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How to cook your way to relaxation

cutting-board-925544_1280Most people when they’ve had a long and particularly difficult day can’t think of anything worse than spending their last few precious hours at home before bed time slaving over the oven and cooking healthy food. In most cases, people’s gut instinct will be to eat out or to pick up the phone and order a take away. While this saves time and fills you up, it’s not always the best course of action to take. In this article we will look at how cooking your own meals can be an effective method of stress relief and explain why a healthy, balanced diet is good for your mind.

Healthy, nutritious food is one of the quickest routes to stress relief. Fresh food is much more likely to be packed full of the essential nutrients that your body needs and less likely to include the fats, oils and processed ingredients that can leave you feeling groggy, tired and unable to perform to your best ability the following day.

By preparing and cooking food yourself, you set yourself up for a task which you are certain to be rewarded for. While your day might be stressful, with jobs left incomplete and no finish line in sight, the process of cooking a meal allows you to set a goal and to achieve it.

In addition to this, if you prepare all the food on your plate yourself then you can be sure that there are no nasty surprises, such as added sugars or fats which can heighten your risk of diabetes and cause weight gains which can leave you feeling blue.

Foods with high vitamin and mineral levels actively help to reduces stress levels but what are some of the foods you should avoid?

One common way to aggravate stress is to drink tea, coffee, energy drinks and anything with caffeine in it. While you may have an initial perk from drinking caffeine, the stimulation can leave you feeling a lot worse once it wears off, as well as causing unwanted side effects like anxiety and insomnia.

Take away foods are a quick and easy fix when you’ve had a long day and don’t feel like cooking but they tend to be full of fats and carbohydrates which can induce stress. A healthy balanced diet is a sure fire way to make sure you get all the vitamins that you need, as well as helping you to lose weight which can make you feel better about yourself.

Finally, preparing and cooking food with your partner or children can be a great way to spend your time together and help you unwind, thinking and talking about something other than work, or even just letting off some steam.

For more information on reducing stress in your day to day life, see our guide ’20 proven ways to wind down and relax’ .

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8 ways to survive a really bad day

It doesn’t matter how well prepared you are, sometimes it just seems like the world is against you. You sleep through your alarm, the shower runs cold, traffic is bad, work is demanding and you don’t know what to do. It’s very easy to let stress get the better of you in these situations but by forming a few good habits such as getting some extra sleep, making time for breakfast and organising yourself more efficiently then you might just make it out the other side!



#1 – Have an early night when you can

There’s a lot that we don’t know about sleep, but what we do know is that it is the time when your body can finally rejuvenate and repair itself. A lack of sleep will make you irritable, sluggish and worst of all unproductive. If you have an important day ahead of you then you should get an early night so you’re in good form the following morning.



#2 – Make time for a good breakfast

If you already know that you are in for a particularly difficult day then it’s important that you fuel up and give your body enough energy to get you through. Additionally, research suggests that a regular breakfast can prevent obesity, diabetes and heart disease.



#3 – Plan your day

Writing down all the things that you need to get done in your day can go a long way towards providing a feeling of self control when you are in a stressful situation. Make a list of what jobs you need to do and if that list looks overwhelming then try breaking them down by how high or low a priority they really are.



#4 – Cut the caffeine

While caffeine can help you to stay alert and to concentrate for a short time, it can also have some nasty side effects such as nausea, fatigue and depression which are the last things you need on an important day. Reduce your caffeine consumption and drink more water to survive the day from hell.



#5 – Shake it off

Your body and your mind are connected and negative emotions such as stress can leave your whole body feeling sore, tight and painful. Do your best to keep your body active through the day, whether it’s going for a long walk on your lunch break, moving around the office or simply just taking the time to stretch your arms and legs and roll your shoulders round.



#6 – Don’t skip lunch

It might seem like a good idea at the time but if you skip lunch then you are bound to be counting the clock for the last portion of your day. Skipping lunch also means low blood sugar, which will give your energy levels a real kicking. It’s much better to take the time to eat something and to come back ready for action.



#7– Focus on one task at a time

You might think that you can answer an email and make a telephone to two different people at once but research suggests that productivity is increased massively when sticking to just one task alone.



