Life & Living
The Life Cleanse 2021
Let us all put 2020 in the rear view mirror and let’s make 2021 the best it can be by cleansing your mind, body and de-junking your life.
By Andrew Hirst
Without a doubt 2020 was a rough year for everyone. But now we have a light at the end of the tunnel with the various vaccines that are on the horizon, and with a new year now upon us it is important to get planning and look ahead to the future. This is a great time to change anything you are not happy with in your life, although I recommend making small, sustainable changes. Go too big too soon and you might just find that whatever you have planned doesn’t stick. If you are going to put in all the effort to think about and plan change we really need to have a realistic view of what we are capable of achieving; play to our strengths to give change the best chance of success. As a species we generally do not like change. It upsets our equilibrium. We like things to stay the same and have a permanence about them, however permanence is a fiction of our realities as nothing in life is permanent. A constant cycle of transition. Some changes are thrust upon us and are out of our control, but many little changes can be made which we can control; getting fitter, eating healthier, looking after our mental health. So what are we waiting for? If 2020 has taught us anything it is to become more aware of the present moment, enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves a little better.
Free your mind
Life can be relentless at times and it is easy to lose touch with the world around us. Failing to look after your mental health will always lead to disaster. There are many areas of your life which probably need attention, but remember you don’t have to eat the whole elephant at the same time. As Martin Luther King Jr said “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” And that is definitely the most important thing… taking the first step.
Mindfulness may be used as a buzzword at times but it is a great way to reduce stress and feel more in control of your life. Ultimately mindfulness is a basic human ability. The ability to be fully in touch with our now, our surroundings and be fully present in the moment; where we are, what we are doing and what we are experiencing. When we approach all of these influences in a calm manner it is easier to not feel the urge to overreact to situations or feel overwhelmed. Although this ability is in all of us it is something that must be practiced on a daily basis. Don’t be put off if you struggle with mindfulness at first, perseverance is the key. Sharpening your awareness to what you are feeling, whether through your physical senses or your thoughts and emotions, is your path to mindfulness. With practice you can retrain your brain and some research shows this can lead to a remodelling of the physical structure of the brain.
The origins of mindfulness are linked to Buddhism and meditation. When you set out it is advised to set aside time to meditate but keep it short to begin with. Maybe five minutes and slowly increase to longer periods. In our everyday life we can also use a few seconds to centre ourselves and gather our thoughts. As an experiment, next time the phone rings instead of rushing to answer it, take a moment, breathe and then have the conversation. I am sure you will find your life becoming less stressful and more productive when you have gathered your thoughts first.
The elephant in the room!
If you have a problem, no matter how big or small, it is always best to face it; unless it is a monster with a big stick then it is best advised to wait for the cavalry. Most of our problems don’t have a stick and big teeth. You can’t avoid them forever so it is best to confront them head-on. If you are feeling overwhelmed and not sure what to do then you must talk to someone; a friend, colleague, relative or, if you need, a professional. It’s OK to ask for help. Asking for help shows that you are a strong individual ready to take control of the situation. Professional help can come in many different guises depending on the problem. Financial stress for example has many different organisations you can talk to: National Debtline, StepChange Debt Charity or Citizens Advice for example are great places to start. The main thing to remember is whatever problems you are experiencing you aren’t alone, you just need to talk.
Take the time…
It is important to make time for yourself. Block out time in your calendar if this helps; schedule it in and stick to it. You can take time to yourself by simply reading a book or heading out on a walk. Walking through the hundreds of miles of trails Norfolk and Suffolk has to offer is a great way to relax, clear your mind and get some exercise all at the same time. Combine two of your loves with an audio book and listen whilst you walk.
If you don’t take the time to invest in yourself no one else will. Ensure you can fulfil your dreams and desires by dedicating the time to them. If you want to write a novel or paint a picture take the time to give it a go. It is also important to remember you might not be very good at it to start with, but if you never start you will never improve. It is ok to fail. Failing at something means growth, it doesn’t mean giving up. Experimenting with different things is a healthy way to express yourself and creative expression and overall well-being are linked.
Dedicate time to your relationships with your friends and loved ones. If you have a partner you may feel at times like they take you for granted. Have you ever thought that they might feel the same? Put the time into these relationships and you will reap the rewards. Think not what this relationship can do for you, but what you can do for this relationship and you won’t go far wrong – obviously don’t inadvertently turn yourself into a doormat, healthy relationships have a certain amount of give and take.
Looking after our physical health has never been so prevalent. It has been difficult for some of us to keep motivated and keep moving especially through the various lockdowns and tiers. A great place to start is cutting down on your alcohol intake. A dry January might be a little extreme for some of us, but we all really need to reduce our weekly units. The odd cheeky glass of wine or a G&T after a stressful day at work can soon mount up. Not to mention the calories. We all know that there are a lot of calories in our alcoholic beverage of choice but it is worth reminding ourselves that the average large glass of wine has a whopping 228. Swap it for water. I know it is massively different but the cleanse of your system will do you the world of good. Drinking more water can help you feel better and even make your skin look fresher.
January may not necessarily feel like the best time to start a couch to 5k. The cold weather doesn’t really entice you out, but if you want to get a head start on your summer fitness then now is the time. The perfect beach body isn’t what we are aiming for here and nor do we want it. Get moving and increase your overall fitness little by little. If you let a little thing like the cold weather stop you then you will always find an excuse not to get out there. Invest in some tech, an iWatch or FitBit to help you track your progress, it really will help you keep focused and maintain your progress.
