1 Thing You Can Do Today

Get up at the same time each day

Do you find getting up on Mondays the hardest? Do you often find yourself struggling to open your eyes in the morning?

If so, it might be time to consider the powerful benefits of going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.

The thought of losing your weekend sleep-in can at first seem horrifying, but soon you will discover how much better you feel every day when you stick to a routine.

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule helps regulate your body’s internal clock, known as your circadian rhythm. This natural rhythm controls crucial functions like sleep, appetite, and body temperature. When you follow a consistent schedule, your body learns when to release sleep-inducing hormones and when to wake up feeling refreshed.

Psychology Today says sleeping on a consistent schedule is one of the healthiest and most important sleep habits you can have.

“Consistency helps us avoid piling up a sleep debt, and can offer protection against a range of health conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar.”

It also affects your mental health. Irregular sleep is a risk factor for depression, according to Psychology Today.

Getting up at the same time every morning can also be an effective way to deal with social jetlag: the gap between your natural circadian rhythm and your actual real-life schedule. It is caused by late nights on weekends and early mornings during the week.

Does Your Zoom Background Affect Your Image?

Want to make a good impression on Zoom? Then smile and consider your background, say researchers from Durhan University, UK, whose study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The team asked people to rate the trustworthiness and competence of virtual meeting screenshots showing a man or woman against a backdrop featuring a living space, a blurred living space, houseplants, a bookcase, a blank wall, or a novelty picture of a walrus on an iceberg.

They found that faces with houseplant and bookcase backgrounds were rated more trustworthy and competent than with other backgrounds.

Happy and female faces were also seen as more trustworthy and competent than neutral or male faces.

While more research is needed to confirm these findings, they do suggest that videoconference users who want to make a good impression might smile and choose a background with houseplants or a bookcase.

Breathwork: The Secret to Inner Calm and Wellness?

We all breathe, around 22,000 times a day. Yet research is increasingly showing that intentionally managing our breath can bring physical and mental health benefits.

Breathwork refers to deep, diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing. According to a 2017 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, breathwork can trigger relaxation responses in the body.

A further systematic review published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in 2018 found that breathwork reduces anxiety, sharpens memory, treats symptoms of depression, promotes more restful sleep, and even improves heart health.

The science behind breathwork

While it might seem “alternative”, breathwork is rooted in science. Our breath is directly linked to our autonomic nervous system, which controls our body’s involuntary functions such as heart rate and blood pressure. By manipulating our breath, we can influence our physical and mental states.

Research has shown that conscious control of the breath can trigger the relaxation response. Think of it as your body’s natural chill pill. When you engage in deep diaphragmatic breathing, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing stress hormones, lowering heart rate, and relaxing muscles.

Moreover, breathwork can improve oxygen uptake, which benefits every cell in your body. Proper oxygenation enhances energy levels, boosts mental clarity, and supports the body’s natural healing processes. It is like a reset button for your entire system.

The proven benefits of breathwork

1. Stress reduction: As mentioned earlier, breathwork can help lower stress levels by reducing cortisol production. Practising deep, deliberate breaths can be a lifesaver during high-pressure situations.

2. Enhanced mental clarity: When you oxygenate your brain, it functions better. You will experience improved focus, creativity, and mental sharpness.

3. Emotional regulation: Breathwork can help you respond more calmly to challenging situations and reduce anxiety.

4. Better sleep: Deep breathing exercises before bedtime can relax your body and mind, making it easier to fall asleep and enjoy more restorative sleep.

5. Physical wellness: Breathwork can improve cardiovascular health, strengthen the immune system, and aid in digestion. It is a natural way to boost your overall well-being.

How to do it

Here is a simple method to get you started:

1. Relax: Get comfortable, whether sitting or lying. Close your eyes and take a moment to let go of tension in your body.

2. Begin with deep breaths: Take a deep breath in through your nose, expanding your belly. Then exhale slowly through your mouth, releasing all the air. This helps you to get in tune with your breath.

3. Count your breaths: Once you are comfortable, start counting your breaths. Inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and hold for a count of four. This pattern is known as the “4-4-4” technique.

4. Repeat: Continue this cycle for a couple of minutes, gradually extending your practice as you become more comfortable with the technique.

5. Observe: Throughout your breathwork session, pay attention to the sensations in your body and the calming effects on your mind.

As you become more experienced with breathwork, you can explore other techniques like the Wim Hof Method, box breathing, or alternate nostril breathing. The key is to find a method that resonates with you and complements your goals, whether it is relaxation, increased focus, or emotional balance.

6 (Easy) Habits to Adopt This Year

New Year, new resolutions. But how long will they last? Prioritise your physical and mental health with simple habits that are easy to stick with.

1. Walk when you can.

Want to get from point A to point B? If you have time (and it is safe to do so) then walk. Or walk part of the way and take public transport the rest.

Walking is underrated as a form of exercise. It can improve blood flow, strengthen your heart and immune system, build lung capacity, tone muscles, improve your sleep, increase flexibility and moderate blood pressure. And as a bonus it is free, you do not need expensive gear, and you do not need to get to and from a class.