#8 – Tomorrow is another day

One of the most important things to remember when everything is going wrong is that you are not superman. You might be able to get a good portion of things on your to-do list done but some days you just have to accept that it might be better to try again another day.


For more information on reducing stress in your day to day life , see our guide ’20 proven ways to wind down and relax’.


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Why is exercise so good for stress and well being?

muscles-up-musculos-para-cim-1516632When you’ve had a particularly tough day it’s typical that you’ll want to relieve your negative emotions through one of two ways: you’ll either want to relax with your favourite TV soap and a cup of tea or alternatively you might decide to hit the gym for a big workout. In this article we’ll look at some key reasons why exercise can be a great choice for de-stressing and improving your well being.

Stress and Endorphins

Physical activities are known to boost the production of endorphins. These are a group of hormones which are secreted from your nervous system and serve to block pain signals from the brain. However, they serve another important purpose in creating our feelings of pleasure. So if you’ve had a particularly hard day then some heavy action in the gym can help release some feel-good hormones.


Aside from the instant rush that physical activities can bring there are also the long term benefits to consider.

Many people struggle with low self esteem, and the reasons why can vary. Some people begin to struggle with self confidence from a very young age, perhaps through bullying, unhappiness over their physical traits or a particularly embarrassing event which happened to them. For others, it might be that they lose their self confidence through bereavement, illness, or through the breakdown of a relationship.

While statistically many people who fall into these categories will deal with their low self-esteem through unhealthy habits such as eating disorders, this is never a permanent fix. In fact, these types of habits can create a repetitive pattern which has a negative impact.

One way to combat poor self-esteem is through a regular pattern of exercise, which can help improve your mood and allow you to think clearly. On the physical side of things, it can help to clear up your skin, improve your physique and to lose or put on a healthy amount of weight.

General Health

Aside from the impact on your stress levels and your self-confidence there are a whole host of other ways that introducing some exercise into your daily routine can help improve your health. Research suggests that some of the leading types of deadly illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer and breast cancer can be avoided through regular exercise and other ailments such as arthritis, depression, dementia and fractures can also be impacted significantly.

How to get started

Raising your activity levels doesn’t have to be frightening and there are many different routes back into exercise. Low impact exercises such as Yoga, Pilates and swimming can be effective if you have had injuries to your body, are particularly overweight or if you are new to exercise. Alternatively, if you are ready for high impact exercises then jogging, weight training and interval training can be beneficial.

Exercise is just one way that you can boost your endorphins and improve your mood after a tough day. See our guide ‘20 proven ways to wind down and relax’ for more tips on stress busting.

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3 simple breathing exercises that can help you relax

“When the breath wanders, the mind also is unsteady but when breath is calmed the mind too will be still”

– Hatha Yoga Pradipika

yoga-1482810Whether you are stuck in a traffic jam in the summer heat, feeling the pressure at work or struggling to cook the dinner for a large gathering of family or friends, allowing your stress to dictate your emotions can make a bad situation even worse. However, by practising some simple breathing exercises you should be able to have a greater level of control over your emotions and allow yourself to relax more quickly. Below are three examples of breathing exercises that can help you relax.

The three part breath

Breathing exercises are a staple part of Yoga and are known as “pranayamas”. One such pranayama is the three part breath exercise which helps to improve breathing, calm your mind and lessen the strain on your organs which comes from a lack of oxygen when you shallow breathe.

This practice involves lying down, crouching or sitting on your knees then beginning to relax your body by closing your eyes and breathing naturally through your nose. The next step is to place your left hand on your abdomen and your right hand on the right of your rib cage; as you do this you should focus on the breath as it travels through your body and exhale completely while pressing on your abdomen to help release the air. After this you should move your left hand toward the bottom of your collarbone and repeat the process for up to five minutes.

Karate breathing

Many people get put off Yoga and breathing exercises by an irrational fear that the exercises will be too difficult, but the beauty of Yoga is that there are a whole range of different exercises for people of all abilities.

Karate breathing is a simple exercise which can help you switch off after a long day at the office and is simple to understand. To begin you should sit yourself in a position that is comfortable and natural for you, relax your body and close your eyes. Next you should take a very deep breath, allowing your shoulders and stomach to expand fully. Inhale through your nose and out through your mouth but make sure your stomach expands and your shoulders stay still. During this exercise you should focus solely on your breathing, as this helps to keep out negative emotions and allows your body to de-stress itself.

