Because spring cleaning is overrated and seeing as the weather’s miserable we may as well do it now…

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January needn’t be one long slog of diets, deprivation and sensible behaviour; doom, gloom and a lack of fun isn’t how we relish beginning our year, that’s for sure. A refresh and a reset on the other hand, does tend to feel good, especially if we’ve taken on bad habits and are feeling stressed out by our surroundings, social media feeds or contents of our fridge (a strange mishmash of leftover stilton and soggy lettuce…). Don’t wait until lambs are frolicking and birds are tweeting to clean up your act; by then you’ll be wanting to get out there and join them. Sort your life stuff out now to get in the swing for 2016. A fridge well stocked with wholesome fare, a shipshape workspace and a clear mind will make the rest of the year a picnic.

Makeover your mind

According to a survey of 2000 women conducted by Weightwatchers, the average woman criticises herself at least eight times a day. It seems our relationships with ourselves are far from rosy, and we berate ourselves far more when in front of the mirror than in any other situation, although 60% of participants experience a continual onslaught of self-critical thoughts throughout the day on regular occasions. Career, finances and relationships are our biggest targets after appearance, and in at number 17 is the concern that we’re not ‘as organised as other women’. Perhaps getting our thoughts in order and vowing to be a lot, lot kinder during these self-chat sessions might nip that one in the bud; clinical hypnotherapist, NLP practitioner and mindfulness coach Terrence The Teacher  has some pointers on positivity:

“Let’s look at de-cluttering the mind, thinking clearly, finding ways to stay calm and getting things done without getting freaked out and always staying positive.”

“First, I would liked to pose a few questions. How do top athletes deal with their various events on the competition day? How does a pilot keep a plane safely in flight? How do actors perform their roles perfectly on the night of the show? The answer would be straightforward; they go through training, practice and loads of preparation.”

“This is where the secret lies. For a person to be able to deal with stresses, stay clear headed, hold on to focus and maintain a positive mindset, they have to put in the work. It is not about being reactive, but rather pro-active."

“The practice of mindfulness, meditation and even self-hypnosis on a regular basis has been proven to help people in every area of their lives. The power word of the moment is "mindfulness" for a reason. By learning to live more mindfully and just be in the moment, we can create a fresh new way of being.”

“Loads of research has been done around the daily practice of mindfulness and meditation. It has been proven to change people psychologically and even physiologically. Parts of the brain that deal with stress responses, clear thinking and positivity actually change perceivably and noticeably. The best aspect is that it only takes practicing between five to fifteen minutes a day to see change.”

“These different exercises teach you to clear your mind from distracting thoughts, to focus on the present moment and to feel calm. Brain waves slow down, heart rate slows down and so does the breath.  All physiological proof of a positive response in the body! Daily practice will help the individual to deal with day to day stresses better, to feel more relaxed, to perform more efficiently in tasks that come their way and to remain positive.”

“There are various exercises to do but I found the following one easy to learn personally. Another advantage is that it can be carried out wherever you may be. It’s called, ‘Being with the Breath’:

Make yourself comfortable. You can sit on a chair, the floor, your bed and even lie down if that helps.

Focus on the sensation where your body makes contact with the chair, bed or floor. Just notice how it feels and breathe through the feeling.

Then bring your attention to your chest and stomach, notice them rise on the ‘breath in’ and fall on the ‘breath out’.

Just ‘be’ with each breath. Notice how the breath slows down or even for some reason speeds up (that is okay!).

If your mind wanders, that is also okay. You might lose touch with your breathing, but simply notice your thoughts and then focus back on your chest and stomach.

There is no right or wrong here. It’s just as valuable to notice the wandering mind, and then bring it back to your breath, as it is to stay ‘in the breath’. That is what being mindful means.

You can start with five minutes and increase, if you like, as you start getting used to the practice.

“I really believe that we can prepare ourselves for our day to day living by putting in some mindful work. Like top athletes, pilots and actors, we can then produce the perfect actions, responses and behaviour when needed.”

Another practical mind clearing measure is, strange as it sounds, taking stock of the drinks you’re consuming throughout the day, as highlighted by Natalie Braithwaite, Professional Head of Nutrition at Nuffield Health :

“Drinking caffeinated drinks such as tea, coffee, hot chocolate and drinks containing caffeine, result in the body pumping adrenaline into our bloodstream, which can put us in an excitable and anxious state. After a strong cup of tea or coffee, which may contain between 80- 200 mg of caffeine, our nervous systems are hypersensitive, which most definitely does not help us to deal calmly with a demanding boss or an excitable child.”

