How to lower stress while hybrid working

As many employees are now being called back into the office a few days a week after months of working from home, and hybrid working becomes the new norm for many, personal situations and home dynamics are changing again. And as we know, change (even positive change) always brings an element of stress with it, and everyone deals with change differently. So if you’re working from home some of the time and heading into the office for the rest of the week, let’s look at some ways to adjust your routines and help you lower stress while hybrid working.

Why is reducing stress important?

First thing first, why is it important we find ways to manage and lower stress? Because while we’re busy coping with change (big and small) and feeling stressed, our energies can get depleted very quickly. It’s common to feel exhausted and burnt out, to lose focus and productivity, and even notice an impact on our cognitive faculties, like the ability to make decisions or remember things.

Studies show that stress (and especially prolonged stress) can affect the nervous system and “cause structural changes in different parts of the brain” which can “bring about differences in the response to stress, cognition, and memory.” And no one wants that! Especially not when we’re already being pulled in all sorts of different directions with responsibilities both at home and work.

If we let it, stress will pinch on our time, energy, and headspace. So it’s important that we, as individuals, try and identify the challenges we’re facing and understand how changes to our working patterns might impact our existing routines. This allows us to then start to come up with smart and effective solutions to lower the pressure and the impact of stress on both our bodies and minds.

Managing stress in conjunction with hybrid working is becoming a priority for employers too, especially in light of the predicted increased attrition rate brought on by the return to the office after an extended period of home working. Hopefully, we’ll start to see more and more employers helping their staff by introducing initiatives that offer meaningful, realistic, and practical support to help us adapt to the new way of working.

The 3 pillars of wellbeing

The way I suggest companies and individuals take pressure off themselves to reduce stress during times of change is by focusing on what I call the 3 pillars of wellbeing. These are:

  1. Moving every day.
  2. Fuelling ourselves well (i.e. eating well).
  3. Protecting our sleep.

Let’s get into some more details for each of the 3 pillars.

Lower stress hybrid working. Graphic of a man and a woman dressed smartly and walking to work

Pillar #1 – Moving every day

Movement is key to our mental and physical wellbeing. I like to talk in terms of ‘movement’ rather than exercise as I feel that thinking about working out can increase the pressure when we’re already being pulled in so many directions and coping with different kinds of responsibilities in the various areas of our lives.

So when I talk about movement, this is any type of physical activity – no movement is too small!

For optimal wellbeing, I recommend:

  • 30 minutes of movement a day. If you don’t have time to go for a half-an-hour walk or workout, that’s not a problem. You can break your 30 minutes down into 3x 10-minute walks, for example.
  • At least 30 minutes a day outdoors. And it’s perfectly fine to combine your 30 minutes of movement (see point above) with being outdoors.
  • Increasing your ‘incidental activity’. This is any movement that’s part of your day, like going up the stairs, walking to the sink to fill up your water cup, etc.

Ways to increase your incidental activity

When you think about it, you can move wherever you are – even in the office! Moving your body throughout the day in different ways helps you keep away aches and pains but also burn calories.

And the easiest way to increase your incidental activity is by incorporating it into your working day.

So, for example, you could:

  • Park further away from the office.
  • Consider jogging, cycling, or scooting part of the way to work.
  • Whether at home or in the office, make a point of using the loo on another floor.
  • Go for a walking meeting outdoors with a colleague instead of booking a meeting room.
  • Even just keeping a small cup of water by your desk (instead of a big flask or bottle) would mean additional trips to the water cooler, which would help you increase the number of times you move throughout the day.

Can you think of other creative ways to move more?

Pillar #2 – Food

The second pillar is all to do with food. Because what we eat can also help us lower stress and increase energy levels. I like to think about food as fuel. Choose the right fuel, and you’ll start to notice how you feel better and more able to cope with the pressures, responsibilities, and changes to your routine.

