Boost Wellbeing

5 important skills linked to greater physical and mental health

Many of us are looking for a simple answer or quick fix to improve our physical and mental wellbeing.  However, new research shows that a combination of life skills, which can be learned and built upon, may be key for reducing risk of depression and enhancing wellbeing into older age.

A study by Steptoe and Wardle (2017) examined 8000 participants over the age of 52 years old.  The findings of the study link 5 important life skills with a variety of benefits, including lower levels of depression, greater social connectedness, greater levels of subjective wellbeing, greater physical health in older adults and greater economic success.

The authors of the study outline that the combination of these five factors and can lead to greater wellbeing:

  • Concientiousness
  • Optimism
  • Emotional Stability
  • Sense of Personal Control
  • Determination

No one factor alone can account for the benefits outlined in the study, but instead an accumulation of the aforementioned life skills is important.  The authors suggest “fostering and maintaining these skills in adult life may be relevant for health and wellbeing at older ages.”

Individuals with the lowest rates of the five skills had a 23% rate of depression.  Those with the highest amounts of the skills, had a rate of just 3% who suffered from depression.

The good news is, is that if you feel you could improve in some of the skills mentioned above, these things can all be developed and built on.

Here are some simple tips I’ve put together to help you to increase these important skills:

  • Conscientiousness – if you’re not someone who is naturally conscientious, this can be a broad area to try and improve.  Focus on a small area at a time – for example, improving your punctuality by planning ahead the night before…or creating a plan or list of tasks that you’re going to complete the next day. Remember when planning, to be realistic about what you can achieve in a day so you don’t run the risk of overcommitting, then feeling you haven’t accomplished your goals.
  • Optimism – If you tend to see things from a pessimistic viewpoint, you may have a tendency to attribute good things to external successes, and bad things to internal, permanent causes….but this can be changed.  Reflect on a recent success or positive event in your life, and write down what you did that contributed to that success.  If you’re feeling doubtful or pessimistic about an event in the future, try asking others for their unique perspective, to help you to gain a more balanced view of the situation.
  • Emotional Stability – Practising mindfulness may be a simple way to improve your emotional stability.  Regular practice of mindfulness has been linked to improving mood fluctuations and having better control over mood throughout the day (see study here!!).  If you’re interested in practising some simple mindfulness mediations, try downloading a mindfulness app, such as Smiling Mind or Calm.
  • Sense of Control – If you’re feeling like life is often out of control, try setting yourself a small goal where you can measure and assess your progress.  Keeping a log of your baseline behaviours, then recording and monitoring your successes can be a great way of helping you to feel in control and to improve your self regulation.  It could be learning a new skill, or making a lifestyle change such as increasing your exercise or changing your diet.  Reflect on the hand work and effort that you put in to help make your goal a success.
  • Determination – Once you’ve set yourself a goal, aim to persevere, and avoid changing goals too soon.  Try and persevere and stick to the task you’ve set yourself.  If you set yourself a regular time to devote to your goal, you’re more likely to stick with it.

Would you try these tips?  Do you excel in any of these skill areas, or are there specific areas you feel you need improvement in?

If you’re finding that any of the skills mentioned above are holding you back, speak with your GP for a referral to a psychologist in your local area, or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 (Australia only) for 24/7 telephone counselling support.

 

Lemon Tart

Easy (and impressive) lemon tart

So it’s been far too long since I’ve posted a lemon flavoured baked good post….or any post as a matter of fact.  With returning to self employment, as well as 9 weeks of solo parenting whilst Lachy was away on tour, life has been getting on top of me.

I’ve feel like I’m been on a never ending treadmill of work, parenting and housework….but I’ve decided to stop and reflect on what’s important to me… I’ve found that it’s easy to stop doing the things you enjoy when life gets tough, but the opposite should be true.  So now I’m making a point of keeping a focus on the bright side of life – this means more blog posts, picking up my guitar again and spending more time exercising….and of course, more lemon flavoured baked goods.

On that note – please enjoy this easy and delicious lemon tart recipe.  You can whip one of these babies up in under 20 minutes and you will not regret it (although I had to give mine away ((to the delight of my friends and neighbours)) because I was concerned I’d eat the entire thing).

