1 Meditate without meditation
Simply focusing on your breathing quietens your body and mind in the same way as ordinary meditation. When you’re walking, be aware of your breath – breathing in for three strides, out for four. When cooking or in the shower, immerse yourself in the sensations, the smells, sounds. This will switch you off autopilot into a calmer, meditative state.
2 Write a ‘to do’ list before bed.
Every evening, write a list of all you have to do the next day. When we keep this in our minds, it’s easy to feel stressed. Writing a list will mean you’re also less likely to forget any tasks, and frees up your mind so you can do them.
Keep the list with you and cross off completed items. Some can be small, such as ‘buy milk’; others may be more time-consuming.
Write a fresh list each evening and transfer anything you haven’t done onto it. But don’t make the list overwhelming — they have to be jobs you can do, or start the next day. Break bigger projects into more manageable chunks.
To be continued ...
EAT A CLOVE OF GARLIC A DAY
Yes, I know that garlic can make your breath smell, but eating it regularly has been shown to have a lot of health benefits, from reducing blood pressure to cutting the risk of cancer. Some people find roasting it makes it less odorous — or you can grate it into a bolognese sauce, if you prefer.
Over time, though, you do get used to it (and so do those around you). Sometimes I’ll cut a clove in half and just swallow the pieces whole with a glass of orange juice, like a tablet. Alternatively, you can buy garlic capsules.
Cultivate friends of all ages
Look at your friendship group and ensure that you have a good mix of friends of different ages.
This helps to give you a different perspective on the world and means you will be challenged and stimulated in varying ways.
Write a list of each age group from the 20s onwards and see how many people you know and have regular contact with in each group.
TIDY ONE DRAWER EACH WEEK
Many of us have lots of stuff we don’t use or want, and it sits there taking up space. Set aside half an hour or so to sort through a drawer, or even a cupboard, every week.
Throw out the rubbish and give anything you don’t need or want to charity for a double feel-good hit.
Studies have shown that chaos and mess generate anxiety, whereas a tidy, ordered environment helps you feel in control and is calming.
MAKE HALF YOUR PLATE VEGETABLES
Few of us eat anywhere near enough vegetables. Not only do they reduce the risk of a whole host of deadly diseases, from heart attacks to strokes and cancer, they help to regulate the bowels, hydrate you, and make you feel fuller so you’re less likely to graze.
Measuring your veggie intake by the plate is much easier than using the ‘five a day’ method. Making every plate of your food half vegetables means you should easily get your five a day, and more.
You can also cut up a selection of vegetables, put them in a bowl and snack on them. In terms of ensuring you get all your vitamins and minerals, it’s also far more effective than taking a supplement. I eat half a cucumber, a carrot and a red pepper this way every day.
GO SWIMMING AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK: Swimming is great exercise, boosts circulation, helps to build muscle and improve flexibility, and can also be quite a social activity
GO SWIMMING AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK
Swimming is great exercise, boosts circulation, helps to build muscle and improve flexibility, and can also be quite a social activity.
It’s often easier for people to introduce into their routine compared to other exercise, as it’s easy on your joints and it doesn’t matter so much if you have balance or mobility problems.
LEARN A POEM A MONTH
this is a great way of improving memory, and gives you a sense of accomplishment. But poems also speak to us on a profound level, and can help us understand how we are feeling when we’re struggling to articulate this ourselves. Having a collection of poems you know by heart is like a tool bag; if you’re bored, sad, lonely or upset, they can lift your mood or help you think in a different way.
Wash you pillows every three months
A revolting fact for you: after five years, 10 per cent of the weight of your pillow is dust mite faeces.
Yet how many of us change our pillow case but never think about the pillow itself?
It means when you put your head down to rest, you are inhaling faeces, and this is linked to all sorts of allergies and respiratory problems.
A professor at medical school told us students to invest in washable pillows and wash them four times a year.
I started doing this as a student, during a summer spent working in a nursing home for patients with severe dementia. Needing something to lift my spirits, I bought The Nation’s Favourite Poems and started learning them.
Write one on a piece of paper to carry with you for the month, and read through it every chance you get. If you do this a few times a day, you’ll be amazed by the end of the month, when it will have stuck.
Don’t worry too much if you stumble over some lines — the passages that most resonate will be with you for good, and be there for you when you need them.
AVOID HANDRAILS ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT
The handrails on buses and trains are heaving with bugs from other people’s hands. Once these are on your hands, it’s all too easy for them to be transferred to your mouth when you touch your face or eat. This is one of the main ways that colds and flu are transmitted. Handrails are a common source for upset stomachs, too.
