No 10 – Revamp your Diet

Healthy eating is the next thing I need to get to grips with in preparation for the Winter months. I find if I can get into good habits in September I am more likely to continue eating well during my gloomy months.

Most people who have ever suffered with SAD will agree that it becomes quite difficult to maintain a healthy diet when they feel low. When we are depressed and lethargic it is quite normal to crave all the bad stuff.

I don’t have a sweet tooth but during Winter I find I reach for the biscuits or chocolate in the evenings. When it’s cold and dark I also feel the need to eat more bread, potatoes and pasta. There is nothing wrong with these foods in moderation. But moderation is the key word. And it’s a word that seems to disappear from my vocabulary when my mood is low and I lack motivation.

This year I have decided to adopt a plant based diet. That doesn’t mean I am suddenly going to become a vegetarian. I like meat too much to give it up completely. But I do want to try and eat a diet that is about 60% plant based. I also want to try and introduce more fish. It is my least favourite food but I know how good it is for me.

I’m hoping that this type of diet will keep me feeling more alert, energetic and happier.

Nutrition is something I have been interested in since school. I studied it at O Level and have taken a few short courses in recent years. I feel that I am fairly knowledgeable and have changed my diet over the years to help with my physical and mental well-being.

When I was going through the menopause I introduced more foods containing phytoestrogens into my diet to help alleviate symptoms. Foods such as oats, soy, beans, flaxseed, sesame seeds and nuts.

When I gave up smoking my immune system hit rock bottom and I suffered from a number of viral infections so again I changed my diet to include more “immune boosting” foods such as spinach, broccoli, red peppers, avocado. kiwi and Greek yoghurt.

On the whole I stick to a 80/20 way of eating. Where for 80% of the week I eat healthy meals and the other 20% I relax my eating habits so I can enjoy a takeaway or a nice meal out.

I have a rather large collection of recipe books and the following are just a few of my favourites.

I can’t talk about food without mentioning Joe Wickes. Two and a half years ago I purchased his 90 Day SSS Plan. This completely changed my way of eating and the result was I lost two stone and dropped two dress sizes. His meals are simple, tasty and nutritious and use everyday ingredients that we all have at home. If you don’t already own one if his books then I definitely recommend buying one. Or follow him on Instagram @thebodycoach for inspiration.

I have followed the Food Medic on Instagram for a while (@thefoodmedic). It was refreshing to find someone who combined food with medicine. I have cooked quite a few recipes from her book including Sticky Soy Salmon with Aubergine and her Fruity Curry.

Another Doctor who has written a book on food and nutrition who is also on Instagram is @doctors_kitchen. Lots of spicy dishes and vegetarian meals.

I remember watching the TV show Doctor in the House a couple of years ago and thinking it was genius. Teaching people to eat for health and to combat illness. This book covers lifestyle as well as nutrition. I think there is definitely a movement towards eating for health and wellbeing rather than weight loss. Something I have always been a fan of. He is also on Instagram @drchatterjee

This is the most recent book I purchased. It is so good I read it cover to cover in one day. Honestly one if the best books on nutrition I have read. It educates you with the science, busts the food myths (which I applaud as I am totally against any kind of eating plan that encourages giving up a particular food group). It has some really good recipes and teaches you how to get all the nutrients you need into your diet. Very informative and a real eye opener. Follow her on Instagram @pixienutrition

If you are interested in any of the books I have mentioned then click on the pictures to take you to Amazon.

Here are a couple of meals I have thrown together this week inspired from the books above.

Tandoori Salmon, Potato Crisps and Stir Fried Veg topped with Feta Cheese.

Vegetable Singapore Noodles

Both of these meals literally took less than 20 mins to make, are filling and healthy.

I am a big fan of meal planning. I have done this for years. When I was a single parent with a low income my food shopping budget was very strict and I certainly couldn’t afford to waste food so I always planned meals on a fortnightly basis. I still have this same mentality now and it also means I am less likely to opt for a takeaway or convenience food when I am feeling low.

I tend to follow a regular pattern when planning my meals which fits in around my work schedule. Mine is something like this :

Monday

Always something quick and easy as I finish work later on a Monday. So I will have either pre-cooked something on Sunday that can be heated up or we will have a slow cooker meal that just needs to be served.

Tuesday

This is fish or seafood night as again it’s quick and easy to prepare and cook after a busy day at work.

Wednesday

I tend to cook a vegetarian meal on Wednesdays. Using up the last of the vegetables that I bought at the weekend.

Thursday

This is the day I tend to finish work a little earlier and the night we tend to go out. We might do a spot of late night shopping, go to the cinema or pop to our local pub for a drink. So on this night we will either have a takeaway or heat up leftovers from the freezer. There are always portions of curry or chilli in my freezer.

Friday

After a busy week at work Friday is my day off from cooking. So my husband normally takes over in the kitchen. If we didn’t have a takeaway the night before then we might have one tonight. Otherwise it will normally be a stir fry or a pasta dish.

