfunction
Susannah Constantine – one half of  90’s Sloaney style setters Trinny and Susannah – invites her guests to talk about the clothes and outfits they love and those that they’d rather forget.Guests include Stacey Dooley, Michelle Visage, Elizabeth Hurley, Dame Kristin Scott Thomas and Nile Rodgers. Jovial light hearted content which works even thoughyou’d think you might need a visual of the outfit the guests are describing. 


The National Trust Podcast This podcast is released every two weeks and takes you on an adventure through some of the UK’s best walks, homes and gardens and secret destinations with fascinating facts.Episodes include: Midsummer Magic and Mayhem, The Silver Surfers, How Gardens Heal and Musical Time Machines. 

Desert Island Discs Immerse yourself in real life stories of triumph, hard work, loss, disappointment and humour from famous and celebrated voices. Whether you are interested in science, art, music or comedy there are inspiring stories for all as each accomplished castaway decides which pieces of music would sustain them alone on a desert island. Our favourites include Episodes by: Jo Malone, Lin Manuel Miranda, Jilly Cooper and Tom Hanks (Then feel free to spend the rest of your day pondering your own Desert Island music choices….)

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