Mood Food

With the significant progress we’ve made in anxiety management over the past decade or so, it’s become clear that apart from physiological factors like genetics and chemical imbalances, lifestyle factors like work stress and strained relationships can also contribute to anxiety disorders. But one critical piece of the puzzle that’s recently come to the surface with newer fields like nutritional psychiatry, is our diet. Your diet’s impact on mood swings & anxiety is being studied extensively & recent studies all point to the fact that there might be more of a link than we previously thought.

“You are what you eat”, they say, but how often do we pause to truly digest its implications? The link between food and mood is powerful, and we’re here to explore a side of nutrition that’s often overlooked. While we’re all in pursuit of a happier and healthier life, sometimes the very food on our plate could be steering us towards anxiety and mood disorders without us even realising it.

Speaking With Dr Parikshit Bhattacharyya, a nutritionist, we explore the anxiety and diet correlation through the lens of science.

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions that can make you feel excessively worried, scared, or uneasy, even when you might not have a “rational” reason to do so. There are different types of anxiety disorders like generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias with symptoms ranging from always having a nagging feeling of worry to full-blown panic attacks. Interestingly, what you eat can make a big difference in the battle against anxiety, with certain foods acting as powerful allies in managing anxiety and others exacerbating the symptoms further. Some of the foods that can trigger or exacerbate anxiety disorders are:

1. Caffeine: Most of us rely on coffee or tea to jumpstart our day, but excessive caffeine consumption is known to trigger restlessness, nervousness, and jitters, symptoms closely associated with anxiety.

2. Sugar Highs and Lows: Foods high in sugar, while giving a temporary high may also cause a crash, leaving you feeling irritable and anxious. High sugar intake can also lead to chronic inflammation, which may also contribute to anxiety.

3. Processed and Fast Foods: Your favourite fast food burger or bag of chips might provide instant gratification, but they’re packed with trans fats and additives known to increase inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, both of which are associated with anxiety.

4. Alcohol and Anxiety: A drink now and then might seem like a good way to unwind, but alcohol is a depressant that can worsen anxiety symptoms. It can also disrupt sleep patterns, dehydrate the body, and negatively affect brain chemistry.

5. Skipping Meals: Irregular eating patterns can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which can, in turn, trigger mood swings and anxiety. Skipping meals can also increase the body’s stress response, making it more prone to anxious feelings.

6. High Sodium Diets: Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure and hypertension. Hypertension can cause anxiety and, in turn, exacerbate it, creating a vicious cycle.

7. Nutritional Deficiencies: A diet lacking essential vitamins and minerals, particularly B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc, can contribute to anxiety disorders. These nutrients play a crucial role in brain health and the regulation of mood.

Dietary Solutions: Foods That Soothe Anxiety

Luckily though, simple dietary practices can make a big difference in managing anxiety. Herbal teas like chamomile and valerian root have calming effects and sipping on a warm cup can be soothing. Opting for fresh, unprocessed meats or plant-based protein sources helps avoid nitrate and other preservative which may increase inflammation and practising mindful eating by paying full attention to the sensory experiences of your meal can help reduce stress and anxiety related to eating habits. An imbalanced gut microbiome, often caused by a poor diet, has also been linked to anxiety and maintaining a healthy gut through a balanced diet rich in fibre and fermented foods can help protect against anxiety. If you’re suffering from Anxiety, incorporating the following dietary practices and nutrients in your lifestyle may help you:

  1. Whole Foods Diet: Eating a diet rich in unprocessed food such as whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables provides the body with essential nutrients, crucial for overall well-being, including mental health.
  2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3s, found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, have been linked to reducing symptoms of anxiety and play a role in brain health, helping regulate neurotransmitters associated with mood.
  3. Hydration: Dehydration can affect mood and energy levels. Make sure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day to stay adequately hydrated.
  4. Complex Carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, oats, and brown rice can help stabilise blood sugar levels. This can prevent mood swings and reduce feelings of anxiety.
  5. Protein: Protein-rich foods like lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and legumes contain amino acids that are essential for the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which can help regulate mood.
  6. Magnesium: Magnesium is a mineral that has been linked to anxiety relief. Foods rich in magnesium include nuts, seeds, spinach, and whole grains.
  7. Vitamin D: Vitamin D plays a role in mood regulation. Exposure to sunlight is one natural way to increase your vitamin D levels. You can also get vitamin D from fortified foods like milk, cereal, and fatty fish.
  8. Probiotics: Consuming probiotic-rich foods like yoghurt, kefir, and fermented foods may help support a healthy gut microbiome which in turn helps with Anxiety.
  9. Folate: Low levels of folate have been associated with depressive symptoms. Foods rich in folate include leafy greens, beans, and citrus fruits.

It is important to keep in mind that while diet can play a role in managing anxiety, it should not be considered a standalone treatment for anxiety disorders. If you’re experiencing severe or persistent anxiety, it’s essential to seek guidance from a healthcare professional or mental health expert who can provide tailored strategies and treatments to address your specific needs.

Healthy Living and Its Impact on Social Isolation

Loneliness within the realm of health & fitness presents itself in nuanced ways. It’s more than just the reverberating sound of weights hitting the gym floor; it’s an echo of emptiness resonating within. Even though solitary runs can be physically invigorating, they may often lead to an emotional void & the trap of measuring our reflections against carefully curated fitness selfies only intensifies the feelings of inadequacy, intensifying isolation. This sense of disconnect finds its roots in various contributing factors.

