Health & Beauty

How To Be Less Miserablist

Hoola Hoops or various colours close up

It had been a while since I’d played this game. Maybe even half a century. It’s nighttime, a comfy 30 degrees and we’re at a party that’s progressed into the pool. I have one foot on someone’s shoulder – David? Thomas? Richard? It’s difficult to distinguish between them as I heave myself into the clutches of Liz who’s waiting for me to complete the human pyramid. Finally I’m up and for a few seconds we are a triangular mass of wobbling post-youth bodies that then crash into the inky water, shrieking like the children we once were.

That was last month at a reunion in Bahrain where we all grew up together in a Californian-styled township in the desert, a story for another day. As these pewter grey November days close in, quick, quick, spit spot – name the last time you really goofed around? Like blaaah, head shaking, arm-waving crazy? See. Long time. Too long.

Yet in these not-so-cheerful times, it turns out George Bernard Shaw was right about fooling around being seriously good for you.“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing” wrote the Irish playwright. The benefits? Manifold. Adult play relieves stress, boosts feel-good endorphins, improves brain function, helps relationships, keeps you feeling young and energetic and may even improve your resistance to disease.

In my forsaken executive life of being at my desk at 8am, 10 miles from home, I was deemed “lugubrious” by one of the fashion team. He was right. A tendency towards worry and a diabetic child to keep alive was lethally mixed with fierce weekly deadlines.  Something had to give and for me it was the lightness of being. A later bout of working with optimistic millennials did little to help.

Yet in this of all years, life’s become inestimably brighter, slipping those surly bonds of gloom.

What gave? Frankly even I was bored of having a resting worried face. But the turning point came down to a cat, two yogis, one run and two WhatsApp groups. Mostly the latter.

Sky the Siberian Forest kitten arrived to remind us of the joy of stroking and the fun of felines leaping for ping pong balls.  The last year has been like living with an amusingly furry two year old.

Then there was the physical fillip from a weekly run and two yoga sessions.  Emerging from a cotton cocoon to lollop around Wormwood Scrubs for 5km every Saturday at 9am does not induce laughter – but its after effects do. (News reports last month said one shortish run a week is all it takes to reduce the risk of early death, no matter how slow you go.) Ditto the two £10-a-go weekly yoga sessions that melt calcified fascia, lull the mind and mean you can embrace the freelancer’s 5/2 wardrobe – two whole days of never having to be properly dressed.

But the biggest spike in my annual lol activity came from spending more time, that most illusory commodity, with family and friends generally, and two groups of women specifically.

Here we need clarification – spending time at play is about more than just having fun. Renowned American shrink Stuart Brown has done a rather brilliant Ted talk on the subject, which if you can’t be bothered to watch says this: we need to retain our neoteny. Our what-eny?  Make it your word of the day because it means the “retention of juvenile features in the adult animal”, which translates into keep goofing around throughout your life. Because Brown is clear on one fact  — the opposite of play is depression.

He spent years studying prison inmates and almost every one of them suffered play deprivation as children. They missed out on the give-and-take learning that comes from play. “Normally we play,” says Brown.  “When we don’t, something has gone very, very, wrong, and non-players will suffer a number of effects.” He quotes field biologist Marc Bekoff, a former university professor, who says play is “training for the unexpected”.  Which makes it pretty essential in the sand-shifting era of Trump and Brexit.

Beyond playing the usual array of sports (abandoned tennis racket – one day I will return), the adult play market is now huge business, with the Lego trend a prime example. Last month ‘Build Yourself Happy: The Joy of Lego Play’ was published  as a manual for wellness while at John Lewis you can buy the 5,900 piece adult Lego Taj Mahal for £279.99.

Not for me, but let me tell you about those WhatsApp groups.  The ‘girl’s night’ one began several years ago with eight of us getting together whenever we could agree on a date, but which has progressed to added playtime. There was a recent wine drinking and pottery making evening, a perfect getting-your-hands-dirty combo,  with the resultant crusts of unglazed clay still rattling around in the back of my car.  Next up is a poker night in January with a real live poker teacher who’ll hopefully instruct us on how to arrange our flaccid faces into inscrutable masks. Cannot wait.