Coherent breathing

Coherent or steady breathing is the practice of breathing at a constant rate of only five breaths per minute. To do this you must count to five as you inhale and again as you exhale. Research into coherent breathing has suggested that such a significant change in breathing can shake up the nervous system and improve your body’s natural response to stress.

If you decide to adopt some of these techniques then you should make sure that you allow at least 10-15 minutes a day to practise. The more you complete the techniques the easier you will find them do and the greater the effect they will have on your daily life.

Modern life can be hectic and leave you with little time to do the things you enjoy, click here for 20 proven ways to wind down and relax.

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How to plan the perfect family picnic

800px-Picnic_basket_01 (1)Planning a day out with the family is always fun but if you don’t want to get stung paying inflated prices for food and drink at your favourite attractions then you should break out the picnic basket, pack it full of some pre-made treats and find a pleasant spot to tuck in.

Picnics are an age old tradition enjoyed all around the world. Originating from the French phrase for “to pick at food”, they are a great way to spend time together with family, friends or for a romantic trip with a partner. In this article, we will offer some handy tips on making your picnic a memorable one.

First of all, the vital ingredient for a perfect picnic is, of course, finding a quality picnic basket to carry all your treats in. Whilst many traditional picnic baskets tend to be made of wicker or willow with holders for cutlery and plates, more modern picnic baskets, or even backpacks, can be found which tend to be slightly more durable and ideal for a day out hiking.

There are so many different options when it comes to packing dishes for your picnic; you are limited only by your imagination, and perhaps any fussy eaters who might be attending. Here are a few typically British picnic ideas to get you started:

  • Scones and clotted cream
  • English cheeses and bread
  • Scotch eggs
  • Cornish pasties
  • Sausage rolls
  • Custard tarts
  • A selection of sandwiches
  • Herefordshire cider

Of course, there are literally hundreds of dishes that you could take along for your picnic and you could even ask your friends and family, whoever is coming along, to bring a dish with them to enjoy.

Arguably one of the most important aspects of organising the perfect family picnic is finding the right spot. Britain has an abundance of halls, country parks, stately homes and castles to explore throughout the year and many have spectacular gardens which are ideal for picnics in the summer months. However, you don’t always need to travel and often a local park or even the bottom of the garden can make a convenient setting for your perfect picnic.

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How to make the most of a rainy day

clip_image001Living in the UK our weather can be fairly unpredictable and even in the summer months it would be unwise to discount a bit of rain. This often means that our plans for a fun day out can get scuppered at the last minute. In this blog we’ll look at a few ways you can still have fun as a family even when the weather’s not on your side.

Keeping the children entertained is never easy, but it’s made slightly more complicated when you throw bad weather into the equation. As tempting as it can be to let the children play their games consoles to their hearts content, when you have a rare moment that all the family is together it would be sad not to find a way to enjoy each other’s company. Getting creative with arts and crafts, playing board games, baking cakes and having a movie day are just a few ways that you can get something out of a rainy day.

Young children love stories, so why not raid the bookshelf for a family favourite and if you’re feeling adventurous raid the dressing-up box and act out some of your favourite scenes as pirates or cowboys. Alternatively, you could crack open the popcorn and have a movie day, introduce the children to your favourite film or indulge them with their own top cartoons and musicals.

Arts and crafts are another great way to do something productive with the day. Dig around in the sock draw and put on a puppet show, channel your inner Picasso with finger painting or teach the children about their family history by creating an illustrated family tree.

Baking days are always memorable experiences for the family and give your children a chance to get messy in the kitchen. Children love experiencing new textures and tastes and you could pick a theme or get them to decorate their masterpieces themselves for extra fun. If you want to add an educational element to your kitchen escapades you could teach them about different food groups and try to cook a healthy meal rather than cakes or other sugary desserts.

Board games have been family favourites for decades and rightly so. They provide a fun filled and exhilarating way to get the family together and bring out everyone’s competitive streak. Even moody teenagers are likely to jump for joy when they pass GO on the Monopoly board.