The convenience of solo workout apps and virtual fitness programs inadvertently limits opportunities for social interaction. Furthermore, the fitness industry’s emphasis on sculpted bodies and exceptional athletic prowess inadvertently fosters a culture of comparison, sidelining those who don’t conform to these rigid standards.

Loneliness doesn’t just sting; it impacts our mental and physical well-being. Studies have shown it can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and depression, all of which can sabotage our motivation to exercise. The very activity we turn to for health can, ironically, become a source of further distress & we see how sometimes healthy living and social isolation go hand in hand.

So how does one counter this tide of isolation and cultivate a more fulfilling fitness journey?

Before moving towards a more satisfying and achievable fitness journey, it is important to reflect and find your reason to change. Counselling psychologist Aditi Kumar from Pause gives some insightful tips that can help you get there:

Cultivating Inner Harmony: Mindfulness practices like meditation or deep breathing during workouts can help us break free from the loop of negative thoughts and connect with our bodies in a present, non-judgmental way. This inward focus can foster self-compassion and appreciation, combating the external pressures of the fitness world.

Finding Your Tribe: Stepping outside the solo circuit can be transformative. Joining group fitness classes, running clubs, or online communities connects us with individuals who share similar goals and challenges. These shared experiences create a sense of belonging and support, fostering motivation and camaraderie.

Simple Steps, Big Impact: Even small gestures can make a big difference. Striking up a conversation with fellow gym-goers, offering encouragement to others during a class, or simply smiling and making eye contact can spark connections and build a sense of community. Remember, we’re all on this journey together, not in competition.

Conquering Comparison: The quest for a “perfect” physique often leads down a rabbit hole of self-criticism and comparison. To combat this, it’s crucial to shift our focus. Celebrate personal progress, no matter how small, and acknowledge the unique journey each individual takes. Remember, your worth is not defined by a number on the scale or the size of your biceps.

Embracing Solitude: While connecting with others is enriching, solo workouts also hold value. To make them more enjoyable, try listening to uplifting music, podcasts, or audiobooks. Experiment with different routines and environments. Focus on the joy of movement and the connection with your own body.

Seeking Support: When the going gets tough, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Fitness trainers can provide personalised guidance and support, while therapists can equip you with tools to manage loneliness and negative self-talk.

You’re not alone in this struggle. Countless individuals have overcome loneliness in their fitness journeys. Read inspiring stories of people who built supportive communities, embraced their unique paths, and found joy in movement. Let their experiences guide and inspire your own. Healthy living and social isolation, if done well don’t have to go hand in glove.

Loneliness, like any obstacle, is something you can overcome. By practising the strategies mentioned above and seeking support when needed, you can cultivate a more fulfilling and connected fitness journey. Your well-being encompasses not just your physical health but also your mental and emotional state. Embrace the power of community, celebrate your progress, and find joy in the movement of your body and the connections you forge along the way.

Building Enduring Willpower for Lasting Fitness Results

Willpower is often seen as the mental fuel that helps us resist immediate temptations in favour of achieving our long-term aspirations. That internal force propels us to say no to that extra slice of cake or stick to a study schedule rather than indulging in distractions. The common belief surrounding willpower is that it’s an unlimited resource—an endless reservoir we can tap into whenever we need to make disciplined choices. This perception has led many to believe that with enough determination, they can indefinitely resist any temptation or achieve any goal without facing depletion. But in reality, studies suggest otherwise, challenging the notion of boundless willpower and opening up discussions on its limitations. Building enduring willpower for fitness & any other goals can significantly impact how we approach our goals and habits in our daily lives.

Scientific Perspective on Willpower

Psychological studies, such as the Marshmallow Experiment conducted by Walter Mischel in the early 1970s, have offered valuable insights into the limitations of willpower. In this experiment, young children were given a choice: they could either have one marshmallow immediately or, if they waited for a short period, they could have two marshmallows. The study aimed to understand delayed gratification and self-control in children.

The findings highlighted variations in children’s abilities to resist temptation. Some children could wait patiently and resist eating the marshmallow, while others succumbed to immediate gratification. The study revealed that those who displayed stronger willpower to delay gratification tended to have better life outcomes in the future, such as improved academic performance and social success.

However, further research into willpower limitations has emerged over time. Subsequent studies noted that willpower operates like a muscle—it can get fatigued with use. Counselling Psychologist Aditi Kumar says that “just as muscles tire after strenuous exercise, our capacity for self-control diminishes after repeated exertion. This phenomenon, ego depletion, suggests that willpower is not an infinite resource and can be depleted by decision-making, stress, or extended self-control efforts.”

Decision Making & Fatigue

Decision fatigue refers to the phenomenon where the quality of our decision-making deteriorates after making numerous choices or facing complex decisions. Much like a muscle that tires with overuse, our mental capacity for making sound choices diminishes after a series of decisions.

When faced with a multitude of choices throughout the day, from minor selections like what to wear or eat to more significant decisions at work or home, the brain’s energy for decision-making depletes. Consequently, as the day progresses, decision fatigue sets in, leading to poor judgment, impulsiveness, or a tendency to avoid decision-making altogether.

This fatigue can also contribute to ego depletion, reducing overall willpower and self-control in other areas of life. Understanding decision fatigue allows individuals to recognise its impact and implement strategies like simplifying choices, setting routines for trivial decisions, and prioritising significant choices to preserve mental energy and maintain better decision-making abilities throughout the day.