Meanwhile, a reunion reconnected me with three of my first friends, the ones I’d grown up with in primary school, had played spin the bottle with as a teenager and fooled around with in swimming pools. We are now scattered across Australia, Florida, London and Portugal but every Saturday sees us together again on a WhatsApp video grid, our latest quest being to learn to virally hoola hoop. I’m pretty good thanks – Sara, doll, it’s all in the hip thrust.

We definitely all need to play more.  To put down those  perfidious phones and dig out that frisbee or pack of cards.

The dream? A poker-playing, hoola-hooping pool party.

OMG lol, as only an Ok, Boomer would write.

How to be less of a miserablist in 2020

  1. Delete your Mail Online app pronto. Child killer/Kardashian tales are no longer needed.
  2. Buy Rummikub, the perfect board game as it can last less than 30 minutes. (Habitually losing inures me to the pain of real life.)
  3. Revisit Season 1 of Friends. Basically be more Chandler. Step away from Newsnight.
  4. Ask for ‘Funny Ha-ha’ in your stocking – 80 of the funniest stories ever written, out this month and edited by veteran wit Paul Merton. Leave the Booker prizewinners to gather dust.
  5. Purchase a cheap hoola hoop and eat latkes (hello Gill) or crisp sarnies with friends who make time to see you. Money does not = good times.
  6. When it’s all going south, listen to Baccara’s “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie”, the 1977 best-selling single of all time by a female group (18 million).  Joyfully awful lyrics, but it’ll  make you laugh and dance at the same time. Dream pastime.

How To Tune Into Your Intuition

balancing scale with heart on right side and brain left side

It is clear to see that the popularity of spiritual practices is on the rise. We’re seeing crystals lined up on desks, energy healers on speed dial and more of us are choosing to swap out post-work drinks for breath work. Whether you’re engaging in these practices or not, there’s one word that’s always mentioned and written about, but seems to escape many of us, and that’s intuition. Read More…

Morning Anxiety: Five Tricks To Help You Feel Less Frantic First Thing

White Analogue Clock on Blue Background

If you’re not a morning person, you’re not alone. What most of us would give for a few more hours’ sleep during the working week. However, while most feel lethargic and a bit sluggish when their alarm goes off, there are others who wake up to quite the opposite scenario – a racing heartbeat, serious sweating and a whirring brain that refuses to slow down. Up until three years ago, I fell into the latter category, with my daily pangs of morning anxiety leaving me drained before I’d even gotten out of bed. Read More…

How To Create Wellness Rituals Using The Five Elements

four symbolic semi circular image of the elements of earth, water, air and fire

When we hear the word nature, our minds usually revert to the classic green scenes of parks, gardens and abundant forests. If our minds are in a particularly expansive place, we might introduce mental images of the beach, ocean and perhaps a little memory detour of a recent trip to a garden centre.

We rarely think of nature as the elements of earth, air, fire and water, but they serve as such a powerful way to reconnect to nature. Stemming from ancient Greece, Ayurvedic teachings, spiritual schools of thought and nature-based practices such as Wicca and Neo-Paganism — all of which extol the benefits of incorporating these elements into our daily lives as tools to optimise our health and wellbeing. It’s not only the zodiac signs that are grouped into the four elements, but also tarot cards, herbs, crystals and colours.

There is a plethora of Instagram accounts dedicated to plants, while crystals are infiltrating the high street and more yoga classes seem to be held in local parks than in actual studios. We’re all trying to reconnect and embrace nature – and you don’t need to hug a tree to do it.  If you’re ready to reacquaint yourself and reap the benefits of unplugging, here’s your cheat sheet for adding the elements to your self-care, wellness rituals and physical space.

