Mindset and Motivation

How to Survive the Holiday Season

It may still be November but holiday season is definitely here and we’re starting to get in to the season of parties, drinks and over indulging. It can be pretty overwhelming and if you are trying to maintain or lose weight then the prospect of the next 6 weeks or so can be quite scary. I’m very much of the opinion that life should be all about balance and you should definitely enjoy the festivities but it doesn’t hurt to have a little plan in place to help you get through it relatively unscathed right?

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So here are a few tips to help keep you on track.

#1 Be kind to yourself and try not to panic

Over-eating on a night out does NOT make you a bad person. Your food or drink choices do not reflect your value as a person so if you have a blip and end up splurging when you don’t mean to, it’s ok. So try to remember to stay positive, even when things don’t quite go according to plan. The festive season is challenging for everyone and there’s no point berating yourself over a few extra mince pies. Practice self-compassion, forgive yourself and don’t let it spoil the festive season. Just pick youself up, dust yourself off and start again. Remember, if you’ve been losing weight you didn’t lose it all in one night and you won’t put it all back on again in one night either!

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#2 Choose your battles

Be realistic about how you’re going to handle the festivities. Saying “I’m not going to drink any alcohol at all until the New Year” or “I’m not going to eat any mince pies or chocolates at all” probably isn’t very realistic, but perhaps “I’m only going to drink at Christmas parties” or “I’m not going to eat any mince pies or chocolates at work” might be a bit more doable?

Look at your diary and decide which events are worth relaxing a bit for and having a splurge if you want it – it might be that you decide to enjoy a drink with certain friends or at certain events, and at others you stick to the soft stuff. Use your own criteria to decide which events you want to splurge a bit more at – it doesn’t matter how you decide, the important thing is that it’s worth it to you. One event a week is a good target,  so choose the special events and then don’t worry about them – just look forward to enjoying them guilt-free. Now that doesn’t mean go mad and eat and drink just for the sake of it, but just relax and enjoy having whatever you want to have that day/night.

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#3 Make a plan

If you’ve decided which events to relax and splurge at that naturally means there are some events where you will want to be more careful. Perhaps you’ve decided that you will be more careful at your work-do, but allow yourself to relax at the xmas drinks with the neighbours.  So you have a few options – you can always politely decline to attend – that gets you out of it altogether… but I’m guessing you may well want to be there, so you need a plan.

First thing to remember is that food or drink is not the reason you’re there – the reason you’re there is to share time with people in your life. Focus on the people and the activities rather than the food and drinks.

Simple strategies include ensuring you’ve had something to eat before going to cocktails or drinks gatherings, or ensuring you have dinner plans already in place for afterwards. If it’s a dinner event then just try to make the best possible choices, fill up with veggies and get some protein in, and drink lots of water. If you are drinking alcohol then stick to lighter beers, white wines and other lower calorie drinks and try to avoid sugar-laden cocktails.

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#4 Plan for the problems

Even though you have a plan sticking to it may be easier said than done. Try to think about the possible obstacles in advance. Are buffets your weakness? Do you tend to not eat enough earlier in the meal and then end up over doing it on dessert? Are the canapes your weak point? Or is it the bowls of crisps….

Try to have some alternative plans in place – for buffets commit yourself to one plate of satisfying food only, don’t go back for seconds. Take your time to pick the healthiest options you can and eat them slowly and mindfully. Make a decision before you go not to dip in to the canapes and crisps and ensure you’re not too hungry when you arrive so you’re not starving when they come round. Making an active decision before you even get there will help you to resist them more easily.

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#5 Be sensible and realistic

You have to be realistic about the situations you’re facing. There’s no point planning on just eating carrot sticks all evening at a drinks party – you will fail, no question. So be smart about your strategy and honest about what you can manage. If you have a friend going with you share your plan with them – they might be keen to help you and give you some moral support – it’s a lot easier to say no to those canapes when you’re both refusing them.