How To Work On It

“Establishing habits and routines can serve as a powerful tool to conserve our finite willpower reserves. By turning tasks into automatic routines, we reduce the need for constant decision-making, thereby preserving mental energy for more critical choices,” Aditi Kumar tells us.

Imagine habits as mental shortcuts; once formed, they require less conscious effort. Simple routines, like laying out clothes the night before or prepping meals in advance, can significantly minimise decision fatigue in the morning rush. Structuring our environment to support these routines further eases the cognitive load.

For instance, organising workspaces or setting reminders can facilitate habit formation. By creating an environment that nudges us towards automated, healthier choices, we effectively reduce the number of decisions we need to make, thus conserving our willpower for when it truly matters. This way, habits act as allies, optimising our daily lives by freeing up mental space and maintaining our self-control throughout the day.

While willpower might diminish, motivation can influence persistence and determination toward a goal. When facing challenges or experiencing willpower depletion, high levels of motivation can provide the necessary push to continue despite the mental fatigue. Motivation fuels the desire and commitment to achieve long-term objectives, offering a sense of purpose that can outweigh the temporary limitations of willpower. Maintaining motivation can also positively influence the level of perceived effort, making tasks seem less mentally taxing and consequently reducing the strain on willpower reserves.

SAD Symptoms & Management – Expert Advice & Strategies

As winter’s icy fingers grip the country, some of us find ourselves diving into a vortex of lethargy and despondency. As much as we’d like the chilly season to be just about being in the blanket and sipping hot cocoa; for some, it is accompanied by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depressive disorder that aligns itself with the seasons, primarily kicking in when autumn arrives and then lingering throughout the darker, colder months. The culprit? The sun’s elusiveness. With shorter daylight hours, our internal body clock gets haywire, messing up the levels of serotonin (our feel-good neurotransmitter) and melatonin (the hormone that regulates sleep).

Picture a constant battle against fatigue, a craving for carbs that goes way beyond mere comfort eating, and a severe lack of motivation. Add in some mood swings, irritability, and the insatiable need to sleep excessively— there is a high possible chance that it is SAD.

While it is more common in women, men can also be affected, and symptoms typically begin between the ages of 18 and 30. Women in their 20s and 30s seem to be particularly susceptible to this condition as they are more likely to experience fluctuating estrogen levels, which again, can affect the production of serotonin. Although, the reasons for this are not well understood.

The Key Triggers

Aditi Kumar, a counselling psychologist at Pause tells us that there are multiple factors that contribute to the development of SAD. Reduced exposure to natural light is a major cause, especially during the fall and winter months. The lack of sunlight affects the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, disrupting the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin. This can lead to decreased serotonin levels, which can influence mood regulation. In addition, lower light levels can disturb the body’s melatonin production, leading to disruptions in sleep patterns and contributing to feelings of lethargy and fatigue.

During colder months, people often engage in less physical activity due to harsh weather conditions and shorter daylight hours. Regular physical exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters that can boost mood and reduce stress. A decrease in physical activity can lead to lower endorphin levels, worsening feelings of fatigue and low mood associated with SAD.

Dietary changes during winter months can also contribute to SAD and people may crave high-carbohydrate and high-sugar foods to feel comforted. While carbohydrates increase serotonin production, which can temporarily improve mood, excessive consumption of such foods can lead to energy crashes and weight gain, which can affect mood stability. Insufficient intake of certain nutrients, such as vitamin D due to reduced sunlight exposure, has been linked to an increased risk of depression and SAD, and can even impact mood regulation.

A skilled psychiatrist or mental health professional can diagnose SAD post conducting a thorough mental health exam and medical history assessment, after which the path to treatment and recovery gets clearer.

Management, Treatment, & Getting Better

Living with SAD can be tough, but there are a variety of effective treatments available to help you feel better.

SAD symptoms are similar to major depressive disorder, and exercise, nutrient-rich foods, and vitamin D are effective strategies for treating both. Regular exercise stimulates endorphin release, which combats lethargy and fatigue. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and walnuts, have been linked to improved mood, while adequate vitamin D levels are essential due to reduced sunlight exposure.

While monitoring diet and exercise is important, mindfulness and stress reduction practices, such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises, can also help manage stress levels. These techniques promote relaxation and may reduce symptoms of anxiety or depression associated with SAD. If these feel a bit overwhelming, start small by picking simpler tasks such as walking around the house or a park, stretching in between work, are helpful too.

A commonly witnessed sign when someone is dealing with SAD is isolation. Maintaining social connections and seeking support from friends, family, or support groups can alleviate feelings of isolation and improve mood during the darker months. Therefore, it is important to stay connected and seek support when necessary.

Since lack of light is a key trigger for SAD, one of the primary strategies for combating SAD is increasing exposure to light. Light therapy, or phototherapy, involves using a light box that emits bright, artificial light mimicking natural sunlight. This exposure helps regulate the body’s internal clock and boost the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which influences mood.

To get the most out of a light box, it’s important that it provides exposure to 10,000 lux of light while producing as little UV light as possible. Ideally, it should be used within the first hour of waking up in the morning for about 20 to 30 minutes. Make sure to keep it about 16 to 24 inches (41 to 61 centimetres) from your face, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions about distance. While using the light box, keep your eyes open but avoid looking directly at the light.

