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Positive Mental Health- The Weather

6 Jun

sunny dayDon’t know what the weather is like where you are but here funnily enough it’s brilliant. The Sun is shinning it’s about 23˚and everyones mood seems to have lifted.Plenty of people are out and about and the cold miserable January weather seems a million miles away. Actually this Easter the temperature barely rose above freezing at night and 6˚during the day. This morning I did an interview for radio on the impact of good weather on our mood. Last year funnily enough the weather was the opposite to what it is now and I was interviewed by the same radio station on the impact of the poor weather on our mood.

Does Sunny weather improve our mood?

Well here are a couple of different things that happen when the sun shines

  • Ice cream sales go up!
  • We want to do more activities.
  • We feel like spending more time outdoors.
  • We feel happier.
  • We create more Vitamin D from direct sunlight.
  • We produce serotonin from sunlight.
  • We have more energy.
  • We feel worse if we stay indoors.

Vitamin D is great for building strong bones. We get it from  exposure to direct sunlight . Remember I told you before that we get a lot of help from our bodies to naturally help us feel good like the production of Endorphins when we exercise. Vitamin D not only helps us build strong bones it can also enhance our mood and help us to produce Serotonin.

Some countries have struggled with this. In 2011 Scotland had a problem they wanted to remedy. It was discovered that The people of Scotland suffered from low levels of Vitamin D. A couple of things might play into this. As beautiful as Scotland is it’s not likely that you have booked a holiday there in the hope of getting a tan. Actually some of the Northern reaches of Scotland of Scotland like the Shetland and Orkney Islands might only experience between 1,000 and 1,400 of sunlight a year. It also must be hard to watch the BBC weather forecast and see the South East of Britain basking in 28˚heat and above at certain times of the Summer when you are lucky to hit the high teens in parts of Scotland.

Scotland actually has one of the highest of not the highest rate of Multiple Sclerosis sufferers in the World with 10,000 people diagnosed at present,. The lack of Vitamin D seems to be contributing to this. Scotland has also high levels of asthma and allergy sufferers.Direct sunlight levels are poor and I presume that most fair skinned Scots wear high sun protection once the sun comes out.  This prevents the benefits of Vitamin D from reaching our bodies.

Why then do countries like Iceland and Denmark not experience low levels of Vitamin D like the Scottish. It seems that oily fish which plays a big part in both countries diet  supplies Iceland ,Denmark and other Nordic or Scandinavian countries with essential Vitamin D.

Funnily enough there are now reports that Countries like Australia and Kuwait are reporting lower levels of Vitamin D in their populace. Two sun filled countries that you would think are brimming with sun filled citizens overloaded on Vitamin D. It seems that lust like the Scots certain aspects of Australian/Kuwaiti life are preventing the benefits of the sun from getting through.

  • Sun cream prevents the benefits of sunlight from getting through to where it is beneficial.
  • Australians and particularly Kuwaitis are spending more time indoors. Most of the Middle East is so hot that spending time outside is oppressive. People jump from air con building to air con building.
  • Sun lights UV rays don’t make it through glass as we spend more time in buildings cars and offices.
  • Traditional dress in countries like Kuwait covers up most of the body especially in women which blocks the benefit of sunlight.
  • Oily fish may not play a big part in Kuwaiti diets.

Vitamin D aside there are other contributors to our mood and the weather.

Light also stimulates a part of our brain called the Hypothalamus which controls our mood,sleep and appetite. When the first bit of sunlight hits our retinas in the morning we begin to produce Serotonin which acts like our ON button. We are ready to greet the day and get active.

Lack of light or darkness the pineal gland produces Melatonin and we begin to feel sleepy. So at night time we wind down and in Winter we do so too by putting on a few extra pounds to fend off the cold and generally sleeping longer hours than in Summer. Farmers are busiest in Summer months and activity wise so are we.

So when we jokingly say “we are solar powered” we actually mean it. We need the sun to energize us and to contribute to our mental health.

