Eat to beat the Winter Blues and S.A.D

At this time of the year when the light levels drop and the rain and cold puts a dampener on going outside we tend to plummet in our natural synthesis of Vitamin D – which is a precursor of serotonin aka the happy hormone. It is a neurotransmitter that is not only a natural antidepressant but it peps up the body with a sense of alert, energized wakefulness. Evolutionary biology would say that’s just the perfect state we needed to go hunt and gather in daylight.

Later in the evening when the daylight dims we cease producing serotonin and shift to production of melatonin aka the sleepy hormone – this neurotransmitter slows the brain and body to a more relaxed, soporific state as befits going home to the cave and having a good night’s sleep. At night the darkness causes a flood of more melatonin and that tranquilizes us into a state of heavy rest and eventual sleep.

So these chemicals are the triggers of our sleep wake cycles. The problem is at this time of the year for many the lower light means we produce less serotonin and even produce melatonin during the day. So the low energy is actually a rise in the sleepy hormone and the deflated mood is battling the tiredness and not having the serotonin zip to fire up your cognitive function and sense of wellbeing.

To some it just a case of the winter blues and the distractions of Halloween, Christmas and other festivals of light are and were societies’ way of trying to boost up the populace. For many those distractions work or the blues are not heavy to bear but for others this seasonal dip is a recurring winter type depression with all of the clinical dangers (and beyond the help here, do seek help- a CBT councillor, a GP, a family member or friend or helpline)

Whichever end of the spectrum you fall there is help and it’s the same help – get more sunshine. Take your break outdoors. Sit by a window in the daytime. Resist the urge to nap or pull the curtains and instead get outside for a walk or a spot of gardening or a jog. The more light exposure then the more serotonin, the less melatonin. Bright light therapy is a clinical treatment to supplement and often replace antidepressant medication. Daylight bulbs and day-lamps can be purchased to catch the right rays indoors.

Winter type depression can be though off as starting with a deficiency in vitamin D – which we humans mostly derive from the sunshine but there are foods that are rich in it; mushrooms, fortified milk and yoghurts , some soya and tofu products but it is abundant in oily fish. With supplements there is always the risk of an overdose or damage to the organs by misuse but with food it’s not just a tasty dose its good nutrition to keep you going too.

Some depressions are complicated by a deficiency in B-complex vitamins. Well, brassicas all have good b-complex as well as being jam packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Trendy Kale has plenty of brain fuel and health extending vitamins as well as essential dietary fibre and omega-3 fatty acids. Sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, Asian greens and other darky leafy are full of vitamin C and vitamin K to help the body eliminate environmental toxins and help manage stress related illness.

The lean in to comfort food and sugary snacks at this time of year is believed to be an inherent or intuitive intelligence to get tryptophan activated in the body. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is a precursor of serotonin. Consumption of carbohydrates triggers the release of insulin which supports tryptophan to cross the blood brain barrier.

Now as to the ‘intelligence’ – this is the quick fix with a whole array of complications from sugar spiking, sugar crashing, potential weight gain and further cravings – so not the cleverest option – especially when sweetness and carbs are so readily available – unlike in the early stages of mankind. Evolutionary biology is lagging behind, from climbing a tree for honey to drive through fast food and a sugary beverage on every corner.

One of the issues with Seasonal affective disorder that makes it different to summer depression is the craving and binge eating situation. But we can trick ourselves out of this with another food related hormone – leptin. That’s a hormone made by your fat cells when they are at capacity to tells your brain oak switch off hunger we are full of stored energy now.

So high leptin in the blood means low hunger, low leptin and you will crave food. Foods that supply leptin to the bloodstream or increase our sensitivity to leptin include oatmeal, nuts and seed, broccoli and greens, low-fat yogurt, green tea, eggs, Lean proteins and fish. And here we can see cross overs in foods that support D and B vitamins deficiency too.

All of this is about foods that do the pharmacology for your brain to re-correct to the tilt of winter triggers but if you are having emotional crisis and upsetting thoughts then please talk to someone while you wait for the nutritional changes to kick in.

Beyond food – If you want to develop more resilience and look to CBT and mindfulness base therapies and tricks to stay on course then do investigate my new book – by time is everything revealed – via amazon or a book store near you.

 

 

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you don’t have to look that scary for Halloween – try a natural rejuvenation facial steam

Ok think of it as an alternative to bobbing for apples.

Many herbs have volatile oils that are beneficial to skin care and a herbal steam is a simply way to get the benefits. Simply add crushed or chopped herb (or essential oil) to a basin of boiling water. Make a tent with a towel over your head so that the steam is trapped and you get the full benefit. It only takes a few seconds to half a minute to open and detox pores and absorb the volatile oils. Not advised if you have thread veins as the heat can exacerbate but good to go on all other beauty issues.