Beginner’s Guide to Boxing for Mental Health

“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it — then I can achieve it.”

-Muhammad Ali

Boxing has shifted gears from merely a sport to a popular way to stay fit and now is gaining momentum as a go-to stress relief remedy. The idea of letting out steam in a controlled environment through the swift punches and jabs of boxing has drawn many to the ring, which is why we put together this guide for beginner boxing for mental health.

I’ve been in the fitness industry for over 7 years and have expertise in various fitness categories such as boxing, kickboxing, strength training, mixed martial arts, and parkour. I’d like to share how beyond the gloves and the intense workout lies a powerful means of managing stress, and enhancing mental health with this guide for Beginner Boxing for Mental Health.

Traditionally seen as a vigorous combat sport, boxing has emerged as a therapeutic practice renowned for its mental health benefits. Its transformative power lies in the dynamic combination of physical exercise, mental focus, and emotional release.

The correlation between exercise and stress reduction has been well-documented, but boxing takes this to another level. As a rigorous physical activity, it triggers the release of endorphins – those feel-good neurotransmitters – elevating mood and dialling down stress levels. The thump of a punching bag or the focus needed for a round of sparring can instantly dissolve anxiety and uplift spirits.

Boxing, a Cathartic Outlet

In a boxing ring, the repetitive movement of punching bags or mitts allows for a release of built-up tension, frustration, and stress in a constructive manner. The act of throwing punches, engaging muscles, and expending energy become an avenue to let out emotions that might otherwise stay bottled up.

The structured environment of a boxing gym or training session ensures that these emotional releases occur in a safe and controlled space. Through a combination of physical activity, mental focus, and a supportive environment, boxing provides a cathartic outlet that allows individuals to release pent-up tension, anger, and anxiety in a controlled and structured setting.

Improving Mental Resilience & Providing Emotional Balance

Apart from helping in managing Stress, Boxing also cultivates mental toughness and resilience. The mental fortitude required to navigate intense training sessions, focus on technique, and confront challenges contributes significantly to building mental strength.

The sport’s interactive nature, coupled with the physical intensity, encourages participants to be present in the moment. This mindfulness aspect, focusing on immediate responses and the current situation, aids in diverting attention away from worries or stressors, fostering emotional equilibrium and mental clarity.

Engaging in boxing training provides a focused and exhilarating experience, creating a positive impact on mental well-being and leaving individuals with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. The rhythmic and repetitive movements in boxing, such as punching combinations and footwork drills, can have a calming effect on the mind, promoting a meditative state. The concentration required during boxing workouts redirects attention away from negative thoughts, providing a temporary escape and helping individuals break the cycle of stress.

Apart from individual experiences, the social aspect of training, whether with a partner or in a group class, can also help quite a bit as it fosters a sense of camaraderie and support.

Social Interaction and Support

Boxing isn’t just about training in solitude; it often comes with a robust social component that contributes significantly to mental well-being.

Participating in group classes introduces individuals to a community of like-minded individuals pursuing similar fitness and mental health goals. The collective energy and shared enthusiasm for the sport create an uplifting atmosphere that can significantly alleviate stress.

Trainers and fellow boxers, often part of this community, play a very important part in offering support and encouragement. They serve as a source of motivation, helping individuals push through mental barriers and challenges. The mutual support and encouragement received from trainers and peers can boost confidence, reduce anxiety, and create a sense of belonging.

The sense of community and mutual support inherent in boxing environments often extends beyond the ring. Engaging with a community that shares common interests and goals fosters friendships and a support network, providing an outlet to discuss challenges and seek advice.

To Conclude

While boxing offers incredible mental health benefits, safety precautions are important. Learning proper technique, using protective gear, and ensuring supervised training is imperative to prevent injuries and ensure a safe experience.

Boxing is not just about physical strength and agility; it is an impactful tool that positively influences mental health. Its ability to alleviate stress, enhance emotional well-being, and cultivate mental resilience makes it a holistic and effective practice for improving overall mental health and well-being.

If you want to find the best boxing & fighting fitness gyms in Delhi, find them here.

Rational Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness, often confused as the same things are actually quite different in their approach towards promoting focus, self-awareness, and emotional regulation. Meditation involves training the mind to achieve heightened consciousness, often through focused attention or relaxation techniques. Conversely, mindfulness centres on being present and fully engaged in the current moment, acknowledging thoughts and sensations without judgment. Over the years, these practices have surged in popularity due to their proven benefits for mental health and holistic well-being. Studies have highlighted their positive impact, including reduced stress, improved emotional regulation, enhanced focus, and increased self-awareness. They empower individuals to manage anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns, fostering a sense of calm and resilience amidst life’s challenges. Their simplicity and adaptability make them accessible to anyone seeking mental clarity and emotional balance. Unfortunately, these simple practices often get clouded in complexity, with people struggling to get a routine going. To make it easy for you, we put together this beginner’s guide to meditation & mindfulness so you can get a rational perspective on this practice.

Benefits & Practical Application

Meditation and mindfulness are like superheroes for our mental health. They swoop in and help reduce stress, calm our minds, and give us better control over our emotions. When we practice these techniques regularly, they train our brains to hit the pause button on racing thoughts, slow down, and focus on the present moment.

You know that “zen” feeling we talk about? That’s the result! Both practices are stress-busters, lowering our cortisol levels (stress hormone) and giving us a much-needed mental break from the chaos of everyday life. This happens because both meditation & mindfulness trigger the relaxation response by calming down the sympathetic nervous system and revving up the parasympathetic nervous system.

