It’s the little things that count

We are constantly talking about the importance of creating new healthy habits. In fact, one of mr favorite sayings is “It’s the ordinary things we do on a daily basis that have an extraordinary healing effect.” It is true! You can’t meditate one day, get one 8-hour night of sleep, eat one low-carb meal – and expect to address the imbalances in your body. But if you start meditating, sleeping, eating more healthily on a regular basis, then you will start to see impactful changes.

Creating a new healthy habit – a regular practice that is hard to give up – is the best way to tackle any health goal. We are looking for sustainable lifestyle upgrades that stick!

Where do you start to create a new daily habit?

  1. Dig into why you want to start a new habit – this will motivate you!
  2. Define your goal – let’s say, start a daily meditation practice
  3. Break it down into doable steps – start with 2 minutes each day
  4. Pick a time – or better yet, an already established habit in your day – meditate for 2 minutes every day after you brush your teeth
  5. Commit to the new habit – you defined your goal for 2 minutes every day – stick to 2 minutes, if you go over great, but it’s unnecessary

Don’t take on too many new habits at once. But when you feel confident, move on to a new habit and run through all the steps – Why, What, How, Where, Commit. What will be next? Keep hacking away at it…every damn day!

It’s official! Winter starts here.

To steal a line from Game of Thrones, ‘Winter is coming’ because today  is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and the longest night and, the official start of the fourth season. But, the good news is, from here on in, the days slowly get longer and we emerge, yawning and stretching into Spring. I love this poem by Rebecca Parker which sums up the slow, yin energy of the season. A time to slow down; for introspection and rest.

Perhaps
for a moment
the typewriters will stop clicking,
the wheels stop rolling
the computers desist from computing,
and a hush will fall over the city.
For an instant, in the stillness,
the chiming of the celestial spheres will be heard
as earth hangs poised
in the crystalline darkness, and then
gracefully
tilts.
Let there be a season
when holiness is heard, and
the splendor of living is revealed.
Stunned to stillness by beauty
we remember who we are and why we are here.
There are inexplicable mysteries.
We are not alone.
In the universe there moves a Wild One
whose gestures alter earth’s axis
toward love.
In the immense darkness
everything spins with joy.
The cosmos enfolds us.
We are caught in a web of stars,
cradled in a swaying embrace,
rocked by the holy night,
babes of the universe.
Let this be the time
we wake to life,
like spring wakes, in the moment
of winter solstice.

Have yourself a mindful little Christmas

Not feeling particularly cheery this time of year? You’re not alone. Many find that the holidays bring as much stress as they do joy. But there are ways to ease through the season. To help make the most of your festivities, Neda Gould, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Mindfulness Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, shares some mindful tips.

What is mindfulness? “Mindfulness is bringing your attention to the present moment with an element of nonjudgment and acceptance. It is noticing when we get caught up in thoughts about the past or the future, and returning our attention to the present — the only reality,” explains Gould.

While mindfulness can be a formal meditation practice, there are also informal ways to practice this skill. This can give us perspective and decrease stress.

Gould shares four ways to make your holidays brighter:

1. Accept Imperfection

Can good be good enough? “As we gear up for the holidays, we often set the bar impossibly high for ourselves and then feel upset when our celebrations don’t live up to expectations,” says Gould.

Before you start preparing, acknowledge that things may not go exactly as planned. “It’s OK if it’s not perfect. Imperfection is healthy and normal. For some of us, it might just take a little practice,” reminds Gould.

2. Don’t Lose Sight of What Really Counts

With long lines and nasty traffic, the holidays can get hectic. When overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle, ask yourself:

  • Where does this fit in the grand scheme of things? If you’re frustrated by the long grocery line you’re standing in, remember that it is just a long grocery line — nothing more. Don’t let it spoil your afternoon.
  • Can I use this moment of frustration as an opportunity to reflect?While the cashier rings up the customers ahead of you, take inventory of the good things that have happened today or the things you are grateful for.
  • Even if this moment seems stressful, can I find a way to make it pleasant? Connect with someone else in line with a compliment or kind gesture, or notice what’s around you with fresh eyes and an open mind.