Lemon Tart

Ingredients:

Base:

  • 1 and a half cups of finely crumbed biscuits (I used arnott’s granita biscuits)
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (optional)

Tart Filling

  • 2 cans condensed milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup lemon juice
  • grated zest of 1 lemon (the more the merrier!!)
  • 1 pinch of salt

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees C
  • For the Base: Spray a pie dish with non-stick olive oil spray or grease with butter. Combine crushed biscuits, butter, and sugar. Press into prepared pie plate. Bake for 8 minutes.
  • For the Pie Filling: Using a mixer, mix the condensed milk, egg yolks, lemon juice and salt together. Beat on medium speed for 4-5 minutes. Pour into pie crust and bake for 10 minutes at 180 degrees celsius. Little bubbles will start to surface. Cover the crust if it starts to brown too much towards the end.
  • Chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.

Lemon Tart

Serve with ice cream, cream or all of the above….and coffee… all of the coffee.

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Do you ever feel like a fraud?

Do you ever feel like a fraud?  Like it’s just a matter of time before people realise that you’re not really as smart/capable/talented as they thought you were, and that somehow you’ve managed to fool them so far, but eventually they’ll cotton on.  Despite the many achievements you make and all the positive feedback in the world, you brush this aside and convince yourself that you’ve succeeded by pure luck, and that deep down you don’t actually know what you’re doing.

If this sounds a bit like you, you might be surprised to learn that feeling like a fraud is much more common that you think.  In fact, psychologists have researched this phenomenon since the late 1970s and call it the Imposter Syndrome.  The term was coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes.  In their 1978 article – the psychologists state:

“Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample objective evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the impostor belief.”

You might feel like you’re the only person you know who feels this way, but a feature of imposter syndrome is a feeling of being alone in your thinking….when actually, imposter syndrome is very common and many people think they’re the only one who could feel this way.

Clance and Imes (1978) outlined that imposter syndrome may be more common in high achieving women and may be to do with having an external attributional style, which means attributing successes to luck or external factors, rather than attributing success to hard work or effort.

When you’re feeling like an imposter, this can change the way you relate to the world, impacting your behaviours, feelings and physiology.  For example, if I feel like a fraud at work, I might work extra hard or take on additional projects that I don’t have time to work on, to stop others from finding out that I’m in fact incompetent!!  This can lead to feelings of exhaustion and sadness, and physical tension…. or, if I felt like I only got where I am by luck, then I might avoid challenges or opportunities for fear of failure and people realising I’m not smart enough.  This could lead to feelings of anxiety or sadness which may further impact my thoughts, behaviours and physiology.

If you’re having feelings of fraudulence, this could be holding you back from achieving your goals.   There are things you can do to help!! Here are four simple strategies you can try to increase your confidence, and to help you to change your attribution style:

  • Think of a recent project or goal you successfully completed – go back and make a list of the specific steps you put in to reach it.  For example, you came up with an idea, you used your research skills, you coordinated meeting, you worked long hours to get it done etc – write down as much evidence as you can!
  • Reflect on how you got to where you are in your career – did you complete a university degree or course?  Did you complete other accreditations or certifications?  Did you undergo training in the workplace?  Did you apply for your current role after being successful in a more junior role? Write down the key milestones you’ve completed to get where you are, and reflect on those moments.
  • Change your mindset about success – instead of thinking about the outcome of a task or project, think about measuring success in terms of the effort you put in, and what you’ve learned along the way.  If you did had a failure at work, and it has affected your confidence, reflect on what you learned or gained from that failure.
  • Remember that your thoughts are just thoughts – they’re not facts.  Try and hold your thoughts a little more lightly and remember that they are not truths – the less you buy into those thoughts, the less likely they are to bother you.

Remember that these thoughts can be common, but there are ways to help you to feel more confident.   However, if you’re finding that feeling like a fraud is holding you back from achieving your goals or causing you significant distress, be sure to speak with your doctor or psychologist, or call Lifeline (Australia only) only 13 11 14.

Self compassion

Are you kind to yourself? Self Compassion can help you to flourish!

Are you your own worst critic?  Do you set higher standards for yourself than you do for others? Cultivating some self compassion could help you to thrive, and to reduce your stress levels!

A recent study by Gunell and others (2017) showed that uni students who showed higher levels of self compassion, were better able to cope with the demands of stress, and reported higher levels of energy, optimism and engagement, compared to their less self-compassionate peers.  They also showed increased psychological needs satisfaction, and decreased negative emotion, leading to higher levels of wellbeing.

The questionnaire measured three components of self compassion:  mindfulness, self kindness and common humanity.  The participants were 189 first year university students, and were asked how frequently they agree with questions such as “when something upsets me I try to keep my emotions in balance.”