The autonomic nervous system has two crucial sides: the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. Think of them as the gas pedal and brake, responding to both internal and external demands. The sympathetic system deals with inflammation and arousal, while the parasympathetic system handles anti-inflammatory processes and relaxation. While the sympathetic system often gets a bad rap for stress and health issues, it’s more like a balance to the parasympathetic system, offering vital functions for life.

Mindfulness doesn’t need to be fancy or mysterious; it’s as simple as savouring every bite when you eat a meal or focusing on your breath. Mindful eating is like a slow-motion movie for your meal, paying attention to flavours, textures, and how your body feels while eating. Then there are breathing exercises, like taking a few deep breaths and feeling your lungs expand and contract – that’s a mini reset for your mind. Even when you’re walking, just be in the moment, notice your steps, the rhythm of your movement, and the sounds around you. These small activities are like mini doses of mindfulness in our everyday lives.

They’re simple, yet powerful; it’s us who sometimes overcomplicate things, but mindfulness is about simplicity and being fully present in whatever we do.

The Myths

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of myths that accompany these practices. For instance, a lot of people believe that Meditation is about stopping thoughts entirely when in reality, it’s about observing thoughts without attachment. Even experienced meditators have active brains during practice, redirecting attention without aiming for complete mental silence. Despite its roots in spiritual traditions, it’s a secular practice backed by scientific research, benefitting stress reduction, focus, and emotional well-being for all. There’s also no “right way” of doing it and you can do it in any posture as your comfort is key, whether sitting, lying, or walking. Meditation isn’t an instant fix but rewires the brain with consistent practice, enhancing resilience over time. Short sessions, as little as ten minutes daily, can yield benefits, as opposed to common misconceptions.

Meditation and mindfulness, despite their simplicity at their core, often get tangled in unnecessary complexity. People complicate these practices by setting unrealistic expectations, overthinking the process, and getting lost in a sea of techniques and information. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Both meditation and mindfulness foster present awareness, promoting acceptance and understanding of reality that go beyond attention while encouraging openness and non-judgmental curiosity. Use this beginner’s guide to meditation & mindfulness & start your practice, even if it’s just 5 minutes a day.

Dopamine Detox: A Deep Dive into The Trending Reset

If you have been constantly distracted, struggling to concentrate, and finding it hard to get excited about your goals, you’re not alone. Distractions, living in a digital era where we’re bombarded with notifications, are constant, making it tough to stay focused on what truly matters. If you’re nodding along, a dopamine detox might be the reset you need. But use this dopamine detox guide & you’ll see, this detox isn’t about deprivation.

Dopamine is a chemical messenger in our brain that plays a crucial role in various aspects of our mental functioning. It’s often called the “feel-good” neurotransmitter because it’s associated with reward, pleasure, and motivation. In our brain, dopamine is involved in several key functions. One of its primary roles is in the brain’s reward system, where it contributes to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.

Our brains are wired to seek out new and exciting things, and technology has taken full advantage of this. But over time, this constant stimulation can lead to a desensitisation of our dopamine receptors, meaning we need more and more stimulation to feel the same level of pleasure. It’s like building up a tolerance to a drug.

Beyond pleasure, dopamine also helps regulate our motivation and drive. It plays a significant role in decision-making, goal-setting, and initiating action. When dopamine levels are balanced, it supports our ability to focus, plan, and work towards achieving our goals.

However, it’s essential to note that dopamine’s role isn’t solely about pleasure. It’s more about anticipation and motivation. For example, it’s not the satisfaction of eating a slice of cake that releases dopamine; it’s the anticipation of eating it that does. Similarly, dopamine motivates us to pursue goals rather than providing direct pleasure from achieving them.

Taking The Detox Plunge

When you’re overstimulated, your dopamine system goes for a toss and nothing seems to motivate or excite you any more. To circumvent this, a “Dopamine detox” can be helpful.

The idea behind a dopamine detox is to break the cycle of constant stimulation and restore sensitivity to natural pleasures and long-term goals. It’s a method aimed at resetting our brains by intentionally abstaining from activities that provide instant gratification. People who try dopamine detox aim to disconnect from everyday stimuli like social media, sugar, or shopping, and replace them with more mindful habits and lifestyle choices. The fast can last for a few hours or even several days.

If you’re looking to take control of your attention and reduce your dependency on instant gratification, a dopamine detox might be just what you need. To help you with that, here’s a step-by-step guide:

  • First, identify the activities in your routine that provide instant gratification and stimulate the release of dopamine. These could be anything from social media browsing to snacking to binge-watching TV shows.
  • Next, create a clear plan for your detox. Decide how long you want to do it for – a day, a weekend, or even a whole week – and stick to it.
  • During your detox, limit or eliminate exposure to these stimulating activities. Turn off app notifications, delete social media apps temporarily, or use browser extensions to block distracting websites.
  • Let your friends, family, and colleagues know about your detox intentions so they can support you. Ask them to avoid activities that might derail your detox, like inviting you to game nights or shared online activities.
  • Replace these stimulating activities with pursuits that promote relaxation, mindfulness, and personal growth. Try reading, journaling, meditating, going for walks in nature, painting, or pursuing hobbies you’ve neglected.
  • If you work with digital tasks, create boundaries by scheduling regular breaks and sticking to them. Use this time for short walks, stretching exercises, or brief relaxation techniques to refresh your mind.
  • Make sure you prioritise sleep and rest during your detox. Quality sleep is crucial for brain health and will aid in the detox process.