3. Respond with Kindness

You can’t change how others act during the stresses of the holiday season, but you can change how you respond to situations:

  • “Whenever I encounter a difficult person, I tell myself, ‘this person is suffering, and that’s why they’re acting this way.’ It softens my frustration, helps me be more compassionate and reminds me that it’s not personal,” says Gould.
  • Keep in mind that the holidays are especially difficult for those who are alone. See if you can extend an act of kindness to those you know are without family and friends during this time of year.
  • If things do get tense with someone, take a few deep breaths. “Those few breaths can shift things and give you new perspective,” says Gould.

4. Rethink Your Resolutions

“Typical New Year’s resolutions set you up for failure,” warns Gould. If you want to better yourself in the New Year, follow these tips for success:

  • Start small. Break your goal into tinier steps over the course of the year. If weight loss is your goal, it doesn’t have to be drastic. Try to eat more veggies during your first month and gradually cut back on sweets throughout the next, suggests Gould.
  • Be kind to yourself. If you didn’t achieve last year’s resolution or stray from the path this time around, let it go. “We often contrive these stories (‘I’m never going to quit smoking!’) that only add to our distress,” says Gould. “With practice, we can notice this self-critic, let go of that negativity and pick our goals back up without the guilt or shame.”

Give me sunshine!

As the clocks go back and evenings are doused in darkness, we all become wistful for long summer days, before settling into hunkering down for winter. But for around 3 per cent of the population who suffer from depressive moods triggered by seasonal affective disorder or SAD, the approaching months are filled with real despair.

There is a difference between feeling down because of the weather and experiencing SAD, says Stephen Buckley, from mental health charity Mind. “Many people feel more cheerful and energetic when the sun is shining and the days are longer, but if you have SAD the change in seasons has a much greater effect on mood and energy levels, leading to symptoms of depression that have a significant impact on day-to-day life.”

Although it is not known exactly what causes SAD, don’t panic as some simple steps can be taken to alleviate its symptoms. Read on to find out some top tips from the experts!

Go for a walk in nature

While the causes of SAD aren’t always clear, we know that a lack of daylight can have a big impact on mood, especially during the autumn and winter months. When light hits the back of the eye, messages are passed to the part of the brain responsible for sleep, appetite, sex drive, temperature, mood and activity.

If there’s not enough light these functions are likely to slow down and gradually stop. The lack of daylight hours may also slow your body clock, making you feel more tired, and increase production of the hormone melatonin, which helps you get to sleep – both things may therefore link to depression.

Going for walks, particularly around midday or on bright days, even if it’s just taking a short stroll, can be effective in reducing symptoms.

Spending time in parks or gardens, or simply sitting near a window can also help.

A light box that creates a bright white or blue light is also helpful to some. However, the evidence for them isn’t reliable and they can be quite expensive, which means they aren’t an option for everyone, so spending more time in natural light is recommended.

While you may not feel like it during the winter, physical activity can be very effective in lifting your mood and increasing your energy levels. It doesn’t have to be anything particularly strenuous – doing housework, gardening or going for a gentle walk can all help. Research shows that outdoor exercise, such as cycling or jogging, can be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression.

Bringing nature into your home can also help, and watering plants can create a feeling of accomplishment that may lift your mood.

Eat a healthy, well-rounded diet

In winter, you might crave comfort foods such as sweets, chocolate, cakes and biscuits. But this way of eating will actually make the symptoms worse. Instead, eat lots of healthy fats, good quality protein, green leafy vegetables, fibre and complex carbohydrates. Try more wholegrain carbohydrates such as brown rice and brown pasta, which include more fibre and nutrients than the white varieties. Try making hearty meals such as a homemade bolognese with a sweet potato or brown rice instead of white pasta, or turkey ratatouille with mixed vegetables, or lean turkey, pure chopped tomatoes served with a mixed salad, or baked salmon with stir-fry broccoli, onion and cabbage.