So for optimal wellbeing, opt for quick and simple meals and nourishing foods, including:

  • Foods that stabilise your blood-sugar levels. I.e. vegetables, wholemeal grains over white bread, nuts, legumes, etc.
  • Foods that de-stress, including b-vitamins and magnesium. Pumpkin seeds are your ‘super-hero’ food in this department!
  • And follow an 80/20 balance. I find it’s helpful to aim for good food choices about 80% of the time. Because eating well shouldn’t become a source of stress in itself!

And the best way to fuel your body is by following what I call the Optimal Fuel Formula.

Lower stress hybrid working. Graphic showing the Optimal Fuel Formula equals protein plus healthy fat plus complex carbohydrates

The Optimal Fuel Formula

The Optimal Fuel Formula allows to you choose food for sustained energy, which can, in turn, help you lower stress, and is made up of:

  • Protein. Think chicken, fish, pulses, eggs, and dairy.
  • Healthy fats, including olive oil, nuts and seeds, oily fish, avocado, etc.
  • And complex carbohydrates. These include vegetables, beans, whole grains (unrefined/unprocessed).

For more information on how to create or choose balanced meals and practical ideas on what to make for breakfast, lunch, dinner, head over to my post What to eat to reduce stress and increase energy.

Pillar #3 – Sleep

The third pillar to optimal wellbeing is all about getting enough sleep. Did you know that adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night and not the 5-6 hours a lot of us believe they need to be able to function the next day?

In light of that, it’s important we start to recognise any potential challenges that might stop us from getting our beauty sleep. And once we’re aware of those challenges, we need to take steps to protect that time and adapt our current routine accordingly, much like we do when we build bedtime routines for our children and stick to them for dear life!

Ideas to protect your sleep

So what can we do to make sure we’re having a good night’s sleep?

  • Create a bedtime routine that’s conducive to sleep and stick to it! If you have a bath, make sure the water isn’t too hot. If you read a book, go for a physical book rather than an e-book, and make it fiction – something that doesn’t wire up your brain.
  • Cut down stimulants at least one hour before bed. This includes chocolate and caffeine, screens (and that means your phone, too), and even work!
  • Choose gentle movement and stretches over high-intensity workouts, where you’d need time to cool down and wind down afterwards. If you want to move before bedtime, opt for some light stretching or relaxing yoga.
  • Keep a notebook and pen on your bedside table for pre-sleep unwinding and those middle-of-the-night panics. The last thing you want is to wake up in the middle of the night thinking about that form you need to fill in the next day for your child’s school trip or that piece of data you need to add to your presentation and be unable to go back to sleep because you don’t want to forget in the morning!
Lower stress hybrid working. Image of a bedside table that is sleep-inducing i.e. free from screens, with a novel and a notebook and an old-fashioned alarm clock.

Adapting your sleep routine

I also suggest you adapt your routine to make sure you have your 7-9 hours of sleep per night. So if you know you need to wake up at 6 am to be at your desk by 8 am, take away 7 to 9 hours from 6 am. Let’s say you need at least a good 8 hours to feel like a well-functioning human the next day, your bedtime should be 6 am minus 8 hours = 10 pm. The key is to not be caught unprepared – always recalculate lights out to ensure you get your sleep. It’s important!

If you’re hybrid working, you’re likely to have an earlier wake-up time on the days you’re in the office. But my recommendation is to stick to the earlier wake-up time every day. So if you normally wake up at 6 am when you go to the office, make sure you’re up at the same time when you’re working from home.

Why? Because consistency in your sleeping routine works better. But you also gain extra time in your day! By getting up early, you can then go for a walk outdoors or move your body, prep your food for the day (or days) ahead, or use that time for planning ahead and feeling more prepared and in control. That in itself can do wonders for your stress levels!

Here’s an example of how your schedule might work on the days you work from home vs when you’re in the office.

lower stress hybrid working

Interested in more tips to lower stress while hybrid working?

I hope you enjoyed these simple tips to help lower stress when hybrid working. If you’re a manager working for a corporate and are looking for practical ways to help your staff during these times of change, get in touch for a free call. And if you’re an individual looking for more tips on how to move more or eat well, I invite you to connect with me on Instagram or subscribe to my YouTube channel – Workout with B.

