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mental health

The only resolution I’ve made this year is to take better care of myself, which means 2023 is going to be my year of self-care. I am guilty of neglecting myself and end up feeling burnt out and pretty low so I'm focusing on me this month.

People throw the term self-care around a lot and it can lose it meaning when it’s solely associated with buying Lush bath bombs and painting your nails, but self-care isn't just about manicures and face masks.

There are so many things you can do to look after both your mental and physical health so I thought I’d put a list of my top self-care tips together that don’t revolve around you spending half a day's wages in Boots.

1. Book your smear test

2. Cleanse your skin twice

3. Take a multivitamin in the morning

4. Stop drinking caffeinated drinks after 6pm

5. Take your full lunch break

6. Delete take-away apps off your phone

7. Get off the bus a stop early and walk 

8. Listen to podcasts when you feel anxious

9. Use all of your annual leave

10. Don’t drink coffee when you’re due your period

11. Go to therapy

12. Eat some vegetables

13. Eat some chocolate

14. Buy yourself flowers

15. Drink 8 glasses of water a day

16. Stop comparing yourself to people on social media

17. Watch an old movie from your childhood 

18. Go to the dentist

19. Read at least ten pages of a book every day

20. Go to the cinema by yourself

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Chronic insomnia is a condition that affects millions of people all over the world, where individuals find it difficult or impossible to sleep.

The NHS Inform defines insomnia as a challenge to stay asleep “for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning." While it's treatable and can be targeted in a variety of ways, it can be hugely debilitating for those who suffer with it.

Changing your sleep habits, diagnosing underlying issues like mental or physical health condition or using over-the-counter sleeping medication can combat insomnia, but therapy can also help, according to a recent study.

The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, has found that therapy may actually be the best choice of treatment.

Researchers at Queen's University Ontario, Canada, found that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps to fight chronic insomnia successfully, despite the fact that it's often used to combat mental health problems like anxiety and depression.

CBT can apparently be used to change the way your mind thinks about sleep. It's regularly offered through a therapist with "the number of sessions you need depending on the difficulty you need help with.”

The British Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapies describes CBT as therapy which is “based on the theory that thoughts, feelings, and what we do and how our body feels are all connected.”

The Guardian reports that the study was conducted through “four randomised control trials, with between 66 and 201 participants of mixed ages.”

Researchers from the trials found “that participants fell asleep on average nine to 30 minutes sooner after completing a course of CBT for insomnia and experienced a reduction of between 22 and 36 minutes in the amount of time spent awake after going to sleep.”

In the study, data analysts found that those who received CBT treatment for between four to six sessions found improvement with their insomnia and that these improvements “were generally well maintained for 3-12 months post-treatment.”

This was compared to the results of those who received treatment “in which the format or content veered substantially from conventional CBT which were less conclusive.”

With blue light from laptop and phone screens increasingly causing sleep disruption, and considering how hard it is to switch our brains off from the hectic attention-grabbing modern lifestyle, CBT therapy sounds great to us.

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Christmas is the time for plenty of good grub, spending WAY too much time with the family and just taking it easy.

If fitness is a big part of your life or you're looking to keep off the pounds over the festive period, we've got some tips and tricks for staying in shape.

However, we have to say that you SHOULD indulge over the Crimbo and don't even think about the calories you're consuming.

Walks with the gal

It's a rare occasion that all the gals are off work and are free to meet up.

A walk in the park with your closest friends is a great way to move over Christmas and it's a great excuse to get away from the family for an hour or two.

It is also an activity that you can tailor into your festive schedule, so it could be a quick 20 min chat-up or a two-hour stroll.

Ice Skating

It's the best winter fun around and ice skating can help to digest all the mince pies you've inhaled.

In general, a 45-minute muck-about on the ice will melt away 451 calories.

So get the fluffy socks out and lace up to enjoy some winter fitness.

Hiking

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Wrap up warm and get the hiking boots on.

There are plenty of trails and hikes to discover over the festive period.

It will give you an opportunity to reconnect with nature and to slow down after a year of working.