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#6 Don’t forget all those other good habits

Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you need to forget all those other great habits you’ve developed. So still have a healthy, protein filled breakfast, drink lots of water, keep junk food out of the house, get your daily dose of vitamin D, walk as much as you can, when you’re not out partying focus on good quality sleep, and get to the gym or do a home workout whenever you’re able.

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#7 Celebrate your successes

When you skip that dessert, or stop after that one glass of mulled wine, or avoid the bag of crisps –  celebrate it. It’s so important that you associate positive feelings with these healthy behaviours as that’s how they become habits. Simply smiling sends signals to your brain that something good is happening so giving yourself a big grin when you skip those desserts will already make it easier to do it again in future.

By focusing on the little successes you’ll also feel like you’re making progress. So take the time to make a mental note and congratulate yourself – you deserve it!

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#8 Learn from the inevitable blips 

As well as little successes there will be little slip-ups too. Don’t panic!

It’s normal, you’re only human! If your plan of no dessert ends up with four mincepies and a dollop of ice cream then it isn’t the end of the world. Try not to dwell on it, just because you had dessert when you didn’t mean to doesn’t mean you need to abandon all hopes of exercising self control over the holidays. Just acknowledge it and think about what you could have done to prevent it? And “being a better person” or “being stronger” and other self-damaging beliefs aren’t the answer – think about actual practical things like were you too hungry that day?  Did you get enough protein in? Could you have filled up with more veggies? Could you have left the table before dessert?

Or maybe you just didn’t realise that you’d be served your favourite dessert that evening – had you known maybe that night would have been one of your splurge nights….

Whatever the issue just acknowledge it, learn from it and move on.

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#9 Adapt!

You’re going to find some things easy, others hard, you’ll have successes and setbacks and you’ll find what works for you and what really doesn’t. So be ready to adapt things if you need to. If the plan works well this year then next year it may still work but your circumstances will be slightly different  – friends may change, your job may change, life moves on so you have to as well. Your strategies will need to adapt but the basic principles will still be the same.  So don’t worry about needing to stick to a rigid plan – flexibility is the key!

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#10 Enjoy and find the joy!

It’s a wonderful time of year to connect and reconnect with friends and family – enjoy it, and find the joy in all the things you do this season. Don’t let worries about food and weight overshadow all your activities – cherish the happy moments.

Enjoy 🙂 xxx

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(This post was originally published on pureformfitness.co.uk)

Nutrition

What I eat in a day

I was asked by Sundried to write about what I eat in a day… so here goes! A little overview of how I fuel my day – including that ice cream!! 🤗

https://www.sundried.com/blogs/nutrition/what-i-eat-in-a-day-nancy-priston-personal-trainer

Sundried are an ethical clothing brand making sports wear from recycled plastic and coffee. So you can workout andsave the planet and feel great doing it! 🌏 🏃🏼‍♀️

(If you’re interested in any of their kit you can get 50% off too by entering the code ‘Nancy’) 🤗

Xx

Nutrition

Tumeric – wonder spice or just full of hot air?

Tumeric – wonder spice or just full of hot air?

Check out my article on tumeric in the latest Care magazine 🤗

There are loads of pseudo-science posts and infographics on social media all about the wonders of turmeric so I thought I’d take a little look at some of the claims and see if there was actually any scientific evidence for them (link below takes you to the magazine, or you can read it in the pics!) ☺️

Care Magazine August 2018

Fitness and Exercise

Fuelling for a big cycle ride or run!

This time last year I was gearing up for the Ride 100 next week, riding for Bowel Cancer UK (and raising over £5000). Sadly this year I’m not riding – mainly because I didn’t feel I could ask everyone to sponsor me again after they were all so very generous last year, but also because I’m currently in a fracture boot recovering from multiple stress fractures – so it wouldn’t be sensible lol!

