Self-care for dummies

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Taking care of your emotional well-being is the most important thing you can do. But, it’s not easy and might take a bit of getting used to if you’ve been in the habit of neglecting yourself. It’s good to build habits that will let you move forward through difficult times. The best way to go about it, in my experience, is make it an everyday habit, rather than a big blow-out. While planning a spa experience does sound lovely, it’s not necessarily practical or affordable. Little things will give you a boost and keep you buoyant.

Here are a few things you might find helpful:

  • Wash that stress out of your hair: Have a long hot bath and lather up. Add bubbles and heat your towels. Light a candle – it’s nice to feel nice.
  • That’s a mouthful: Have a little snack of whatever you fancy – a row of chocolate or a handful of nuts.
  • Brideshead Revisited: Revisit a favourite book that helps you to feel safe.
  • Savour the flavour: Make an event out of tea time – infuse a special brew in a teapot, drink out of your granny’s china, have a nice little biscuit on the side… Make it a ritual.
  • Change as good as a rest: Try walking a different way to work or order something new from the takeaway.
  • Light up: Light a candle or some incense and focus on the flame or light.
  • Clean your act up: Take care of your garments or gadgets. Take a few moments to polish and freshen up your shoes or delete some apps to make things go smoother.
  • Tiger, tiger: Try Tiger Balm for your aches and pains. Lush have a great range of massage bars that’ll do the trick, too.
  • Get it off: Switch off all your devices, it’s incredibly liberating – find a new part of town, get some undisturbed shut-eye, read the dictionary, stand on your head, or maybe get it oooon with some sweet guy or gal…
  • Present you: Future You is going to love Past You – make sure you have a nice lunch and an enchanting ensemble ready for tomorrow, set your alarm a little earlier so you can ease into the day.

 

For more ideas, have a look at my lists, 50 Things To Do On Dog Days and 50 MORE Things To Do On Dog Days

Take care!

Here’s why Freshers’ won’t be the best week of your life

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So, you did good in your exams and got into university – nice one. Now you have to continue that success by carving out a new little life for yourself, maybe away from home for the first time, maybe in another country. That’s awesome. ‘Have the time of your life!’, people will tell you, and maybe you will! But, if you’re not having the best week ever in the whole of your existence on planet earth, you’re  not alone, you’re not weird and you’re not going to feel this way forever.

Here are a few things you might experience during Freshers’ that don’t make the headlines:

  • Burnout: Your body will hate you and every human in sight. Everyone gets sick (sometimes self-inflicted, sometimes Freshers’ flu) and it spreads like wildfire in halls. Take your vitamins and Drink Aware, but read up on other illnesses such as meningitis, which can be particularly nasty.
  • Brain-ache: You won’t understand a word of your lectures/ you will immediately regret everything in your life that led you to the decision to study this crappy course. There will be a lot of reading which after week 1 you will never finish.
  • Social caterpillar: All your life’s fears of being inadequate will probably come to the fore during a conversation with someone who speaks 5 languages, plays 5 instruments and is a semi-pro golfer in their spare time. Also, they will be good looking, well-spoken and bubbly. Whatever, you managed to get out of bed today, so who’s the butterfly?
  • Ground-hog day: There’s a 98% chance that you will have the exact same conversation at least 564 times during Freshers’ Week. It will go like this: ‘Hi, I’m [insert name here]’, ‘Hi, my name’s [insert name here]. Where are you from?’, ‘[insert hometown here], you?’, ‘Oh, cool. I’m from near [insert major city here]. What are you studying?’ etc. etc. etc. and so on and so forth. Eventually the boring will filter out.
  • Under pressure: You will feel like you should be doing certain things and in a certain way. Destroy this notion. If you want to sleep, sleep. If you want to go to a museum rather than a poster sale, do it. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO DRINK ALCOHOL, DON’T. If you do things that you are comfortable with, you will meet like-minded people and make nice friends. Winner.
  • Culture shock: You will miss your family/ partners/ pets. You’ll be around unfamiliar people with unfamiliar (and uncomfortable) opinions and habits. The water will be different, the noises at night-time, the smells and sights will all be big, bright neon signs that you’re not in Kansas any more, Dorothy. Don’t forget you can always click your heels and book a ticket home…

 

So, the moral of the tale is: don’t try to be anybody but yourself. You probably won’t meet your friends for life in Freshers’ Week and, if you do, they’ll understand that Freshers’ Week ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Don’t rush – this is your grace period – use it.