The herbs and what they do

Blackberry leaves promote sebum control and replenish oily skin
Chamomile is cleansing and soothing
Cranesbill is astringent and soothing
Comfrey root and leaf are healing
Cowslip petals are a tonic
Bistort is an astringent
Dandelion root is stimulating and restorative; also a tonic
Elderflower is toning and stimulating
Fennel removes impurities
Geranium is soothing and balancing
Green tea is rejuvenating and refreshing
Lavender is soothing and has antibiotic properties
Linden flowers remove impurities and act as a tonic
Mint is stimulating and toning
Nettle removes impurities and boosts circulation
Raspberry leaves assist sebum control and replenish oily skin
Rosemary is cleansing and boosts circulation
Sage is stimulating and toning
Strawberry foliage promotes sebum control and replenishes oily skin
Thyme is antibacterial and cleansing
Yarrow is astringent

Rose water or witch hazel is great for ‘closing’ pores after a steam treatment and is toning to skin.

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How to make a quick blitz Flu Buster tincture of Echinacea and Thyme

Immune system boosting isobutlyamides and other alkylamides popularly known as RxA Factors are found in the roots and mature ripe seed of Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea – so now is the perfect time for a healthy harvest to make some tinctures and other wellness formulae.

A little known fact is that Echinacea supports the tissues of the throat and sinuses and protects from airborne stressors – including pollution and winter virals.

So here’s one way to avail of all that

Echinacea and Thyme Flu Buster (a quick blitz tincture)

Ingredients
• ½ cup echinacea root
• ½ cup thyme leaves
• 500ml vodka or brandy

Method
Blitz all the ingredients in a blender – as fine as possible – pour into a jar, cover and place in a sunny window, to be shaken daily for a week. You can dip in then, but preferably let it sit for a second week and then strain away the solids and bottle up.

Dosage and duration 10–25 drops of the tincture, three times daily for five days, with a short break of two days before the second round. Do that each round and it makes it more effective – continuous uninterrupted use and the effect begins to decrease as the body adapts to its presence in the system but short gaps keep its intensity up.

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Roasted Tomato and Thyme Soup – a recipe for Winter Wellness

The warmth and nourishment of soup when you are unwell is often likened to a hug in a bowl but soup can help maintain wellness as well as fight off colds and flu. So in this one, beyond vitamin C, tomato soup also supplies vitamins A, E and K and the disease-fighting goodness of lycopene. Thyme is a natural flavour companion to tomato and also a serious immunity booster. Similarly with the garlic component.

Ingredients
• 1lb ripe tomatoes (any variety but the redder they are the more lycopene they contain)
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
• 1½ cup water or vegetable stock
• 1 clove garlic
• Salt and pepper to season

Method
Preheat the oven to 190˚C (375˚F/Gas Mark 5). Roughly chop the tomatoes and place in a roasting tin. Drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes and swirl to coat. Place in the oven for 30 minutes. Meanwhile boil the thyme in the water or vegetable stock, then remove from the heat. Pour the thyme-infused liquid and cooked tomatoes into a blender. Add the garlic – peeled and finely chopped. Blitz to a smooth texture. Add salt and pepper to taste,  serve and enjoy. This reheats well and, if making larger servings, it will keep in the fridge for up to three days.

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Two easy and delicious Muesli recipes for sustained energy and wellness nutrients

Original Muesli
Once upon a time, muesli was cutting-edge nutritional medicine to treat jaundice and fatigue, developed by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Brenner around 1900. This is the original recipe – one that was not a collection of dry ingredients as we find on supermarket shelves today but instead with an emphasis on raw fruit and oat soaking.

Ingredients
• 1 tablespoon rolled oats
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon chopped nuts – preferably almonds and/or hazelnuts
• 1–2 tablespoons cream
• 1 small apple

Method
Soak the oats overnight in 2 tablespoons of water. Next day add the lemon juice and chopped nuts and fold together, pour on the cream and grate some apple over the mix before serving.

Energy Breakfast Muesli (a dry mix alternative to store bought)
Fast and slow-release energy to keep you going throughout the day.

Ingredients
• 120g rolled oats
• 40g rye flakes
• 10g bran
• 25g flaked almonds
• 25g hazelnut nibs
• 25g raisins or sultanas
• 25g dried apple pieces – diced
• 15g roughly chopped dried apricots (or dried figs)

Method
You can toast the grains and nuts at 160˚C (325˚F/Gas Mark 3) for 8–10 minutes or use them untreated. If toasting, cool completely before adding the dried fruits and stirring them through. This stores well in an airtight container. Serve with milk or cream and a sliced banana or strawberries or even a sprinkle of blueberries.

