It's the health episode! Working alone, from home, jumping from one task to another – it's all too easy to forget to take care of our physical and mental well-being properly.
Sally Duffin is a freelance writer and nutritional therapist, and she joins me to share some of her favourite healthy habits to help you feel and perform at your best.
We pack a lot into this one, including:
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Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.
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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack size guide to being your own boss and building a business that works for you. I'm your host, Louise Shanahan. I'm a freelance health copywriter and on this podcast I take you behind the scenes, so you can borrow from what's worked and what hasn't as you grow your own freelance business. We'll also have some practical tips and tactics from special guests along the way, so you can skip a few steps on your own freelancing journey. So without further ado, let's get started with today's episode. If you enjoy it, hit follow so you don't miss the next one.
Louise: Hello, and welcome to another episode of 15 Minute Freelancer. And my guest today is Sally Duffin. Sally is a freelance writer and nutritional therapist, and today we are doing a health episode. When you work from home or you work by yourself, and you're really busy jumping from one task to another, as many of us are as freelancers, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself properly. I've asked Sally to join me today to share some of her favourite healthy habits that will make you feel and perform at your best. Hi, Sally, welcome to the podcast.
Sally: Hi Louise, thanks for having me here.
L: Let's start with why it's important for us to actually be thinking about this. I mean, we probably don't need to make too much of a case for it, but perhaps you can talk us through why is it especially important for freelancers to take care of their physical and mental health, and why it's often so hard.
S: Being a freelancer is exciting, but with that excitement comes quite a lot of stress. Obviously, we don't get any sick pay or anything like that. It's all up to us to look after ourselves and we want to be able to do the best work that we can. Looking after ourselves with what we're eating, taking exercise, timeout, all those kinds of things, it can really go a long way to supporting our well-being. I think we find it hard to do because we're aware of deadlines and wanting to get as much done in the day as we can. It's quite often those sorts of self-care things that fall off the radar.
L: And it's the physical and mental side of it, isn't it? I think when you're sitting at a desk all day, you can kind of forget to get up and walk around, do some exercise, maybe the snacks are a bit close when you're working from home. But it's the mental side of it too, isn't it? I think there's definitely a tendency for a lot of us to feel like we need to say yes to everything, and it can get a bit much sometimes and you might feel a bit stressed out. I wonder if you've got any tips for how we can get around those and maybe build some healthy habits into our day.
S: One of the things that I like to think about is what to you is non-negotiable. If you can even just come up with one or two non-negotiable things that are going to happen as part of your daily routine, then that can set you up in good stead for moving forward. They don't have to be massive things, it might be one of your non-negotiables is to drink a litre and a half of water every day. And actually that goes a really long way towards supporting mental clarity, concentration, but also muscular energy as well and helps to prevent a lot of fatigue that we feel. It could be something like having a decent breakfast to start the day, eating something within a couple of hours of waking, if we leave it longer than the body has to produce more stress hormones to mobilise some of the stores of sugar that we have in our muscles and our liver to keep us going. And we don't really need to be provoking our stress hormones any more than they already are provoked when we're freelancing. So just eating within that couple of hour window when you first get up that can be really helpful to managing energy levels over the rest of the day as well. If we leave it too long, if we skip breakfast, then our body's always trying to play catch up with its resources for the rest of the day, which makes us feel more tired and we find it difficult to concentrate.
L: And what about nutritional tips because that's obviously your area of expertise isn't it?