Earth

From the soil under our feet to rocks, trees, seeds and everything in between, earth provides us with our foundation. It’s a life source and represents the emotions we have that tie into our need for support and stability. Utilising this element is really great for keeping you grounded when life throws you off balance. It’s also helpful for the times when you’re stressed about money and material goods and need to regain a sense of calm and security.

To connect with this element, you can head to your local garden centre, walk around your house barefoot and go for long walks and picnics in the park. You can also represent earth around your home with crystals such as hematite, diffusing vetiver and patchouli essential oils and having a mini bowl of natural salt on your coffee table.

Air

It only takes a moment to look up at the sky, hear the wings of a bird flapping and feel the strength of a gust of wind as it turns your umbrella inside out, to understand that air is all around us. Associated with our mental landscape and communication, it’s an ever-changing and oxygen-containing force of nature.

Working with this element is a key component in your wellness practice as its both restorative and cleansing. The obvious and easiest way to connect to the air is via your breath. Take a quick breathing break in the day for an energy boost and to detox your mind when you’re overthinking. You can simply focus on each in and out breath or follow a breathing pattern of inhaling for three counts, holding for three and exhaling for three. To represent this element in your self-care rituals, you can do a smoke cleanse to clear out any stagnant or unwanted energies with bundles of herbs such as rosemary, thyme or mugwort and allow the smoke to pass through your space.

Fire

If you’ve ever stared at a flame for long enough, you’ll know how intoxicating fire can be. It comes in equal measures of transformation as it allows us to cook and feed ourselves to the danger that it brings with it. It’s an element that needs to be treated with reverence. If you’re a fire sign (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) you’ll know that there’s an intense passion and creative energy associated with fire. It’s governed by the sun and is associated with alchemy and strength.

A scented candle can change the mood of a space in an instant and you can take your nightly candle routine to the next level by spending some time gazing at the candle flame. Protect your eyes by softly focusing at the base of the flame, spending a few minutes here to feel a sense of peace and calm. It’s a great way to meditate if you find it hard focusing on your breath alone. Bring your loved ones into the ritual with a late night bonfire where you can spend some time writing out what you want to release and let go of and burn the papers together. There’s also non-fire related ways to bring some fiery magic into your life. Carry red jasper, garnet or carnelian crystals for when you need a dose of energy and motivation.

Water

Forget the aisles filled with every variety of mineral, filtered, spring and sparkling water that we have at our disposable, and let’s go back to basics. We simply can’t survive without it and on an energetic level, water corresponds to our emotional landscape, the moon, our intuition and dreams. It’s at once calming and soothing, but there’s also a sense of release when we cry and feeling of power in the rain, storms and its ability to put out fires.

The wonderful thing about this element, is that it’s so easy to add in to your everyday routines. Indulge in a ritual bath and pay attention to how the water feels on your skin and fill the tub with your favourite bath salts, oils and dried flowers. Of course, swimming and taking a soak in the ocean is a preferable option but your local pool is also a great way to utilise this element if you’re feeling overwhelmed and need to self-soothe. Another way to turn water into a ritual is by going all-out on your next cup of tea and doing a herbal tea meditation. From the moment you boil the kettle to the very last sip, just take your time and treat it like a mindfulness practice. Notice the sound that the kettle makes as it boils, savour every sip of tea, paying attention to how it tastes, the temperature and how it makes you feel.

Spirit

The bonus fifth element is everything that we’re made of and everything that’s around us, we’re all energy and we’re all connected, so as great as all these tools are, you’re the one who brings the magic. To give all of these elemental rituals a bit of a super-boost, deepen the relationship you have with yourself first. Take the time to add some stillness into your daily life by closing your eyes so you can open up your third eye (the centre of intuition and insight), even if you only have five minutes. Tune into your intuition by regularly checking in with your mind and body before making decisions. Do you get the same filter coffee every morning? Check in and ask if that’s actually what your body wants and trust your gut to guide you. Whether you’re working with crystals or doing a smoke cleanse, you need to set an intention first as that’s where the real power and benefits come from.