“By the end of the day, if we have had several caffeinated drinks, it can leave our bodies feeling exhausted. This is because our adrenal glands have been working in overtime, pumping out adrenaline to help us deal with the ‘stress’.”

“It’s also important to be cautious of using alcohol to relax. Alcohol seems like the perfect way to unwind at the end of a stressful day, and in the short term it does help us to do just that as it promotes the production of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which helps us to relax. However, after several drinks, alcohol suppresses GABA levels, leaving us feeling grumpy and irritable the next day. Alcohol also stimulates our adrenal glands to produce stress hormones, which can result in insomnia.”

For a mind that’s relaxed rather than racing, getting off the latte train, slowing down our drinking and thinking like an athlete all have tangible benefits. ‘Inhale, exhale’ won’t go amiss either.

Free your fridge

A clean, hygienic fridge should be a given of course, but making sure that the goodies within are actually good for you is just as vital. England’s chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies has warned of the need for the food industry to straighten itself out for the sake of our health and wellbeing, as indicated in a statement to the BBC in December last year:

"I think it is inevitable that manufacturing has to reformulate and resize, that supermarkets and others need to stop cheap promotions on unhealthy food and putting unhealthy food at the checkout, and limit advertising dramatically.”

"I think we're at a tipping point. If industry doesn't deliver, then we'll have to look at a sugar tax."

Given that, according to Dame Sally’s annual report, ‘obesity is the biggest threat to women’s health in England’, a simple fridge audit could help you to resist the temptation of two-for-one offers on junk and encourage you to stock up on sustenance that’s delivers better value, in every sense, in the long term. Let nutritional therapist and founder of GP Nutrition Gabriela Peacock  guide you through a fridge overhaul…

“To succeed in some of your healthy 2016 goals, one of the best things you can do is plan ahead. Take time once a week to think about what meals you need to buy for, where you will be, who needs feeding, lunches, dinners etc. Making a menu plan can help you to eat the right foods, and achieve a balanced diet plus saving you money too.”

“A few things that I almost always have in my fridge are:

Oily fish such as salmon for the omega-3 fats to support healthy mind, hair and skin.

Leafy greens- usually kale or spinach because they are so easy to cook and work when eaten raw too.

Nut milk. I avoid dairy products but love the creaminess of nut milks in porridge. You can even try making them yourself.

Eggs as they are a rich source of protein. They’re packed with amino acids; the building blocks of protein needed by every cell in the body in order to support skin, hair, nails, lean muscle and a healthy digestive tract. All of these factors rely on protein.”

“There are a few things you won’t be finding in my fridge too. Heavily processed foods in plastic packaging will never be found in my kitchen! I avoid processed meat products (such as burgers or sausages) in favour of organic, grass fed lean beef or chicken. I also avoid really high sugar, high fat confectionary as it sends my blood sugar levels into a spin. Instead, I’ll go for plain dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (at least 70%). Good quality chocolate does contain minerals and antioxidants and satisfies my urges for a little piece of something sweet.”

“Shelves stocked with a rainbow of colourful fruits and veggies  is a fantastic start to the year (and every day really). Aiming for at least five portions a day is a great goal for 2016. To help yourself and your family achieve this, make a list of different coloured fruit and vegetables to buy each week. My favourites are avocado, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, oranges, berries, sweet potatoes and leeks.”

“Organic/wild salmon or meat are excellent additions to your weekly shop too, providing you eat them. Both offer a good source of protein, keeping us fuller for longer and keeping our blood sugar levels balanced. They also contain tryptophan, a specific amino acid that makes serotonin. It is suggested that by consuming foods rich in tryptophan you can influence levels of serotonin made in the brain, which is the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter.”

“Although nuts aren’t technically kept in the fridge, they’re a staple on my shopping list. I carry small portions of mixed nuts with me as a snack for when my blood sugar levels dip. Their high protein content means that glucose is released more slowly, keeping me feeling fuller for longer, not to mention that fact that nuts are nutritional wonders; they’re high in magnesium, zinc, copper and manganese plus B vitamins and vitamin E.”

“When stocking your fridge and cupboards, be mindful that eating too much processed, refined and sugary foods can cause inflammation in your body, which in turn results in breakouts or dry skin, headaches, and ill health. Three times a year, give up caffeine, dairy, sugar and alcohol for five days. It will help to keep your body young and give your liver a break. Replace tea and coffee with herbal teas such as lemon and ginger, nettle, dandelion and fennel.”

