The winter blues – how to beat them and feel better

Do you suffer from the winter blues? As the days shorten and the nights draw in, I certainly do at times.

When you leave for work and it’s dark and you come home and it’s dark again, it’s easy to give into the doldrums. As the weather turns colder, you may have to brave the wind, rain, frost and ice to get anywhere.

On top of all that, the germs and viruses arrive in the form of coughs, colds and flu. It’s not surprising many people feel their hearts sinking as the winter blues start to set in.

The winter blues aren’t inevitable

So how can you beat them? As many people stay happy and healthy through the cold season the winter blues aren’t inevitable.

I have never officially been diagnosed with SAD (seasonal affective disorder). But I know I suffer from the winter blues and what helps me. The fatigue sets in first. I find myself wondering why I am so tired all the time. I get frustrated with myself for how little I am getting done. Then, if I am not careful, I start to feel low and grumpy. I have some strategies that keep the winter blues at bay.

Get outside

We are dog sitting for friends this week. We both miss having dogs and the house we are staying in is fabulous, so it feels like a holiday. Having dogs around is the best excuse to get outside to get some fresh air and daylight. This is exactly what is required to beat the winter blues. It would be so much easier to hide in the office at lunchtime than go out in the cold. But a brisk walk round the block is really helpful. Even without the dogs we try to get as much light as possible at weekends too, taking long walks and tidying up the garden.

I also  ventilate our bedroom, even as the temperature drops. Mr S hates a stuffy bedroom and having the window open a crack makes all the difference.

Exercise

Some kind of exercise is absolutely crucial if you suffer from low mood. I really doesn’t matter what you do, it really works. We like walking and yoga, and Mr S does a lot of swimming. However, if you prefer a run, a martial arts class, football or the gym, now is the time to get into a good exercise routine. If you can do your exercise outside in the daylight, even better! If you are interested in yoga, you can find properly trained teachers on the British Wheel of Yoga website.

Relax

yoga al frescoEasy to say, not so easy to achieve sometimes.  People think relaxation is simply stopping for a bit, maybe watching the TV. This can help if  you are always on the go, but if you are depressed or anxious it is better to have more of a strategy. You can slob in front of the box and still be very tense! When I am feeling low and stressed I do a short yoga practice, followed by some kind of simple breathing or meditation technique. A really simple one is as follows:

Sit quietly somewhere you are comfortable and unlikely to be disturbed. Ideally your spine should be reasonably upright. Close your eyes and watch your breathing. Just allow it to come and go without trying to control it. If you are very tense, you may notice that your exhalation is quite short. You can extend it slightly and bring your mind solely on the breath by counting slowly in for a count of four and counting slowly out for a count of 6. Try to keep your mind on the breath for a minimum of 20 breaths. When it wanders off, as it will to start with, just notice that and bring your focus back to your breath.

This is such a simple practice and takes very little time, although you can do this for several minutes.

I also use a free app called Calm. There are some lovely meditative exercises to work through.

Eat well

Eating well is important any time, but a well balanced diet is really important for good physical and mental health. Cut out as much sugar as possible and eat an absolute minimum 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Increase your intake of B vitamins by swapping from white bread and pasta to wholemeal. This doesn’t have to cost more. You can easily incorporate lots of nutrient packed food into your diet on a budget.

I also always have a high dose vitamin C tablet each day. I swear by this. When all around me are off with coughs and colds, the germs rarely hit me and I have a good immune system. I wait until they have a 3 for 2 offer on and get mine from Boots.

None of the above is anything more than common sense, but it is hard to get going when you already feel down. So start now whilst it is autumn. The clocks go back in the UK next weekend! Begin to look after your mental health before we lose the light and you can beat the winter blues.

If all else fails and you think you have full blown SAD, make sure you see your GP for help. You could also invest Seasonal Affective Disorder lamp for this. I have never tried one but my friend swears by hers. What are your tips to overcome the winter blues?

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Aiming for frugal health and fitness

I have felt my fitness levels falling over the past few years. With a busy life and a desk bound job it is sometimes hard to find the motivation and energy for a lot of exercise. I do practise yoga but I could do with exercising a lot more.

A new leaf

So today I have turned over a new leaf and am resolved to get fit again! I don’t want to spend money on a gym membership at the moment so it will be DIY exercise and frugal health and fitness at Shoestring Cottage.