However I do have clients and friends who are riding and have been asking for advice on how to fuel themselves before, during and after the ride. So I thought I’d share a few tips. These are relevant to any endurance event – not just cycling.

So here are my tips!

In the week leading up to the big ride try to eat normally but well, so have three good meals a day, and snacks as needed, avoid all alcohol, and get some good carbs in where possible (brown rice, sweet potato etc).

48hrs before the ride is the time to start ‘Carb loading’. Carbs are the best source of fuel, so you need to make sure your muscles are full of glycogen before the ride. For the 48 hours before the ride, base all your meals around carbs and have carb based snacks throughout the day. So for example breakfast could be cereal, toast with peanut butter and banana, fruit and yogurt.

For lunch, go for wraps, jacket potato, pasta salad etc. And for dinner, try to eat something rice-based, pasta, or lean meat/veggie protein with potatoes. Have something like yogurt and fruit for desert.

For snacks go for energy drinks, dried fruits, and cereal bars.

On the ride day morning have a good carb-based breakfast two hours before the start (or as early as you can if you have a very early start time). Aim for at least two servings of any of these: cereal, toast and jam, porridge with fruit juice, and cereal bars and yogurt.

When you’re actually on the ride the glycogen supplies in the muscles will last about 90 mins so you need to keep topping up. Don’t worry about the first 45 minutes, but from there you need to take in around 60g of carbs every hour (the maximum amount an average body can absorb). energy drinks, gels, bars, or other easy-to-digest carb snacks are good as they’re designed for easy digestion and quick absorption. Or you could go for cereal bars chopped up or dried fruit. My preference was chopped up cereal bars and jelly tots 🙂

Be careful during the ride and avoid any foods such as cake, biscuits, pastries, crisps or sandwiches containing cheese or mayonnaise. These are high in fat and will sit heavy in the stomach, taking time to digest. This will make the following 10-15 miles after the stop quite uncomfortable so not ideal!

At the end of the ride you need to replenish the glycogen stores in the muscles and repair the damage to your muscles so you need fast digesting carbs and protein so things like scrambled eggs on white toast, white rice and chicken and veg, tuna pasta etc

An ideal post ride drink is chocolate milk – perfect combo of carbs and protein etc so try to have that as soon as possible after you finish. You can also get various protein based recovery drinks which work too.

Then get back to normal eating after that!

So there you go – a few tips for you! Note I’m not suggesting specific foods as such – just giving examples and the figures on timing and quantity of carbs etc are based on scientific studies and evidence based research. This is what I’ve done every year and I’ve always been fine and recovered quickly and not ‘crashed’ (energy-wise) during the Ride.

Hope that helps – safe riding everyone! See you there next year! 🤗xx

Fitness and Exercise

Ethical, environmentally friendly workout wear!

Super excited to get my new Sundried vest top and thrilled to be working with these guys as one of their brand ambassadors.

Ethical, conservation friendly workout wear from a small uk business – and this top is made from recycled plastic bottles! What’s not to love! 🙌🏼

Love this top – comfy, cool and sweat wicking! I’d highly recommend it (phew! Glad it met my expectations! 😬🤣)

If anyone else is keen to save the planet while you workout then you can get 50 percent off by using the code ‘NANCY’ on their site! Go check them out (www.sundried.com) ! 🏃🏼‍♀️

Articles, Nutrition

Are you addicted to sugar? How do you cut down?

Are you a sugar addict? I am. If you’ve ever tried to cut down on sugar and sweet foods I’m sure you’ve realised how difficult it can be. Sugar not only tastes good, but gives us an instant energy boost and at 3 or 4 pm on a grey afternoon when you’re falling asleep at your desk, it’s not surprising a quick hit of sugar in the form of sweets, chocolate, soft drinks etc seems like an easy option.

Although willpower plays a big part in this, it’s not all about willpower. Even if you make the conscious decision to cut back on the junk, chances are you may find yourself reaching for dried fruits or something at that time instead… another sugar hit…So why do we crave it?