Bianca x

What to eat to reduce stress and to increase your energy

Did you know that what you eat has the potential to not only help you reduce stress but also increase your energy? That’s right. Because food is fuel, and what we decide to eat has a direct effect on our concentration and mood. And I’m not talking about the instant boost you get from a quick cup of coffee or a sugary snack!

In fact, if you’ve come across my content before – here on my website, on social media, or at one of my talks – you’ll know I talk about what I call the Optimum Fuel Formula. This might sound ominous and complicated, but it’s really simple. And it’s all about having balanced meals across the day that are made of:

  • Protein.
  • Healthy fats.
  • And complex carbohydrates.

Balancing the nutrients in your meals in this way helps you stabilise your blood-sugar levels. This, in turn, can help you reduce stress and maintain your energy levels, so you wave goodbye to those unpleasant ups and downs and sudden cravings we can sometimes feel during the day when we don’t make the best choices for optimal wellbeing. 

I talk about this in a bit more detail in my blog post, How to lower stress while hybrid working, so feel free to head over there if you’d like more information on that. Or simply email me, and I can send a free copy of my Optimum Fuel Formula pdf.

If you’re new to the concept of balancing your meals and snacks to follow the simple formula above, I’m hoping to give you some inspiration and ideas to help you make better choices around the food you eat so you can reduce stress and increase your energy.

So let’s break this down into breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ready?

Savoury breakfast of eggs and avocado on wholemeal bread as food to reduce stress and increase energy

Breakfast ideas 

First thing first, in order to start your day on the right foot it’s important you actually do eat your breakfast. As tempting as it is to skip it and grab something on the way to work or ‘later’, planning enough time in your morning to have a healthy breakfast will set you up for the day and give you that boost you want and need to get going in the right way.

When it comes to choices, savoury is always best. For example, you could opt for:

  • Spinach and eggs.
  • Smoked salmon on wholegrain bread.
  • Avocado and egg on wholemeal bread.
  • Or even have the leftovers from the night before.

If you find you’re pressed for time in the morning (and aren’t we all, between our own routines and often having to get the kids ready for school too?) it might be helpful to plan ahead and prep the night before. Just have a quick think about what you’re going to have and stick a post-it on the fridge or make a note on your phone as a reminder or maybe even prep some overnight oats you can have in the morning.

To coffee or not to coffee?

If you like your coffee in the morning, then make sure you don’t drink it on an empty stomach. Why? Because caffeine stimulates cortisol release. Cortisol is one of our stress hormones, and it’s what wakes us up every morning (helpful!). But, if cortisol is already up and you pour in a mug of coffee, you effectively spike too high and can start to feel physically stressed. If you really can’t function without coffee first thing, the way to mitigate this unpleasant side effect is to add some fat to it, like butter or double cream.

But remember that while caffeine might give you that boost you need there and then, a ‘crash’ will always follow. And you’ll find yourself wanting to reach for another cup of coffee or another stimulant (like tea or chocolate) only a couple of hours later. If you follow the Optimal Fuel Formula, on the other hand, you’ll feel full and satisfied for longer, and you’re more likely to make better choices when the time of your next meal comes along. Try it – it works!

Lunch ideas

When it comes to lunch, again, forward planning will give you the chance to make better choices instead of relying on what you can find at the last minute. The easiest way to ensure you have a good, balanced lunch that follows the principles of the Optimal Fuel Formula is to make a little extra the night before and bring your leftovers in from home. I find that food often tastes even better the next day, don’t you? Plus, batch cooking in advance (either the night before or one afternoon over the weekend) means you’ll be saving time and money during the week.

And if you’re worried about eating the same thing two days in a row, that won’t be a problem for your health. It’s best to think about the nutritional variety of your food across your whole week, rather than on a daily basis. So two consecutive identical meals won’t hurt.