Finally, rain doesn’t mean that you have to stay at home. There are plenty of activities for you to enjoy outside the home but still under a roof. Libraries, aquariums, bowling alleys and museums all offer a chance for a memorable day out without getting too soggy.

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5 ideas for a day out with the kids

It can be very frustrating to find yourself unable to convince your children to turn off the TV set or pry them away from their computer when you have a weekend or day off to spend with them. Here are a selection of ideas to encourage your children to leave the home if you are simply stuck for inspiration on where to take your children on a day out.

1 – Museums

libraryVisiting a museum can be a great way to engage your children in a topic that they have shown an interest towards, whether that’s history, science, football or fast cars.

There are plenty of specialist museums across the UK and many of them are free to enjoy. Here are a few that we recommend:

  • British Museum
  • Museum of London
  • National Maritime Museum
  • Natural History Museum
  • Science Museum
  • National Football Museum
  • National Museum of Scotland
  • National Coal Museum
  • Coventry Transport Museum
  • World Museum Liverpool

Click here to view a full list over 50 national museums which operate with free entry admission.

2 - Libraries

It’s a well known fact that reading encourages development in the brain and, among other things, can improve vocabulary, speech and self-confidence. Libraries are often housed in grand buildings and children will be overwhelmed by the amount of books available to them, but luckily they often have recommended titles for children and you don’t have to worry about wasting money as books can be borrowed from the library free of charge. Additionally, many modern libraries have story time classes where they will read books to children in a friendly environment.

3 – Farm yards

imageDepending on where you live, visiting a local farm can be a relatively cheap way to teach children about where their food comes from. Many farms will keep cows, sheep, chickens and pigs and with all the sights, sounds and smells, children are bound to have a memorable day out.

4 – Seaside resorts

From the golden sands of Newquay to the bright lights of Blackpool, the UK boasts some fantastic coastal resorts. Whether it’s sorting sea shells, sharing fish & chips, playing on the amusements or just enjoying an ice cream – there are plenty of things to make a trip to the seaside worthwhile.

5 - Parks and woodland areas

Children are encouraged to get at least one hour of physical exercise a day. Parks and woodland areas can be enjoyed all year long and they can be a great way to reconnect your children with the outdoors. Young children can have fun collecting leaves, twigs and stones, rolling down hills or building dens while older children might want to play ball games or Frisbee instead.

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Why is eating together as a family so important?

clip_image002Modern families have become very stretched for time. With longer hours at work, more household chores and plenty of homework for the children, the age old tradition of eating meals together at a dinner table is slowly disappearing, replaced by breakfast bars and TV dinners. But why is eating together so important?

Family bonding

Family dinners can help to improve communication, strengthen bonds and provide some important stability to your home life.

The simple act of all gathering around a table together will enable you to discuss problems, share stories, celebrate achievements and set goals – without the distraction of mobile phones, gaming consoles or TV’s.

Child development

Statistics have shown that eating together as a family can have a significant impact on the development of young children. Children who eat regular meals with their families are shown to be less likely to suffer from obesity due to a regular pattern of meals and a parental grip on portions. They are also 35% less likely to suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, and have a smaller chance of becoming drug dependent or depressed. Further to this, children that eat meals together with their family are said to fare better at school and have greater self-esteem.

How often should we eat together?

In a perfect world, it would be great if families could eat meals together every night of the week but often other commitments like work, hobbies and homework can get in the way. As a rule of thumb, you should know that eating together at least 3 times a week can have a significant effect on the development of your children’s social skills and mental well-being. If you are struggling to find the time to prepare so much food, you could try preparing leftovers from other meals which might otherwise be wasted.

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How to plan the perfect family camping trip

clip_image002Camping in the UK means spending less time travelling and queuing up at airports and more time creating memorable experiences for you and your family to savour. However, if you have never been camping before then you might not know what to expect. In this blog we will offer some tips on avoiding a camping disaster and making your camping trip unforgettable for the right reasons.


In order to have a successful camping trip you need to be organised. Even well seasoned campers will struggle if they forget their essentials so make sure you put together a checklist for all your camping supplies.