Saturday

If we are not going out then I love to spend more time cooking something nice on a Saturday. This will often be a feast of little dishes. Usually something Mediterranean inspired.

Sunday

Sunday is always meat and more often than not served with potatoes. If it’s not a Roast then it might be cottage pie, steak and homemade chips or a chicken and sweet potato dish. Today I am cooking pulled pork with vegetable ragu and mini roasted potatoes.

I have already planned this week’s meals as you can see below.

Hopefully my planning and collection of recipe books will help me stick to a healthy diet over the Winter months and ensure that I feel as good as possible.

Are you a fan of meal planning? What do you have on your menu this week? I love trying new recipes so would love to get some ideas from you all.

Thank you for reading.

Love Melanie xxx

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and if your symptoms are severe you should seek advice from your Doctor. The tips I share and the lifestyle changes I make during the Winter months are based on advice and information I have gained over 15 years. They are tried and tested methods that work for me, but everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another.

No 9 – Look to the Light

Following on from my previous post. Get Outside.

If you really struggle to get outside and your mood is still low then there is the option of using an artificial light box. These are best used daily for about 20-30 minutes at a time. And there is medical evidence that they are effective in the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Light boxes emit between 2,500 – 10,000 lux, which is about the same as the light outside at dawn or dusk. On average light emitted in homes is around 500 lux. In order to get the best results from light therapy evidence suggests that they are best used in the morning and you should start using it as soon as Autumn starts. Do not look straight into the light box, instead it is best used placed on a desk or table while you carry out normal activities. My tip is to be consistent in the use of the lamp. Use it every day at the roughly the same time of time for the same amount of time. You may find that the more you use it you can slowly reduce the amount of time or the intensity of the light.

This morning I have dug my SAD Light (as I call it) out of its box and placed it on my dressing table. I will now switch this on every morning so I am exposed to it while getting ready for work each morning. Although I usually only spend 10-15 minutes on my beauty routine and make up in the morning during the Winter months I will also drink my morning cuppa and eat breakfast at my dressing table (usually while having a little scroll through Instagram). This increases the amount of time I spend in front of the lamp to about 30 minutes.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on one of these lamps. I bought mine in Argos 10 years ago and it is still going strong (touch wood). This is the same as the one I bought and you can vary the intensity of the light too. Available at Amazon for under £50 here

Here are a couple of other options at different price ranges.

This is the cheapest I have found. And roughly the same price as I paid for mine. Available here at Amazon for £39.99

There are some nice looking slimline versions on the market now. Like this one. Available here at Amazon. Currently priced under £50. This is the one I think I would purchase if I needed to replace my old one.

And then if you have a little more money to spend then I like this one as it looks more like a proper desk lamp. Also available at Amazon.

If you don’t want to invest in a light box you can also use daylight light bulbs. I have a couple of these that I use only in the Winter months, I pop them in the rooms where I spend most time. So I have one in the Lounge and another in the lamp on my bedside table. The difference between these light bulbs and regular light bulbs is that they omit full spectrum light which is as close to natural daylight as it is possible to get. You can find these online and also on the high street. They are not proven to be as effective as the SAD lamps but well worth a try if your symptoms are less severe.

So while I will always recommend getting outside in natural daylight, I know that when you have a busy life and it is cold and raining, it is not always possible. Light therapy is a great alternative to help alleviate some of the symptoms of SAD.

Thank you for reading.

Love Melanie xxxx

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and if your symptoms are severe you should seek advice from your Doctor. The tips I share and the lifestyle changes I make during the Winter months are based on advice and information I have gained over 15 years. They are tried and tested methods that work for me, but everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another.

No 8 – Get Outside

I know that when it is cold and wet during the Winter months the last thing any of us want to do is venture outside. Particularly those of us who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Let’s face it all we want to do is curl up on the sofa under a blanket and hibernate. People with SAD tend to feel extremely tired during the darker months and any kind of activity is a big effort.

But as hard as it might be getting outside for 10-15 minutes each day, particular during the middle of the day, is one of the best things you can do to help increase energy levels and life your mood. Even during the cloudiest of days Vitamin D is absorbed by the skin and it has been proven that maintaining your levels of this Vitamin can help alleviate symptoms of depression.

Natural daylight is beneficial to your wellbeing. It helps regulate sleep, food digestion, appetite and energy levels.

Some of my worst bouts of Seasonal Affective Disorder were during the years I worked in an office in London .I used to get up in the dark, travel to London, spend all day in an office and then leave work in the dark to travel home. I quite often didn’t see daylight for five days of the week. During this time I found that my sleep was disrupted, I felt sluggish, craved sugar and carbs and was less motivated to do anything. When I moved to the countryside two years ago and started working in a school I found my symptoms were less severe.

Because I work closer to home I am leaving later in the morning so it is lighter. I have a five minute walk every morning to school and often pop outside at lunchtime for a while to supervise the children. Also at the weekends I find I get outside more often, my surroundings are more pleasant and living in a Village means that I often walk to the local shops rather than jump in the car to drive to the Supermarket. There has definitely been an improvement in my mood in the Winter months.