Healthy lunch bowl with brown rice, chicken, beans and lots of green vegetables as an example of foods that reduce stress and increase energy.

Eating out

If you’re eating out, remember to make choices that are as close as possible to the Optimal Fuel Formula. I’d say try to avoid the tempting but highly processed and full of unhealthy saturated fat options like McDonald’s or KFC. Steer clear of carb-heavy meals too, and, instead, opt for something more balanced.

For example:

  • Pret do a lovely smoked salmon protein box. Humous and falafel are also great choices.
  • Leon restaurants have brown rice and chicken boxes.
  • Or if you like sushi, salmon or tuna and avocado rolls are yummy and a well-balanced choice.

Of course, it’s okay if not every meal is perfectly balanced – you don’t want your choice of food to become a source of stress. We’re trying to reduce stress here after all, aren’t we? So I like to follow the 80/20 rule – eat well 80% of the time and let yourself ‘off the hook’ the remaining 20%.

Dinner ideas

Again, when it comes to dinner ideas, think about things that are quick and simple to make. After a busy day, you don’t want to spend hours and hours in the kitchen to produce gourmet meals and 3-course dinners! (Not unless that’s your thing!)

I find BBC Good Food has plenty of great ideas for quick and healthy 30-minute meals. Madeleine Shaw also has a range of helpful recipes that are delicious, healthy and easy to make.

As much as you can, try and stick to the Optimum Fuel Formula. If you’ve cooked some chicken or fish (protein), add an extra leafy veg (complex carbohydrates) and some olives (healthy fats). Instead of white rice or pasta, opt for courgetti (spiralised courgettes) or cauliflower ‘rice’.

And to reduce the stress and minimise time in the kitchen, batch cook extra food at once or, if you can, share cooking responsibilities with another member of the family. If that’s not possible, pick a night in the week (perhaps when you’re the busiest or the most tired) and get a takeaway. Remember that 80/20 rule – it doesn’t have to be perfect all the time!

And what about snacks to reduce stress and increase energy?

Hang on a second. Am I saying that you should always stick to three meals a day, follow the Optimal Fuel Formula 80% of the time, and you’ll never feel peckish and reach for the biscuits ever again?

Well, not quite.

But I’ve got some actual good news here. The more you’re fuelling well (ie. eating breakfast and following the Optimum Fuel Formula for every meal), the less you’ll feel the need to snack or raid the fridge during the day.

But old habits are hard to die. And often snacking isn’t about being hungry at all! So many other factors come into play, like the need for a break from what we’re doing, or feeling bored or worried about something. If you want more information or ideas on how to break your snack habit, head over to my blog post How to tackle snacking when you’re Working From Home.

I hope this blog post gave you some ideas on how to choose balanced meals that will help you reduce stress and increase energy. If you’re looking for more tips on sustainable, not stressful health and fitness, you can connect with me on Instagram or subscribe to my YouTube channel – Workout with B.

Bianca x

HOW TO SQUAT AND LUNGE WITHOUT KNEE PAIN

YouTube Thumbnail image showing Bianca Sainty doing a lunge and smiling with the title Lunge Without Knee Pain

Do you avoid doing squats and lunges because they hurt your knees? Would you like to learn how to squat and lunge without knee pain? This is possible you know! Most likely you just need to adjust your technique, and I can help you do this.

“Dodgy knees”

First of all, you need to know that I can totally empathise with you over your knee pain. My knees click when I walk downstairs. One knee pulls when I run, so I have to stop and ‘readjust’ it as I go (by wiggling it around a bit). It’s never been the same since I slipped and fell heavily onto it years ago, when out running by the river.

All this means that I could avoid doing exercises like squats and lunges, because they hurt, or aggravate my knees. I could, but I don’t in fact avoid squats and lunges. Why? 

One: because I know how to do them with proper technique so they don’t hurt my knees. Two: because I know just how amazingly beneficial these exercises are for your knees.