Holly Zoccolan, holistic lifestyle and nutrition coach 

Load up on vitamins and minerals

Oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, eaten three times a week, provide good levels of the essential fatty acids EPA/DHA required for a healthy brain. Others with these fats – walnuts, dark green leafy vegetables and flaxseeds – have too little to have a therapeutic effect.

Protein foods that provide a good supply of tryptophan (that converts to serotonin in the brain) are poultry, shrimps, tofu and eggs. But all protein foods supply some tryptophan, so eat a varied diet of meat and fish.

Vitamin D3 must be supplemented by people living in the northern hemisphere, because we do not obtain sufficient UVB rays on our skin in winter convert to vitamin D. Butter, egg yolks and oily fish contain very small amounts, but not the 1000iu D3 that you need daily. Magnesium citrate is a useful supplement. Potential symptoms of low magnesium levels are cramps, constipation and headaches, although there could be other reasons for these symptoms, too.

To know which foods and ways of eating work for you, listen to your body. If you feel sluggish, tired, and not firing all cylinders, then something in your diet is often not right. You may well be missing vital nutrients, your blood sugar levels might not be not balanced or you are consuming too many pro-inflammatory foods.

Caroline Peyton of Peyton Principles, nutritional therapist and naturopath 

Work on a positive mindset

Your brain doesn’t know the difference between the narrative you tell it, and reality. If you focus on being miserable and trapped inside, your subconscious mind will focus on that.

Try to spend five minutes at the start of every day writing down or speaking about everything you are grateful for, however big or small. You can’t feel negative feelings when you’re in a state of being grateful, even if it’s just a cup of great coffee or cosy sweater. Repeating positive affirmations will also help to reframe the way you think about yourself and stop negative self-talk.

Stay sociable and connected  It can be tempting to hunker down and hide when the weather outside is bad and it’s dark by 4.30pm, but does that actually suit you?

If seeing friends and family, going to the cinema, sporting events, the theatre and exhibitions or even just heading out for a meal once a week brings you joy, don’t stop in winter.

Pull on warm boots and a good coat and plan a normal social life. Even if you don’t stay out late, having events in your diary will give your days and weeks structure and help you deal with winter.

Lean into longer evenings

When you do have an evening at home, is there anything you can do with that time that will give you a feeling of accomplishment? It’s been shown that having something new and interesting to focus on wards off symptoms of SAD.

Create photo albums of your summer holidays, redecorate a room in your house or clear out the cupboard that’s become a dumping ground. An hour or two working towards a goal of ticking off jobs from a list will help you to relax and feel like you deserve to spend an evening on the sofa.

Tara Best, neuro-linguistic programming coach and practitioner 

Lighten your workspace

Being exposed to natural daylight is important – especially as many of us continue to work from home or adjust to a hybrid way of working. If possible, try making your working environment lighter and airier by opening more curtains and blinds. Like many people, I have brought a SAD lamp, because the bright light it produces positively affects my mood by lifting levels of hormones and neurochemicals.

Practise yoga

Illustration by Mark Long
Yoga has a positive impact on our nervous system, because controlled breathing and moving boosts oxygen flow through the body. (Illustration: Mark Long)

Our bodies are designed to respond to changes in our environment. Research shows that yoga has a positive impact on our nervous system, because controlled breathing and moving boosts oxygen flow through the body. It also decreases your cortisol (the stress hormone), decreasing your anxiety and worry levels.  Yoga is something that can be done for as little as 10 minutes. There are so many styles to choose from. Whether you go for vinyasa or restorative, breathing is at the centre of every practice. It can help to cultivate presence, awareness and alignment.