Running is no good for me (got dodgy knees) so I have decided to do workouts at home. I started with this one in Women’s Health. The press ups nearly killed me so I clearly have some work to do. I also used the weights I bought in Aldi in the new year to tone my arms.

Some yoga stretches topped it off and I felt great after. I am going to repeat this workout three or four times a week.

I went for a 20 minute brisk walk at lunchtime and will repeat this three times a week as well.

Healthy eating

In addition I am cutting the carbs and eating really healthily. Today I ate porridge with fruit for breakfast, an egg salad with vegetable soup for lunch and fish with a vegetable stir fry for dinner. I am eating whatever I like as long as it is healthy so have also snacked on nuts, yogurt and fruit. None of these foods are very expensive and easily fit into my frugal health and fitness regime.

I have found some inspiration on Instagram from @healthybyfifty (pictured). She is a 47 year old super fit wonder woman. The workouts she does would finish me off I think! Still, if she can do what she does I am sure I can go a long way to improving my fitness. Perhaps I will aim to do this in a slightly less dramatic way. One of the things I like about her is that she exercises in her back yard with minimal equipment, rather than a fancy gym. She wasn’t overweight to begin with, but you can see the cellulite has melted away and her muscle definition has improved hugely. I will probably never be so determined  to be super fit as she is, but I will keep an eye on her anyway when I need some motivation.

What do you do to stay fit and healthy? Can you get fit without spending a fortune and what are your tips for frugal health and fitness?

Yoga for fitness: getting fit and healthy for less

Yoga for fitness

I am as guilty as the next office bound worker of letting things go from time to time with my fitness programme. By the time I have done the nine to five, fought my way home through the traffic , cooked the tea and cleared up there is little time or energy left for fitness.

However, I am stuck in an office at my PC for much of the day. I know how important it is to work at your fitness. Sedentary jobs zap your mental energy. They can also leave you with aching neck and back, tight shoulders and poor posture. You can feel physically exhausted without doing anything remotely physical.

I am a fully qualified yoga teacher. There are no good excuses for not exercising when you have studied how the human body works and understand the benefits of keeping active! It doesn’t matter how shattered I am, half an hour on my yoga mat will revive and re-energise me, both physically and mentally. I know how great yoga makes you feel and yoga for fitness is a good choice for many people.

Fitness is important at any age, but as you hit middle age it really is a case of use it or lose it. As you age, it is harder to get back to full fitness once you have let it go.

The benefits of yoga for fitness

Yoga is a great activity for any age and fitness level. It also has the hugely positive side effects of relaxation and stress relief. Studies have shown that a regular yoga practice can reduce blood pressure,  ease anxiety and depression and improve your balance (leading to fewer falls in old age).

It has benefits too for those struggling with conditions like ME, fibromyalgia, cancer, MS and arthritis. If you look at the British Wheel of Yoga website you will find specialist classes alongside general ones all around the UK, as well as interesting articles on yoga. It is also a great exercise during pregnancy.

But this article was headed ‘getting fit and healthy for less’, so how to learn about yoga with no money?

The great thing about yoga is that you really only need a non slip mat once you have learned some basic principles and postures (I prefer the sticky sort). Depending on where you live, classes tend to be cheaper than, say, pilates. If you belong to a gym already you might get a few yoga classes thrown in. Before you do them, check to see if the teacher is properly qualified through the BWY or one of its accredited partner organisations. If your gym doesn’t offer yoga, ask them why not? They might start them if there is demand. You might as well get value for money! Yoga is a great exercise to do alongside running or the gym.

Yoga books for frugal fitness

However, if money is really tight, start with some books. Your local library will usually have a decent selection. Once you know what you like they are worth buying as you will come back to your favourites again and again. Here are my recommendations on great books for yoga for fitness.

The Easy Yoga Workbook by Tara Fraser

This is a nice book for a beginner as it’s not intimidating and you don’t need to be a contortionist! It is well explained with good illustrations.

Yoga for You, by Tara Fraser

Again, lots of nice, clear images to follow alongside the explanations, plus a bit more background on yoga.

Yoga for the stiffer body, by Craddock and Bunyard

Does exactly what it says on the cover – great for those who think they aren’t flexible enough to take up yoga. One for your Kindle at a great price.

Yoga over Fifty, by Mary Stewart 

I bought this when I was about 40, so ignore the title! It is a book for anyone with an interest in yoga. It is insiring to see older people in advanced positions but some are quite advanced. I like the sequences in this one so come back to it time and again.