Beyond the physical benefits, walking is surprisingly good for your brain. It is shown to strengthen your memory, reduce your risk of cognitive decline, and help reduce the symptoms of depression.

“Walking seems to facilitate the formation of new synapses, of new brain connections, and it seems to increase blood flow to the brain,” Professor Tim Olds, a professor of health sciences at the University of South Australia.

Professor Olds recommends adding walking into your life whenever you can. “Walking will get you there, it will just take a bit longer.”

2. Take a piece of fruit to work.

We do not eat nearly enough fruit and vegetables, with only six per cent of us getting the recommended daily amount of fruit (two servings) and vegetables (five servings).

A simple way to increase your intake is to replace one snack a day with a piece of fruit or serving of vegetable. Carrot, celery, snowpeas and capsicum can all be eaten raw, and prepped and chilled beforehand.

That extra serving goes a long way. A study in the British Medical Journal found that for every additional serving of fruit or veg eaten daily, there is a four per cent reduction in the risk of heart disease.

Another bonus? Fruits and vegetables are packed with fibre, which can reduce your risk of heart disease, improve your gut health, lower your cholesterol and help you lose weight.

3. Have (at least) two meat-free days a week.

Eating less meat and more plant foods such as vegetables, fruit, beans, seeds and nuts, can improve heart health, decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and some cancers, and help you maintain a healthy weight. Yet globally, we are eating more meat than ever.

Eating less meat also helps lower greenhouse gas emissions, with a recent UK study finding a vegetarian diet produces 59 per cent fewer emissions than a non-vegetarian one.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 14.5 per cent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to livestock farming (including diary and wool production), a figure that almost equals emissions produced by the transport sector.

4. Make plans with your friends

Reconnect with friends and turn acquaintances into friends by being the one who makes the arrangements.

Schedule regular time for a walk with a friend, try a new bar or restaurant, or ask a workmate to join you for lunch or coffee. And if you have no time for a physical catch-up, make a phone call.

Friendships often take a back seat to family and work obligations, says science journalist Lydia Denworth, author of Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond. But that is a mistake, as research suggest friendships help us find purpose and meaning, stay healthy, and live longer.

“Having good, strong friendships is as important for yourself as diet and exercise, and so it is something you need to prioritise,” says Denworth.

“You need your friends to be there down the road,” she says, “But you have to do the work along the way, or they will not be there. Friendship does take some time, but that is kind of good news because (mostly) hanging out with your friends is fun.”

5. Take breaks from the news.

When alarming events unfold before your eyes on news channels and social media, you can end up being in a constant state of high alert.

“Doomscrolling can be addictive and amplify the tragic nature of events,” says psychotherapists Lesley Alderman, writing in the Washington Post.

She advises patients who are feeling depressed by the headlines to read the news just once a day, turn off alerts on their phones, and, if possible, check social media sparingly.

6. Clean between your teeth.

You can use string floss, interdental brushes, or flossettes, but the important thing is to make interdental cleaning a key part of your daily health routine.

While various surveys show an increase of people brushing their teeth at least twice a day, far fewer report cleaning between their teeth daily.

If you do not clean food particles and bacteria that collect in these spaces where your toothbrush cannot reach, you can develop gum disease or tooth decay, which potentially can lead to losing teeth.

Gum disease may also trigger body-wide inflammation, which plays a role in heart disease, diabetes, cancer, respiratory disease and dementia.

How to Plan for Digital Fatigue Before It Drains You

It might be hard to plan for a lot of things this year, considering how unpredictable the world has become, but one thing you can predict is that you will be spending a lot of time on screens and digital devices.

You can also predict that too much time on devices will drain you – mentally, emotionally and, surprisingly, physically. Digital fatigue causes problems with concentration and mood, along with headaches, and even a feeling of detachment from reality.

But although it is predictable, digital fatigue is also preventable. With the right planning and management, you can reduce the impact of digital overload. Here is how:

1. Take charge of your tech time

While a full digital detox might seem out of reach, you can reserve no-screen time throughout your week. Create times each day when you put your phone or device away, such as an hour before bed, and carve out a good few hours on the weekend to go screen-free.

Two studies were conducted to explore the effects of unplugging from social media for just 24 hours.

The participants reported experiencing positive emotions including happiness, carefree feelings, satisfaction, relaxation, and peace, while their negative emotions involved feelings of isolation and loneliness.

2. Apply digital mindfulness.

Ever gone to use your calculator on your smartphone, or to send a message, only to be distracted by apps? And then lose minutes or even hours mindlessly scrolling? It is a common problem, but one that can be solved with a simple action: use mindfulness.

Become aware of when and how you use devices, just as mindfulness meditation encourages you to become aware of your mind chatter.

You can use technology to help you manage technology. A number of mindful tech apps are on the market, including One Sec, an app that gets you to take a deep breath before you open social media apps.

3. Choose off-line options.

If you need to chat to a colleague in your workplace, consider going to see them face-to-face.

An Austrian study published in Nature in 2023 researched the mental health of more than 400 participants over a four-week period during the pandemic lockdown. They found that people who had more face-to-face communication in their day felt better than those who had little.