Worthy days

I’m all for lazy days. There’s nothing like that cat stretch under the covers when you wake up without your alarm. It’s a beautiful feeling. But, what feels even better is having a day planned around boosting your self-worth – worth getting up for. It’s a worthwhile thing to build into your calendar, maybe as a monthly thing. You can be as flexible or religious about it as you want to be; even thinking about saving the date will give you a little boost of yes!

It doesn’t have to be an entirely solitary venture, either. Maybe get a little crew together, write letters to praise each other to high heaven. There’s nothing more powerful than a bad-ass girl gang! (And nothing as destructive as girl-on-girl ‘this bitch bites’ bullshit) Or, meet up with a friend and give a mutual pep talk – big up artistry, knowledge, cookery skills etc… You’re a talented lot, so shout about it and remind each other when it slips your mind. No need to be bashful.

Get yourself in gear with a day doing what you do best. Don’t sit on your laurels. Keep yourself on the straight and narrow in terms of creative projects; sit down with your knitting and challenge yourself to do 5 rows, 10 rows, 40 rows… Sitting down and following through with one of your plans makes for a big boost in confidence. It also takes a bit of pressure off if you are working to a deadline. But, of course, taking these days can be anything you need it to be. It could be that you decide to revisit a childhood passion and do a few lengths at the pool or read back through a scrapbook that has nice comments in. If you like to lend a hand, check in with friends that might need a boost, or do your mother’s ironing while she’s out. If you regularly give too much to people, indulge in something that you love to do alone – read a book, shop without lending anyone money, start training for a race you’ve had your eye on.

Another route you could take for those oasis days is to focus exclusively and purposefully on your mental health. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

  • Trigger warning: Start a trigger/ worry diary and set aside some time each day to review the points you write down.
  • Bad hair day?: Draw a self-portrait of how you are feeling. Now draw one of how you want to feel and think about the ways you could achieve that happiness.
  • Target practice: Write a list of things you want to do that scare you. Share with someone who will help facilitate/ alleviate any fears surrounding your goals.
  • Careful: Think about any self-care practices you have and how to improve them. Try asking friends about their self-care practices and maybe try out any new ones.

 

The point is, relying on anyone else for your self-worth is never going to be that effective. Also, it takes time and concentrated effort to identify and deal with low self-esteem. Reap what you sow and all that.

 

Living with eczema and anxiety

Baby, I was born this way. And, unlike a lot of people, I stayed this way, too. Eczema in babies and children is quite common, but it is thought that most people will grow out of acute or chronic eczema by the time they reach adulthood.

Apparently, my mother knew that I would be a scratcher because she was constantly itchy during her pregnancy. I’ve tried lots of lotions, potions and products since I was born with varying amounts of success. Prescription creams and bath oils made me feel greasy and dirty, but moisturising is the most important thing in managing the condition. Atopic dermatitis, as it is also known in the trade, is partially due to faster shedding skin, but also involves the skin reacting to allergens and other factors. Common allergens are dust and dairy. Eczema can often be exacerbated by over-washing or using perfumed products, or even hard water. But, one of my biggest triggers is stress – my skin is basically a big old drama queen. It likes to throw a hissy fit every time things are not going my way.

Living with eczema and anxiety side-by-side sometimes feels more like existing than living because it’s a non-stop cycle of stress causing flare-ups causing bad skin causing stress causing flare-ups and so on. It’s also an exhausting combination because both take their toll on self-confidence. Whilst anxiety is busy nibbling away at your brain telling you that you are ugly and worthless, eczema gives a helping hand by destroying your skin in a very visible way which gets reactions ranging from, ‘poor you’ to ‘is it contagious?’.

Here are a few ways I manage my eczema:

  • Nailed it: Keep your nails cut short and filed down to help keep damage to a minimum.
  • Move on: Don’t try and stick it out with a product that doesn’t do you any favours. It can be a total pain, especially if you’ve spent money on a new magic lotion and then it gives you hives.
  • Keep it clean: Wash sheets on a high temperature to kill any dusty-mitey-itchy stuff. Also, use unscented, non-bio, sensitive washing liquid or powder.
  • But not too clean: Over-washing and washing in water that is too hot can make the problem worse. Wash in warm, not scalding water and don’t sit in the bath for too long because that won’t do you any favours either.
  • Food diary: Keep a track on what you’re letting into your body – there might be some allergy issues making your skin act up. I’m a recent convert to soya milk.
  • Whatever you’re doing, stop it!: Stop scratching. Now. No, stop it. Seriously. Try patting, rubbing, gently slapping to stimulate your skin without drawing blood.
  • Take it easy: Keeping your stress levels down is key because it’s one hell of a climb back up from the bottom of that cycle.