Water

Central heating, consuming large amounts of salt and being inactive can lead to one thing – dehydration.

So make sure that you keep one healthy habit this Crimbo and keep the water on hand.

Your body will thank you for it as it attempts to digest an uncountable number of roses sweets. 

Christmas Day swim 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Change up the way you start your Christmas day with a dip in the sea.

Make sure you find a safe swimming spot and enjoy the freezing cold, crisp open water.

Cold water boasts many healing properties such as easing depression.

It's a great way to end the year. 

5km Festive run

It's a tradition for a lot of households to do a 5 km run to kick off the festive season.

If you can drag any family member out on Christmas morning, it's a perfect way to start the day.

If your boyfriend's relatives do a 5km run for fun – we are sending you sympathy hugs (and there's still time to break-up with him before Christmas).

But they might be onto something as the run will ignite those endorphins (aka happy hormones) – and it doesn't matter if you run, walk or crawl the 5 km.

Stepping your way into the sales

Get in those steps as you hit the sales this year.

Elbows out as you wade your way through the crowds and snap up some bargains.

All your muscle power will come in handy as you wrestle the last pair of Gucci gloves out of an old lady's hands – they're stronger than they look.

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The countdown to Christmas Day is officially underway. There are mere days to go until December 25 arrives; a day filled with merriment, family, twinkly lights and turkey.

I’ll be rocking the matching pyjamas, singing along to Last Christmas and toasting to 2022 as my nearest and dearest gather at Nanny’s house.

As excited as I am for the holidays, it is important to remember that this time of the year isn't merry and bright for everyone, especially for people who are struggling with mental health issues.

Mental health disorders aren’t going to take the day off or magically vanish when you sit down to watch Love Actually. I wish they would, but they don't.

There’s a lot of pressure placed on society to act like all is well just because the holidays are here. For those with anxiety, depression, OCD and other mental health disorders, it can feel impossible to simply put on a ‘brave face’ for the sake of the extended family. 

We try our best to keep up appearances but I think it is very important to remember that you shouldn’t feel ashamed or disappointed in yourself if you find the holidays difficult. Having a mental health disorder is a constant battle. You can’t just pop a plaster over it and carry on with your day.

Living with anxiety has taught me that there will be good days and there will be bad days. It is a disorder you manage, not banish, unfortunately. Another thing, and possibly the best thing, this disorder has taught me is that there is help out there. Never ever be afraid to reach out to a friend or relative if you're feeling particularly bad. 

You may feel like you're 'ruining' Christmas, but that couldn't be further from the truth. There is never a bad time to reach out and seek help, Christmas or not. Your best friend will be there to hug you on the bad days. Your sister will help you find a counsellor. Your dad will listen when you're ready to talk about what you're experiencing.

As hard as it can be, you must hold on to every ounce of hope.

Matt Haig sums it up perfectly:

“You will one day experience joy that matches this pain. You will cry euphoric tears at the Beach Boys, you will stare down at a baby’s face as she lies asleep in your lap, you will make great friends, you will eat delicious foods you haven’t tried yet, you will be able to look at a view from a high place and not assess the likelihood of dying from falling. There are books you haven’t read yet that will enrich you, films you will watch while eating extra-large buckets of popcorn, and you will dance and laugh and have sex and go for runs by the river and have late-night conversations and laugh until it hurts. Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Remind yourself of Matt’s words when you’re struggling over the Christmas break. I understand that it can be unbearably hard time for a heartbreaking amount of people, but don’t lose hope.

As Matt said, life is always worth it.

You can contact the Samaritans on 116 123.

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If you have noticed that your mood- or that of someone you are close to- is exceptionally low this time of year, that could be because you are experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Just as it sounds, SAD is a disorder that is at its most prevalent during the darker days- from September to April. It causes symptoms of depression and anxiety and is more common than you’d think, affecting approximately 1 in 15 people. Like others who live as far from the equator as we do, the decrease in natural sunlight during the winter months has a direct effect on our mental health.