The most powerful thing you can do is to focus on hip and heart openers, and really release the heart and sacral chakra. Our hips absorb physical and mental stress 24/7, which makes sense as they are located on our second chakra, the sacral, which is the centre of emotion, feeling, and connection. Therefore it is vital that we constantly give them the attention they deserve, the opportunity to release tension, tightness and any blockages.

Think pigeon pose and crescent lunges that enable you to let go of what is no longer serving you, and welcome what does. This helps to remove and release negative energy, worries and fears, so that you can go about the rest of your day feeling rejuvenated, energised and aligned.

Alexandra Baldi, yoga teacher and founder of Compass Chelsea

Listen to music

Music is a powerful tool that can be used to change your mood. Putting on some uplifting music can be an effective way to boost your mood if you are feeling down, particularly when paired with dancing and singing.

Sarita Robinson, deputy head for the school of psychology and computer science at the University of Central Lancashire

Time to let go and fall into autumn

Moving out of the fire of Summer and towards the colder, windier and altogether more changeable Autumn is nature’s metaphorical signal to prepare for cold and cosy months ahead. At the end of September, the Northern hemisphere enters the autumn equinox and officially transitions into an entirely different part of the year. With the sun appearing to head south, plants pause their growth and begin to shed their leaves. The air is laced with a noticeably different scent to that of previous months, and the dark nights creep slowly longer and longer.

Whether you love the beginning of autumn or long for sunnier days, there’s no denying; This is part of the earth’s natural cycle. And as a part of nature itself, we’d all benefit from aligning ourselves with the shifting energy. As the name suggests, an equinox – derived from the Old French equinoxe meaning ‘equal night’ – occurs when day and night are of equal length, perfectly balanced, before tipping over into the next season. Pagan mythology knows this time of year as Mabon or ‘Second Harvest’. A time to give thanks to the Summer and pay tribute to the coming darkness. Apple picking and gathering together to feast on seasonal fare are some of the longest held Pagan traditions, with the apple representing wisdom and guidance, and providing a way to thank the earth for its bounty.

With the external equilibrium of light and darkness obvious to the naked eye, this is also an important time to perhaps recognise and pay tribute to our own light and darkness within. Just as the earth moves through cycles, each day and even each moment is a cycle within itself. We can move through a multitude of emotions at any given time, experience a flood of thoughts cascading through the mind, and feel cyclical patterns within our physical bodies too.

Time to slow down!

Physically, energetically, and mentally, late summer is a time when life should be easy and we should aim for the middle path. Not always simple to achieve when this season can actually get quite busy! Follow along below for a few easy ways to bring more late summer self-care into your life.

Physically, energetically, and mentally, late summer is a time when life should be easy and we should aim for the middle path. Not always simple to achieve when this season can actually get quite busy! Follow along below for a few easy ways to bring more late summer self-care into your life.

The Late Summer and The Earth Element

earth-element.jpg

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are five elements – Metal, Wood Water, Fire and Earth. Each of these elements are linked to a season of the year. If you are wondering how this could be, when there are only four seasons, this because in TCM, there is a fifth season: Late Summer. This is the season of the Earth element.

Beginning in late August and ending during September at the Autumn Equinox, this short season is of particular importance because it marks the transition from the yang into the yin time of the year. We can often feel this shift ourselves with noticeable changes in the light and air, and even in the kinds of foods our body might crave.

The late summer is connected to the earth element and is a short season marking the transition between yang (spring and summer) and yin (autumn and winter).

Late summer is a crucial time of transformation, harvest, and nourishment. The Chinese character for the earth element (pictured above) expresses two important aspects of the earth element. The top horizontal line portrays the top of the soil (nourishment), and the bottom line represents the undersoil or bedrock (stability). Our central task with the earth phase of the cycle is to build stability, create balance, and reap the abundance that’s on offer.