But remember that

Here are a few tips for Summer sun

  • Get out and enjoy at least 30 minutes of unprotected sun. If you live in the Sahara or Kalahari desert maybe this is not a great plan.
  • Don’t excessively cover up. Let some sunlight in.
  • Think of all the things you spent your winter wishing you could do. Surfing ,picnicking,running,swimming, playing games or just walking with nature-go do it now.
  • Don’t spend your day looking out at the good weather but not coming out actually decreases your mood.
  • Soak it up while you can it wont last forever.

Think of it like this. All those people who live in eternally sunny climates look forward to visiting countries with seasons. Sometimes the heat in these countries becomes so oppressive that the ability to do any outdoors activities is sapped.

Think of that song by WizardI wish it could be Christmas every day” chances are you wouldn’t. The same applies to the sun.The happiest countries in the world are not Saudi Arabia, Turkey or South Korea but surprisingly un-sunny Denmark,Norway and Sweden. Go to Iceland any Summer and you will see people running naked around all kinds of festivals and enjoying the short summer.

Enjoy it while you have it.

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Wake Up! to the sound of nothing

18 Feb

Doolin wavesLast week I was so lucky to have a couple of days to myself. I decided to drop in on one of my favourite places in the world Doolin, Co Clare. Specifically to the Rainbow hostel where Carmel and Mattie Shannon provided  warm and welcoming hospitality in their homely hostel.

The real reason I was down was to buy a Surfboard and catch some surfing in nearby Lahinch. I managed to get the surfing in which was a beautiful Wake Up! while enjoying thew February Atlantic. As the Danish say “There is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes“.

I never purchased the Surfboard as the surf assistants unwillingness to haggle cost him a sale. Even a 5% token discount would have got him a happy customer and a sale at a time of the year when things are slow. Not great business sense …but there you go.

The two days down by the Atlantic where so therapeutic. Surfing by day and watching the waves crash against Doolin pier  and surrounding rocks at high tide each evening was a form of meditation. As I walked up the country road to the hostel at night the sky provided the clearest views of the stars that I had ever seen. Beautiful and silent with just the sounds of the crashing Atlantic in the distance as I walked. Inside Carmel’s hostel the log stove in the front room provided warmth in a room filled with nothing but the wind from outside as I sat reading and connecting with the wonderful stillness of the present moment.

The experience that you get in the Rainbow hostel is not found in any Hotels that I have visited. maybe it’s the warm welcome from Carmel the scones in the morning or just the simple solitude. Whatever it is it works.

Nature is beautiful yet we rarely make enough connections with it as we fleetingly move from distractions to distractions that never provide lasting imprints on our memories. As the world turned and the Pope abdicated while share prices rose and fell and rose again none of this seemed to matter as the silence and pleasure of the now in a small remote town on the western coast of Europe took over.

Happy Days.

Lessons for Living- Wow! your world

12 Sep

As Summer comes to a close we can feel a drop in the temperature in the mornings. This is a time of year that I love. You can almost feel the change of the seasons in the air like a clearing or a cleansing.

I love the Summer but there is something wonderful about accepting and welcoming the Autumn. We are lucky in this part of the world to experience seasons. Four times a year we get to welcome change and that is good.

It is a times like this that I really appreciate summer. We may have not had the driest or warmest of summers but what can you do. We live on a rocky green Island in the North Atlantic ocean it’s never going to be the Maldives. You have to learn to adapt and we are good at adapting.  The Atlantic seas of West Kerry and Clare this summer were full of people in wet suits swimming, surfing and jumping through waves in temperatures and weather conditions most people wouldn’t consider leaving the house in. We have realized it is cold in the Atlantic. Yet we are blessed with beautiful beaches and surf how can we spend longer in the water simply purchase a wet suit and the day is yours.

The people of Iceland always amaze me too. If we think we have it bad in Ireland just look at Iceland. A volcanic, treeless rock in the far northern Atlantic ocean,with dark cold winters and not very warm grey summers.