For many, SAD is so disabling that they cannot function normally without treatment. SAD most commonly begins between the ages of 18 and 30-years-old and you are diagnosed after two or more consecutive winters of experiencing symptoms.

So, what are they? Those with seasonal affective disorder may experience the following symptoms:

  • Sleeping problems– It is common to oversleep often and have difficulty staying awake.  Disturbed sleep and waking too early are also symptoms of SAD
  • Feeling lethargic– Those with SAD can lack energy and are sometimes unable to go about their normal day because they feel so tired. Limbs become heaving and weight gain is common due to overeating and craving carbs and sugar.
  • Feeling anxious– Anxiety is a common symptom with increased feelings of dread and stress.
  • Feeling depressed– Low moods, weeping and feeling generally sad are key features of SAD. Hopelessness and feelings of failure are also very common.
  • A weakened immune system– Those who suffer from SAD will be more susceptible to catching winter colds, flu and bugs.
  • Feeling apathetic– SAD causes loss of motivation and difficulty concentrating. It can also leave you feeling less motivated to partake in things you would normally find fun.
  • Feeling like staying in– More than normal, we mean. Those with SAD will withdraw from social situations at this time of year and become uninterested in friends.
  • Disinterest in sex– Loss of libido is a common symptom, meaning a decreased interest in sex and physical contact.
  • Mood swings in the warmer months– Many people experience spurts of energy and hyperactivity (known as hypomania) in spring.

Identifying this very common mental health issue is the first step. There are luckily many ways to treat and look after your mental health if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder:

Spend as much time as you can in the sun

Try to get up early to get the most out of the daylight. Make an effort to allow sunlight into your home. Trim any vegetation that may be blocking the path of sun rays to your windows. Keep blinds open and surround yourself with colour by painting walls and using brightly coloured décor. You could even switch desks at work so that you are sitting close to a window.

Try to stay healthy

This is the hardest one. Any exercise or time spent outdoors will help. A simple walk each day can have an amazing impact on your mental health. Try to limit your sugar, alcohol and caffeine intake (we know). These changes to your routine will be worth it when your mood lifts.

Try to have fun

Instead of taking all your holidays during the summer, takes some time off in winter to do the things you love and surround yourself with people who boost your mood and support you. Do what is fun FOR YOU.

Consult your GP

This one is important: Ask for help even before it seems overwhelming. Take all medication as prescribed by your doctor and keep an eye on any side effects. Your doctor may suggest light therapy. This is the use of artificial light to substitute the sunlight. Ask your doctor about this one- they will know.

The most important thing is to consult your doctor immediately if you notice your symptoms are getting worse or stronger. If you suffer from severe winter depression your doctor will need to determine if your symptoms are SAD related, or if something else is causing them.

Psychotherapy, behavioural therapy, stress management techniques and prescribed medication can all be used to treat SAD. Remember, you are never alone, and your GP will always be there to support your mental health.

Sources: Mental Health Ireland, HSE.ie

 

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For some of us, face-to-face contact while your mental health is at a low point can be incredibly difficult.

According to researchers at Ohio State University, people who describe themselves as lonely and socially anxious are more likely to become addicted to dating apps.

269 college students were surveyed for the study, which found that participants who referred to themselves as anxious and lonely were increasingly addicted to the online platforms.

Addiction can be described as a habit which interferes with your daily life, be it your mental health, physical health, work life, friendships, romantic relationships, family life or school life. 

One of the lead researchers said of the results that socially anxious people must watch their habits more; "Especially if you're lonely, be careful in your choices. Regulate and be selective in your use."

The more mindful practice is called 'slow dating' and it can increase the quality of your dating app matches.

Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and OKCupid have made it possible for people to access a wide dating pool, but the consequences of this could be negative for those who deal with chronic loneliness.

To test this, researchers had students answered online survey questions like "Are you constantly anxious around other people?" to determine their levels of social anxiety and loneliness.

They were also asked whether they agreed with statements like "I am unable to reduce the amount of time I spend on dating apps." A sense of security was found online, rather than in person.

The researchers discovered that people with higher levels of social anxiety claimed they preferred to meet people on dating apps rather than in person, and favoured socialising via messaging.