 

Body and mind as one! Be gentle to both 🙂

 

Be a pal: How to spot depression and anxiety

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Mental illnesses are often isolating and lonely. They can make social situations difficult to navigate. Self-confidence takes a hit. Expectations of normality jump out of the window. When everything seems totally futile, why bother showering? We’re all going to die so it doesn’t matter if your bills don’t get paid, does it? These are things we are taught to notice in those around us. If one of your work colleagues starts turning up in the same, unwashed clothes, with a distinct odour of whiskey and cheese, you can probably assume something is not quite right. If your friend stops speaking for days at a time and just cries, they are probably working through some stuff. But not all signs of people struggling to cope are so clear-cut.

 

Here are a few to look out for:

  • Small time: Sometimes, when people are feeling high levels of anxiety, they lose perspective and can become fixated on small details which seem insignificant to other people. They may go over and over the same thing or talk about a topic which the conversation has moved on from.
  • Grumpy: Anger or irritability often signal someone under a lot of stress or unable to cope with the intensity of their emotions. Of course, some people are just grumpy in general, but keep an eye out if this explosiveness or intolerance is a new development. They might seem like they’ve lost their sense of humour, too.
  • Shopaholic: Feeling depressed can spark a desire to fill your life with, well, anything. A sudden urge to buy expensive knickknacks might be a sign.  Keep an eye out for anyone with a crystal pineapple – they probably need help.
  • Drink me: Alcohol and substance abuse is often part and parcel of mental illness, used to escape painful feelings. This can be difficult to spot if the person is drinking or taking drugs alone, but don’t ignore your instincts.
  • Hideout: Becoming socially withdrawn, whether refusing invitations or talking less (or less openly) than usual is common for people struggling with depression or anxiety. They can often get trapped inside their own head, which is, more often than not, their own worst enemy.
  • Sleepless nights: Depression may be a mental illness but it shows itself in many physical ways. Changes in sleeping patterns (i.e. sleeping a lot more or a lot less) and eating habits/ fluctuations in weight can suggest stress.

 

Remember panic/ anxiety attacks can manifest in lots of different ways:

  • Sieve brain: The person might be unable to retain any information; they can seem confused and inattentive.
  • Space cadet: Being totally zoned out or in their own world. Not seeming to be engaged with their surroundings.
  • Fisticuffs: Physical tension may seem like a fairly obvious example, but this can be very subtle, including jaw-clenching, teeth grinding or small repeated movements like rubbing hands together or cracking knuckles.
  • Too much: Sensory overload can be very distressing. Exposure to too many stimuli can be overwhelming – too much noise, heat or light can increase levels of anxiety.
  • Sweat, sick and tears: Sweating palms, nausea and crying are all common during panic attacks.

 

Keep an eye out. Letting someone know that you care is sometimes the only, and best, thing you can do to help!

How to be assertive when you are an anxious person

 

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First off, what is assertiveness? How come it gets a whole blog post to itself?

Being assertive is about being strong in what you believe, not being at everybody’s beck and call, being kind to yourself.

Try these techniques:

 

  • Start boring: Be assertive about small things. Don’t change your plans because someone else dropped a bollock – it’s perfectly reasonable to say ‘no, I won’t cook for the 6th time this week.’

 

  • Write it out: Making it physical means you are less likely to miss bits out or chicken out in the first place.

 

  • Dress for assertiveness: Power dressing with rock stance. You got it.

 

  • Mantra: Make it simple like ‘my way’ or more involved like ‘I am in control of what I do’.

 

  • Commitment-phobe: Give yourself a get out clause. This is not necessarily “assertive”, but it helps as a stepping stone, making the final ‘no’ easier. If you are not overly thrilled with an invitation, say ‘it’s highly likely I won’t be able to’. This isn’t a direct ‘no’, which can be an anxiety-trigger, but it sets a precedent that you don’t expect to be there.