At the end of your detox period, reflect on how it impacted your mental clarity, focus, and overall well-being. Note any changes in your productivity or attention span. Assess whether you’d like to incorporate certain detox practices into your routine.

Life After Dopamine Detox

After a dopamine detox, it’s essential to re-enter daily life with a mindset that emphasises moderation and balance. Instead of aiming for total elimination of stimulating activities, focus on incorporating healthier habits while still enjoying what brings you joy. Start by reintroducing activities gradually, ensuring they align with your goals and values. Prioritise time for reflection, making conscious choices about which activities contribute positively to your life and which might need moderation. Setting clear boundaries and time limits for technology or activities that were previously overindulged in is crucial. Create a balanced lifestyle that fosters productivity and happiness without overwhelming yourself.

From Overwork to Overcoming: Understanding Workaholism

A strong work ethic is often worn as a badge of honour and seen as something to aspire to. Comments about “70 hour work weeks” are common and because of the apparent positive aspect of “work” and its contributions to society, workaholism is often given the clean chit when it comes to behavioural addictions. Unfortunately though, like any other addiction, it can easily cross the line into an obsessive need to work beyond what may be healthy, leading to a negative impact on your life and fostering an unhealthy and unbalanced relationship with work. This imbalance can erode personal well-being and mental and physical health, damaging important aspects of life. Use this guide with tips for overcoming workaholism to create a healthier work-life balance.

Workaholism starts with the idea that a person holds on to their professional identity more than their social, relational, and individual roles in life. These roles may not be as well-established or have an equal balance, leading to a uni-dimensional living experience which can be damaging in the long run.

Aditi Kumar, a psychologist, explains, “workaholism often involves an individual tying their sense of self-worth and identity closely to their work and professional achievements. This often leads to an unhealthy and unbalanced focus on work, potentially resulting in negative consequences for one’s personal life and overall well-being.”

The workplace is often looked at as a place where you need to invest more hours to demonstrate your dedication, negotiate a raise, and receive validation, acceptance, or output. But, this pattern is rarely seen for what it might be, an addiction.

Dopamine & Addiction

At present, there are no widely recognised theoretical models that fully explain the biological roots of work addiction, and there haven’t been any studies involving brain imaging, physiological data, or genetics in this context either. However, workaholism can be thought of as a form of behavioural addiction, as it often occurs alongside other mental health issues and could also be linked to stress-related health problems.

Research suggests that workaholics exhibit distinct brain activity patterns as the areas linked to the reward system, such as the nucleus accumbens, light up when they overwork. Additionally, their prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision-making and impulse control, often shows weaker connections, possibly explaining why workaholics struggle to switch off – the brain’s “brakes” aren’t working effectively.

The act of moving towards and achieving a goal makes our brain release dopamine, a neurotransmitter connected to our mood which makes us feel good. Addiction of any kind works in a similar mechanism and workaholics often get addicted to this feeling, leading to a cycle of excessive work as they chase the next rush of dopamine. Addiction is rooted in how our brain interprets pleasure, creating a craving to relive that pleasurable experience. Neurologically, addiction often occurs when dopamine interacts with another neurotransmitter called glutamate. This interaction can lead to compulsive behaviours, even when you know they are not in your best interest.

Hidden Costs of Workaholism

Workaholism, like many other addictions, comes with a hefty price tag. Workaholics often deal with chronic stress, triggering the release of cortisol, the chronic exposure of which can harm the brain and body in the long run. This addiction can also affect emotional health as workaholics struggle to spend time nurturing relationships outside of work and often find themselves stuck in a never-ending loop of mental health problems. Some common effects of workaholism include

Fight or Flight

The constant undercurrent of stress leads to the body being in “fight or flight” mode for long periods which can lead to physical and mental health issues. Anxiety becomes a constant companion, and health complaints often follow.

Adjacent Addictions

Workaholism doesn’t come alone. It is often accompanied by secondary addictions, like high alcohol intake, overeating or drugs as individuals seek mechanisms to cope.

Strained Relationships

The impacts of workaholism spill into the lives of those close to the workaholic as personal and family needs often take a back seat to work demands. Spouses and children may experience feelings of neglect, both emotionally and physically and isolation from support systems is common.

A Toxic Workplace

Organisations that promote workaholism often find absenteeism and high turnover common among their employees. Colleagues often struggle with the unrealistic standards set by workaholics.

The Road to Recovery

While a workaholic’s brain might seem like a one-way street, it’s important to recognise the signs of addiction and find balance. The price of workaholism is high, affecting individuals, families, and organisations and it’s worth making the effort to regain control and establish a healthier work-life balance. A few things that can help, both in the short and long term are;

  1. Therapy: Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can be very effective for workaholism. It helps individuals identify the root cause and underlying stressors or emotional triggers and equips them with strategies to change their behaviour.
  2. Mindfulness Practices: Mindfulness techniques like meditation and breathing exercises can be instrumental in regulating the brain’s reward system. Practising mindfulness also enables individuals to become more aware of their behaviours and thought patterns which helps control impulsive tendencies and recognise when they are overworking.
  3. Setting Boundaries: Establishing clear boundaries between work and personal life, and sticking to them, is an important step in rewiring the brain’s reward system. It allows individuals to create a more structured and sustainable routine, mitigating the effects of workaholism.
  4. Stress Management: Exercise, adequate sleep, and relaxation strategies can help reduce overall stress levels. By minimising stress, the compulsion to work excessively is also diminished.
  5. Rewiring the Brain’s Reward System: Over time, the brain’s reward system can be rewired. This involves gradually replacing the compulsion to overwork with healthier and more sustainable rewards and activities. For instance, taking pleasure in spending quality time with family, pursuing hobbies, and focusing on self-care can become new sources of fulfilment.

