Better living as a student

It’s ironic that I would be invited to such an event as the one organised by Liberty Living last week when I am on a sabbatical, but as someone whose day job is mostly intellectual anyway I was right at home.

Liberty Living is a major provider of student accommodation in the UK, and this event was part of their #LibertyLivingHealthy campaign which aims to encourage students to take care of themselves. They have Mental Health Hubs on campuses and these workshops, which give students some tools that can be easily integrated even in the busiest student life (I’d know that, I was a working student). I really wish I had known some of that stuff a few years back instead of powering my brain on full-sugar RedBull (the fact I managed to lower my blood sugar levels this year is a mystery to me…).

We were welcomed into the event space at Fora by a choice of Kombucha, the most delicious apple juice or bubbly, and the most wonderful spread of finger food and dips ever. I am in love with their beetroot and their turmeric spreads in particular, so much so I borrowed a tupperware box to take some of the leftovers home (sorry, not sorry!). It was a nice addition to the goodie bag (pictured above): a smaller glass bottle which would suit me better than my full size Chilli bottle for taking with me when exercising or even just carry a smaller bag, a book of colouring and a lavender essential oil roll which I use before bed time.

The evening was split into 3 workshops covering 3 main areas of wellbeing, and the chance for networking or getting a massage (which was so popular it turned into an occasion of networking too as we all queued for our turn!). My group started with the nutrition workshop, which is the one from which I got the most out. The lovely nutritionist, whose name I believe is Anastasia (I have bronchitis and my brain is fried so I apologise profusely to her if I forgot her name!), dispelled some of the myths surrounding nutrition for a more sedentary lifestyle (such as that of a student). Our brains still need fuelling, especially when used as much as in the weeks approaching exams.
She gave us some really good tips, and introduced us to the newest research into the connection between the gut and the brain which I have been vaguely familiar with after my workshop at Frame for my birthday.

Maintaining Healthy Blood Sugar Levels:

– Eat protein with every meal and snack 
– Avoid refined sugars and grains 
I am really bad at this last one, a lot of my midday meals end up being some form of vegetarian whole-grain GF pasta a few hours after some whole-grain porridge or low sugar cereal of some kind and I’m hungry again within the next 4h.

Brain Nutrients:
– B12: in animal foods, if vegan use supplements
– Omega 3 fatty acids: in oily fish and walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds
– Vitamin D: test vitamin D levels and if below 70nmol/L supplement 1000iu-4000iu per day depending on needs
– Antioxidants: eat a wide range of vegetables a day to increase antioxidant levels, aim to eat a rainbow at lunch and dinner
Now, this wasn’t entirely new to me, except that I had no idea just how many things my vitamin D deficiency affected. Is it any wonder I have been running on empty and trying to fuel myself with short-term solutions just to cope with the bare minimum of working life? Never again.

Optimise the Gut Microbiome:
– Eat fermented foods: sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and natural yoghurt
– Avoid processed foods and sugars
– Rotate vegetables on a daily basis to increase bacteria diversity
These tips were not entirely new to me either, but I took it all as a push to get back to a book I had read in the past and the gut-friendly diet it recommended because I am tired to be mistaken for pregnant when I’m just bloated and I really could do with sorting it all out for good.

My second session was a yoga class, although the stretches and poses involved are common to a variety of other mat-based exercise routines I have done over the years. One thing I have learnt was how to figure out what movement help with the specific feelings you have, how to energise if you’re tired or let go of too much energy if you are bottling up frustrations and stress…they were not what I was expecting, in fact they are the exact opposite. I have always thought of it in terms of doing relaxing things for stress and energetic things to wake up, but then again don’t I want to go kickboxing to let out the stress? So, really, the correct thinking was there in the back of my head. I have also had a chance to smell of bitter orange which has to be one of my favourite smells ever. At the end of the session I have felt so good I am signing up for a Pietra Fitness online class membership. This is because there are 10 main benefits to exercises that focus on the form of the movement and your breathing compared to how much you can push or how fast you can run:

  1. Reduce stress
  2. Increase your concentration
  3. Understand the mind and body connection
  4. Gain strength and stamina
  5. Improve balance and stability
  6. Improve posture
  7. Develop body awareness
  8. Breathe better
  9. Increase your energy
  10. Be more mindful

I was surprisingly not tired, which is strange considering that not only I’m down ill now, but I was just back from Rome and I had been running around like a headless chicken ever since pretty much July…maybe the sun and the vitamin D spray I’ve been taking ever since the blood test results came back have had some impact. Even just one tiny stretch in the middle of the day can make a difference, and the poses I have learnt this time make a great addition to the desk exercises from the Fellowes event which I am still implementing.

Our final session (before I got a chance at a massage) was the mindfulness workshop. I have to admit I have a love/hate relationship with mindfulness meditations, some of which are way too Buddhist for me, but I went along anyway as the moderator said we were under no obligation to do something we were uncomfortable with (and I am really uncomfortable with positive pep talk to myself, it turns out). On a very basic level, some mindfulness techniques were a part of my CBT a while back, especially walking paying attention to my surroundings instead of lost in my thoughts, but it was a good relaxing half an hour even if not much of it was really new.

I may know the theory but I often fail to put it into practice, and the environment was also very good for unlearning some of the misconceptions I had acquired from previous experiences. 3 long breaths can be enough without needing to make time to jump into a 10 minutes long meditation when you just can’t. Consistency is a more powerful thing than the length when it comes to mindfulness. Prayers like the Jesus Prayer of the Desert Fathers go really well with focused breathing too, so that’s something to think about whenever I am next stressed out by something that is going to make me rant in self-righteousness to whoever is kind enough to listen.

It was a really good evening after going around so much and never really stopping to think about how well I was doing. I’m grateful for what I have learnt and for the reminder for the things I knew already, as well as the motivation to implement them. The beautiful photos in this post are courtesy of Elouisa Georgiou.

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