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When it comes to sugar (and some other junk foods), it’s more about the brain not functioning quite as it should. The system in the brain that should regulate appetite and food intake and prevent us overeating, often doesn’t work. Why?

It makes us feel good

Studies have shown that eating foods that contain a lot of sugar result in a large amount of dopamine being released in the reward centre of brain. That means it makes us feel good. When you stimulate this area repeatedly i.e. by eating sugary foods frequently and in large amounts, the dopamine receptors start to down regulate i.e. they require more sugar to respond in the same way. This means that you need to eat more to get the same effect and reward.  In addition sugar also acts in a similar way to opioids on the brain (compounds which have an addictive effect on the brian) and means that withdrawal from sugar can mimic the effects of withdrawal from opiates and other similar pyschostimulants.

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In this way sugar behaves in a similar way to drugs such as nicotine and cocaine (Journal of Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews). There are numerous studies which show that the overall effect of these neurochemical adaptations is a mild, but well defined dependency (Journal of Neuroscience and The Handbook of Obesity). Animal studies have shown four behavioural components of addiction which are linked to sugar – bingeing (consuming a large amount in a limited window of time), withdrawal (behavioural and physical signs becoming apparent when sugar is not available e.g anxiety), craving (increased efforts or extreme motivation to obtain sugar) and cross-sensitzation (animals sensitized to one drug may show increased intake of a different drug if they can’t get their sugar fix. In other words, one drug acts as a “gateway” to another i.e. when they can’t get sugar, they will consume other substances which produce the same response in the brain) .  All these behavioural responses link to those neural adaptations in dopamine and opioid receptors which suggest dependency on sugar is a real phenomenon. Although human studies are limited the evidence suggests this to be the case for us too and I’m sure some of you recognise elements of this yourself.

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It’s in the genes

From an evolutionary perspective it makes sense for humans to have an inherent desire to consume foods high in simple carbohydrates and sugar, which are high in energy and calories, and would have been harder to come by in the environment in our evolutionary past. However in modern times this desire can lead to issues such as obesity, bulimia and a dependence on palatable, easy to consume food – junk food.   The concept of sugar addiction has largely been based on anecdotal reports, case studies, and self-help books but recent reviews of the literature and comparisons with animal studies are giving credence to this theory and there is mounting evidence that sugar is indeed addictive (Journal of Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews and Journal of Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care).

So sugar is evil then?

Having said all that sugar isn’t inherently bad or evil. You need sugar to survive. Glucose is the primary fuel we need to support daily functions and activities. Excess intake of glucose though is where the problem lies.  There are two problems that arise:

1. Fat storage – Any time you consume more fuel than your body needs (which is very easy when eating high sugar foods) your liver’s ability to store excess glucose as glycogen reaches it’s maximum and excess sugar is converted in to fatty acids, which are ultimately stored as fat. This will be stored wherever you tend to store fat – that might be stomach, butt, hips, thighs etc.

2. Insulin spikes – Excess sugar consumption leads to excess insulin production. Whenever you consume simple carbohydrates e.g. fruit juice, white bread. Sugary drinks, sweets, etc Insulin is released and the insulin levels in your blood rise. This means two things – firstly fat burning is turned off, so the sugar that’s just been ingested can be immediately used for energy. Which is great – so some is used for fuel straight away, but in the grand scheme of things this won’t be much, unless you’re in the middle of a really strenuous workout or endurance race!