Workaholism isn’t just a matter of personal choice – it’s deeply rooted in brain chemistry. Work is important, but your brain and well-being deserve just as much attention.

Breathing Protocols to Stay Cool In Your Next Meeting

Raise your hand if that official meeting reminder flashing on your phone or laptop screen makes you feel slightly jittery. Trust me, I say this while I’ve got my hand up in the air just like you. Jitters, whether real or imagined are a normal part of our demanding work environments today. Important meetings, workplace interactions & sometimes even a text message, can often trigger stress, anxiety, and pressure. To get to a calm and focused place, navigating these feelings is a necessary part of our work day. Fortunately, there are techniques that can help you prepare mentally and emotionally for such encounters. We explore two effective methods – the Wim Hof Technique and Box Breathing as we delve into these pre-meeting relaxation breathing methods which have the added benefit for enhancing clarity and focus.

The Wim Hof Technique

The Wim Hof Technique, developed by Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof, is an elaborate method known for its potential to strengthen the mind-body connection and enhance mental resilience, combining specific breathing patterns, cold exposure, and meditation. The breathing exercises can be practiced on their own too, and are effective in stress relief & increasing focus. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to practice the Wim Hof Technique before “that” work meeting:

Step 1: Find a Comfortable Position Begin by sitting in a comfortable position. Ensure you are in a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed.

Step 2: Deep Breathing Take 30-40 deep breaths, inhaling fully through your nose and exhaling fully through your mouth. Each breath should be deep and powerful, filling your lungs to capacity.

Step 3: Breath Retention After the last exhale, hold your breath for as long as you comfortably can. This breath retention phase allows your body to adapt to a state of reduced oxygen and build resilience.

Step 4: Recovery Breath Inhale deeply and hold your breath for 15 seconds. Then, exhale fully and resume normal breathing. This marks the completion of one round of the Wim Hof Technique.

Step 5: Repeat Repeat the above steps for 3-4 rounds, gradually increasing the number of rounds over time as you become more comfortable with the practice.

Box Breathing

Box Breathing, also known as square breathing or four-square breathing, is a simple yet powerful relaxation technique employed by various professionals including the Navy SEALs to enhance focus and manage stress. The method involves equalising the length of each phase of the breath cycle, creating a “box” pattern. To use Box Breathing, follow the steps below:

Step 1: Sit Comfortably Sit in a relaxed position with your feet flat on the floor and your hands resting on your lap.

Step 2: Inhale Slowly Inhale through your nose to the count of four. Focus on filling your lungs with air gradually.

Step 3: Hold Your Breath Hold your breath for a count of four after the inhalation. Keep your focus on maintaining a steady and calm state.

Step 4: Exhale Smoothly Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of four. Release the air evenly and thoroughly.

Step 5: Hold Empty Lungs Hold your breath again for a count of four before starting the next inhalation.

Step 6: Repeat Continue this pattern for 3-5 minutes, or until you feel a sense of relaxation and mental clarity.

The Science Behind the Techniques:

Both the Wim Hof Technique and Box Breathing have scientific grounding, making them more than just anecdotal relaxation methods. The Wim Hof Technique involves controlled hyperventilation, which increases oxygen saturation and alkalinity in the blood. It also stimulates the vagus nerve, responsible for the body’s parasympathetic response, promoting relaxation and reducing stress.

Box Breathing, on the other hand, engages the parasympathetic nervous system by extending the exhalation phase, leading to a decrease in heart rate and promoting a state of calmness. This technique’s rhythmic pattern also helps synchronise neural activity, aiding in concentration and mental focus.

Preparing yourself mentally and emotionally before a significant work meeting is essential for optimal performance and decision-making. The Wim Hof Technique and Box Breathing  are powerful tools to start building your toolkit of pre-meeting relaxation breathing methods.

Stress and the Musculoskeletal System

To say that modern life gets stressful is an understatement. Stress of all kinds takes a toll on our physical, mental and emotional well-being, often leading to all sorts of health problems which if not attended to in a timely manner, can get complicated. While we’re used to thinking of the effects of stress on our immunity & mental health, we sometimes tend to discount it’s effects on the stress impact on the musculoskeletal system. This complex framework of muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and joints plays a pivotal role in our daily activities, providing structural support to the body and allowing us to move, maintain posture, and carry out everyday tasks. Prolonged & chronic stress, can play havoc on the musculoskeletal system, leading to muscle tension and discomfort to more severe conditions like musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

All forms of stress, whether physical or psychological, triggers a series of responses in the body, including the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to prepare our body to deal with the stress. While these hormones are essential for the “fight or flight” response in challenging situations, chronic stress can affect our musculoskeletal system negatively & results in;

  • Muscle Tension: Stress often causes muscles to contract and tense up. This tension can lead to discomfort, stiffness, and pain, commonly experienced in the neck, shoulders, and back.
  • Poor Posture: Stress can contribute to poor posture as individuals may hunch their shoulders or clench their jaw unconsciously. Over time, this can strain muscles and joints, leading to chronic pain.
  • Reduced Healing Ability: Chronic stress can impair the body’s ability to repair and regenerate tissues. This means that even minor injuries or strains may take longer to heal in high-stress environments.
  • Sleep Disruption: Stress can lead to poor sleep quality or insomnia, further exacerbating musculoskeletal issues. Sleep is crucial for the body’s recovery and repair processes.