Now I am not saying that you all have to move out of the City but wherever you live there are small things that you could do to gain a little exposure to the sunlight.

Try walking to a local shop instead of driving, take the kids to the park for 10-15 minutes, if you commute try getting off your bus/train at a different stop and walk the rest of the way, make a point of popping out for a walk around the block during your lunch break or if you do the school run how about parking a little further away and walk the last five minutes. Do you have a couple of friends that you can go for a walk with? I have a couple of ladies that I have met up with one evening a week to go for a walk. The nice thing about this is that we are so busy chatting that we don’t even notice the walking. And before we know it we have walked a couple of miles. I am sure you can think of plenty of ways to get outside once a day. Try anything to get a little exposure. Plus the exercise will be good for you too.

Something I have tried to do over this last year is get out on a Sunday for a walk with my husband. I have started taking my camera with me which makes me notice my surroundings and takes my mind off the fact that I am outside in the cold. If you have a local pub or café then there is even more incentive to take a walk, as you can stop for coffee, lunch or even a glass of wine. If you don’t then you could always drive to one and do a circular walk. I have a list of country pubs in Kent I would like to visit, so we plan to drive, park at the pub, do a short walk and then end up back at the pub for a drink or lunch. My reward for getting outside.

I know this is not rocket science and I am not telling you something you don’t already know. But whilst we all know the benefits, how many of us actually get outside and reap the rewards. My tip is to involve other people. If you tell your husband or the kids that on Sunday’s you will go out for a walk or visit the park, you can be sure they will remind you and make sure that you stick to your plan. Take your camera and take a note of your surroundings. I can guarantee you will suddenly see new things in your local area that you probably have not noticed before.

Here are some of my favourite photos that I have taken over the last couple of weeks. Things I have come across that I would not have seen if I hadn’t pushed myself to get out of the house. And as much as I sometimes really don’t want to go I always feel better for it afterwards.

Thank you for reading.

Love Melanie xxxx

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and if your symptoms are severe you should seek advice from your Doctor. The tips I share and the lifestyle changes I make during the Winter months are based on advice and information I have gained over 15 years. They are tried and tested methods that work for me, but everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another.

No 7 – Something for the Weekend

I’m not an introvert by nature. I am a social butterfly. I love to be out and about socialising and mixing with people. But between October and March I seem to have a personality transplant. I turn into a social hermit. I become shy and insecure. I suddenly become a wallflower, someone who doesn’t want to be seen or heard.

I find that I want to run away and hide from any social occasion. Even a trip to our local pub (a place I always feel at home) becomes a struggle. My husband is very good at pulling me out of hibernation and getting me out of the house. But it’s not easy.

When I am faced with a social event I feel the tension and stress building for days beforehand. I don’t know why. It could be any number of reasons. But ultimately if my mood is low then I generally lack self esteem. I don’t feel good about myself. Finding an appropriate outfit is a huge task, when usually I love nothing more than planning an what I am going to wear. I can’t really put into words how I feel. Maybe because I haven’t yet made sense of it myself. Dealing with my Seasonal Affective Disorder is a constant journey of self discovery.

What I do know is that I will try to come up with any excuse to get out of a social event. Sometimes I even get as far as walking out the front door when I suddenly decide I can’t face it. Thank God I have such a patient husband.

However, I believe, however hard, it is important to get out and socialise during the SAD months. As much as I dread it. If I do get out I usually have a really good time, although I do limit my alcohol intake these days as it is a mood depressant. And whilst you may have a great time while you are drinking I can guarantee you will feel very low the next couple of days. Something I have learnt from experience.

To try and ensure I get out and socialise we make a point of planning ahead. The idea behind organising nights or days out in advance is that if they have been paid for in advance then it makes it impossible for me to back out at the last minuite, as lets face it no one wants to waste money. And I for one certainly does not want to waste my husbads money.

So we make plans for things where we have to book and pay in advance. Which is why we always end up with a West End theatre trip in the Winter.

My birthday is in November so we always try to book a night away in a Spa hotel, which also includes dinner. I always love these weekends as I don’t have to venture too far from the hotel. It’s relaxing but I also get the opportunity to dress up and enjoy time with my husband. Last year I was a little more adventurous as I combined my Birthday hotel trip with a meet up with an Instagram friend and her husband. I had a fabulous time and for once didn’t feel uneasy.

This year I am pushing myself even further out of my comfort zone. As part of my CPD training at work I am travelling to Birmingham on my own to attend a two day School Business Manager conference, which includes staying away from home on my own for two nights and attending a gala dinner with a couple of hundred people I have never met before. As the event finishes on a Friday afternoon two days before my Birthday my husband is going to drive up to pick me up and we are going to find a spa hotel to stay in somewhere between Birmingham and London. If anyone knows of anywhere nice please let me know.

A couple of other ideas we have to get me out of the house this year include a trip to Shepherd Neame Brewery for a tour, supper and beer tasting. Tickets to the theatre to see Strictly Ballroom and a day out at the Ideal Home Christmas Show.