The organs of Late Summer are the Stomach and Spleen. The food we eat is one of the ways Qi comes into the body (known as grain Qi). The Stomach (yang organ) is known as ‘the Sea of Nourishment’ due to its crucial role in digestion and it works alongside the Spleen (yin organ) to achieve this.  In Chinese Medicine, the Stomach and Spleen also supply nourishment to our minds as well as emotional and physical stability.

Being the proverbial worry wort, I was interested to discover that the emotion associated with the Earth element is worry; the unending stream of thoughts about anything and everything that could go wrong. But, we can find stability and balance to support the Earth element through our yoga and our lifestyle.

This means taking into account a balance between giving and receiving. Nourishing practices like Yin and Restorative Yoga are very grounding. Practicing lovingkindness towards yourself as well as to others to enhance self-worth is equally supportive.

So, this Late Summer reflect on how you are nourishing yourself, physically, mentally and emotionally and consider incorporating some yin yoga into your life. This is not to say that yang, or more active practices are bad. We need both yang and yin to be in harmony in our bodies and minds. When we have this harmony, then contentment, better health and happiness can follow.

Happy New Year (yup, you read that correctly!)

In the world of wellbeing, September seems to be the new January these days – with good reason. It’s a far better time of year for a health reset than the freezing winter months. In September you can smell the back-to-work vibe in the air as children return to school and routine is somewhat restored. Plus, you don’t have to wrap up in multiple layers or face depressingly dark mornings when you leave the house.

This September, I feel, will be a big one. As mask wearing begins to lift and a slither of normality returns, we are left staggering through the aftermath of the past 18 months. Even aside from the actual virus, the pandemic has taken its toll on our general wellbeing. And as we emerge from survival mode, we start to look at ourselves again. You may have got into comfort drinking habits; perhaps you have fallen off the exercise wagon or lie in bed until 8.48am because your home working day starts at 9am. Whatever you want to change, here are some small steps to tackle Covid-induced bad habits.

1 Be kind to yourself

Don’t beat yourself up. ‘Remain compassionate with yourself,’ says Kathryn Dombrowicz, psychotherapist and addictions specialist at mental health clinic thesoke.uk. ‘We have been through tough times and lost structure in our lives. It’s natural that we have wanted to make ourselves feel better in a time of anxiety,’ she says.

 September is a good time of year for a wellbeing reset

2 Take baby steps

‘It can be overwhelming to tackle everything at once,’ says nutritional therapist Nicola Moore (nicola-moore.com). ‘Start with the one thing that’s bothering you most and focus on that. Consistency, not striving for perfection, is the healthiest way to make changes.’

3 B.L.A.S.T bad habits

A habit is something we do again and again to the point where we are not actually experiencing it any more but going through the motions. You can break the pattern by consciously interrupting that habit. Kathryn uses the B.L.A.S.T. technique. ‘Ask yourself if you are bored, lonely, angry, stressed or tired,’ she says. ‘Then think of healthier ways you can nurture yourself instead.’

4 Don’t ditch ‘drink o’clock’

It could be that your daily glass of wine (or two) is more to do with the ritual of drinking and what that signifies emotionally rather than the drink itself, explains Nicola. ‘You don’t have to ditch that time in the day when you enjoy a relaxing drink,’ she says. ‘But try replacing it with something non-alcoholic while keeping everything else the same. Keep the wine glass and connect to the act of drinking it, which can elicit the same good feelings as you’d get from a glass of wine.’

5 Don’t go OTT on exercise

Going from sofa surfer to gym bunny will set yourself up to fail. Instead, says Kathryn, walk for 20 minutes four times a week. The next week, add an exercise class or make the walk longer. Doing something is better than nothing and a daily short walk will have an instant impact on your wellbeing.

6 Replace bad habits with good

‘By repeating a bad habit you will have created a neural pathway,’ says Kathryn. ‘You can override it with a positive habit by keeping at it,’ she says. ‘Some studies say it takes 21 days to break a habit, others say 40. I think it’s somewhere in the middle.’