While reducing stress on a holistic level should be a priority, we must acknowledge that it might not always be possible to eliminate it entirely. Navigating short term spikes in stress is a valuable tool & the next time you’re feeling stressed, try to integrate these simple yet powerful practices into your daily routine to help your body & mind.

  • Ergonomic Workspace: If you spend a lot of time at your desk, ensure that your workspace is ergonomically designed to reduce physical stress on your body. A supportive chair, a standing desk or a desk at the proper height and proper computer screen and keyboard placement, all go a long way in reducing stress on your musculoskeletal system.
  • Regular Breaks: Take short breaks throughout the day to stretch and relax your muscles. Simple stretching exercises like these can alleviate tension and improve circulation.
  • Active Stress Management: Practice stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to reduce stress holistically.
  • Physical Activity: Engage in regular physical activity to keep your muscles and joints strong and flexible. Exercise is a powerful stress reducer and promotes overall musculoskeletal health.
  • Seek Support: Don’t hesitate to seek support from colleagues, supervisors, or mental health professionals if stress becomes overwhelming.
  • Healthy Lifestyle: Maintain a balanced diet, stay hydrated, and get adequate sleep. These lifestyle factors play a significant role in managing stress and supporting your musculoskeletal system.

Stress is an unavoidable part of modern life, but its impact on the body & the musculoskeletal system in particular can be mitigated with proactive measures. Focusing on active stress management techniques, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and creating an ergonomic work environment can reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders & help you manage stress in a better manner.

Racing Thoughts: In the Mind’s Maze

You know how you sometimes just want your brain to ‘SHUT UP’? Unfortunately, it’s sometimes a stubborn being, prone to racing thoughts, those seemingly endless carousel of worries and random musings which can be a challenging experience for many of us. As someone who has grappled with the incessant chatter of an overactive mind, I’ve come to realise that I’m not alone in this experience. Coping with racing thoughts can be a hard ask, as they’re mostly relentless companionions, interrupting moments of calm and engulfing us in a whirlwind of anxieties and uncertainties.

Recently, the chatter got more frequent & I decided to dig deeper to try and understand it better and find solutions that can help me manage this better.

What Are Racing Thoughts?

Racing thoughts, as it turns out are a common symptom of various mental health conditions, characterised by an uncontrollable flow of rapid and repetitive thoughts. These thoughts can often feel chaotic and challenging to manage, completely debilitating us & reducing our ability to focus on tasks. They may also be accompanied by physical symptoms such as restlessness and an increased heart rate.

Triggers for racing thoughts can vary from person to person but research shows that stress, anxiety, trauma, and even certain substances can contribute to the onset of racing thoughts. They’re also commonly linked to anxiety disorders, such as generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder.

How do they affect us?

The constant stream of worries can heighten anxiety levels and feed into a vicious cycle leading to where we’re anxious because of our racing thoughts & experience racing thoughts because we’re anxious. Unfortunately, they can manifest in a variety of physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, and shortness of breath and can severely disrupt sleep patterns, leading to insomnia or difficulty falling asleep. The inability to quieten the mind at night can also exacerbate feelings of fatigue, loneliness, and emotional distress.

The rapid and intrusive nature of racing thoughts can make it challenging to concentrate on tasks or engage in meaningful activities. This negatively impacts productivity and the overall quality of our lives but like every other problem, there are multiple ways to manage this.

Strategies for Managing Racing Thoughts

  1. Mindfulness and Meditation: Practising mindfulness and meditation may help you become more aware of your racing thoughts without judgment. Techniques like deep breathing and grounding exercises can provide a sense of calm and reduce anxiety, thus reducing racing thoughts. If you feel like you need a moment of calm, try some of these techniques which we found helpful in grounding us in under 5 minutes.
  2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT is an evidence-based therapeutic approach that helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns. Through CBT, individuals can learn healthier ways of coping with racing thoughts and reframe them more positively.
  3. Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques: Managing stress is essential in mitigating racing thoughts. Engaging in relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation or spending time in nature can alleviate stress.
  4. Seeking Professional Help: If racing thoughts significantly impact daily life or persist over an extended period, seeking the help of a mental health professional may be helpful. A therapist or counsellor can provide personalised strategies to manage racing thoughts effectively.

While a lot of the activities above can help with racing thoughts when they occur, maintaining an overall sense of wellbeing may help prevent them from occurring regularly. Simple self-care strategies like regular exercise and physical activity, establishing a consistent sleep schedule, maintaining a balanced diet, and building supportive relationships all help with your overall wellbeing.

Managing racing thoughts begins with granting yourself the space to acknowledge their existence without judgment or fear. It’s not uncommon for anxiety to amplify these thoughts, creating a cycle that can feel overwhelming. However, by accepting that racing thoughts are a natural part of the human experience & using strategies to better our wellbeing, we can start to gather some agency over our racing thoughts.

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