So then insulin helps to convert the sugar to glycogen to store in your muscles – which is great… if your muscles are empty of glycogen, however in reality most of us already have pretty full stores of glycogen in our muscles so the excess sugar is actually converted to fat and stored around the body. After this the blood sugar levels will drop which means the body stops producing insulin. This feedback mechanism is slightly delayed however so blood sugar levels fall even lower than normal which leads to an increase in appetite (which means eating more food!) and production of a stress hormone cortisol. This triggers the release of stored energy from the liver to increase blood sugar levels. Now this combined with whatever you eat means you are back in the cycle of increased blood sugar and fat storage. So you end up in a continuous cycle – it’s like a rollercoaster of blood sugar levels. The cortisol in the blood can also lead to other issues like depression, allergies, immune weakness, chronic fatigue syndrome and other serious side effects.

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So if this sounds like you – what can you do?

1. Don’t blame yourself

It’s human nature to want to eat nice tasting, high calorie things. You don’t need to blame yourself or feel guilty or ashamed. Be kind to yourself and compassionate, and above all forgive yourself. Then you can move on and actually do something about it.

2. Sugar addiction is emotional as well as physiological

As I’ve already discussed, there is increasing evidence for physiological addiction to sugar, and at the very least the cycle of blood sugar highs and lows acts like an addiction, causing you to consume more. Often though we also crave and indulge in sugar as an emotional response – to manage stress, to cope with loneliness or boredom, to deal with anger etc. It’s the emotional component that’s the hardest to deal with.

For some people it may simply be a case of willpower, but for many it isn’t as simple as this. Using “control” to change your relationship with sugar often fails – trying to control cravings, emotions, thoughts, diet etc can often result in failure. When it fails you try harder and harder, when this doesn’t work you get frustrated, discouraged and you feel more and more helpless and the willpower fades. First you need to recognise that no matter how much sugar you eat it doesn’t work – it doesn’t bring you stress relief, happiness, rest, alleviate boredom etc. It may bring a few minutes of relief but that’s all. So embrace that fact – recognise it, believe it, repeat it to yourself. Then you need to reward yourself – not punish yourself and take practical steps (see below).

3. Keep a food diary

Start by keeping a food diary – be honest, and track how much sugar you are actually eating, and record how you feel afterwards. What triggered the sugar craving/binge? How were you feeling before you binged? What had you been doing that day? What had you eaten that day already? etc

Do this for a week, then step back and take a look – are there any patterns? If there are you can start to address them using the tips below.

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4. Look after yourself

Cutting down sugar isn’t easy so you need to look after your body in the process and you need to make it as easy as possible. So you need to:

  • Eat breakfast every morning – something like a protein smoothie or shake, or quinoa porridge that has protein and fats in
  • Ensure every meal has protein and fat in it
  • Eat Regularly
  • Drink more water, less juice and less soft drinks
  • Sort out a good bedtime routine to ensure you get a decent amount of sleep (lack of sleep can often drive sugar cravings as you feel tired and need the boost that sugar gives).

These steps are particularly important for those of use who succumb to the mid-afternoon snack attack!

5. Eat Coconut oil

I’ve already told you about how fab coconut oil is (read all about it here) – now I’m not suggesting it’s the magic bullet but including it in your diet will help you to cut down on the sugar in several ways. It’s an instant energy source for one which means that if your body is craving that lift that you get from sugar it will get it from the coconut oil. So your body will use the medium-chain triglycerides in coconut oil for fuel, in the same way it would use the sugar, but without the insulin spike. This means you don’t get the crash! It’s also filling too.  So try cooking your meals with it, adding a little to your shake, or having a stash of protein balls or healthy flapjacks made with coconut oil handy. If all else fails you could even have a teaspoon of it raw (or mixed with some raw cacao).

6. Don’t buy the junk

I’m terrible for this – once I’ve bought something I feel I need to eat it! So if you’re like that too, then just don’t buy it! Avoid buying treats, biscuits, chocolate etc. If like me you’re a sucker when you get to the supermarket and just start loading your trolley with stuff then see if you can switch to online shopping. I find I buy much less of the bad stuff but using ocado – I’m not surfing the aisles being attracted by naughty foods! IF you do buy it or get given it and hate seeing it go to waste why not donate to a local food bank.