Whilst you are increasing your fitness you need to eat healthier. Up the veggies, go vegan if you want, and increase the amount of fruits in your diet. If you are lacking in certain vitamins increasing them can make all the difference to your wellbeing. Pick a good balanced diet rather than go on a diet. Most nutritionists will agree that trendy diets are not the answer. Lowering the calories and movement are the only true answers to weight loss.
Not keeping your stress levels in check can cause all sorts of problems. It can sneak up on us at times and before you know it we are suffering from all sorts of physical, emotional and behavioural changes. You may become indecisive, inflexible, withdrawn and not able to sleep properly. Emotional changes can quickly spiral out of control and you may experience anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, or frustration. These can lead to additional strains being put on relationships with the people in your life who you are close to, making you feel angrier or more aggressive than normal. There may be a change in your sexual habits, and some people may find that their consumption of alcohol increases. These feelings can sometimes feed on each other and produce physical symptoms, making you feel even worse. For some people, stressful life events can contribute to symptoms of depression.
More physical symptoms can be headaches, indigestion, nausea, excess perspiration, palpitations and various other aches and pains. Some research has shown that a person who experiences stress over prolonged periods may suffer from insomnia, memory recall, lethargy and even gastrointestinal conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or stomach ulcers.
The best option for recovery is to remove the negative influences causing the stress. Sometimes easier said than done, however even implementing small changes over a longer period rather than one big change can help with your overall health and stress management long term.
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Martin Luther King Jr
10 things… to get started on your journey to a healthier you
Don’t drink calories
Sugary drinks are among the most fattening items you can put into your body. This especially includes alcohol.
Eat more nuts
Despite being high in fat, nuts are incredibly nutritious and healthy.
Avoid junk food
Processed foods and junk food are incredibly unhealthy, eat real food instead.
Get enough sleep
The importance of getting enough quality sleep cannot be overstated. Poor sleep can drive insulin resistance, disrupt your appetite hormones, and reduce your physical and mental performance.
Eat fatty fish
Fish is a great source of high-quality protein and healthy fat. This is particularly true of fatty fish, such as salmon, which is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids.
Drinking enough water, especially before meals, can have numerous benefits. Surprisingly, it can boost the number of calories you burn.
Track your food intake
You don’t have to do it all the time but every now and then it is good to know exactly how many calories you eat.
Do some cardio
Doing cardio exercise is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health. It’s particularly effective at reducing belly fat.
Don’t smoke and only drink in moderation
If you smoke, tackle this problem first. Diet and exercise can wait. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation and consider avoiding it completely if you tend to drink too much.
Don’t eat lots of refined carbs
Refined carbs have been highly processed to remove their fibre and they are relatively low in nutrients and can harm your health when eaten in excess.
Couch to 5k
It’s cold. It’s raining. It’s not at the forefront of your mind to get off the sofa to get fit and running. But now is the perfect time to start. Just think in nine short weeks from now you could reach your goal. So by mid March you could be running 5k. There are many apps to check out, but a good place to start is the resources on the NHS website – www.nhs.uk. They have a complete running plan with a podcast you can download to get you started and motivated. If you want to have something a little more advanced check out what is available on the app store.
Vegan vibes for Veganuary
Live life on the veg this January by going vegan. Launched in the UK in January 2014, Veganuary is a non-profit organisation that encourages people to try going vegan for January and beyond. Veganuary is focused on changing consumer behaviours and attitudes, while providing all the information and practical support required to make the transition to veganism as easy and as enjoyable as possible through the month. Their website has plenty of resources including nutrition tips and recipes to inspire you. More than one million people in 192 countries have signed up to try going vegan for January and beyond since it started. This has raised the profile of veganism and provision from shops and restaurants has been increased. With Veganuary ambassadors including Sara Pascoe, Alicia Silverstone, Paul McCartney and Joaquin Phoenix it is clear to see the popularity is gaining momentum. Give vegan food a try and you will soon see that you too can thrive on a plant based diet.
Another part of our lives to give the once over in January is our finances. Many of us are not making the most of what we have. Start small by looking through your banking app. Most of them these days give you some great features which can show you trends of where, when and how you are spending your hard earned cash. You can use this to make some informed decisions on changes you need to make.
Another needless spend is on those subscriptions we don’t really use. Do you really watch the streaming services you are subscribed to? Are you really using that app which costs £2.99 per month? All of these little expenses mount up and are so easily overlooked. Be ruthless… you can always resubscribe if you want to catch the new season of that must watch show.
Upgrades are another pitfall. Having that latest handset for example is a nice luxury and will cost a bundle, but think of how much you can save by shifting to a sim only contract. If you normally have the latest phone you could be saving up to 75% on your monthly bill just by keeping what you have. One of the things we all struggle with is saving. Those everyday surprises come along to scupper our best laid plans. Washing machines tend to break at the most inconvenient times. But by streamlining your spending you may find you have a bit more you can save.
If you want to look at the bigger picture – remortgaging, pensions and investing – and don’t know where to start then it is best to speak to an expert. Independent financial advisors (IFA) can help you with these more complex financial matters. Make sure you are using a qualified and accredited IFA. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) requires all IFAs to pass what they call ‘Level 4 qualifications’, so you should be looking for a diploma-level certificate, such as the Diploma in Financial Planning (DipFP) (formerly the Advanced Financial Planning Certificate), or even better, the Advanced Diploma in Financial Planning (ADFP).
Normally your first appointment is free so this is the time to find out if you are comfortable with the IFA. Don’t feel embarrassed about asking questions if you do not understand anything, you are potentially going to be transacting large sums of money via this person, so you have every right to ask questions and make sure you’re confident in your decision. Remember you are under no pressure after your first meeting to use this particular IFA, if you are not impressed, you can always find someone else.