 

  • Positive: Don’t apologise – if you found it difficult to be assertive, say so! Say ‘Thank you for understanding’, not ‘Sorry’.

 

  • Resistance is futile: Be ready for resistance. If people perceive you to be a passive person, they will not expect an assertive stance. They won’t like this change when it means they won’t get their own way. Steel yourself against this.

 

  • Be sure: Know what you want to get out of the situation. What small outcomes do you this reasonable?

 

  • Be double sure: First understand why you are choosing to be assertive. What is it in the situation that you cannot accept? Write a pro/con list to get it clear in your head.

 

  • Be calm: Use statements that cannot be argued against and do not target the other person. Use phrases like ‘I feel that’ and ‘I am choosing not to do this because’…

 

You got it!

How to ward off a panic attack (at work)

Sometimes, a panic attack will overwhelm you before you can do much about it, but sometimes, when you recognise the signs, it’s easier to get a handle on it.

Here are some simple tricks that you can do discreetly if you are at work or school:

  • Plug the hole: Try ear-plugs to distance yourself from any overwhelming distractions.

 

  • Block it out: Try thinking about or focusing on block colours. It could be looking out at a field, or zooming in on your nail varnish, or socks. Anything that is easy to look at for a prolonged period. Meditate on that colour. Design a garment using block colours.

 

  • Hot flush: Change your environment to regulate or alter your temperature. Sometimes panic causes you to become overly warm and fresh air might help you to stay on an even keel. Otherwise, keeping nice and toasty can help to relax the body so keep a wheat bag or hot water bottle handy.

 

  • Tell me about it: Share how you are feeling with a trusted friend or colleague. That way, you relieve the pressure of having to explain if the attack does come on. Consider having a red card or a symbol which signifies that you are on the edge of an attack. Words are hard. Take away the necessity of using them.

 

  • Stop!: Take a few moments to stop/refresh/restart/collect. Don’t force yourself to just keep going if you know you are not going to do something as you would like. Remove yourself from the equation for a moment. Go to the toilet and take the time to re-tie your shoelaces, stretch, pray, doodle a daisy… Deliberately take that time as a break from working and be present in your rest period.

 

If issues at work are seriously affecting your health, speak to your line manager, or, if you feel unable, approach your union to discuss these matters. Mental health matters – don’t ignore it!

 

50 MORE Things To Do on Dog Days

Round 2 of my post: 50 Things To Do on Dog Days.