To discover more healthy recipes and health tips – get the bookhttp://www.dubraybooks.ie/The-Holistic-Gardener-Natural-Cures-for-Common-Ailments_9781781174142

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stress kills but laughing it off lengthens your life

Stress kills … how

Stress is the body’s automatic reaction to harmful situations – be that situation real or perceived; a speeding oncoming car or just the thought that you might not make it to the airport in time. Sometimes the perceived or mental situations seem to carry more jeopardy than the real physical treats. Some behavioural psychologists argue that we evolved this mechanism as an early warning survival system – so that the sound of the breaking twig (which may be the approach of a predator or just a family member) triggers a flight or fight response in preparation for the appearance of the sound maker and the possibility of attack, and so we conditioned the brain to jump to conclusion just in case it is a tiger and not your neighbour. Or you may say especially if it is the neighbour. We all have different fears and triggers, be we all have the same potential inbuilt reaction- and that starts in advance of the full facts.

When you feel threatened, this “fight-or-flight,” reaction is automatically switched on, it is a chemical reaction quickens your heartbeat, increases your respiration, tightens your muscles and pumps some adrenalin into the system- raised blood pressure and other side effects occur but the aim of the first four is to get you dramatically alert – you are prepped and pumped now, no mistaking this for a dream, you are on, you have the capacity now to not be startled and caught off guard, you are ready to hit back – to fight – or you have the capacity to sprint as fast as you can in the other direction – flight. Doesn’t matter what decision you take, run or stand up, you have been activated into the full potential of possibly surviving this scenario.

The problem is not every perceived threat turns out to be real, so we don’t get to punch it in the face and release the pumped up aggression or burn off the nervous tension in the rapid retreat – so are left will all this ‘surge’ and nowhere to release it. Shouting at your email, road rage, January sales aggression, panic attacks etc. are all symptoms of this fight or flight response. Fearing the worst diagnosis of a medical test or fretting you have failed your exams is the same thing – the chemical reaction is activated every time you mentally revisit the worst case scenario. Mindfulness can earth that charge, bring you back to control.

Stress was an evolutionary advantage that we didn’t drop. We still need it – but the problem is we engage it with non-life threatening events; low phone battery, running out of milk, shoes not matching belt, what so and so thinks about you, who will make it to the grand finale of celebrity bull fight. We need to disarm it when it’s not really required and save it for the zombie apocalypse, the escaped zoo tiger, the mugger etc. and not PlayStation versions of those scenarios or the petty office politics.

Repeated or prolonged exposure to stress and its body chemistry altering consequences can cause the following
• Aches and pains, including tense muscles
• Clenched jaw and teeth grinding
• Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
• Headaches
• Nausea
• Upset stomach and Gastrointestinal problems, including diarrhoea, constipation, ibs, gerd, gastritis and ulcers
• Loss of appetite or increased comfort eating
• Fatigue and Low energy
• Insomnia
• Menstrual irregularities
• Loss of libido
• Increased flare ups of acne, eczema and psoriasis
• Increased bouts of cold and flu
• High blood pressure
• Cardiovascular disease
• Propensity to depression and self-esteem issues

laughter lengthens life … how

Laughing and doing things that make you happy not only releases endorphins that boost your perception of mental wellbeing but also of physical health. Having a laugh, making light of a dark situation is what tips the balance in your favour of surviving negative episodes in your life. the more we revert to the funny, to the smile, the more we programme our brain to avail of happiness over sadness or despair.

Ok happiness means different things to different people or should I say job satisfaction or communal engagement is not on everybody’s radar. You can be a happy hermit. It is a state of mind, a self-perception – some achieve it by a positive evaluation of their life, some by redefining their expectations of success, some by carefree non-evaluation living, some have work/life balance ticked, others believe it is simply their innate disposition. For certain we can say that happiness is not an equation. For certain we can say that happiness is difficult to measure, but we can all acknowledge that it is easy to recognize. You can’t miss happiness when you see it in others – it shines through. It permeates their whole being.

Happiness is a positive emotion – if you are experiencing it then you are not experiencing negative emotions (which have proven stress/health implications). Happiness generates a sense of wellbeing as well as interrupting sensations of non-wellbeing. It triggers not just psychological but also physiological wellness. Feeling happy decreases awareness of pain but also lower levels of inflammatory gene expression, feeling happy also facilitates stronger antibody responses thus boosting your immune system and further sustaining wellness. Having a laugh, smiling more, doing activities that bring you satisfaction or joy are all life extension tools. I am not just saying it, many studies* show a link between happiness and longevity.