Keep it simple!

It goes without saying: life can be hard. But we also tend to make it harder than it needs to be. On top of those difficulties that we don’t have any control over (pandemics, job losses), we pile on extra difficulties (packed schedules, non-stop goal-chasing, endless doom-scrolling) until we’re crushed by the overwhelm.

So why would we want to make our lives harder? It’s not necessarily a conscious decision – it has just become our default setting. ‘The modern world complicates things for us,’ says Dr Tara Swart, neuroscientist and author of The Source. ‘Over time, the amount of overload we’ve had to deal with has increased, and we’ve defaulted to meet that demand.’

With the onslaught of social media and the glorification of being busy, it’s unsurprising. And even though life has been pared back during the pandemic, we’re so accustomed to that ‘more, more, more’ setting, that it can be hard to switch it off. ‘Whatever you have to do expands to fill the time available,’ says Swart. ‘Many of us gained hours in the day we would’ve spent commuting, but this ended up blurring into a longer work day. It’s partly our perception that life is busy and complicated, and we often feel overwhelmed whether we actually have more to do or not.’

‘Overwhelm and over-complication leave us feeling ill and tired,’ says Swart. ‘Your mental, emotional and physical health is all connected. Simplifying your life can result in more energy, less fatigue, increased resilience and improved immunity.’

So, as we emerge back into some semblance of ‘normality’, how can we streamline our days and live in a way that feels easy and effortless? It’s all about finding small ways to reduce unnecessary clogs in our brains.

8 WAYS TO SIMPLIFY YOUR LIFE

1. CHOP UP YOUR CHORES

We spend way too much time procrastinating over tasks that could be done pretty quickly. Enter the much raved-about Pomodoro Technique, which can be used for anything from work projects, to clearing out the garage. Here’s how it works:

– Choose a task, minimise distractions and place a blank piece of paper or a notebook nearby.

– Set a timer for 25 minutes. It’s just 25 minutes, right? Focus solely on your task until the timer runs out. No interruptions or distractions allowed. If you suddenly realise you have something else you need to do, write it down.

– Make a check on the paper, and take a break. Give yourself 5 minutes to stretch or check your phone. If the 25 minutes got you in your zone, you may be tempted to power through. Resist! Your brain needs to regroup.

– Repeat until you’ve made three or four checks, then take a longer break for 20 or 30 minutes. Repeat until you’ve finished the task.

TOP TIP: ‘Before you go to bed, write down the thing you’re dreading most about the next day, then do that as soon as you wake up,’ says Tara Swart. ‘Getting the thing that is draining you out of the way is really good tactic for reducing stress.’

2. INTEGRATE MINDFULNESS INTO YOUR DAY

Mindfulness doesn’t need to mean sitting in the lotus position for an hour – Swart says you can find little pieces of mindfulness throughout the day. ‘You can try mindful eating at mealtimes, which means pausing before each mouthful, and tuning in to the taste of food, without distractions like phones or TV. Or, when you’re talking to a relative, giving them your full attention and eye contact. You can focus on your breath at any time of the day, even if walking around, speaking, or working at your laptop.’ Why? ‘Mindfulness helps you regulate your emotions, and simplifies things for your brain, by narrowing your focus,’ says Swart.

Give yourself a break

The world feels so chaotic and uncertain right now that we all have a responsibility to listen, to take notice and to do what we can. However, we also all have a responsibility to take a break from all the news headlines and to look after ourselves too.

Now, more than ever, it is time to protect ourselves from being overwhelmed. We cannot act constructively to change anything if we are exhausted from information overload. It is a balance that can be tough to strike. Our brains are incredible tools, but they are not immune to the effects of having too much to process and digest. And we have all been in that situation over the past 15 months or so.

Being aware of our need to turn down the noise to a level where we can cope and doing this often is what can keep us mentally and emotionally well, and able to keep moving forward through what will likely be more uncertainty. And it is not just turning down the volume on external information, but also our ability to find ways to get some space from our mind.