“Planning ahead and knowing what you have in your fridge can help you to achieve your health goals without a doubt. It’s much harder to stick to good intentions if you come home after a long day, and there is nothing to eat. It’s during these crucial times that people often find themselves reaching for sugary, fatty foods quickly, or making poor choices. Health intentions and behavioural changes take time and commitment to implement. Make one small change at a time and practice it consistently until it becomes a habit. Keeping a clear, organised fridge might be a good place to start!”

Whip your workspace into shape

A neat desk equates to more than not losing vital post-its and showing your colleagues up; according to the health watchdog work-related illness affects more than a million people in the UK every year, leading to 27 million lost working days, at a cost of £13.7bn to our economy. Gulp. Of course it’s not just your desk that’s causing all of this, but sorting that out is a good start. Keeping things on your desk that you a) actually need and b) make you cheerful will help to cut stress, while throwing stuff away instead of squirreling it in a corner of the office will help to lighten your load immensely.

Once you’ve cleared the decks in your own area, consider your workplace as a whole. According to a study of over 300 workers (71% female, average age of 47 years) presented at the BPS  Division of Occupational Psychology's annual conference in Nottingham, practices such as hot-desking appeal only to extroverts, with the majority of people finding them uncomfortable. Participants took a personality test before answering a series of workplace focussed questions, and it was discovered that having your own desk and working area is desired by almost everyone, as were well-designed workspaces and ‘quiet areas’ for employees. Desk-sharing and hot desking were almost universally disliked. Commenting on the findings, lead author John Hackston stated that the feedback could be very enlightening for business leaders:

“These results support previous research into the unpopularity of open-plan offices and hot-desking and the positive effects of personalisation. However, there are some simple changes that can be made to improve staff satisfaction and increase productivity.”

“These include allowing staff more storage for personal items when hot-desking; creating smaller neighbourhoods within open-plan offices; not overdoing clear desk policies as clearing away all personal items can be demotivating to some people and providing quiet zones for people to work in when needed.”

Martha Nicholson Hart, associate at leading architectural design practice  MoreySmith , knows innovative workspaces inside out. MoreySmith is behind some of the most state of the art modern business hubs, including offices for ASOS, Moet Hennessy and Red Bull, and Martha echoes the idea that flexible, well considered workspaces are key to productivity.

“Whilst every office is different, there are some basic principles that we believe help to create a happy, healthy working environment:

“Natural light is number one on the list of features that workers look for, yet more than half of the UK’s workforce has no access to it. We try to maximise natural light as much as possible, planning the layout in accordance with the direction of sunlight and ensuring everyone (not just the directors) has access to it.”

“Air ventilation; there is nothing worse than a stuffy office. It leads to sluggishness, frustration and can really stifle creativity and concentration. Good quality air ventilation is crucial.”

“Mobility is key and healthy offices should encourage movement. Promoting the use of staircases instead of lifts, varied working environments that support people working in different areas of the office, not just at the desk. Provision of cycle spaces and good shower and changing facilities encourage staff to be more active.”

“Cleanliness is another important contributor to a healthy office. Workstations should be deep-cleaned regularly including keyboards, telephones and desk screens to minimise the spread of germs in a confined space.”

“Talking of health, the nature of office work is fundamentally unhealthy as it is very sedentary. This kind of lifestyle is linked to a number of health issues including diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases. Poorly lit and ventilated offices also carry health problems for workers.”

“It is important not to overlook the psychological health of workers too. From our experience, social interaction plays a major role in this and the design of an office can significantly influence the way in which we interact. This can improve confidence levels, feelings of self-worth and contentment and invigorates the workforce.”

“In addition, employers should recognise that not everyone works in the same way. Some respond well to buzzy open-plan offices, while others prefer a quieter, more private setting. Creating a range of flexible working spaces is therefore a good way to get the most out of staff, giving people the ability to choose how, where and when they work.”

“Designing a layout that forces people up and away from their desks through the careful positioning of equipment and meeting spaces also helps to get people moving.”

“Providing access to gyms and fitness clubs, is helpful for staff seeking a healthier lifestyle. We have introduced cafés at a number of offices, including Primark’s global headquarters in Dublin, which serves healthy food and juices.”

“Through careful destination planning within an office environment, we promote users to leave their desk regularly by centralising facilities such as copy points, recycling and social areas with good coffee and great interaction spaces.”

“Employees should also make sure they are sitting in a comfortable, ergonomically adjustable chair at a sturdy desk. Ideally the user would have the control over their immediate environment such as task light, PC monitor arms and personal storage.”

If any of the above is notably lacking from your office, it could be time to lobby the boss. In the meantime, ensure you’re sitting comfortable, but don’t sit for two long, and arm yourself with a bottle of designated desk Dettol (on expenses of course).

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