I bet there are cries of – but I need to buy it for the kids… well ask yourself – do you? Really? Would it not be 100 times better to make a batch of homemade, unrefined sugar free flapjacks  or chocolate treat bars for their break-time snack than shoving a rubbish chocolate biscuit bar in their back pack? And yes it does take time to make that stuff but then it’s up to you – if you can resist eating it then by all means buy it for them, but if you know you can’t, then spend 10 mins whipping up the treat bars for the week on a Sunday evening while you’re waiting for the veg to boil….Just a thought…

7. Replace the sugar with other things.

It’s not just about cutting out the sweets, it’s also about cutting back on the refined sugars and simple carbohydrates like white bread, white pasta, potatoes etc. So what kind of carbohydrates can you eat to avoid de-stabilizing blood sugar levels?

Well fruit is generally good – berries, apples, oranges, pears, plums, grapes, bananas (not overly ripened), grapefruit etc but try to avoid juices – their often filled with additional sweeteners, and also you’ll be consuming a lot more fruit sugar in a glass of juice than you would by eating the fruit whole.

What about more substantial foods? You need to go for complex carbs so opt for porridge, brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato, whole wheat options (if you’re eating wheat), beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, corn, sweet potatoes and soy.

Try to avoid processed foods as much as possible as they tend to be full of extra refined sugars and avoid the “low fat” choices for products as they are often low in fat but high in sugars – instead go for full fat and have less!

Desperate for a lift mid-afternoon – try a small handful of almonds and cranberries, or a  frozen date with a smear of peanut butter (it’s like eating peanut butter caramel!), or for a treat try one of these raw “caramel” balls.

8. Don’t deprive yourself.

Make sure you allow yourself some treats at some point. But recognise where your problems lie – for example, for me chocolate after dinner is my weakness. Once I start getting in to the habit of having it I can’t stop (and I mean, I really can’t stop – I’m a chocolate monster!!) so I know that if I want a treat I’m better off having that treat mid-afternoon, not after dinner. So I’ll have my Willies chocolate bar at 4pm, that does it for me – I’ve had my treat, had my chocolate and I feel good. After dinner when I crave something sweet I’ll try go for a raw chocolate treat, or a bowl of fruit and soya yoghurt instead.  If you need alternatives check out Pure and Simple Bakes.

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9. Avoid stress – Ha! Easier said than done right?

We all get stressed and anxious but if you’re a sugar fiend then this is likely to trigger another craving so try to be mindful and address the stress before it takes over. You can try the breathing exercise I talk about in my article on overthinking as a starting point. Talk to a friend, write a journal, go for a walk or run – whatever you need to do to help you de-stress, that keeps you out of the kitchen.

10. Plan – You never know when you might get caught out somewhere and need a snack, so rather than being at the mercy of whatever the nearest shop has on offer make sure you keep some healthier sweet snacks in your bag – A little bag of nuts and dried fruit, or a raw bar, or a homemade fruit and nut protein bar, a sachet of nut butter….

So there you go – if you’re a fellow sugar addict have a go at some of these tips and see how you get on! I’ll be trying them too 🙂

Nancy 🙂

xx

(This article was originally published on Pureformfitness.co.uk)

 

Articles, Mindset and Motivation

Do you think too much? How to stop over-thinking & find happiness in the moment

Hands up if you’re an over-thinker? Do you worry about past mistakes or current stresses, do you run through the various possible outcomes of every decision you take? Are you constantly asking what if? Do you over-analyse situations and social interactions – so and so didn’t smile when I said hello at the gym today… what have I done? Doesn’t she/he like me anymore? Have I annoyed them? … etc. This kind of dissecting, over-analysing and over-thinking  can lead to a spiral of negative thinking and self doubt.