Self compassion

Photo by RNR Productions

A further study by Fredrikson and others (2008) showed that people who participated in daily loving kindness meditations showed increased levels of daily happiness when compared to a control group.
The researchers state “these shifts in positive emotions took time to appear and were not large in magnitude, but over the course of 9 weeks, they were linked to increases in a variety of personal resources, including mindful attention, self-acceptance, positive relations with others, and good physical health. Moreover, these gains in personal resources were consequential: They enabled people to become more satisfied with their lives and to experience fewer symptoms of depression.

The researchers state that “positive emotions produce success and health as much as they reflect these good outcomes.”

So is self compassion simply being easy on yourself?  Rewarding yourself more?  Developing self compassion can take time and practice.  We often have quite deeply ingrained thoughts about ourselves and the world, which take time to change.  Try the below simple techniques to increase your self compassion:

  • Try “Loving-kindness” meditations.  These meditations can help you to learn to direct compassion towards yourself and to others.  In addition, regular practice of mindfulness meditations can help you to connect with the present and let of go of judgements.  The less we judge ourselves, the simpler it is to be easy on ourselves!!  Try the Calm app, for free and easy to follow loving kindness meditations, or read more here.
  • Put things in perspective.  If you experience a setback or hardship, ask yourself the following question:  “If my friend X were in this situation, what advice would I give them?  What would I tell them?”  We’re often much tougher on ourselves than we are on others – take the time to think about what your reaction would be if someone else were in the same situation.
  • Reframe setbacks into positives – if you’ve encountered something difficult, consider what your learned from the situation?  Did you grow from the situation?  Did you use your strengths and try hard?  Try and reflect on the learnings you gained from the situation, and acknowledge the effort you put in.
  • Turn your ANTS into PETS.  Get to know your automatic negative thoughts (ANTS), and turn them into performance enhancing thoughts (PETS). What do you tell yourself when you’re judging yourself harshly?  You may find the same negative thoughts creep back again and again (“not good enough”, “I’m a failure” etc).  Remember that these thoughts are simply thoughts and not facts.  Try and think of some more useful self talk that could help you through the situation (Performance enhancing thoughts) – such as “I can keep trying and succeed” or “I can you my strengths to help achieve my goal in another way”.

Are you self compassionate?  Would you try these tips?  What do you do to cultivate self compassion?

pumpkin brie and pine nut tart

Butternut pumpkin, brie, rosemary and pinenut tart

Who loves brie cheese!?  Who loves pastry!?  If your answer is yes, then you need to bake this butternut pumpkin, brie, rosemary and pine nut tart!!  I was looking for a delicious new tart flavour for an Australia Day party, and thought “hey, why not throw all my favourite ingredients on some pastry and see what happens”, and luckily the combination was perfection!!  They were gone in minutes!!

To make things even better, they were super easy to make!

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Ingredients (makes 2 large tarts, or 12 pieces)

  •  2 sheets frozen puff pastry (thawed)
  • 1 egg (for brushing)
  • 1 butternut pumpkin, chopped and thinly sliced
  • Fresh rosemary
  • 1 small wheel of brie cheese, thinly sliced
  • Pine nuts
  • Salt and pepper

Method

  •  Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees celsius.
  • Place thinly sliced butternut pumpkin on a tray lined with non-stick baking paper – drizzle with olive oil and rosemary and bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven.
  • Place each sheet of pastry on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper.
  • Fold over  1cm edge on each side of the puff pastry to make a border around the edge of each sheet of pastry.  Press the edges down with a fork.
  • Gently prick the pastry all over with a fork
  • Lightly brush the edges of the pastry with egg.
  • Fill the pastry with pastry weights, and bake for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the pastry from the oven, and remove the pastry weights.
  • Top each tart with the pumpkin, brie, pine nuts additional rosemary.  Sprinkle with sea salt flakes and pepper.
  • Bake each tart for a further 10 minutes.
  • Allow to cool, and slice each tart into 6 pieces.

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Enjoy!!   Happy Australia Day!!

Christmas time

Christmas Gift Guide – for the gals!

It’s Christmas time… if you’re anything like me, you’ve eaten too many gingerbread men (best served with a side of champagne), you’ve left your shopping to the last minute and are also doing your best to avoid the shops!!

I’ve put together a pick of my favourite selections from some of my sponsors – find the perfect gift for your bestie, sister or favourite lady right here, without even leaving the couch!!

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  1.  Tartelette Bloom Clay Eyeshadow palette
  2. Mon purse pouch – you can customise and monogram these babies!
  3. Mon purse monogrammed luggage tag – never lose your bag again!
  4. Running bare high rise leggings
  5. Ministry of Style Waves Playsuit 
  6. Becca x Jaclyn Hill face pallet – perfection for the festive season!
  7. Quay Eyewear “My Girl” sunglasses

Or don’t be afraid to do a little self gifting – you deserve it after all!!