Yet Icelanders have a great outlook to life. They recognize that where they live is exactly what I stated but they understand that it is their home and they accept that they cannot change it. Iceland is another country that rates quite highly on the happiness index. Many of them call it the “Beast” because of Iceland’s strange but wondrous beauty.

Icelanders do not spend time thinking about where else they could be. They live with what they have. Icelanders read more books than any other population in the world. They have a keen interest in the arts with at least 87 music schools. Not bad for a population of 320,000. They are also blessed with the highest birth rate in Europe. So you can see they keep busy in the cold winter months rather than twiddling their thumbs looking out at the snow.

The happiest countries in the World, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden are all harsher countries than most to survive in (just ask the Vikings) but have an abundance of people who love where they live.

Where am I going with this.Life is all about appreciating what you have and what is around you. Something we fail to do for most of waking lives. One thing I love to do on my courses is a WOW! walk. Here we take 10 or 15 minutes with the group and go out into nature and look at our world with a positive lens. We point out all the wonderful scents we might have normally failed to notice or the colours of a church stained glass window or flowers in a garden. We look at architecture in a different light and even the sky seems more beautiful not matter what shade of colour it is.

Autumn provides us with beautiful colours and a chance to prepare for the winter and bright clear beauty that it often provides.

No matter where you live it’s the mindset of the Irish in wetsuits surfing the winter seas or the Icelanders singing their way to happiness that will transform your view of the world you currently inhabit.

What should you do!. Embrace were you live and take a WOW walk at least once a week,allowing you to embrace…. rather than run from the wonderful changing seasons and world you live in.

Lessons for living -Travel more

21 Aug

As someone who has just returned from 10 days travelling and surfing the West coast of Ireland I can vouch for this. Travelling opens us up to activities and experiences that remain within our memory for a very long time. Not only do these memories stay with us but the happiness that we experience from meeting new people (remember we love to make social connections) and exploring new environments and cultures make some of the highlights of our lives.

Some of the greatest stories that we tell about our lives are the stories we experienced while travelling. All the Elders that had come to the latter part of their lives realized that travelling more was a great contributor to happiness in life. I am only thinking of the people I met while hostelling in Doolin Co Clare last week from Germany Italy , France and Austria that I would not have met if I had not left my sitting room couch. Similarly the beauty and memories of an ice cold Prague in February or a sun drenched Turkish holiday to some of the worlds most amazing archaeological sites would not have been realized. Sitting in the Roman arena in Verona with 20,000 other people as the opera is about to commence or surfing on the Australian East coast in beautiful warm waters are also treasured. Travelling by train across the southern alps in New Zealand or riding a bike with my daughter around the beautiful walled city of Lucca in Italy.

Not all flowed so easily  though like having no visa in Johannesburg for a flight to Australia. Losing my credit card on a hung over morning in Ko Samui in Thailand with 18 hours travelling ahead and no money at all to pay the exit tax from Thailand. Those experiences stay with you forever and become moments in your life that you can dip in and out of. They are the blueprints of a lived life.

If necessary you should sacrifice other things to ensure that travel becomes a large part of your life. It also allows you to experience life outside your comfort zone and this is where you grow.

As older people in Dr Karl Pillimer’s research the legacy project have said “Most people look back on their travel adventures as highlights of their lives, If you have to make decisions whether you want to remodel your kitchen or take a trip- well then take a trip.”

Music Lifts our spirits

31 Jul

Bombay bicycle club- Shuffle

It’s raining again. The weather really has not been up to much this summer. We live in a wet, green, rocky outcrop on the western seaboard of Europe. People are being affected by the unpredictable weather this summer has brought. I was asked to talk on WLR radio last Thursday on what we can do to lift our moods during the rain soaked summer days. More about that on another day. We know that music has the power to lift our spirits on those dark days. For now even as I look out of my rain battered office window I can only feel a lift in my spirits when I listen to this song. Enjoy

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