Squat and lunge without knee pain

You see the thing is, if you have what I would describe as ‘dodgy knees’, it’s even more important to do the leg strength work so your muscles can help support your joints and prevent injury or even further injury. (You also need to stretch by the way, but that’s for another post).

A lot of people who suffer with knee problems do the opposite however. They shy away from leg exercises because they are worried they might make it worse. As I mentioned earlier, I understand this fear, from my own lived experience. So, I thought to myself:

“If even I – a qualified Personal Trainer with the knowledge and experience to perform these exercises with good technique – can fall into this trap, there must be tonnes of you out there who are just too scared to even so much as look at a squat or lunge! So, what can I do to help? I know (lightbulb moment)! I’ll make a video on good technique so all the lovely people with dodgy knees who want to stay active can squat and lunge without feeling any knee pain too”. Hurray!

YouTube thumbnail image showing Bianca Sainty smiling and demonstrating the technique for performing a squat without knee pain

Watch my tutorial videos

So, I made a video for you. In fact I made two. One is “Squat without knee pain” and the other is “Lunge without knee pain”. They are short tutorials (around two minutes each) that I hope will give you the “A-ha! That’s what I’ve been doing wrong all this time” moment, and enable you to squat and lunge to your knees content…

When I shared this post on my Instagram feed, a running friend made this comment: “Pretty much the same here. Used to have horrendous knee issues, avoided squats, lunges etc, because they hurt. Learned to do them properly and strengthened my whole body, and knees are now absolutely fine.”

She runs a lot – I’m talking 100 mile races – so it’s good to hear agreement from such an experienced runner.

So, if you’re fed up of sore knees holding you back, go and have a watch at my YouTube channel, Workout With B, and banish that pesky knee pain, once and for all!! 

I’ve created a new section called “Improve Your Technique”, and will be adding to this over time. Do you have any suggestions on exercises you’re not sure you’re doing properly, and would like a tutorial on? 

Don’t be shy to ask, I love sharing my Personal Training knowledge!

Bianca x 

#kneepain #squattutorial #lungetutorial #healthandfitnesscoach

How to tackle snacking when you’re Working From Home

illustration of a person opening the fridge door to get a snack

How to tackle snacking…you’ve probably worked out that this takes more than just willpower alone!

Read on if you’d like to find out my approach on how to tackle snacking, fridge-raiding and comfort-eating.

Have you ever wondered why you find yourself drifting towards the fridge mid-morning? Or reaching into the cupboard for a biscuit to dunk in your mid-afternoon tea?

You won’t be alone, especially now, when more of us are Working From Home where the temptation is greatest, plus nobody’s watching! It can be fiendishly hard to resist the urge to snack, even when we know it’s not doing our health or our waistlines any favours. So what can we do?

The Notice – Pause – Question method

In theory, if we are fuelling well (ie. eating breakfast and following the Optimum Fuel Formula for every meal), then we shouldn’t need to snack or raid the fridge! (Feel free to email me for a free copy of my Optimum Fuel Formula pdf).

But of course it’s not that simple…Why? Because we don’t just eat to satisfy hunger. We eat for all sorts of reasons, to feed our souls as much as our bellies. To fill a need. You’ll know about comfort eating, emotional eating, boredom eating. But how do we know if we are doing it? And how do we break this unhelpful and unhealthy habit? How do we tackle snacking, once and for all?

Well, we need to pay attention. We need to build self-awareness around why we snack if we’re to stand a chance of cracking it. We need to gain an understanding of what’s driving this behaviour in us.

Ok, sounds sensible, but how do we do this? Try following this simple sequence next time you find yourself heading for a snack.

Notice – Pause – Question

Bianca reaches up on tiptoes to the snack cupboard

Notice

First up, notice. Becoming aware of what we are doing is incredibly powerful. Noticing that we are reaching for food when our mind is distracted by an email that needs responding to, or worrying about the kids, or even dreaming about a holiday, is a huge step forward. Being mindful of our actions can enable us to stop doing unhelpful things when we’re distracted, and to act with purpose.