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Best ever gingerbread men

Christmas is my favourite time of the year!!  One of my favourite pre-christmas rituals is getting together with friends for a gingerbread baking party!  All you need is a few good friends, this amazing gingerbread recipe, your favourite cookie cutters and toppings, and ample amounts of wine

It’s even more fun wrapping them up and giving them to people once they’re finished!!  Remember that acts of kindness are also good for our wellbeing!!

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I’ve used this recipe from Taste for several years now and everyone seems to love it, even people who insist they don’t like gingerbread!!  The cookies are quite crunchy, not like the soft and soggy gingerbread you often encounter.

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Ingredients:

  • Decorations of your choice – I used smarties and ‘choc-minis’ from woolworths, and some little silver things (no idea what they’re called, but you can see them below).  You could also ice with a piping bag if you’d prefer!

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper

  2. Use an electric beater to beat the butter and sugar in a bowl until pale and creamy. Add the golden syrup and egg yolk and beat until combined. Stir in the flour, ginger, mixed spice and bicarbonate of soda. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Press dough into a disc. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.

  3. Place the dough between 2 sheets of baking paper and roll out until about 4mm thick. Use a gingerbread man cutter to cut out shapes. Place on trays about 3cm apart. Repeat with any excess dough.

  4. Bake in oven for 10 minutes or until brown. Remove from oven. Transfer to a rack to cool.

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When they’re cooled down, you can wrap them in cellophane party bags, and tie with bakers twine for the perfect Christmas gift.

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So so delicious!!  I accidentally ate quite a few….I’ve packaged the rest up in an attempt to stop eating them!!!  Would you try a gingerbread party with your pals?

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Boost your resilience

Resilience is a buzz word in workplaces at the moment….but what exactly is resilience, and how do we increase it?

There are varying definitions and ways of measuring resilience, but to put it simply, resilience is the psychological capacity to bounce back from setbacks.  Some people are more resilient than others, and seem to cope with setbacks well, but for others, those same setbacks can be quite different.  The important thing to remember, is that resilience can be practiced and built!!

plant-1There are several characteristics that resilient people often share.  These include:

  • The ability to ask for help when needed, and to utilise the support network they have in place.
  • The ability to reflect on longer term goals and values when a setback comes along.
  • The ability to see failure and setbacks as a learning and growth opportunity.

Here are some of my favourite tips to help boost your resilience:

  • Get to know your own warning signs that indicate your stress levels may be feeling too high – what does it look like for you when you’re under more stress than you can cope with?  What are those triggers at work and at home that send your stress levels sky rocketing?  Once you’re aware of these warning signs and triggers, you can actively plan to manage them, by scheduling in activities that help you to cope, such as taking a lunch break, seeking support from your manager at work, going for a walk or to a yoga class, or whatever works for you.
  • Consider your reaction to the situation you’re in.  Remember that no two people experience the same event in the same way – our thoughts and attitudes about an experience strongly colour the experience we then have.  If you’re having a strong emotional reaction, ask yourself the question “is my reaction helping me with doing what I need to do” – if not, try and hold your perspective a little less tightly and focus on the things within your control.
  • Consider the coping style you’re adopting.  There are three main types of coping style – problem focused, which involves doing things that directly impact the problem, emotion focused – which doesn’t change the problem, but helps deal with the emotions you’re experiencing in relation to the problem, and avoidant coping – which involves doing nothing at all.  Problem focused coping has the best outcomes for wellbeing, if you can directly work to resolve the problem.  However, if you’re feeling too emotional, or the problem is currently out of your control (ie, it’s 3am at night!) – engage in emotion focused coping to help relax, refocus and recharge until you can take action in regards to the problem.
  • Make time for positive emotions.  Positive emotions are linked with increases in wellbeing, as well as increased creativity and problem solving ability (read more here!).  Positive emotions can also serve as a buffer against stress and help you to physically recover from stress!  The key takeaway here is that when you’re stressed, it’s more important than ever to do things you enjoy and that make you happy!!
  • Show some GRIT!!  People with GRIT show high levels of passion and perseverance – people high in GRIT can outperform people high in IQ – a bit of GRIT can help you to succeed!!  For more info, see this TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth.
  • Consider how you perceive stress – can you embrace stress as a challenge, rather than as something harmful?  See this TED talk by Kelly Mcgonigal for some information!!
  • Look after your physical health – if you’re eating well, exercising every day and sleeping 7-8 hours per night, you will be better equipped to cope with stress when it comes along.
  • When a setback comes along, ask yourself these questions:
    • Which of my strengths can I draw upon to help get me through this.
    • What could I learn from this setback?  How could it help me to grow, or to see a bigger perspective?
    • Who can I draw upon from my support network for help?  Do I need practical support or emotional support?  This question can help you determine who the best person may be to help. Are these services you can draw upon, or do you need help from your psychologist or GP.