Something I really do look forward to every Winter is a short holiday in the Sun. For about 10 years I have taken my main holiday over Christmas. We normally head to the Algarve. Which is about 18 – 20 degrees. Not quite bikini weather but each day gives me a good 8 hours of sunshine. Which boosts my serotonin levels and seems to give me a “happy boost” which lasts a good six weeks. Usually enough to see me through the worst weeks of my depression. I know not everyone has money to spare but if you can afford even a few days away to a warm sunny spot during Winter then I would highly recommend it.

So whilst this isn’t a daily habit, it is something that is on my mind each day. I try to take the pressure off by not agreeing to something that I know I won’t want to go to. I have learnt that it’s ok to say no. And just do things that you really want to do. This certainly makes each day a little less stressful and I will no longer dread the weekends.

Do you feel less inclined to socialise during the Winter? How do you manage your social life when all you want to do is hibernate?

Thank you for reading.

Love Melanie xxx

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and if your symptoms are severe you should seek advice from your Doctor. The tips I share and the lifestyle changes I make during the Winter months are based on advice and information I have gained over 15 years. They are tried and tested methods that work for me, but everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another.

No 6 – You are what you wear – Organising my Wardrobe

Planning my Outfit

Now how is this going to help with the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder I hear you ask? Well obviously this is no physical cure like the other habits. But psychologically it does lift my mood and helps me feel good about myself, which in turn benefits my mental health.

Clothes are a good representation of how we feel. How many of you just throw on something old and unflattering when you are feeling low? How many of you don’t bother with your appearance when you are tired or depressed?

I’m guilty of both of these. The outcome of this is that when I look in the mirror I don’t generally like what I see, which then actually just makes me feel worse. An outfit that makes you look and feel good can have a massive impact on your mood and your mental health. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. We all know that if you want to lift your mood then putting a bit of make-up on and getting dressed in something you love is always going to make you feel good. So why don’t we do this when we are feeling low? I don’t have the answer !

But in recent years, partly due to my current job, I have tried to make an effort with my appearance every day. Which is one of the reasons I have a big wardrobe overhaul just before Autumn. Our bodies change over the course of the year, so what looked good last Winter may not look good this Winter. I go through and get rid of anything that doesn’t make me feel great. I also throw out all those baggy old sweats that have seen better days, because if they are in my wardrobe I can guarantee I will end up spending my life kicking around the house in these.

I try to start the new A/W season excited about my wardrobe. I will buy a few new pieces. I tend to make myself a list of things I would really love to own so I don’t just buy all the new trends, most of which probably won’t suit me. I also invest in some new loungewear. New pyjamas are a must and a couple of new joggers and sweatshirts, because after work I just want to put on something comfortable. But comfortable doesn’t have to mean scruffy or ugly.

When I am sorting through my wardrobe I also try to create a few “go to” outfits. You know the type I am talking about. Ones that you can throw together without much thought that you know are going to look good.

A dressy outfit for that impromptu date night.

An outfit for an evening in the pub with friends.

Something casual that you can throw on for a last minute trip to the shops.

When I am trying things on, anything I am not loving either gets sent to the charity shop or goes in a box under the bed (if it is a nice item but I am just not feeling it, I may like it next year so that is why I keep it). I also photograph some of the outfits and keep them on my phone. This definitely helps me see if a) it looks good and b) gives me inspiration at a later date when I am struggling to put an outfit together, usually because I am feeling low.

I have to admit I find it very therapeutic taking everything out of my wardrobe, sorting it all out, and then putting it all back and organising it into styles and colours. I am a little OCD about my wardrobe. Something I learnt from a very old Trinny & Susannah book.

Obviously this process is not a daily habit, but it is the start of my habit of organising my outfits the night before.

When I am working I am up and out the door before 7.30am. I have to dress smart for work and as a Senior Leader in the school I like to make an effort with my appearance. If I feel good then I know I will be in a better mood which means I am better at my job and more productive. During my S.A.D months the mornings are always a struggle for me. I find I am very sluggish in the mornings. It takes me longer to get up and get motivated and my mood is often a little low, which is why I get up an hour before anyone else, so I can have some time to myself and avoid biting the head off anyone who dare talk to me, or sometimes even look at me (that’s on a really bad day).

With my mood like this in the mornings I am unlikely to make good outfit choices. And I know I will end up wearing something that I don’t feel great in and that will generally make for a bad day.

So my daily habit for Day 6 is to plan and lay out my outfit the night before. I will always do this as soon as I get in from work as that is normally when I feel my best. That way regardless of how low my mood is during the SAD months, at least I will look good. And we all know how much better we feel when we love what we see in the mirror.

Thank you for reading.

Love Melanie xxxx

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and if your symptoms are severe you should seek advice from your Doctor. The tips I share and the lifestyle changes I make during the Winter months are based on advice and information I have gained over 15 years. They are tried and tested methods that work for me, but everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another.

