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How to tap into your natural feel-good factor with Patrick Holford

Do you suffer from low mood or a lack of motivation? While it’s common to lack enthusiasm, there is much that we can do to transform how we feel and regain that feel-good factor. Here Patrick Holford, an expert on the link between nutrition and mental health, offers some tips on how to make every day a good day.


Start your day with a big result. Pick one thing that’s important for you to do, and do that first rather than doing all the little jobs.


Don’t use sugar to reward yourself or cheer yourself up. Make yourself a good, healthy meal or a low-glycemic load snack.


Be careful about alcohol and other ‘numbing’ substances. If you find yourself using mind-numbing substances on a regular, or daily, basis to avoid uncomfortable feelings, a healthier alternative is to take some action to deal with what is troubling you.


Make time for exercise. Make an appointment in your diary, just as you would for any other event, and make this your time for exercising. Ideally, exercise outdoors. Exercise helps to boost your mood, which increases the feel-good endorphins as well as your serotonin levels. Going for a brisk walk in your local park or in natural surroundings is a great thing to do regularly, but particularly if you feel down or upset. Walk the feelings out.


Generate vital energy. Particularly beneficial are what Patrick Holford calls vital-energy-generating exercises such as yoga, t’ai chi and Psychocalisthenics. There’s growing evidence that these all help improve to your mood. Fundamental to their practice is a specific pattern of breathing and ‘mindfulness’ which has many positive benefits. The practice of these kinds of exercises are ‘centring’ in the sense that they move you out of becoming stuck in thoughts and feelings into a state of mindful awareness.


Get enough sleep. Sleep is as vital as any nutrient. Make sure your bedroom is good for sleeping. Use soft lighting when you go to bed, perhaps having a warm bath with relaxing essential oils, such as lavender, first. If you can’t sleep, read a good book, but not something dark and depressing. If you wake up in the night and your mind is wide awake, get up and do something; perhaps read your book, then go back to sleep when you feel tired. Don’t lie in bed stressing about not sleeping.


Get enough light. Don’t go to bed too late; it’s important to wake up early in the morning, ideally not long after the sun comes up. Of course, this depends on the time of year and where you live but, ideally, your curtains should let through sufficient light to help you wake naturally at dawn. In winter, if you need to get up before dawn, buy a dawn alarm. In the early evening, when it gets dark early, expose yourself to more light with full spectrum lighting, a full spectrum reading light or a light box. Go outside every day so that you receive some light that is not reaching you through glass, perhaps a walk in the park or to the shops. If you can, get a winter holiday in the sun.


Do what you can to reduce your stress levels. Stress often results from having unfinished business and unrealistic goals. Learn to say no and don’t take on something new until you have finished the last task. Don’t have unrealistic expectations of yourself.


Respect your feelings. No-one feels happy all the time. It is natural to experience sadness, anger and fear, and it is completely healthy to feel depressed when you are processing significant losses in life. Your feelings are there to show you something. The trick is to understand how you can learn from them and how to express them in a healthy way and then move on. If you truly let yourself experience an uncomfortable feeling, it will change. If you resist a feeling, it will persist.


Do something you enjoy every day. Make sure you do something that is just for you every day. If you are a busy mum and get little time to yourself, make some time, even if it is only for a short while. I know one mother who parks her car in a wood between school and work and reads for 15 minutes. That’s her time. If you enjoy company, take a break and hang out with a friend, or give them a call. We all need social interaction. Go for a walk in a natural environment. Watch a film. Have a massage. Sign up for a course on something you’ve always wanted to do. It doesn’t matter if you are any good at it; it’s fun to learn new things.


Extract taken from The Feel Good Factor by Patrick Holford.