The coronavirus pandemic! What a wild time to be living through! Being on lockdown and with my own business coming to a halt, there are no guests or visitors here in Palermo, Sicily. So I am spending my time decluttering and spring-cleaning, making lots of improvements on Butera 28 Apartments. I have been experimenting with new recipes and I’m finally starting to make arrangements for my upcoming cookbook. I know, I have been talking about it for years… I’ve also been working towards my online cooking classes too, as I eagerly await the moment when I can welcome my guests back here again.

Nevertheless, I have found myself with more time than usual on my hands. As I’m sure everyone has! So I thought I would share some of my favourite health-tips and positive ideas here, collated into one place, that I have been posting onto my Instagram recently. I know this is a tough time for everyone. Instead of feeling desperate about what is out of our control, let’s get energised and enthusiastic about what is in our control. Let’s brighten up everyone’s day a little bit and get active with what we can do. It is so easy to get caught up in all of the darkness of the media, but stressing and worrying only impacts your health which lowers your immune system.

Picking lemons in my terrace garden – Photo courtesy of Paolo Araldi

So how can we stay healthy – both mentally and physically?

Boost your immune system!
Food is medicine. Make sure you’re eating lots of garlic, turmeric, vegetables and citrus fruits to keep yourself healthy. Make a delicious vegetable broth as part of your weekly routine. Also, if you have repeat cravings for anything healthy, your body always knows best and will be trying to guide you to make the right food decisions, so listen to it.

Here in Sicily, we are lucky to have glorious citrus fruits and fresh produce that are all easily accessible at our local markets. With our wonderful sunshine, lemons, kumquats and citrons grow very well in my own terrace garden so I count myself particularly fortunate!

My lemon jelly decorated with Star Anise

Keep your body hydrated!
Water is essential to keep your body working the way it needs to. If you are wanting to make your water more interesting, a surprising little piece of magic is Star Anise! This amazing ingredient is full of wonder. It’s an incredible antiviral powerhouse due to its shikimic acid content. This is why it’s one of the main ingredients in anti-influenza pharmaceutical products in the western world and has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. Steep star anise in your tea, or just drop it into boiled water! Add some freshly squeezed lemon juice, crushed ginger and raw honey for a super immune-boosting concoction! Yes, nature knows best!

Stay positive!
I cannot stress enough the benefits of what staying positive in your mind does for your overall well being. For the sake of your happiness and mental health, take 5-10 minutes every day to meditate.

Meditation teaches you how to get away from the noise of the world and see what you are grateful for. It teaches you to look at the moment in a non-judgmental way so that you can have a more calm, more rational view on it. This brings you back to the present moment so you can live without stressing about what’s to come. By meditating you have the ability to put everything into perspective and it will certainly make your day a bit brighter.

According to a study by Stefan G. Hofmann, titled “The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review”, mindfulness is a promising intervention for treating anxiety and mood problems. By practicing mindfulness, you experience the present moment nonjudgmentally and openly. This can effectively counter the effects of stress. The reason behind this is that with mindfulness you can essentially rewire your brain to start enjoying every aspect of the present moment, instead of focusing excessively on the past or the future, fears or worries. Excessively thinking about these time frames is highly related to feelings of depression and anxiety according to another study done by Kabat-Zinn in 2003. Focusing on the fear of the unknown and all of the worries that come with that is all too easy right now. So try a little bit of meditation when everything seems overwhelming.

Take time to meditate in nature

Be grateful!
Human beings operate on a hedonic treadmill. This means we generally stabilise at one level of happiness. So yes, things can make you happier but this is only a temporary boost, like clothes shopping or going out for dinner with your friends (when we could do that!!), you will do it, and then you’ll feel a boost of happiness but this is only temporary and your general level stays more or less constant. So how can we raise this level permanently? A study done by Robert Emmons and Robin Stern, “Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention”, shows that expressing gratitude is scientifically proven to make you happier.

Their research shows that you see what you look for and by being actively grateful, you will be a happier person. The great thing about this, is that you can actively train yourself to be happy, instead of passively waiting for happiness to find you. It is something that you can incorporate very easily into your daily life, bringing awareness and mindfulness to your life and appreciating what you’re thankful for and why. It’s about recognising the little things in your life that should be making you really happy.

Start by taking 5 minutes each night and writing down all of the things you’re grateful for. Take a page, make 3 columns, people, places and things, and see how quickly this fills up. Then, choose one of the people in your list, at the end of the week and express your gratitude directly to them. Make an effort to write a letter or to put time aside to call them and to have a cup of tea via Skype with them. Even just start by sending them a nice text message to thank them personally.

By expressing gratitude, you get off that hedonic treadmill because you are constantly boosting the level of happiness by making it a consistent action. You can even try expressing gratitude to yourself… about all of the wonderful things you have.

“Thank you for my drive, my spirit, my strength, the people in my life, those I love and those I learn from, thank you”. Thank you is the key to opening the door to everything you desire to enter your life. It creates a positive wave.

So I’m going to give you some examples just so you can see how seemingly small the things are that we should be actively grateful for, but that we often take for granted. Your family, the health of your loved ones, the smiles of your children. Being alive, having sight, the ability to walk around easily. The warmth of the coffee mug in our hands this morning. Putting socks on and wiggling your toes. The cold fresh air on your face as you open your windows, or if you are lucky enough to step outside this morning, and the feeling when that breath fills your lungs. All of these things are a gift. It’s just about your perspective to be able to see it…

Gorgeous views from our Butera 28 Apartment 9

Get some sunshine and fresh air!
There’s nothing better than a good dose of vitamin D – we are lucky there is plenty of sunshine here in Sicily. If you’re unable to get out and about in these times of “lockdown”, at least get your windows open and let the fresh breeze into your home to renew the energy around you. It’s easy to feel stagnant when that is what is in the air.

Get enough sleep!
Lack of sleep increases your chances of getting ill and this is such a simple thing to achieve. Get cosy, get into bed and relax! If ever there was a time to accept advice, this is it!

We host yoga retreats here in the palazzo!

Get moving!
Exercise feels good so give yourself a big boost of serotonin and endorphins! Boost your health and your mood by practicing a free at-home yoga practice. One of our favourites is Yoga with Adriene on Youtube – but there are many to choose from, even yoga for your face! Or you could dance around your home – even while you cook or clean! Or go for a run… if possible, and if it is, just be so grateful for that!

And of course, as all of your mothers should have already taught you, wash your hands and keep them away from your face!

Sicily is still one of the healthiest places in Italy as of today. Of course however, we are all following our government’s rules and prescriptions and take our precautions as should everyone wherever you are. I am feeling very fortunate for our garden terrace so that we can still get out and get fresh air! We continue to send all of our positive thoughts to northern Italy and everywhere else in the world that is affected at the moment.

I have really been overwhelmed with all of the messages of love and support that I have been receiving since the start of this unbelievable predicament. I so wish I could share all of the uncountable heartfelt messages because kindness is contagious – more so than any virus! There are too many to share, but I cherish them all. This is perhaps a lesson that we can all learn from this frightening moment. To be kind and to understand that the most important things in life are our loved ones and our health.

Although everything may seem uncertain at the moment, we will overcome this someday soon, I’m sure and life will be brighter. As a dear 85-year-old former guest of mine reminded me, “It is always darkest before the dawn”.

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