 

Would you try these tips?  What else helps you to cope with setbacks?

Don’t forget, if you feel like you’re having difficulty coping with a setback, you can talk to your GP, or contact LifeLine (Australia only) on 13 14 11.

how do you let go jemma doley

3 Must Read Tips to Beat Anxiety

Throughout my life, anxiety has often got the better of me….capturing my attention and hooking it in with thoughts and worries about the past or the future….things I couldn’t control.  At times worries have prevented me from doing things I enjoyed and held me back from challenges.

When anxiety comes, it’s like a weight on your shoulders….instead of engaging in life and enjoying the moment, thoughts simply weigh you down.  However, it’s important to know that anxiety can be treated and managed.

Here are three of my favourite tips for reducing worry.  Try these simple tips and see how they work for you.  I suggest practicing them when you’re feeling good, so that you can learn them and then apply them during times of increased stress.

  1.  Slow your breath.  Breathe in for 3 seconds, then out for 3 seconds.  Repeat 10 times, and notice how you feel.  Slowing your breath is key for controlling anxiety symptoms – slowing the breath will signals to your body to relax, and will help you to start to breathe more deeply (diaphragmatic breathing).  You can do this technique anywhere!!
  2. Try worry time. Spend 5 minutes each morning actively worrying (yes, that’s right!).  By giving your worries the time of day they’re looking for, often they don’t distract us so much throughout the day.  If you start to worry later in the day, put that thought aside for worry time tomorrow!!  For full instructions on this techniques, see this detailed post on Worry Time
  3. Practice mindfulness.  Regular mindfulness practice can help us to unhook from our thoughts when they’re distracting us.  Rather than trying to challenge our thoughts, mindfulness can help you to let go of your thoughts and maintain a focus on the present.  Mindfulness is also relaxing and can be a fantastic way to unwind after a stressful day.  Download a free app, such as Smiling Mind, and try practicing mindfulness for 10 minutes each day for a week, and notice how you feel!  For more details on mindfulness, see this post.

Taking time out for self care is essential for managing anxiety.  Would you try these tips?  What else works for you when you’re feeling worried?

If you find that worry is interfering with day to day life, call Lifeline (Australia only) on 13 11 14 for free telephone counselling on a 24/7 basis, and see your GP for further help.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Halloween Cookies

Australia is very slowly embracing halloween.  I remember being about 8 years old, cutting two holes in an old sheet, smearing my mother’s blue eye shadow all over my face and traipsing over to my neighbour’s house, plastic bag in hand, shouting “trick-or-treat” at the top of my lungs.  After my mother spending about 15 minutes attempting to explain the concept of halloween to my elderly neighbours, they finally relented, but sadly all they had were some apples and a bag of prunes.  Not the magical haul of chocolate and lollies my 8 year old imagination had been dreaming of.

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`These days it’s different – halloween is catching on…..so I decided to yet again embrace halloween (I might even destroy another perfectly good bed sheet to make a new ghost costume).

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I saw this pumpkin chocolate chip cookie recipe on The Butter Half Blog, and had to give it a whirl!!  In Australia, pumpkin usually is for savoury purposes….but I can certainly get on board with pumpkin flavoured desserts!!

The only change I had to make was the tinned pumpkin.  In Australia, it’s really difficult to find canned pumpkin….instead I bought a butternut pumpkin and cooked and pureed it (which didn’t take long at all – just allow time for the pumpkin puree to cool before you start).

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup canned pumpkin (or pureed cooked butternut pumpkin)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180 Celsius. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Mix together the pumpkin, sugar, butter, sour cream, egg and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for about 1 minute. Add the baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt to one cup of flour. Add it into the wet mixture, thoroughly mix, then add in the remaining cup of flour. Pour in the chocolate chips until everything is well mixed.

3. Use a cookie scoop or spoon to drop a small mound of dough (about the size of a golf ball) on the cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes on 375°F. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then serve warm.pumpkin-3-copy

 

They’re pumpkiny….chocolatey…. what more could you want!?  Do you love halloween?  Who has a costume idea that’s not a sheet with two holes in it!?