Mind & Body

5 Everyday Wellness Hacks You Need To Know

We’re all looking for ways to make life easier and more pleasurable. Here, SUZANNE SCOTT explores the small techniques and practices that can make a big difference


Turn down the noise

The back-to-back Zoom calls, endless commitments and constant deadlines can all leave us feeling overwhelmed. “Many of us have forgotten what it’s like to be quiet, but we stand to benefit enormously from silent moments,” says Emma Mills, a meditation expert and author of Inhale. Exhale. Repeat: A Meditation Handbook for Every Part of Your Day (Penguin Random House). “When we are quiet, we can listen to what our body is telling us and notice the comings and goings of our own mind. It’s here you can find creativity because when you’re not filling your head with what you think you already know, you’re creating a gap for something unexpected.”

Mills recommends a short meditation that you can do almost anywhere you can find a comfortable spot. It contrasts silence with sound and it’s an excellent exercise for quieting a busy mind. “Get comfortable and take 10 easy breaths,” Mills explains. “Stay silent during each inhale but, on the exhales, allow yourself to hum. When your exhale stops, stop humming.” The silence that immediately follows feels more pronounced. “It’s the contrast between the sound of your hum and the silence that comes after it that helps to bring things into sharper focus,” she says.

Expose yourself to morning sunlight

According to Dr. Andrew Huberman, a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine, the furor around blue light is largely misplaced. After researching vision and neurobiology for more than 20 years, he argues that it’s actually the brightness of light – and not the blueness of it – that disrupts our circadian rhythm. Via his hugely popular Instagram account – @hubermanlab – and podcast, he shows us that thinking about light in terms of brightness is key to good mental health, as the cells in our eyes that detect brightness are also responsible for telling a specific part of our brain, called the habenula, to either increase or decrease feelings of depression. He recommends getting outside every morning for between two and 10 minutes of light exposure (depending on the brightness), without sunglasses and without looking directly at the sun, so that the cells in your eyes can signal your brain to suppress depressive symptoms. If you’re awake before sunrise, Huberman recommends using bright, artificial lights instead.

Breathe better

We know that, during stressful moments, breathing can become shallow, forcing you to breathe faster to get the oxygen you need. Unchecked, it can become a habit. Considered and deliberate breathing techniques that allow you to fill your lungs properly have been shown to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to slow your heart rate, lower blood pressure, support digestion and, importantly, calm your nerves. Cue Kapalbhati – a rapid yogic breathing technique that energizes the nervous system, enhances brain function, and improves digestion and nutrient absorption. The next time you feel the need to calm your nerves quickly, try this: sit comfortably with your hands on your stomach, take a deep inhale, allowing your lungs their fill, and then aggressively exhale, contracting your stomach muscles and expelling the air as quickly as possible. Repeat until you feel calmer. It’s natural to feel self-conscious the first time you do it, but it absolutely works.

Be selective with your bacteria

We all know that probiotics are important, but there are two particular strains that have recently been proven to help alleviate depression and anxiety. Most experts agree that probiotic supplements should contain an array of bacteria – the more strains the better, and now a study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry confirms that lactobacillus and bifidobacterium are particularly beneficial for improving moderate symptoms of depression and restoring sleep, minus any side effects. Look to good-quality supplements, such as Symprove and RenewLife, which contain lactobacillus, or Athletic Greens, which combines both lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.

Try the anti-inflammatory workout

Exercise is largely associated with inflammation, particularly of the joints. However, a slower pace – known as ‘mellow movements’ to fans of slow exercise – has been shown to have the opposite effect, actively helping to reduce inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and heart disease. With its languorous stretches and deliberate movements, yoga is an excellent example of mellow movements. Studies show that practicing yoga regularly can decrease inflammatory markers and alleviate depression, while Harvard Health heralds tai chi as a ‘mind-body therapy’ that may help to reduce pain, improve mood, lower cholesterol and dampen inflammation. Mellow movements shouldn’t replace your high-intensity workouts, but if you are regularly working up a sweat with a daily spin or HIIT class, try alternating your high-intensity sessions with slower, more choreographed exercises instead.