Pause

Once you’ve noticed, the next step is simply to pause. Just stop. Literally freeze mid-way across the kitchen. Take a moment. Often this is enough to realise: “Wait! I don’t need to eat this! What I really need is a drink of water / to call my friend / to go for a walk etc”

Question

Once we have noticed and paused, next we need gently to question our actions.  The point of this part is to learn and discover what might be driving our behaviour. Be curious, but always with a kind eye, and try your best to banish any judgment.

Your internal voice should be friendly and supportive, and sound something like this: “Ah look! I’ve noticed that I’m heading to the cupboard for food when I’ve only just finished my breakfast. Isn’t that interesting? I wonder why that is?”.

And that inner voice should definitely not sound like this: “What am I doing snacking again? I should have more willpower. Why do I always do this to myself? I wish I was better. I’m such a loser.”

Being kind and gentle with ourselves may need some practice, as our inner critic can often be nasty and difficult to quiet. This is definitely worth persisting with however, as being curious is an essential tool in how to tackle snacking.

infographic describing tips on how to tackle snacking and fridge-raiding, and how to understand what is driving this behaviour

As well as deploying the gentle curiosity mentioned, try asking yourself these helpful questions next time you find yourself reaching for the biscuit tin.

Question 1: Am I actually hungry?

If the answer is yes, by all means eat a healthy snack. Being ‘hangry’ is not a good look for you or anyone around you! Next, be aware that the problem has arisen earlier in the day. In other words, you haven’t fuelled up adequately. Look at what you ate for breakfast/lunch/dinner. Does your meal match the Optimum Fuel Formula? If not, tweak it so it does. (Feel free to email me for a free copy of my Healthy Snack Ideas & Optimum Fuel Formula pdf).

If the answer to “Am I actually hungry?” is no, move on to the next question.

Question 2: Am I thirsty?

Yes, then go ahead and slake that thirst! Drink a glass of water, and get back to what you were doing.

If the answer is no, move on to the next question.

Question 3: Am I bored?

Time for a break then. Do something to change your focus and move away from the source of temptation. Rather than head to the kettle for a brew and a biscuit, get up and stretch, go for a five minute walk outside, or call a friend.

If you can’t move away physically, change your mental focus with a tricky brain puzzle: count backwards in threes, or make a list in your head all of the countries you have ever visited or would like to visit.

If you’re not bored, ask yourself the next question.

Question 4: Is something bothering me?

Notice if you are feeling an emotion. This may be driving you to comfort eat.  Ask yourself: am I sad / angry / lonely / frustrated / stressed?

It can feel quite uncomfortable, but allow yourself to acknowledge this emotion, even if you’re not quite sure what it is, or what is causing it. Just sit with it. This is a great step forward in unpicking the driver behind your eating behaviour.

If you feel able to, explore gently what might be causing this emotion. If you can pinpoint this, then you are in a stronger position again – much closer to being able to tackle the root of your emotional eating.

At this point, it could be good to share (if you haven’t already) what you’ve discovered with a partner or close friend. They can support you, and help you decide next steps. Plus, they may well be going through something similar, so you can help each other.

So remember, next time you feel the urge to snack, or overeat: Notice – Pause – Question. Eventually this will become second nature, and you’ll find you are more in control of what you are eating. Maybe even one day how to tackle snacking will be something you no longer need to worry about.

Keep practicing this and you will build valuable self-awareness, and not just around your eating habits. The Notice – Pause – Question practice is a life-skill that is invaluable across many areas of life.

Bianca x

Smash Your Goals (with me!)

Do you ever set yourself a goal, start off all keen as mustard and then lose focus? Find your motivation drift away? Not achieve what you hoped you would, and then feel bad about it?

I know I do!

Usually when this happens to me, it’s because I’ve failed to plan realistic action steps to take me towards my goal. I’ve either gone too big or simply unrealistic. Then, I will definitely falter if that absolutely vital ingredient – accountability – is missing.