So lean against the rail — or, if you have to hold it, hold it with your non-dominant hand. When going down escalators or stairs, avoid holding the rail directly if possible, and either hover your hand just above it in case you trip, or lean on it with your elbow.
WASH HANDS AFTER TRAVEL AND EATING
Washing your hands is the single most effective way of reducing your risk of falling ill, yet we often go hours without doing it. This increases your chance of picking up bacteria or viruses.
As well as after using the loo, you should wash your hands when you get into work, before and after eating, and when you get home, at an absolute minimum. Use soap and warm water.
HAVE A FAMILY MEAL EVERY WEEK:
Mealtimes are important — an opportunity for everyone to catch up and reconnect
ANXIOUS? TAKE A LAVENDER PILL
If you suffer from anxiety, you might consider using lavender oil, which works on the same parts of the brain as benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium), but has the benefits of not being sedating or addictive.
You can sniff the oil, although there’s some evidence that it’s most effective if consumed — you can buy lavender oil in capsules designed to be swallowed.
BUY A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE
People often worry that they don’t drink enough water. The truth is that while the eight-glasses-a-day rule is a myth, most of us could do with hydrating ourselves better.
We often mistake being thirsty for being hungry, and I think a lot of headaches are the result of people not drinking enough.
Buy yourself a reusable bottle to keep on your desk or in your kitchen and aim to drink it dry twice a day. Also, never say no whenever anyone offers you water.
NO MORE SAYING ‘SHOULD’
It’s easy to feel bad about yourself if you don’t achieve what you think you ‘should’ be doing. Write down what you feel you ‘should’ do and change the way you think about it.
Rather than saying ‘I should exercise more’, say ‘I like how I feel after I exercise’. Instead of ‘I should clean the windows’, say ‘I like how it feels when the housework is done’. This can lead to a more positive attitude and reduce stress levels.
SEE ‘FORGOTTEN’ LOVED ONES: Make a list of all those friends or relatives you always intend to visit, but rarely do
ONLY EAT RED MEAT ON SUNDAYS
There’s a lot of debate about red meat and precisely how hazardous it is to health but, on balance, there is good research suggesting it’s healthier to reduce our intake.
During the week, swap red meat for other protein, such as lean meats like chicken, turkey or fish. Reducing red meat consumption is also good for the environment.
If you limit yourself to just eating it once a week, you’re more likely to be able to afford better-quality meat, from a local butcher, for example, and avoid processed meats.
USE A DIARY TO KEEP TRACK OF LIFE
We place far too much pressure on ourselves to remember things, then berate ourselves when our memory lets us down.
Use a diary to record all your events and important dates — electronic or paper, it doesn’t matter, but ensure you have it with you at all times.
Also, after the year has ended, keep it as a reminder of what you did and when. It can help remind you of positive achievements and experiences to boost your mood.
TAKE A VITAMIN D SUPPLEMENT
Most of us don’t get enough vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin that our skin makes when exposed to the sun. It is good for the heart and immune system.
We can also get it from food but it’s difficult to get enough from a typical diet, so we rely on the sunshine. In winter months, most of us become deficient.
Take a supplement from the end of September until late March at a minimum. I wear factor 50 every day to protect my skin — as should you, to protect against skin cancer — but it also limits my vitamin D absorption, so I take a supplement all year round.
HAVE A FAMILY MEAL EVERY WEEK
Mealtimes are important — an opportunity for everyone to catch up and reconnect. They’re also vital for spotting problems within the family and working out conflict.
Set aside one mealtime every week and make it clear that it’s expected all family members will attend.
And, obviously, no mobile phones at the table!
SEE ‘FORGOTTEN’ LOVED ONES
Make a list of all those friends or relatives you always intend to visit, but rarely do. These are the people you write Christmas cards to saying ‘We must meet up this year’, and then the year ends and you say the same thing the next year.
Give yourself a year to work your way down the list, contacting the people with concrete dates.
You will be amazed how quickly you reconnect with them, and how a little effort can reap great rewards.
Social networks are important for our health — people who maintain friendships are not only less likely to have depression and anxiety, but are also less likely to suffer heart problems, high blood pressure and strokes.
FINALLY, NEVER SKIP BREAKFAST
Your mum was right, it really is the most important meal of the day.
It helps to kickstart your metabolism and ensures your brain has fuel for the beginning of the day.
If you’re not used to having breakfast, you can find you’re not hungry or feel bloated, but persevere and you will soon wonder how you ever went without it.
If you are rushed for time in the morning, try having a hard-boiled egg, which you can eat on the go like an apple.