Yoga Mind, Body and Spirit, by Donna Farhi
A really comprehensive book for the keen yogi, with very well explained postures and great emphasis on correct alignment. This is an interesting read! I find this very inspirational to dip into when I am planning a yoga class.

Yoga: the spirit and practice of moving into stillness, by Erich Schiffmann

Another very full and comprehensive read, with instruction on yoga alongside meditation. For the serious student of yoga.

I could go on – I love reading books on yoga and have a whole shelf full of them. There are so many great books out there to start you off on your frugal fitness journey.

To get you started, I have a nice easy yoga sequence here.

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How to get your five a day on a budget 

A basket of fruit showing you can have five a day on a budgetWe eat very cheaply here at Shoestring Cottage. However, not at the expense of our health, so we always eat our five a day on a budget. In fact, we eat a lot more than five portions of fruit and vegetables. I have around eight most days because I eat a lot of fruit. This has become easier since I gave up sugar. (Well, I have had the odd lapse but I have eaten very little, but that’s a post for another day!).

Check out your local market

It isn’t difficult to eat your five a day on a budget. There are so many ways to get some extra fruit and veg into your diet without breaking the bank. In the past when I was saving money I purchased from the greengrocer’s stall at the local market. If you have a good market and the time to get there this is still brilliant value. Now that I work so much I have little time to go into town, so I tend to get my fruit and veg from the discount supermarkets like Lidl and Aldi. Their specials are excellent. I also look out for yellow sticker reductions if I can get to a store later in the day. I always freeze these or use them up straight away. 

Canned, dried and frozen count towards your five a day on a budget

This includes canned tomatoes, sweet corn and pulses. We always have these in the larder. Canned veg such as peas, mushrooms and carrots are really inexpensive and quite good in casseroles.

Pulses can replace some of the more expensive meat in dishes like bolognese – who will notice a few lentils thickening the sauce? Or you can leave the meat out all together and have a mix of beans in a chilli sauce over your rice. How about a can of chick peas in with your chicken curry?

Canned fruit can be more expensive, but fruit cocktail and peaches are reasonable and make a nice dessert with a bit of custard. If they come in syrup I tend to wash this off – too much sugar!

Dried fruits are also worth considering in small quantities . A little pack of raisins in your lunchbox can be nice if you fancy something sweet and I have them on my porridge instead of sugar.

Another small treat I enjoy that count as one of my five a day on a budget is an Aldi Foodie Market raw fruit bar. They consist of cold pressed squished fruit and are around 90 calories a bar. I love the black currant and cherry flavours particularly. They cost £1.49 for a box of five. Much cheaper than a chocolate bar and so much healthier!

How do you get your five a day on a budget?

Chillax!

chillaxChillax is a word I have stolen from my daughters, but it is a good one! I had a really interesting and relaxing day of yoga on Sunday. I am obliged to attend two teacher training days a year to keep my teacher’s status and insurance up to date. They always seem like a lot of hassle to organise but I usually thoroughly enjoy them and wish I could fit in more! Check out my Yoga for Back Ache post if you fancy trying it.

Yoga Jane

I am not teaching at the moment but I will be taking two special sessions of yoga for my work colleagues next week. I am looking forward to this. They know me as the Jane who sits at a desk and organises people. This will give me the chance to show them a completely different side of me – yoga Jane!

If you are interested in yoga, try to find a teacher who has been trained by the British Wheel of Yoga or with an affiliated organisation. The training is really thorough, lasting at least three years. There are some exercise instructors out there who do a couple of days training and call themselves yoga teachers! Avoid!

The Wheel also has a great offer on at the moment where you can join for free for a year. Even if you don’t join you can find a properly qualified teacher in your area be searching the website, but if you join you can attend special yoga events and get the excellent Spectrum yoga magazine quarterly, among other benefits. Check it out here. They aren’t shouting about this enough in my opinion and it is hidden away, but choose the option to join online and under subscription type tick the ‘TRY BWY – first year free’ box. This is for a limited period only.

You will feel so much better for some exercise and yoga is a great choice 😀.  It is fun and frugal exercise too.

Keeping fit and getting motivated

keeping fitHaving said it was feeling cooler and autumnal a few days ago, we are now back in heat wave mode! The weather is most bizarre!

My Italian student is loving it. This afternoon they are off to Cambridge and have a beautiful day for a visit to that fine city – she won’t need to take her umbrella!