No 5 – “Me Time” is not a luxury

How many of you put aside time every single day for a little “Me Time”? Not many of you I bet. I know this is especially hard for those with children. My children have left home so there is only me and my husband, oh and one very spoilt cat, in my house but I am still really bad at taking time out on my own to do something I enjoy.

Women are the worst at finding time to look after themselves, men seem to be able to switch off and hide away quite easily. We need to take a leaf out of their books. Even 15 minutes a day is beneficial. Doing something that you love for even a short while is an instant mood lifter. Although I will add that scrolling through Instagram does not count and I will touch on why later.

Today I am going to make a concerted effort to put aside at least 15 minutes every day for a little “Me Time”. I have created a little list of things that I love to do. One tip if you are going to try and do this is to take yourself off to your bedroom or another room where you can be alone and let the rest of your family know not to disturb you, unless of course, god forbid, there is a major emergency in the house. If you can try and do this when another adult is around then they of course could deal with the kids or pets or whatever else crops up. After all 15 minutes is really not a long time but definitely long enough to recharge your batteries and do something to lift your mood or make you smile.

Some of the things I have added to my list include:

Enjoying a coffee (only in the mornings) or a small glass of wine while flicking through a fashion magazine

Listening to some relaxing music or a meditation app such as Headspace or Calm with my headphones on (it drowns everybody out)

Giving myself a beauty treat (one of my favourites as this gives an instant mood lift) such as a face mask, painting my nails, applying fake tan. I subscribe to the Look Fantastic Beauty Box every month so I always have some high end beauty products that I specially use for treat time.

Cleaning (yes I know this is a chore but I love to clean especially while listening to some upbeat dance music, I am a big Snoop Dogg fan and I normally have a little boogie at the same time)

Going for a brisk walk around the block with my headphones on. I normally combine this with a trip to our local Coop to pick up any essentials, rather than take the car. This is great because a) it gets you outside in the fresh air (remember that Vitamin D) and b) you get a little exercise too which releases those endorphins.

Writing in a Journal. Which I must admit I tend to do during my low months. I don’t find I need them during Spring or Summer. Last Christmas I received two really good ones. Happy The Journal by Fearne Cotton and 52 Lists for Happiness. Both are aimed at making you reflect on positive things in life.

Both available from Amazon

And if I am able to find a little more time, then nothing beats watching an episode of my favourite uplifting TV show. I love a little “trashy” TV and one that is guaranteed to cheer me up is any of the Real Housewives shows. Although my favourites are New York and Beverly Hills.

So there are some of my ideas. Why don’t you try to make a list of things you love to do. I know friends who enjoy things like baking, knitting, colouring and meditating (I would love to be able to do this but have yet to master the art of switching my brain off).

The idea of your “Me Time” is to switch off, relax and release some of those “happy hormones” and so your phone/IPad should be put to one side. Scrolling through Instagram is not something that I think should be included on anyone’s list. Don’t get me wrong I love nothing more than sitting down with a drink for 10 minutes and catching up with everyone’s posts and stories, but whilst this is enjoyable, if your mental health is not in a positive phase then it can trigger feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. It is easy to forget that most peoples Instagram posts are the very best version of their lives. It is not always a true reflection of reality and that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that. It’s a world of escapism and we all need that sometimes. But for those of us that suffer from any form of depression, which goes hand in hand with low self-esteem or low self-confidence it can sometimes enhance these negative feelings we may have about ourselves. This is then not the best use of your “Me Time” because the outcome is likely to be that you feel worse than you did before you took your time out. During my SAD months I try to avoid social media when I am feeling low.

The other thing that I will avoid when feeling low and therefore will not appear on my “Me Time” list is online shopping. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, we all know that we experience an instant high when we shop, but this satisfaction disappears quite quickly and one of two things happen. You either end up feeling depressed or anxious because maybe you have spent money you didn’t have or you end up shopping more because that high feeling becomes addictive.

Also I know that I make really bad shopping choices when I am in a period of negative mental health. And yes I know items can be returned but if I am honest, anyone who suffers from S.A.D will tell you that normal everyday things become harder to do during this period of the year, even returning unwanted items, so inevitably you end up missing the returns deadline, leaving you with something you don’t like or want, which you then end up wearing, because none of us likes to waste money, which then fuels the low mood. It’s a vicious cycle ladies. I know from experience. Which is why I create a list for Autumn/Winter purchases (more about my wardrobe planning in the next few days) and where possible try to buy most of these before the middle of October, which is when my Seasonal Affective Disorder tends to hit me.

If you have read to the end of this post then I hope you are feeling motivated to find a little time each day to do something positive and uplifting. I would love to hear what things you are all going to do. I am always looking for new ideas.

Thank you for reading.

Love Melanie xxxx

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and if your symptoms are severe you should seek advice from your Doctor. The tips I share and the lifestyle changes I make during the Winter months are based on advice and information I have gained over 15 years. They are tried and tested methods that work for me, but everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another.