Many of these people with social anxiety may lack confidence in their own social skills, and can seek protection on these apps form face-to-face rejection or awkwardness.

When those in the survey reported being both socially anxious and lonely, they also used dating apps to the point of addiction.

However, students who said they were anxious but not lonely, or those who said their feelings of loneliness were only low to moderate, didn't display behaviours that suggested addiction.

The small study relied on self-reported data from students, so don't be overly worried about your constant dating app use. Mindfulness is still a priority, for your health and dating prospects.

Creating limits surrounding dating apps could benefit both your mental health and your chances of scoring a decent date.

Bear in mind that your motive should be healthy. It's a dangerous notion to rely on interest from men or women for your own happiness or self-esteem.

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We should feel elated when we receive a promotion. We should grin like the Cheshire Cat when we pass that exam we were crippled with worry over. We should jump for joy when we receive high praise for something we worked so hard for, but alas, that isn’t easy for some people, especially for those with imposter syndrome.

More and more people have stepped forward and shared that they suffer from imposter syndrome, but what exactly is it?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Imposter syndrome makes people believe that their achievements are solely down to luck. They do not believe that they deserve to succeed.

The doubt can spiral into severe feelings of fear and guilt. Many people feel that they are a fraud or a phony.

People with imposter syndrome feel like they’re wearing a mask and live in fear that one day people will soon realise that they are not worthy of praise, success and simply got lucky.

Joe Langford and Pauline Rose Clance originally believed imposter syndrome was particularly pervasive among females, however, they later discovered this not to be true.

It is believed over 70 percent of the world’s population suffer from imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.

People can feel guilty or undeserving of their achievements. Famous author Maya Angelou even suffered from it, despite the fact that she was an award-winning writer.

“I have written 11 books but each time I think 'Uh-oh, they're going to find out now’. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out,” the Pulitzer Prize winner once said.

Imposter syndrome affects everyone and anyone, from iconic female poets to young students in Dublin.

Luckily, there are ways to manage it. The main thing to remember is not to let it suffocate you.

One thing that can help is to drown out negative thoughts. Obviously, this is easier said than done, but we often underestimate the power of positive thinking.

Another thing that can help soothe your worries is to take a walk down memory lane and look back at how far you’ve come in recent years. Think of the days when you were in secondary school fretting about passing your history test and now look at yourself as a graduate with a full-time job.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Remember you’re not the only one struggling with these feelings of doubt. There are so many people going through the same thing so don’t be afraid to open up about it, whether that’s to a colleague, a friend or even a professional.

Leaning on a loved-one and sharing your struggles can help lift that heavy weight off your chest.

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With the evenings getting darker and the weather getting worse it's only natural that you may notice some change in your mood and general wellbeing. Summer sun automatically makes us feel more cheerful and energetic and as the colder seasons set in our mental health can suffer too.

Here are a few tips to ensure you stay on top of things this winter. Remember that the changing seasons can affect us all differently, and if you feel you're not coping well, don't be afraid to talk to someone or ask for help.

1. Stay fit
Exercising might be the last thing you want to do on a wet and windy day, but it's a great way of clearing your head and relieving stress. If you can fit in a morning workout, you'll feel more focused and fresh throughout the day. Check out our pick of the best winter workout gear here.

2. Get outdoors
Even if the sun isn't shining, your body and mind will still benefit from a Vitamin D boost and some natural light. If you find it's dark as you go to work and dark when you get home, try to get out for a stroll on your lunch break, or sit near a window in your office if possible.

3. Stay warm
Chills and coldness will only worsen your mood, so stay cosy with hot food and warm clothes. At home, try to keep the temperature around 18C – 21C for optimum levels of heat.

4. Light it up
Light therapy is an extremely effective way of helping seasonal mood disorders – experts say it's effective in four out of five cases. If you don't want to splash out on a light box (they start at around €130), opt for "full spectrum" bulbs in your lights at home. These micic natural light even in the evenings. A dawn simulator is another great option for increasing your exposure to light – this connects to your alarm clock and gently brightens bit by bit in the minutes before your alarm goes off.