Our minds are brilliant at ruminating over and over problems – great if they find solutions and then drop them, but not so great if solutions are not possible, our minds are tired and can’t process a lot or we are projecting into the future or reaching back into the past.

It is not about ignoring or pushing away our thoughts, but rather pausing, being aware and putting into action strategies that can help us find solutions to problems, or ways that can help us let the thoughts go and pass gently. This takes practice and energy, and it is a lifelong journey, but it can be done. So, how can we protect ourselves from information overload?

News consumption

We need to be informed and we need to understand the world we live in so we can affect change and be part of society. However, too much news consumption can cause us to feel overwhelmed and sad if we have nowhere to take these feelings or no action we feel is possible for us to take. Be aware of your own news consumption – how much time, when in your day, on which platform, and in what manner and emotional state you are consuming your news. Don’t feel guilty or “bad” for turning it off or needing space away.

Reduce the ways you are contactable

With working patterns changing, feeling overwhelmed by messaging has become even more common. Sit down and review how you are allowing people to get hold of you. Reduce the platforms, mute your notifications, look at your phone or check your emails a limited number of times a day. If you are like me, you have probably experienced someone trying to contact you on multiple platforms, multiple times per day and at unsociable hours. Re-establish your boundaries and stick to them.

Find a balance

Balance your activities in your day. Have space for connection, for physical exercise, for creativity and for joy. Many people have not had a break from work for the past year, and even if they have had one planned, it may have been cancelled or at home in the same environment. It has been harder than ever to have a break from the noise of life. Make sure you are focusing on one task at a time. Our brains have specific ways of using our attention and focus, and if we do one thing at a time, we will be more efficient and feel better for it.

Say no

Give yourself space from people who overload you or add to your worries or do a “problem dump” on you without any respite.

Space from your thoughts

Make sure you regularly get involved in activities which are not information-oriented but more space-oriented. Mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises, physical exercise and sleep can all help you get some space from your mind. Creative hobbies such as art, music, reading, crafting, gardening and nature also can give you that space you need from your worries and thoughts. That volume button is in your hands right now. Make sure you know when you need to turn it down – and give yourself permission to do so.

Don’t forget to stretch.

Stretching is hardly the sexiest part of anyone’s routine. Whether or not you’re a fitness buff, it’s the kind of thing we know we should be doing, but often find hard to fit into our busy lives.

However, we’re here to remind you that you really shouldn’t skip it. “Stretching is an integral part of our fitness and health,” explains Michelle Njagi, senior physiotherapist at Bupa Health Clinics. “Stretching is really important because it keeps muscles flexible, it keeps them healthy and strong, and it’s really important for the range of movement in the joints as well – if you don’t have flexibility in the muscles, you’re not going to be able to move as much in the joints and you’ll be limited in what you can and can’t do.

“Without it, muscles become shorter and tighter. For example, if you do have quite tight hamstrings – the muscle at the back of your legs – it can make everyday things like walking harder, and can cause things like lower back pain.”

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you don’t need to stretch if you’re not a fitness fanatic either. “If anything it’s more important,” says Njagi. “It’s the age old saying: If you don’t use it, you lose it. It’s really important, especially if you do have quite a static lifestyle where you work at a desk, that you do try and move as much as you can.”

If you regularly exercise, not properly warming up and cooling down can lead to getting “injured more easily through strains and pulling muscles,” says Njagi.

It’s still crucial even if you don’t do HIIT five times a week. Njagi explains: “If you’re not exercising much, you might feel like you can go about your day normally, but there will be days when you’re doing everyday things like shopping or bending to reach something – if you’re not flexible enough, that’s when you can get things like pulled back muscles.

“You might not think you’ve been exercising, but it is a form of exercise – just in your everyday life. If you’re not able to move into those positions, you’re more likely to get general injuries.”