No 4 – Pop a Pill

I first have to say I am not an advocate of pushing pills. I have always hated taking any kind of medication or tablet. I was bought up with grandparents that always opted for a natural remedy or an old wives tale to cure anything and everything and that has always been my mentality.

I rarely take headache tablets, I will try every other remedy going before I pop a painkiller. When I had depression including post-natal depression I refused point blank to take anti-depressants, that the doctor wanted to prescribe me. And when I went through the early menopause in my late 30’s / early 40’s I was adamant I would get through it without resorting to HRT.

Now this is just me, obviously there are times when medication is vital and if I am very ill I will take antibiotics (as a last resort).

Having studied nutrition at O Level I also don’t believe in popping vitamin and mineral supplements unnecessarily, as most of what you need can be found in a balanced diet.
However, in recent years I have spent time doing a lot more research into ways to alleviate symptoms of the menopause and ways to minimise mental health problems such as depression, particularly seasonal affective disorder. I also now have a better understanding about how the body functions during different stages in life. As we get older (particularly post menopause) our bodies change and certain functions slow down. And sometimes it is necessary to take a pill to ensure that you are as healthy as possible.

When I was diagnosed with early menopause I was instructed by the doctor that I would need to take a Calcium supplement to prevent osteoporosis. There was a family history of this in both my grandmother and great-grandmother (both went through early menopause). So I take this daily and have done since my late 30’s.

When it comes to my mental health, I do take a couple of supplements to help me. Thirteen years ago I completed a round of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to help change my mind-set. This really had a positive effect on my life and taught me how to manage my depression. But it is not a cure. In order to really maintain a level of control over my moods and minimise the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder I take both B12 supplements and Vitamin D and very occasionally Magnesium.

VITAMIN D

Solgar Vitamin D

Taking a Vitamin D supplement can help alleviate the severity of Seasonal Affective Disorder, although sunlight is the best source of Vitamin D so the best thing to do us get outside. I don’t know about you but I find that I spend far less time outside in the Winter than in the Summer. And I know that when I am feeling low or depressed I am even less likely to want to venture outside of the home. For this reason I only take Vitamin D in the Winter months. During the Summer I get my dose from being outside so I don’t believe I need a supplement.

VITAMIN B12

Nu U Nutrition Vitamin B12

I was only introduced to Vitamin B12 a few years ago. During and immediately after the Menopause I suffered my worst periods of depression for quite some time. I think the Menopause increased the severity of my S.A.D. It bought with it insomnia, anxiety and brain fog, symptoms that were new to me. A friend recommended B12 and I was willing to give anything at a try at that point because I was struggling to function at work and basically went into hibernation because I didn’t want to leave the house. It took about a month for me to notice the effects but I once it had got into my system I found that my mood lifted and the fog cleared. I was able to think clearly and be more productive at work. To put it bluntly it helped me enjoy life again. I take this supplement all year round. I did skip a week once when I ran out and hadn’t ordered anymore. After 3 days I really noticed the effects. I was falling asleep at 8pm, I lacked concentration, was clumsy and forgetful and very irritable. As soon as I was back on the tablets I felt better within a couple of days.
The brain and the body’s nervous systems rely on B Vitamins and you can obtain them from eating a healthy diet, particularly things like red meat, fish, brown rice, eggs, milk, cheese, spinach, broccoli, bananas and citrus fruits. But it is very difficult to obtain B12 from a healthy diet, so if you need it to help with the effects of the menopause or depression then a supplement can be the best option. You can also get B12 injections, but for me that would be too much effort to have to venture out to get them (particularly during my low months).

MAGNESIUM

Solgar Magnesium Citrate

Magnesium is another supplement that I have taken sporadically. I only really use it if my symptoms are severe. Although it certainly helps me feel relaxed and sleep better, but it also causes dehydration and can leave me feeling a little sluggish in the mornings (in fact I would even say that it makes me feel like I have a hangover). Epson Salts contain magnesium and a hot bath with these is a brilliant way to feel relaxed and aid a good night’s sleep, but unfortunately we do not have a bath in my new home so if I feel I need a magnesium boost I take it in tablet form. I always take it just before bed and usually within an hour of taking it I am fast asleep. So I use in sparingly (usually at the weekend) and only if I have had several nights of disrupted sleep. My top tip if you are going to use a magnesium supplement is never take it in the morning (unless you want to fall asleep) and always drink plenty of water to prevent the dehydration.

So there is my round up of the supplements I take. If you are considering taking any supplements it is always a good idea to check with a medical professional first. If your levels are already good then taking more than you need can have adverse effects on your health. I am also not endorsing a particular brand, but have linked the ones that I buy as an example.

Thank you for reading.

Love Melanie xxxx

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and if your symptoms are severe you should seek advice from your Doctor. The tips I share and the lifestyle changes I make during the Winter months are based on advice and information I have gained over 15 years. They are tried and tested methods that work for me, but everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another.

No 3 – Cutting the Caffeine

Yesterday I started the habit to drink more water and I am pleased to say I hit 3 litres pretty easily.