Giselle La Pompe-Moore is the founder of Project Ajna and offers one-to-one healing sessions that are rooted in spirituality, mysticism, wellness and self-care.

Can Taking Antidepressants Affect Your Skin?

Blue eye with a large tear filled with tablets driping down cheek

Antidepressants treat all sorts of illnesses, and can be beneficial for people with mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, OCD, and bipolar disorder. And while for most, the potential side effects are outweighed by the opportunity to feel better within ourselves, these types of medication can in some cases affect our skin and bodies in unexpected ways.

First and foremost, it’s important to point out that everyone is different and will experience antidepressants in a completely unique way. While some people may experience a couple of side effects, others might not have to deal with any. The prospect of side effects relating to the feel and appearance of our skin should certainly not be undermined, but they should not stop those who need help from trying this form of medication.

In most cases, the positive impact antidepressants can have on a person’s mood and mental health far outweighs any minor side effects they have to contend with. In fact, in some cases, antidepressants can even aid our skin. “There is a close link between the mind and the skin,” confirms New York dermatologist Dr. Hadley King. “Stress is a common trigger for acne and this may well improve with an antidepressant.”

However, some side effects are more serious than others, and even those that don’t seem too overwhelming deserve to be addressed and should never be tossed aside. Physical effects such as those that change our skin can impact our confidence as well as our appearance, so they are just as important than others. But how exactly can antidepressants impact the skin?

One of the most common things people may notice is increased dryness in the skin on the face, as well as on the body. “Some antidepressants cause dry mouth and lips because they can block acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter responsible for the production of saliva which lubricates our mouth and lips,” explains Shabir Daya, pharmacist and co-founder of Victoria Health. This opinion is also echoed by Dr King, who says that, “in some cases, antidepressants can lead to general dehydration, making your skin, lips and the rest of your body cry out for moisture.”

Perhaps surprisingly, given that dryness is common, one of the other biggest physical side effects of antidepressants is an increase in sweat. Dr King even reports that approximately 20% of people taking antidepressants are affected. And as well as distressing night sweats and increased, unwanted daily sweating, this side effect of medication can inevitably have an impact on the skin on the face and body, sometimes leading to unwanted breakouts.

Breakouts are also a possible side effect in their own right. Certain antidepressants such as Lithium (used to treat Bipolar depression), are more common in resulting in spots than others, and can have “a particular tendency in some individuals to trigger very unpleasant acne,” explains Dr Mervyn Patterson, Cosmetic Doctor and Skin Expert at Woodford Medical. Patterson also says that those who suffer with conditions such as acne or eczema may find that their problems are exacerbated with certain medications.

The best thing to do if you find yourself suffering with outbreaks of acne, dryness, excess sweating or any other side effect, is to talk to your doctor. Together, you can make a decision about whether the side effects outweigh the improvements you may be feeling in your health. It may even be worth trying a different type of medication to find the best solution for you. In the meantime, opting for a pared-back skincare routine is optimal, particularly if you are suffering from excessive dryness, eczema, or acne. Products by brands such as Ameliorate, which are tailored to suit sensitive skin types, can replenish the skin’s moisture levels without provoking further damage. Their Intensive Lip Treatment is particularly effective at soothing sore, chapped lips.

While there can be some upsetting skin-related side effects that come from taking antidepressants, it is important to talk to your doctor to work out which medication is best, and even to see a dermatologist for a personalised skincare routine to suit you and your medication.

A Guide To Summer Self-Care

Heart made with pink rocks

When we think about self-care we usually associate it with colder weather. Conjuring up visions of comforting rituals, journalling under a blanket with a warming cup of herbal tea and soaking in a hot bath filled with detoxifying salts. So understandably, self-care is usually the last thing on our minds once summertime comes around – bringing with it a schedule filled with rooftop cocktails, spontaneous barbecues and weekly weddings. Read More…