Here are a few items to remember at all costs:

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bags
  • Pillows
  • Plates, cups and cutlery
  • Washing up liquid
  • Torches and batteries
  • Wet wipes
  • Camping stoves
  • Tinned food / marshmallows
  • Toilet roll
  • Wash supplies
  • First aid kit
  • Roll mats / airbeds
  • Water carriers
  • Ordnance survey map

Depending on your particular needs and the time of year you are going you might also want to consider sun cream and hats to guard against UV rays, or alternatively extra layers of clothes to keep you warm. You might also want to pack insect repellent in order to avoid getting bitten.

Choosing a spot

clip_image004When choosing a family friendly campsite you should take into account location, facilities and costs. First of all you need to find a campsite that is situated in the area you are wishing to visit. What is it about the area that you would like to see? Is there a lake to go canoeing, a beach to soak up the sun or impressive scenery to explore?

Next you need to consider the facilities that you will require. Are you going for an authentic camping trip where you need little or no facilities or do you and your family require a little more luxury? Many campsites will have shower blocks, BBQ areas and even WiFi if that’s what you require.

Cost can also play a big role in finding the perfect campsite and you should consider this carefully when making your choice. At one end of the scale there are areas in the UK where you can camp for free. This is known as wild camping, and some areas of Scotland, Snowdonia and the Lake District are able to be used for this purpose. At the other end of the spectrum there are luxury campsites where you can arrive to a tent already set up for you. If you are stuck for location ideas, websites like Visit Britain can help you find a campsite or alternatively you could ask family, friends and colleagues for advice on where to book.


Whether you are camped at a site nearby to amenities or you have set up in the middle of nowhere, it is important that you have some food provisions to keep you and your family going. Porridge, baked beans, bacon, sausages and dried snacks can all make good camp fire food, just be sure to store perishable food in a cool box and make sure that fires are permitted.


No doubt when picking your campsite you will have gone for somewhere that is picturesque and has plenty of things to do nearby. Common organised activities can include nature hikes, kayaking, canoeing and swimming but there are lots of entertaining things that you can do yourselves as a family, for example:

  • Scavenger hunts – put together a list of several items for your children to collect like branches, shells, stones and conkers
  • Gather fire wood
  • Toast some marshmallows
  • Sing some songs and share stories
  • Play shadow puppets with a torch
  • Stargaze

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Planning a trip to the seaside

sea-shoreNow that the weather is beginning to turn and the sun is reappearing it’s time to grab your bucket and spade and head to the beach. The British coast has some of the best seaside resorts around and what’s more you can easily do it on a budget. We’ve packed this blog full of tips and advice on making your day out a memorable experience.


Before you set off make sure to pack all the essentials. Beach towels, sun cream, sunglasses and hats are all extremely important, especially if you have children, but you might also want to bring your own chairs and plenty of water to keep you hydrated throughout the day.


Unless you live within walking distance of a beach then you will probably need to consider how you will get there. Perhaps you have relatives or friends who might also fancy a day out at the beach, in which case you can split fuel and share a car. If not then take a look at your local bus or rail service for details of routes. Many bus and railway services provide cheap concessions to young people and the elderly as well as armed forces rates and other forms of discounted tickets.


Food is a big part of a day out at the seaside. Whether its rock candy, ice cream, fish and chips or seafood, there are plenty of options to fill up your stomach after a day of building sandcastles and swimming in the sea. If you want to keep costs down then try packing some food to bring with you and keep it all chilled in a cool-box, or alternatively delve a little deeper through the back streets to find some cheap restaurants and fish and chip shops.


There’s plenty to do and see at the seaside, for all ages, even on a rainy day. The beach has plenty of room for movement so if you’re making the trip with friends or older children then you might want to bring a bat and ball for games like rounders and cricket, or a larger ball to play football. Depending on the time of year and part of the country you are visiting, the sea might be warm enough for you to take a refreshing swim; alternatively you can just dip your feet and enjoy a paddle.

Younger children can have fun exploring, building sandcastles, digging holes, collecting shells and looking for crabs in any rock pools nearby. If you want to make things particularly memorable then you could even let them bury you in the sand, just make sure you watch out for any seagulls!

Many of the UK’s coastal towns are famous not only for their beaches but also for their piers and arcades. You’ll find all sorts of amusements there and it’s worth planning ahead and saving some spare pocket change if you want to be in with a chance of winning prizes.

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