Not enough exercise

I am suffering with back ache at the moment. I know the cause – not enough exercise. This is the problem with a sedentary office job. It is so important to move and stretch often. As a yoga teacher I know this, so I get annoyed with myself when I don’t practice what I preach. I will do a session tonight.

It is easy to make the excuse of not having time but it is a bit feeble. I had time to watch Bake Off last night! It is important to invest in my health. My manager runs marathons every few months and is constantly training. If she can find time to stay fit so can I. It is all about motivation and priorities! My fitness is really important to me. When I exercise I feel better mentally as well as physically.

Do you keep fit? How do you stay motivated?

Yoga for Back Ache

Achy back? Read on!

Do you suffer from an achy back? So many people do, especially if they work at a desk job. Sitting down all day isn’t great for you and can lead to poor posture and stiff muscles. Yoga for back ache is tried and tested form of exercise.

When I am not working for the Council or being queen of frugality, I am a yoga teacher, and have been for the past 10 years. Forget the hype about yoga. It may be the choice of many a celebrity and you may think you have to bend yourself up like a pretzel to do it, but actually it is very simple. You can practice at home or in a class, alone or with friends, you can be old or young, male or female, able bodied or have a disability.  Please don’t think you need to be a gymnast either! You need a very small space to do it and a mat – that’s all.

Yoga has kept me sane over many years, through pregnancy, motherhood, divorce and through my financial worries. As I hit 50, I found that working at a desk all day and gardening at the weekends started to take its toll on my lower back. For the first time I started to experience the aches and pains that I thought were just for other people!

If anything starts to hurt now I reach for my mat. If I have no time to do anything else, but have an achy back, I do the following mini routine. Use your common sense if you try this. Take your time and, if you feel more than a mild discomfort, slow down. Breathe slowly. Stretch and enjoy it. Spot the kitten – she was waiting in vain for me to do Cat Pose…

Yoga for back ache: an easy sequence for all abilities

Standing forward stretch
Hold onto the back of a chair or window sill. Aim to get a nice flat back and open under your arms. Straighten your legs if you can. Hold for 5 or 6 breaths.yoga for back ache

Rag doll
Starting from standing, soften your knees, and gradually curl down into a very soft forward bend. Keep your knees bent though – we are stretching the back gently not the hamstrings yet. Hold for 5 or 6 breaths and come up really slowly.

 

Lying knee to forehead
yoga for back acheLie on the floor with your knees bent. On an out breath draw your right knee in towards you and, if it doesn’t hurt your neck, lift your head to look towards the knee. Hold for 10-15 seconds breathing normally, then release. Do the same with the left leg. Repeat 3 times on each side.

Hamstring stretch
yoga for back acheIf you get a lot of lower back pain you may have tight hamstrings. This is extremely beneficial for stretching them out. If you have a yoga or martial arts belt, great – if not, a dressing gown belt is perfect. Lie on the floor and place the belt under your right foot. Stretch the foot to the ceiling, keeping the ankle flexed (ie, don’t point your toes). Straighten your leg as much as possible. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Release and do the same on the left leg.

Lying twist
yoga for back acheIf you have severe back pain, pile up some cushions to support your knees when you do this. Lie on the mat and draw both knees in towards you. Tighten your tummy muscles and if necessary support the knees with your hand as you take them to the right. If your left shoulder lifts when you do this, you need to rest your knees on a couple of cushions. Move your head to the left if it doesn’t hurt your neck. Rest there for a minute or so, then support your knees back to the middle and change sides. Repeat twice on each side.

Bridge pose
yoga for back acheLie on the floor with your knees bent and your arms by your side. Your heels should be close enough in towards your bottom that you can almost touch them with your fingers. As you breathe out, press the small of your back into the floor. As you breathe in, release. Do these small pelvic movements a few times, then begin to lift your hips up off the floor, as far as is comfortable. Your toes should stay in contact with the floor and your feet should be parallel to each other. Hold for a few breaths then uncurl to the floor again. Imagine you could bring each vertebra to the floor before the next. Take a breath and repeat twice more.

Finally, draw your knees in towards your chest and take hold of them. Rock gently from one side to the other. Rest for a few minutes.

Find a teacher

If you practise this sequence regularly you will hopefully find that your back becomes more flexible and that your back pain is more manageable. Try yoga for your back ache. If you find it helps consider finding a class. I recommend finding a British Wheel of Yoga qualified teacher here.