I find publishing on social media keeps me accountable – thanks you guys! But I realise this can be a much too public arena for many, that’s why I’m so excited about the new service I have designed to help you SMASH YOUR GOALS!

Imagine how good it would feel to start and actually finish that Couch to 5k… To take onboard a new healthy habit, and fully embed it, so that it becomes part of your lifestyle rather than an add-on that just drops off when life gets busy… Imagine how it would feel to have a clear, realistic and achievable plan, to not be making it up as you go along and to not feel overwhelmed. Imagine how it would feel to look after yourself a little every day and not feel guilty about it.

Now imagine how it would feel to have a cheer-leader on the side-lines keeping you motivated, accountable and supported through the ups and downs…

Sounds amazing, right? Too good to be true even. Not quite. Here’s how we create such a dreamy space…

We start with a 1to1 Goal-setting meeting where we explore what health, fitness and wellbeing goal you want to work on. We then delve into why. Beyond hitting targets, and into how achieving this goal will make you feel. This is important. Why? Because exploring and understanding your deeper “why” will help you to stay motivated and on track.

Then I create customised action steps and recommendations for you, and – here comes the really cool part – I remain close over the next 6 weeks, to provide accountability, support and gentle encouragement to keep you on track.

What do you think? Sound good? Well then, contact me to find out everything you need to know to get started.

It was awesome to lead 1to1 Goal-setting meetings recently for the lovely teams at Gekko Field Marketing – a company really interested in looking after their staff wellbeing. I’m thrilled to be able to offer this service to individuals now too.

Retrain the brain and the body will follow?

Change is hard. Or is it? I definitely struggle with it, and I’m starting to work out why. Self-awareness seems to be the key.

Here I am working on running technique, as advised by the brilliant Josie Mitchell from London Sports Therapy  

Still over-striding, and just look at that juddering heel strike! But I’m determined to continue working on this. 

Physically, changing technique from over-reaching to landing forefoot under my body and pushing back, feels challenging (hello hamstrings!), different, but ultimately doable with practice. It’s my mind that holds me back. Resisting all the time. “This is hard, this is hard”, loops round and round my head, step after step. 

I pause to reflect. This in itself is quite a new concept to me. Pause to reflect. Such a vital gateway to discover, one which opens up the path to becoming more self-aware and understanding what on earth is going on up there!

Suddenly, a revelation hits me: my body doesn’t mind the change too much and can cope with it  – I am strong and fit enough. It’s my mind that doesn’t want to adapt. So often we hear the expression: “mind over matter”. In my case, I believe the opposite is true. I need to believe more in my body’s capacity to change, so “matter over mind” might be more suitable. My body can do it but my mind is doubtful, so I just need to get out there and do it, not pay heed to the limiting thoughts.

Now that I’ve realised this about myself, I can work on rebutting the discouraging thoughts and build up some mental resilience. So, on my next run, I’m going to try reframing the experience. Be ready with some comebacks to the negative thoughts. Shift the focus away from “this is hard” to “this is new, this is different”. I’m curious to see what happens, if it feels different. Indeed, if I feel more open to the experience.

I’m confident that deploying this mental strategy will help me to relax, and then this new running technique will flow more easily. I will update you on my progress in due course.

Have you had to change something recently, and have you found your mind resisting? What techniques did you use to overcome this?

30 days 30 minutes outdoors challenge

I set myself a simple challenge this January, to help me get through what is always a tough month.

30 days, 30 minutes of movement outdoors. It could be any kind of movement: running or more gentle walks with the puppy or a friend, or simply playing outside with the kids. Any kind of movement outdoors, every day in January.

Over the years, I’ve set myself plenty of physical or sport-related goals eg. London Marathon, triathlons etc, but none that focussed solely on my wellbeing, and that didn’t have fear of big race day to motivate me. So, this was going to be a wholly different kind of challenge.