S: Nutrition works for physical and mental health. I think it's often overlooked just how important good nutrition is to our mental well-being. Eating well is important for all aspects of health. Sticking with some things that you know you can do, so rather than thinking right from next week onwards I'm going to have this massive elaborate healthy breakfast, it's probably not going to be practical for you and it's just never gonna happen. I'm a big fan of prepping things beforehand, something like overnight oats for breakfast is really helpful where you just put oats and either yoghurt or milk or water into a bowl or a jar and then you add some frozen berries, maybe some nuts and seeds for some protein. Leave it all in the fridge overnight, in the morning you've got a really nice sort of softened squidgy mixture, your frozen berries have defrosted, but you've got a breakfast that's there ready to get from the fridge, heat it up if you want to or eat it cold. Things like soups for lunch, very easy and simple to eat but also you can cook a pan full of soup on the weekend and you've got soups for the rest of the week. Leftovers from the evening meal the night before, that's always really great. Whenever you're cooking something, it's just cooking a little bit extra, and it's gonna save you time and energy the next day. Tomorrow you will thank yesterday you for having done it. Those kinds of meals are easy to prepare, and also good for getting in the fruits and vegetables. Soups can include lots of different colour vegetables, according to what's in season. Leftovers, just serving that maybe with extra vegetables or a side salad. Can make up a big bowl of salad and that keeps in the fridge for a few days. Things like that are just good ways to sneak in some of those fruits and veg. I'm a big fan of anything that that helps save time and helps you achieve your health goals, so buying pre-prepared things like that. I always use the pre chopped butternut squash when I'm making the soup so it's literally put it in the pan with some stock, 10 minutes cook, then blend and you've got soups for a week, basically. Any kind of shortcuts like that are fantastic.
L: It is really about energy management as much as the health benefits, isn't it? I did an episode a while back on a day in the life, and honestly, I thought people will think I'm a bit walking mad because I talked so much about how I like going for walks. But I am actually really strict about protecting that time for exercise and getting outside, going for a walk, because I know that that's how I manage my energy, and I'll feel better, and I'll do better work. I'll have more creative ideas if I can keep my energy levels high. So from a productivity point of view it's important as well, not just for our health.
S: Absolutely it is, it keeps you working at your best. Having a morning walk is particularly good if you struggle to sleep at night. It sounds a bit backwards but if we get out in the morning light before midday, the optic nerve in the eye registers that bright morning light and it sends that message to the brain. Then when the sun goes down later in the day and we get that change in light at dusk, it's easier for the brain to register that change in light if it has seen the bright morning light. And then that helps us wind down and all the biochemical processes that need to happen in the body to help us sleep, they kick in better.
L: That's interesting, I didn't realise that. I mentioned just before that you were a nutritionist and you work specifically with perimenopause clients, is that right?
S: I do now, I ran a general clinic for about 11 years and then I took a break for a couple of years while I was writing my book about perimenopausal nutrition. And then I've just gone back into practice now and I focus on perimenopausal and menopausal health.
L: I think this is a topic that seems to be coming out of the shadows a bit, recently it feels like people are talking about it more. I know Davina McCall has a book about it, Meg Matthews I think has a company, I think she sells products to help with menopausal symptoms. I actually don't feel like I know very much about the topic at all, which probably speaks to the fact that traditionally it has been something which women should keep quiet about and it's great that there's less of that taboo. I know this won't affect all of our listeners, but we'd be really interested to hear your thoughts on how perimenopausal symptoms might affect freelancers in particular, and whether you have any tips for people who might be affected?
S: It's interesting that you say that because we're not told about it. In fact, doctors aren't taught about it, 41% of medical schools don't have it on the curriculum. But also it does affect everybody because even though it's happening to the woman, it's going to have that knock on effect on people that they live with, their family, their friends, colleagues. At some point we're all going to be affected by somebody who's going through menopause, so it is something that needs to be talked about more. And it's great that the conversation is opening up in the same way that it has about mental health in the workplace as well.
There's two things that really needed to happen. I think because we're not taught about it, we don't always pick up on the symptoms when they start to happen. If you're in sort of mid to late 30s, and you maybe start getting more anxiety, more tiredness, maybe some aches and pains, some hot flushes, a bit of forgetfulness. You might just be putting it down to stress, which it may be because stress can make it worse, but it can get to the point for some women where they start to think that perhaps they've got signs of early dementia, because their concentration and memory is so poor, or thinking that they're having a major depressive episode and they don't know why. But actually, this is the time when the hormones are starting to change. Traditionally, we're always thinking of menopausal women as being sort of mid-50s or something, very hot, very grumpy, very angry, that's the sort of caricature of a menopausal woman. When actually the changes begin in the mid to late 30s and this phase that leads up to the actual menopause is called perimenopause, and this is a bit where all the symptoms are happening. Then menopause itself is the point in time where you haven't had a period for 12 months, or two years if you're under 40. So there's quite a few symptoms that can be sneaking in there and we may not realise that that is what's going on.
