Spring is the ideal time to give your health some TLC and boost your mood. Here are the quickest and easiest ways to put a spring back in your step.
1. Be mindful
Mindfulness can help you get a grip on any nagging worries, such as money or family tensions. Rather than turning your mind into a 'blank screen', mindfulness helps you to notice your thinking patterns and learn to step back, rather than becoming overwhelmed and getting caught up in them.
You can even do it while you wash up - simply immerse yourself in the sensations and smells of the water and dishes for just six minutes, and your stress levels will decrease by up to 27 per cent, and mental energy up by 25 per cent, according to a recent study.
Consider an online mindfulness course like Be Mindful Online from the Mental Health Foundation (£60; mentalhealth.org.uk). An Oxford University study found it reduced stress and worry by 40 per cent.
2. Treat your gut
We've long known there's a connection between the gut and the emotions - who hasn't had 'butterflies' when nervous or felt all churned up when stressed? Now Dutch scientists have shown that boosting good bacteria in the gut by taking a supplement containing Bifidobacterium and lactobacillus for four weeks has a positive impact on mood, reducing the risk of depression.
Another study, from Oxford University, found that boosting your intake of prebiotics - food for your gut's good bacteria - lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the bloodstream. Garlic and onions are natural sources of prebiotics or try a supplement.
3. Take up the tango!
Get active and you'll soon feel better in mind and body. According to new research from Queen's University in Belfast, people who start to exercise regularly feel better about their bodies within two weeks - long before any physical changes start to happen. "The best exercise is one you enjoy and can do regularly, but take up the tango, and you'll calm feelings of stress and anxiety", say researchers.
4. Eat the Med way
It's well-known that following a Mediterranean diet - lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, fish and healthy fats such as olive oil and nuts, with moderate amounts of lean meat and dairy products - is good news for heart health, but what's less well-known is that it's just as good for your head.
Not only are people who eat a Mediterranean diet at lower risk of getting dementia, but they are also less prone to depression, according to a study from Spain, which tracked 15,000 people for 10 years. Aim for a variety of colours of fresh produce to get the full range of brain-boosting antioxidants.
5. Try a natural mood booster
Sometimes we need some extra help, and the right supplement can make a big difference. St John's Wort is a traditional herbal mood booster that recent studies have shown can be effective at treating mild-to-moderate depression.
Top 5 instant mood boosters:
- Smile! Consciously activating your smile muscles lowers the stress response and releases 'happy' chemicals in the brain just as effectively as a spontaneous smile;
- Walk tall Walking with good posture instantly promotes a positive self-image, say scientists at Ohio State University;
- Be catty It's official - watching funny online clips of cats boosts energy and positive emotions, and decreases anxiety;
- Sit less Spend less time on your derrière and you'll feel happier as well as healthier. According to a new study from Australia, the more time you spend on your feet, the lower your risk of anxiety;
- Listen to happy music We now have scientific proof that upbeat music can create a lasting improvement in your mood.