Now my job is to encourage consistency in others to build a healthy lifestyle, but I’m curiously remiss when it comes to consistency with my own health and fitness, especially without a race day end point. I think it’s something to do with not feeling comfortable prioritising my own needs, but that’s for another blog. I’m also easily distracted, constantly questioning and crafting new ideas in my mind, so focussing on this simple challenge was good to rein in my brain.

But, how was I going to ensure I was consistent, stuck to this and actually completed this challenge? The answer for me was by making it public. Not just sharing this with family and friends, so they could support me, but also putting it out there across all of my social media. Scary, but also motivating! Take a look here at my Instagram if you’d like to see more photos.

I kept a simple mood diary pre and post-outing, rating my mood from 1 to 5. This was great at forcing me to look at and accept how I was feeling (rather than ignoring), and verbalising the benefits that I was experiencing.

I’m a person who always puts others needs first (not healthy by the way!), and it took me a few days to accept that this challenge wasn’t about getting the kids some fresh air, but was just for me, and that this was ok and didn’t make me a selfish person.

On 5th January, when a new Lockdown was announced in the UK, and the children would be back to ‘home learning’, I felt really low. I went for a really gentle walk, and this was enough and felt right for how I was feeling.

Remember that exercise is a form of stress on our body, so it’s ok to go easy on yourself and adapt your form of exercise to the feedback your body is giving you. Just as long as you don’t do nothing.

The key here is to listen to your body, not your brain. I noticed that when I was feeling low at this time, the sabotaging thoughts started to creep in. You know, the “oh, just bin your cycle ride”, “I can’t be bothered”, “there’s too much other stuff to do”, self-doubt type of thoughts.

“Yo Brain! Why are you doing this to me??”

It’s a bit of a surprise to realise that our own thoughts can be really unsupportive and unhelpful at times. But it’s an important realisation, and once you know this, you can fight back! Information is power, always.

One day I had a Covid test. My shoulders were tense, my chest tight as I was stressed by the process and of course waiting for the outcome of the test. Big improvement in mood walking by the river – from 2.5 to 4 – and that was before the relief of the text message confirming my negative result.

Sometimes I felt like I was fighting the tide, like King Canute. Abandoning the family at a crucial time in the morning (breakfast-time!) and dog barking and general chaos. But what I learnt was, they were all fine without me. It was good for all of us that I took myself off for a run. What I conceived to be the problem or barrier to me leaving the house was bigger in my head than in reality. Much, much bigger!

https://www.instagram.com/biancasainty/

As I continued through the month, I began to glimpse the faint outlines of patterns.

I got an extra half point of feel good when I raised my heart rate with a run or a cycle. Most likely the endorphins to thank there.

I felt the biggest sense of achievement and boost in mood when I ran on my own early in the morning.

Walks with friends created a different but equally positive wellbeing effect – I imagine this was the added social connection, which we’re all missing at the moment.

By 25th January, though, I could feel my motivation waning. I understand now why so many New Year’s Resolutions fail. January is a really long month.

I plodded on, and ended my challenge on 31st January with a strong 5km run and a spring in my step, elated actually to have seen this challenge through to completion.

Some things I learnt on this journey:

  • a lot about myself and my inner motivations
  • it was great to have purpose
  • it was harder than I thought it would be
  • the accountability of posting updates every day was a good stressor – ie. it motivated me. I clearly have a fear of public failure! Acknowledging this ‘weakness’ and turning it around to benefit me has been a powerful discovery
  • I feel extra epic heading out in the rain

My three main barriers, in order of importance, were:

  • my own thoughts / self-doubt
  • the weather – not the rain, but flat and grey skies really made me feel low
  • logistics

My three main facilitators were:

  • public accountability of posting every day
  • others joining in with me and looking to me for inspiration
  • prepping the night before – planning what I was going to do and when, laying out kit ready etc

I have formed not one but two new helpful habits: getting outdoors everyday, and an ability to recognise and start to question and resist those sabotaging thoughts. Win-win for wellbeing.

I would definitely recommend trying this challenge, in any month of the year. Connect with me on Instagram if you would like to give it a go and would appreciate some support.

Bianca x