Things that we can do to help ourselves manage that. I think the first thing is about acknowledging what's going on and also acknowledging that you might just need to give yourself a bit more time to do things. So reassessing commitments, reassessing workload, starting to pay attention to any cyclical changes, because at this point, probably still having a monthly cycle and you may find that your energy and productivity is really strong at some phases of the cycle, and other times it's just gonna take a little bit longer to do certain tasks and that's okay and we mustn't beat ourselves up about it. Eating regularly is really, really helpful. Something called blood sugar balance underpins a lot of our energy levels, and our concentration, and also what our hormones are doing. If we can eat regularly, not skip meals or anything like that, but eating every three to four hours, making sure our meals are balanced so we've got that good quality protein in there, the fruits and the vegetables. And reducing things like alcohol and sugar, and caffeine, the things that we all love, but they are the things that can make our symptoms worse, caffeine and alcohol in particular can really trigger anxiety and hot flushes. So really minimising those can make a massive difference to symptoms. And then one thing that is particularly important during perimenopause, but I think goes for all of us, is prioritising sleep over scrolling. Because quite often at the end of the day the temptation is to just kind of unwind isn't it by scrolling through Instagram or something like that. But that's keeping the brain alert and it's not letting us wind down and get to sleep. And sleep is the time when we're doing so much rebuilding, repairing, resetting in the body, we're consolidating all our memories and things like that. It gives the body a chance to do its housekeeping basically, really giving ourselves the opportunity for seven to eight hours sleep every night is important.
L: I think it's really interesting what you're mentioning about building a little bit of extra time into your work as well, making sure that you're not booking in your deadlines too soon, maybe giving yourself a bit more space for those days where you're maybe not feeling 100%. I think that probably goes for everybody, doesn't it? Whether it's physical well-being or physical symptoms, or just feeling a bit more stressed out. I think a lot of people are experiencing that at the moment. I wonder if you've got any tips specifically about managing stress and maintaining some of these healthy habits when we're very busy at work, because it does feel like these might be things that sort of fall by the wayside when there's a lot going on.
S: It's difficult because I'm a human as well and I do all these things, overcommit myself, and then I get to the end of the week and think I really shouldn't have done that. But it's just reflecting on that and thinking right next time I need to allow a whole afternoon to do this particular task, or I must not work every evening during the week, because that's disrupting my sleep. It's having a bit of discipline about those non negotiables. And you'll find that the working day still pans out ok. There's that famous saying I think it was, I want to say it was by Ghandi, I'm hoping that's right, where he said, I've got a really busy day so I need to meditate for two hours instead of one. That kind of goes against our intuition that I've got loads on, I need to start work immediately. But actually, if we give ourselves 20/30 minutes to maybe go for a walk or do a bit of journaling, do some yoga, whatever it is that is important to you and have a good breakfast, that's going to set us up for the rest of the day. And sometimes we can just get away with cutting a few corners later in the day if we've had a good start to the day and it's given us that foundation.
L: I think the key is making it easy for ourselves isn't it, having a little self-compassion if it doesn't quite go to plan?
S: Absolutely because we all have days where it doesn't go to plan. This must not be a stick to beat ourselves with, life gives us enough sticks for beating. It's just thinking, right, today I'm going to do what I can. Which is why I always think if you've got your non-negotiables in your diary, in your schedule first thing, then if the rest of the day goes to pot, you've done something good first thing, you set out with your good intentions. And if that doesn't work, tomorrow is another day.
L: Thank you so much Sally, we've squeezed a lot of topics in there. Loads of great ideas for ways to keep healthy and feel good and keep your energy high so you can perform at your best. If people want to find out more about how they can stay healthy as a freelancer or more about your work, where can they find you?
S: My website is www.nutritioninyork.co.uk and I'm on Instagram and Twitter as @nutritioninyork. I also have a Facebook group and a Facebook page of the same name. I've kept it very simple, I'm just basically Nutrition in York everywhere so you can find me there. My book is called ‘Natural Nutrition for Perimenopause, What to eat to feel good & stay sane’ and you can find that on Amazon.
L: Thank you. And thanks everybody for listening and we would love to hear how you stay active and healthy if you're someone who works from home. Find Sally and I on LinkedIn and tag us or you can reply to the newsletter on substack as well, I'd love to hear what you do. That's all for today, thank you very much, happy, and healthy, freelancing.
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