For some it’s worries about present situations or actions which may lead to negative outcomes in the future, for others it may be worrying endlessly about things that have happened in the past, or over-analysing situations and experiences or even linking one bad thing to all the other bad things that have ever happened in your life. All this can result in feelings of anxiety, sadness and even depression.  When you focus on everything that can go wrong, it’s hard to think about all the things that have gone right.

So if you find yourself doing this then you are also an over-thinker or ruminator.  Studies have linked this pattern of thinking (if left unchecked) to anxiety, depression and ill health. And girls, I’m afraid we’re far more likely to behave like this than men.

So my hand is firmly up. I’m an over-thinker. I over-analyse, I dwell, I re-think, I run through hundreds of scenarios in my head, I agonise over decisions (most decisions!)… Most people may not believe me, but those closest to me know this to be true. As an over-thinker, and a sensitive one at that, I’m prone to obsessing over things – reading things in to situations or interactions that aren’t actually there. We all try to stay positive right? but I’d be lying if I said I never have negative thoughts – we all do – it’s natural. It’s how you respond to them and whether you let them take over your thinking that matters.

Being an over-thinker isn’t a bad thing in itself. It doesn’t make you a bad person. In fact psychological studies have shown that many over-thinkers are lovely, intelligent, caring people who truly value relationships and care very deeply for the people in their lives – which is one of the reasons they over-think. Sadly though the worrying, constant need for reassurance, obsessive behaviour and anxiety can push those very people away which further isolates over-thinkers and can spiral into serious anxiety and depression.  But this is not something that can simply be switched on or off, if you are an over-thinker (on any level) then it’s a pattern of thinking that requires a lot of work to get out of. If you know an over-thinker be compassionate to that – they may drive you crazy but it’s coming from a place of love, self doubt and insecurity – do your best to support them through it and maybe share some of these tips with them.

These tips are based on personal experience and pyschological research. If you feel you have a tendency to over-think then give them a try.

Admit you are an overthinker and forgive yourself

It sounds like a cliche but the first step to addressing any problem is admitting that you have it. There’s a scale there from those who might just obsess over things from time to time, through to people who find that anxiety about the future is actually stopping them enjoying the present. So if you are somewhere on this scale then yep, welcome to the club, you’re a ruminator too 🙂 If you’re not sure – ask your closest friends or family – they’ll know.

Now forgive yourself. This pattern of thinking is hard-wired in to the brain. Thoughts and memories are linked – that is the way the brain works, and so when something triggers those links it can easily lead to a series of negative thoughts and memories that have little to do with the original trigger e.g. when you drop your shopping and break the eggs, on the same day you got stuck in traffic, it’s raining, it was raining all weekend, you didn’t get the gardening done, you burnt the toast, forgot to call your friend, you’re a failure, no wonder you have no friends, in fact you deserve to have no friends, you’re rubbish…. all you do is sit around doing nothing and wasting your life…….. etc etc

In actual fact few of those events in that example are directly linked, but once something triggers a bad mood or negative thought it becomes much easier to see connections that may not exist between all the bad events that have happened in your life.  This pattern becomes learned – the more frequently you think like this the more likely you are to think like this again in the future – it’s a vicious cycle – but one that can be broken IF you’re aware of it.

What you can do to help break the pattern? Here are a few things that may help.

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Exercise and keep busy

Exercise is a great way to both occupy the mind and make you feel happier. We all know that exercise releases endorphins (happy hormones!) so what better way to help bring you out of that negative thinking than leaping around for a bit! It doesn’t have to be organised exercise like a fitness class, you could go for a cycle, swim, even a brisk walk – the more absorbing and mentally stimulating it is the better though so it pulls you out of the obsessive thinking.

Just keeping the mind busy also helps – games and hobbies are great for this – arts and crafts, painting, gardening, jewelry making, sewing, baking, drawing, playing cards, even computer games, doing a jigsaw all help. Or how about something more social – join a local club or volunteer, you never know you may meet new people as a result too, and have some fun.