5. Get social
If you're feeling low, meeting large groups of people can feel overwhelming, but even seeing a friend for a cuppa can make all the difference. Try not to isolate yourself – draw on your support network when you can.

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When a loved one is struggling with depression, it can be hard to know what to say. We can feel powerless in these situations, aware that what we say could be damaging if not thought through properly. There is no perfect way to talk to someone affected by depression but making an effort can be comforting and help in more ways than you think. Here are five helpful things to say to a loved one who is living with depression:

1. ‘I am here if you want to talk’

Depression can manifest itself in many ways, but it is common that those affected are reluctant to ask for help. You cannot force someone to talk about how they are feeling. No one owes you a conversation in exchange for your support. However, for someone to know you are there makes a huge difference.  Be patient. Open up the lines of communication and let them take it from there. Remind them often that you will be there whenever they want to talk.

2. ‘What can I do to help today?’

Getting out of bed can be a challenge for those with depression. Symptoms include fatigue and lethargy. Ask your loved one what you can do to help them get through their day. This does not have to be huge tasks, it will often be small things like having a cup of tea together, sharing a lift to work or even accompanying them to the doctor. Sometimes, giving them space is just what they need, so be sure to ask if they simply need time to themselves.  

3. ‘You are not a burden’

Those with depression often need help with everyday tasks such as cooking food, shopping or even getting dressed. You must let your loved one know that you are helping because you want to. You want to create a space where they feel comfortable asking for this kind of help when they need it. Let them know that they are not putting you out in any way.

4. ‘You are so important to me’

Depression causes people to have feelings of doubt and worthlessness. It is important for you to tell your loved one outright how much you value them in your life. Try and do this as often as you can. Let them know specifically why you love and respect them. Even if they do not respond to this, your words can be powerful.

5. ‘What you are feeling is real. I am sorry you are feeling like this’

Those with depression have heard it all before: ‘snap out of it’…‘eat more vegetables and you will feel better’…‘you’re just being lazy’…‘there are people worse off than you’. These are extremely unhelpful ways of responding to anyone. Even if you do not fully understand how your loved one is feeling, it is crucial that you validate their emotions or lack thereof.

If you have a loved one who needs help, encourage them to visit www.pieta.ie for a range of supports. 

 

Source: Spunout.ie 

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When you finally get the courage to seek help for mental health issues, one of the first things you will learn is that there is hardly ever a cure for mental. A huge milestone is when you realise that there is no such thing as getting better. Struggling with your mental health is not synonymous with being broken, so it is important to move away from the idea that you can be fixed. Instead, accepting that you will have bad days, weeks or even months throughout your life, is a breakthrough in itself.  

With this in mind, it can be beneficial to plan for these tougher times. To prepare for the difficult days so that you can deal with them as best you can. Here are some things to think about when planning for a tough mental health day:

Write it down

Write your ‘bad day plan’ on a Word Doc on your laptop or in a notepad that you won’t lose. Leave it in a place you will remember that is easily accessible. You don’t want to have to search for this when you are not feeling well.

This could simply be a step by step guide on how to get through the day. Shower, eat (something comforting) and get dressed. It might be helpful to save a draft text or email to send to work etc. Include a list of movies and music you can watch/listen to that might make you feel better. 

Let someone in on the plan

Your partner, your best friend, your sister, or brother. Ask them to be the person you confide in when you are having a bad mental health day/week. There is no shame in this, asking for help is essential. You will need support and it is a comfort to know that there is already someone familiar with your needs who has agreed to help.

Know your limits

Become familiar with how to take days off work, college, school etc. Know what sick days you are entitled to and know the process you need to follow to get a day off. If your mental health is affecting your work, tell your employer and ask them for the company’s policies on sick leave in this case.

Have a backup plan if you have family commitments. When you feel things getting worse, cancel plans. Be honest with friends and family about how you are feeling. Do not push yourself when you are feeling low, anxious or confused. This can make things worse and lead to a spiral.