Today’s new habit is to cut the caffeine. Now I am not advocating giving up caffeine altogether. I for one could never do that. I have tried in the past and it’s just ridiculous to live without tea or coffee. And it has been proven that one or two cups a day are actually beneficial for your health as both contain antioxidants.

There was a time, when I was a smoker, that I was drinking up to 15 cups of coffee a day. I associated having a cigarette with having a cup of coffee. I can’t even believe that I drank that much caffeine. But what shocks me even more is I how I managed to find the time. I rarely have time now to sit down and have a cup of coffee.

When I quit smoking eight years ago I decided that I needed to cut the coffee intake, particularly as the two went hand in hand. Initially I stopped altogether. This was a disaster. The headaches were intense and I was anxious and bad tempered. I was not a pleasure to live with. Can you imagine coming face to face with someone who has not only quit nicotine (I went cold turkey) but quit caffeine too !! Very scary !!

I did try to drink tea instead but it just wasn’t the same. I am a coffee drinker. I like it strong and black with no sugar. (I have to add before anyone suggests it, decaffeinated coffee is vile). So I reintroduced coffee and managed to settle on about four cups a day. I also have a morning cup of tea, which is better for you than coffee, but I may be phasing that out as I have become intolerant to milk lately and to be honest I just don’t enjoy it anymore.

Coffee is not the devil but too much coffee particularly later in the day does have an adverse effect on my mood. I struggle to focus and my concentration goes out the window. I also don’t sleep well if I drink too much caffeine and lack of sleep is guaranteed to make me feel low the next day.

Here a few of the effects caused by drinking too much caffeine, do you recognise any of these? If so it may be time to take a look at your caffeine intake.

Jitters, Restlessness, and Nervousness.
Increased heartbeat.
Nausea.
Anxiety.
Heart palpitations (cardiac arrhythmia)
Insomnia.
Sweating.
Dizziness

So starting today I am going to minimise my caffeine intake to just two or three cups a day and only in the mornings. I have also swapped my large mug for a smaller cup so drinking slightly smaller amounts at any one time. If I do feel I need a hot drink in the afternoon, especially in the colder weather, then I will opt for a cup of herbal tea. But remember that Green Tea, although very good for you, does contain caffeine. I tend to drink the fruit versions and I love a cup of camomile tea in the evening as it relaxes me before bedtime. Sage tea is another of my favourites, it is an acquired taste, but is it very beneficial for digestive symptoms, anxiety and depression and is great for anyone dealing with hot flushes!! So if you are struggling with the menopause or peri-menopause I would definitely recommend this.

I hope you found this useful and thank you for reading.

Love Melanie xxxx

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and if your symptoms are severe you should seek advice from your Doctor. The tips I share and the lifestyle changes I make during the Winter months are based on advice and information I have gained over 15 years. They are tried and tested methods that work for me, but everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another.

No 2 – The best health and beauty product available

Today I got off to a good start with another workout completed at 6am. Today I am introducing habit number 2, which is to drink a minimum of 2 litres of water a day.

I go through phases where I am really good at drinking lots of water and then other times, particularly when I am busy at work, I forget and rely on coffee to get me through the day.

When I am going through a “good phase” I am pretty organised with my water intake. One thing I do without fail, is drink a pint of warm lemon water every morning when I get up (after my workout). I keep a fruit infusing water bottle in the fridge filled with slices of lemon. I use this to fill a pint glass to a about ¾ full and then top up with the boiling water from the kettle, that I am using to make my morning cuppa. These diffuser bottles are relatively cheap. Most of the supermarkets sell them. I have the Savisto Tritan one which I bought from Amazon.

When I am at work I have a bottle of water on my desk. I aim to drink one bottle before lunch and another in the afternoon, then in the evening I have another pint of water before and after my dinner. I find this is a great way of stopping the post dinner snacking too.

It is always easier in the warmer months to drink water. I know that during cold weather we all just want a nice hot drink to warm us up. That doesn’t mean you have to stop drinking water. I switch to herbal tea and also fill my glass or bottle with half cold and half boiling water. Personally I prefer drinking warm water to cold. There are some suggestions that warm water is better for you than cold. And warm water is very good after a meal as it aids digestion.

I also use an App on my phone to track my water intake. There are several available but I like one which is called “My Water Balance” available on both iTunes and Google Play.

You set your target daily intake and then just add your drinks. You can also set alerts to remind you to drink water throughout the day. I have recently paid to upgrade to the Pro Version so that I can also track my alcohol intake. It’s quite an eye opener when you add your alcoholic drinks because the app automatically increases the amount of water you should be drinking that day. We all know that alcohol dehydrates us. So you need to remember that if you are enjoying that glass of wine you need to drink more water that day to hit your target.
I find that once I have done a week of this it does become easier.