Talk less

I’m definitely guilty of this one – lots of overthinkers, especially women, want to talk it out when they’re feeling stressed or worried. Now this can help – so I’m not suggesting you don’t talk, but when you get to the point that you’re just rehashing the same stuff over and over again, dissecting every little detail for the umpteenth time then you may end up talking yourself into an even more negative frame of mind. This can be even worse if it’s two overthinkers talking together! You can easily lead each other into even more anxiety. Studies have shown a link between co-rumination amongst female friends and increases in the stress hormone cortisol.

So what can you do – well talk less is one option, or talk to someone who isn’t an overthinker – or at least doesn’t overthink WITH you and will let you talk through it but stop you before you end up rehashing everything over and over.  You can also write it down, leave it for a while, then come back and read your thoughts/worries back to yourself out loud – you may find some of them seem a little silly once you do that and this will help you to dismiss them.

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Calm yourself

If you do find yourself starting to get anxious or over think then one simple thing to do to help is to calm yourself by focusing on your breathing. When your mind starts to race it can be hard to stop it racing to all the negative places so try to pause and breathe. There are lots of breathing techniques out there but one that’s easy and really works is the ‘4-7-8’ technique:

– breathe in through your nose for a count of 4

– hold your breath for 7

– breathe out through your mouth (making a whooshing sound) for 8

– repeat three or four times

By inhaling over a 4 counts you are taking in more oxygen, when you hold for 7 as much as possible of that oxygen will get in to your bloodstream initially, and then by exhaling for 8 you expel as much carbon dioxide as possible. This combats and shallow breathing and mild hyperventilation you may experience when you’re anxious or worrying and will calm you down.

Enjoy the present, be grateful and practice mindfulness

This may sound easier said than done but it’s one of the most important things you can do. The past is the past – you can’t change it, the future hasn’t happened yet so worrying about it isn’t going to help. Try to focus on today. One way to do this is to practice mindfulness. This is a form of meditation where you focus on the present moment, without dissecting or worrying about it. As obsessive, overthinking thoughts come in to your head you acknowledge them, then let them go. There are various techniques you can learn to help with this – find out more at the Mental Health Foundation Be Mindful site here (including online resources, courses and links loads of great resources). There are also other ways to practice mindfulness by being fully aware of your surroundings and what is around you every day, and there’s lots of information on the Action of Happiness site.

Another great little trick is to focus on the positive things in life, no matter how small they are. Those of you who are friends with me on facebook will no doubt be fully aware of the 100 Happy Days Challenge. It’s simple – you post a photo every day for 100 days of something that has made you happy that day – it can be anything – your morning cuppa, lunch with a friend, cuddles with the cat, absolutely anything. I’m nearly at day 400! I enjoyed it so much and found it was a brilliant way to record all the little things that make you smile – and when you’re feeling a bit low, or overthinking things you can go back and look at them and it will cheer you up. There’s more info at the 100 Happy Days Challenge site.

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I’ve also got a ‘Happy Jar’. It’s just a normal jar actually, nothing particularly happy about it but I keep a pad of paper and pen near it, and I jot down anything that’s made me smile, or any “good” things I want to record on the paper, fold it up and tuck it in the jar. At the end of the year I tip them all out and read them (a fab new year’s eve ritual) – it makes me smile, sometimes laugh out loud, and reminds me of some of the good or funny things that have happened over the year that I’d otherwise forget. I don’t do it religiously every day, it’s not meant to be a chore, but I record stuff as and when. And if you’re having a really bad day – reach in, unfold one of them and read it – it will probably make you smile 🙂 It’s a fantastic way of making you feel grateful for the little things in life, taking the focus away from the negative and helping when you are over-thinking – about anything!

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If you find over-thinking is taking over and you need more help then do talk to your GP about it, or you can find a local therapist from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

Nancy 🙂

xx

 

(This article was originally published on Pureformfitness.co.uk)