studies*

1. Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95, 542–575.
2. Diener, E. and Chan, M. Y. (2011), Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 3: 1–43. doi: 10.1111/j.1758-0854.2010.01045.x
3. Edwards, J. R., & Cooper, C. L. (1988). “The impacts of positive psychological states on physical health: Review and theoretical framework.” Social Science and Medicine, 27, 1447–1459
4. Eric S. Kim, Nansook Park, Jennifer K. Sun, Jacqui Smith, Christopher Peterson, Life Satisfaction and Frequency of Doctor Visits, Psychosomatic Medicine, 2014, 76, 1, 86
5. Sanne M. A. Lamers, Linda Bolier, Gerben J. Westerhof, Filip Smit, Ernst T. Bohlmeijer, The impact of emotional well-being on long-term recovery and survival in physical illness: a meta-analysis, Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2012, 35, 5, 538

 
Further reading

  1. Anderson, N. B. (2003). Emotional longevity: What really determines how long you live. New York: Viking.
  2. Layard, Richard. (2005). Happiness: Lessons from a New Science. London: Allen lane.
  3. O Nualláin, Fiann (2017) By time is everything revealed. Dublin. Gill Books.
  4. Sternberg, E. M. (2001). The balance within: The science connecting health and emotions. New York: Freeman.
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The law of the beekeeper and the goodness of sharing

The law of the beekeeper is found in the Bech Bretha (Bee Judgments) – set of laws governing the keeping of bees and also the distribution of their bounty. It exists in The Brehon Laws – the indigenous Irish system of law, developed from customs from pre-Celtic and Celtic times, passed on orally from one generation to the next. Documented In the 7th century AD and surviving in practice until supplanted by the English common law in the 17th century. What it shows is the fostering of sharing in establishing/maintaining communal cohesion.

The following extracts serve as a sample and example:

• If a person found/tended or harvested a swarm in a faithche (a small green surrounding/belonging to a house/family) then one-fourth of the produce to the end of a year was entitled to the finder/tender with the remaining three-fourths due to the owner of the house.

• If a person found/tended or harvested a swarm in a tree growing in a faithche then the split was one-half each of the produce for a year between finder and land owner.

• If the swarm was found/nurtured in land which was not a green but still private property then the finders/tenders portion was one-third with the remainder to the owner of the land.

• If the swarm was found/nurtured in waste land or location not belonging to an individual, but rather the common property of the tribe then the finder/tender had rightful ownership/guardianship of the bees and their honey but should pay/supply a dividend of one-ninth to the chief of the tribe.

• In other locations/situations or where bee ownership was established by a single beekeeper the share was enshrined thus – because bees gathered their honey from the surrounding locality, the owners of the four adjacent fields/farms have contributed to the harvestable portion and so are entitled to receive small proportion of the honey.

The Bech Bretha goes on to recommend that if beekeeping is on-going in a district then after the third year of production each of the surrounding farms should be gifted or could claim entitlement to a share of the swarm to start their own hive.

Later this law would be echoed in the proverb Bíonn an rath I mbun na ronna – There is luck in sharing a thing Indeed there is luck in sharing but we must understand what luck is – in the Irish psyche – luck is good fortune – it is the positive energy of the day, it is the cultivation of good will. Yes the cultivation of good will – the manifestation of grace – the participation of life beyond your own thoughts and motivations.

Sharing opens the world, sharing brings you into contact with otherness, with ‘separateness’ from your individual self – uncoupled from personal concern you can join the world.

For some the mindful path can be all breath and no real life – breathing is key, breathing is a key but living opens the door. We can get lost on the path and removed from the physical world over the rim of our spiritual shield. Retreat and distance from the mayhem is no harm and all good but don’t absent yourself from life altogether.

Sharing is communion – it is communication with the interrelatedness of all life. There is more to life than the anapanasati sutra – mindfulness brings you into contact with the energies and reality of your living spiritual self but that self is not in isolation to every other self on the planet – share some breath in that direction – there is luck in it.

Luck and chance are esteemed in eastern philosophies but in an analytical west – luck is often seen as superstition. Far from it, the luck of this proverb is the manifestation of grace through compassion – through generosity of spirit – through sharing. Through being real in the company of somebody else.

Share yourself – participate with people. The monk in silence, the hermit in solitude, the guru in seclusion, the greedy beekeeper advances little but selfishness.

In the Irish psyche, Luck is fortune – fortune is abundance. In the Irish psyche we reap reward by not just harvesting but by sharing. This is evident in our ancient Brehon laws, none less than in The law of the beekeeper. Bees and humans share a trait – Ultra-sociability – the ability/desire to live in communities and be altruistic.

So today share a joke or a smile or a good story – there is luck in it. Invite friends over and share a meal and good times – there is luck in it. Share some of yourself with the world – there is all the luck in the world in that.

To explore more Irish proverbs and their positive psychology potential see the book – by time is everything revealed.

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