Go easy on yourself

Allow yourself to take time off. Do not expect to be productive on a bad mental health day. Getting through the day might be all you can do and this is enough. If you have certain basic ways of making yourself feel better, plan these. You could even make up a pack of resources like candles, a hot water bottle, certain foods that comfort you and leave them together with the plan you have written down.

Plan for your physical health, too

Mental and physical health go hand in hand. Try to stay away from alcohol when you begin to feel low or anxious. Make an extra effort to eat well if you can – but don’t deny yourself comfort food when you are having a bad mental health day. Try to stick to your exercise routine as best you can or even make sure to go outside when you feel things begin to get worse.

When a bad mental health day becomes unmanageable or when you feel out of control, call you GP or mental health professional.

source: SpunOut

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We've always suspected it, but now scientists have confirmed that dog owners are more likely to have better cardiovascular health.

The research was published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings and involved 1,769 people between 25 to 64-years-old, living in Brno in the Czech Republic.

Each participant had to provide information on their BMI, diet, physical activity levels, cholesterol, blood pressure, if they smoked or not and their fasting blood sugar levels.

42 percent of the candidates owned a pet of some sort, with 24 percent of people owning a dog and 17.9 percent owning another animal.

The American Heart Association heart score system test was used, looking at seven changeable risk factors of heart health.

Dog owners were more likely to exercise, have an ideal diet and blood glucose level than those who didn't, but they were more likely to smoke for some reason. They still scored better overall for cardiovascular health, however.

The study authors cautioned: "The higher smoking rates among dog ownership attenuates the association between dog ownership and cardiovascular health."

Existing evidence links dog ownership to better mental and physical health, so it makes total sense.

Study co-author Andrea Maugeri commented in a statement: "In general, people who owned any pet were more likely to report more physical activity, better diet and blood sugar at ideal level.

"The greatest benefits from having a pet were for those who owned a dog, independent of their age, sex and education level."

Research claims that getting a pooch could be a useful way to boost heart health, and an important way to tackle the prevalence of heart disease.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the US alone, causing one-in-four deaths each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Senior investigator Francisco Lopez-Jimenez stated that owning dogs has previously been linked to better mental health and feeling less lonely, both of which are assumed to decrease the risk of heart attacks.

One study published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, which examined 17 existing papers concluded having a pet could help the symptoms of mental illness.

Philippa Hobson, senior cardiac nurse for the British Heart Foundation, told Newsweek: "Whether you're a pet-owner or not, physical activity can benefit your heart in lots of different ways.

"Just spending 10 minutes a day walking around the block is good for your heart health," she added,

Who could ever deny that having a pup is good for us?

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It has long been claimed that flowers have a therapeutic effect on those who surround themselves with them, but science had yet to truly back it up.

Research conducted by the American Society For Horticulture Science has revealed that fresh flowers can have the ability to ease feelings of anxiety, and even physical pain. 

The study evaluated whether or not plants have an influence on surgical patients, and we're pretty surprised by these results. 90 participants were split into rooms with plants or without, and those with foliage feelings have different outcomes.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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According to the research, those who were exposed to flowers had lower heart rates and blood pressure, decreased ratings of fatigue, anxiety and pain, and harboured more positive feelings and higher satisfaction about their rooms.

It's now suggested that flowers should be 'complementary medicine' for recovering patients. It's time to click your fingers and insist that a crowd of men throw a bouquet at you every few minutes…for health reasons.

Flowers are often the go-to gift for celebrating milestones, or for offering messages of hope or condolences. Good old science has just given us the opportunity to buy our own blooms, for self-care.

According to a study published in Complementary Therapies In Medicine, bouquets of flowers can reduce our stress levels.

The researchers gave college-age women a fresh vase of roses for their accommodation, and the subjects felt more relaxed than they did before. Whether it's psycho-somatic, or true therapy, it seems to work.

It seems like an easy breezy way to experience multiple health benefits while keeping your home aesthetically lush. Apparently, indoor plants and gardening come with health advantages similar to gym workouts.

We like this, we like this A LOT.

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