I am not going to bore you with a lecture on why we should drink water. We all know the benefits such as making our skin healthier, our hair shinier and curbing hunger, which then helps us maintain weight and a flat tummy. But did you know that it also has an impact on your brain function and your moods.
It has been proven that water consumption improves your memory, reduces stress, improves cognitive capacity and aids better sleep. Studies have shown a link between depression and dehydration because 85% of brain tissue is water. Dehydration causes energy generation in the brain to decrease. So, lack of water can be contributed to changes in moods. If you are prone to low moods/depression then drinking plenty of water is even more important.

I know that when I am drinking at least 2 litres of water a day I feel happier and more alert. I find that I am more productive and my concentration levels are much higher. When I look in the mirror I can see that I look healthier and my eyes are brighter. All of these things impact on my mood. So it makes sense that if I feel good about my appearance and I am more mentally alert then my mood is better and I feel happier. If I don’t drink enough water then I am tired and sluggish, I lack concentration and nothing seems to stimulate me. I will generally be unhappy with what I see in the mirror, as inevitably my skin is dull and dry and my tummy will be bloated. All of these things affect my mood (yes I am vain) and for someone like me who suffers from Mental Health problems, it becomes a downward spiral of self-loathing and depression. And let me tell you it is pretty hard to dig yourself out of that dark hole once you are in it.

We all spend time and money on beauty products, creams and lotions to help us look our best. But one of the cheapest and most effective health and beauty products is there in your kitchen, available at any time, with just the turn of a tap.

So are you now off to drink that pint of water? I know I am.

Thank you for reading.

Love Melanie xxxx

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and if your symptoms are severe you should seek advice from your Doctor. The tips I share and the lifestyle changes I make during the Winter months are based on advice and information I have gained over 15 years. They are tried and tested methods that work for me, but everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another.

No 1 – Workout for your mind, not just for your body

Over the next few weeks I am going to introduce a new habit to my daily routine to try and prepare myself for the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I will share my tips and the things that work for me. Hopefully there will be something new that you take away with you that helps you through the Winter months.
The first and most important thing I find that helps me maintain a strong mind and healthy body is exercise. I’m not talking hours spent in the gym each week but a small amount of exercise every day. I don’t take a rest day as I tend to prefer to maintain the same daily routine. In the past I have found that even one day out of routine can lead to two, three or four days of not exercising and once I get to that stage I find it hard to get back on track.

I always exercise first thing in the morning, if I don’t work out as soon as I get up it is unlikely to happen. And I definitely won’t do it in the evening after a long day at work. So I have my gym kit beside my bed and pop it straight on in the morning. I have to admit most mornings when I get up at 6am in the dark the last thing I want to do is exercise but once I have done my short workout I instantly feel more energetic and awake and find that I am more alert and ready to face the day when I arrive at work.

My workouts may be short but they are effective for me. I am not exercising for weight loss but to trigger those happy hormones and generally maintain my health throughout the Winter months. Which is very important when working in a Primary School otherwise you tend to end up with all those bugs that the lovely children like to share.

So what do I do?

I plan a different type of exercise each day so as not to get bored. They each last 15 – 20 mins on a work morning and on the weekends I will go to the gym on a Saturday morning with my husband for a 30-40 min session which usually includes a little cardio (10 mins on the treadmill or rowing machine) followed by circuits and weights. On a Sunday my exercise normally happens in the afternoon. This may be swimming or a long walk (which is quite nice as this often ends up with coffee and cake or a pub lunch).

During the week I alternate between HIIT, Weights and Yoga. HIIT training is easy to do and there are plenty of videos on YouTube to follow. I tend to follow the Bodycoach ones and you can search for 10 or 15 min HIIT workouts. I also find that once I have done a specific routine a few times I don’t need the video and using an Interval Trainer App on my phone I can create my own workout of basic exercises such as squats, burpees, lunges, push-ups and mountain climbers etc. I usually do 30 seconds of the exercise followed by 30 seconds rest in-between. Five different exercises repeated three times gives you a good 15 min workout. You can do the same using weights too. I might do bicep curls, overhead tricep extensions, shoulder presses, deadlifts and kettlebell swings to get my heart pumping.

When it comes to other workouts I use DVDs. One of my favourites at the moment is Davina’s Toned in 10. Two of these workouts are great and add a bit of variety too. You can buy the DVD on Amazon for £11.99 or download if you have Amazon Prime for £7.99.

This year I have decided to set myself a challenge for September. Cancer Research are running Sweatember.

The challenge is to exercise every day in September to raise money for life-saving research.

Why not sign up here.

It’s certainly a motivator for getting moving for a whole month. I am hoping that this then becomes a habit and makes exercising each day even easier.

If you don’t want to sign up but fancy helping me raise some money for charity my Justgiving page is here.

So I hope you found this useful. I smashed Day 1 with a morning Kettlebell/Weights HIIT workout. Tomorrow I am planning this 15 min Total Body HIIT workout by the Bodycoach on YouTube

Thank you for reading.

Love Melanie xxxx

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and if your symptoms are severe you should seek advice from your Doctor. The tips I share and the lifestyle changes I make during the Winter months are based on advice and information I have gained over 15 years. They are tried and tested methods that work for me, but everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another.