  1. Ommm…: Meditate. Even if you can’t take it seriously, it might make you smile at least.
  2. Tied up: Tie knots in a piece of ribbon, or twist it round your fingers. It works as a stress toy and helps de-escalate when panic attacks loom.
  3. Pin Up: Learn how to do a suicide roll.
  4. Clean up your act: Dust, hoover, polish. Put on fresh bed-sheets. Feel clean and ready to face the mean world.
  5. Smooth operator: Get an intensive moisturiser and give yourself an all-over massage. This is the winter of our skin’s discontent, so give it a treat!
  6. Mariah, Myself and Me: Watch this guy. Then try to do better.
  7. Marathon, not a sprint: Watch a whole series of films like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Pirates of the Caribbean. Or go for your favourite films by a certain director or of a certain genre. Or watch every film version made of your favourite book… Pride and Prejudice. Every. Single. Time.
  8. Document this: Watch documentaries. Louis Theroux and Stacey Dooley do good ones.
  9. Give and thou shalt receive: Plan a perfect present for someone and feel awesome.
  10. Play pedicure princess: Preen your little piggies and feel sparkly.
  11. Princess Consuela Banana-hammock: Give yourself a new name which reflects the weirdo within.
  12. New-wave rock: Try something you’ve never done before, like rock-climbing, smoking shisha, trampolining…
  13. Beauty bible: Choose a style-icon and print images out to create a style book. See Lauren Bacall… ❤
  14. Hair hero: Learn to do something new with your hair, like fishtail braid.
  15. Honey, I’m clean: Make a face mask using banana, oats and honey or an avocado. Or use coconut oil, olive oil and a dash of apple cider vinegar to make a hair mask.
  16. Shed a few pounds: Go on a spending spree for strictly luxury items, like candles, chocolates, cushions…
  17. Hot, hot, hot: Make the ultimate hot chocolate. Use full fat milk, or even cream. Heat slowly on the hob. Infuse with cinnamon, nutmeg and a kick of ground ginger.
  18. Time warp: Mooch in an antiques shop and pick up a trinket.
  19. Highly recommended: Act on a recommendation that someone’s given you – read that book, listen to that album, try that flavour of herbal tea…
  20. 100 strokes: Brush out your hair 100 times.
  21. Here I am: Draw a self-portrait to reflect on when the Dog Day is over. How accurate is your dog day brain?
  22. Don’t be a twit: Read a book from your childhood. Anything by Roald Dahl will do the trick…
  23. Life is rosy: Buy yourself flowers and put them everywhere.
  24. Food for the soul: Get soulful with Otis and Aretha.
  25. Quest: Download an organisation app to get your to-do list in order. Try Quest if you have an iPhone.
  26. Crick in the neck: Do some deep, soothing stretches like the cobra.
  27. Steady hands: Practise something which takes intense concentration, like making a card house, or taking photos.
  28. Day-by-day: Get ahead with your planning. Take a look in your diary and set aside some mental health days where you will have protected time for yourself.
  29. New life: Get inspired by new lives coming into the world. Watch One Born Every Minute, or Secret Life of Four Years Olds… watch, and wonder!
  30. Thou yeasty ill-nurtured strumpet!: Shakespeare’s insults are better than yours. Try them out.
  31. Blanket fort: Make one.
  32. Snap!: Play a card game with friends or family.
  33. You’re a purl: Try your hand at knitting.
  34. Speak up: Tell someone how they can help you and your headspace. If you want them out of the house for an hour, don’t be afraid to say so.
  35. Fluffy: Make a neopet, feed it, play games… Be a kid!
  36. Let’s talk about sex: When you’re at war with your mind, make love instead.
  37. ABC: Alphabetise your DVDs or books. Question your taste. Then decide you were totally right.
  38. Feel peachy: Eat some fruit and up your vitamins – low mood can make you more susceptible to getting ill.
  39. Serious stuff: Make a list of any annoying little practical things you need to do, like getting bills paid, prioritise, then start getting them done.
  40. Hot stuff: Get a hot water bottle or wheat bag. Get cosy and focus on any aches that need some extra attention.
  41. Meeting of minds: Read this interview between J.K.Rowling and Lauren Laverne.
  42. Advent: Count down to Christmas with Gala Darling’s December Activity Guide.
  43. Deary me: Write yourself a passionate, honest love letter. You could even set up a separate email account for regular love letters to yourself for future Dog Days.
  44. Season’s greetings: Buy yourself a present, wrap it and put it under the tree. You will have at least 1 thing that you absolutely 100% love.
  45. Psych: Go to a psychic evening/ reading. Even if you think its a load of baloney, it might just make you smile.
  46. Get curious: Find the thesaurus entry for your favourite verb.
  47. Open road: Go for a drive, catch a bus and stay on until the last stop, go on a bike ride. A bit of forward momentum might make you feel free!
  48. Toilet trained: Write down your worries on pieces of toilet roll, or even just the names of people who have pissed you off and send them to the sea. Flush them down the crapper like they deserve.
  49. Horizons: Look for a new job, search for a new vocation – find a new passion and grab some books on the topic… You are never too old to learn!
  50. Gently does it: Be kind to yourself. Know your limits and don’t push them. Treat yourself as you would your best friend. Try forgiveness.

 

Distraction Tactics

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Life is sometimes a thrower of curveballs; it likes to test us and see how we cope. When you feel like you can’t cope, maybe, in that moment, you can’t. So you need tools to take your mind outside of your life for a little while.

Here are my top 5 Distraction Tactics:

  1. Read a book: No, I’m never going to stop recommending this as a course of action. It’s appropriate to all situations and it has been a life-saver for me (and I mean that in a literal sense).
  2. Puzzle it out: Do some online quizzes, print out a sudoku and immerse yourself, do a wordsearch using pretty colours. Concentrate and work that grey matter.
  3. Get some grief-bacon: Bake a big, fat, fudge cake. Create a curry. Make moussaka. Chargrill chicken. Delight in dough. Well… you get the idea.
  4. Potter with plants: Have a good nip with the secateurs, wrangle out the weeds, rake vigorously. Green fingers, assemble!
  5. Plans with people: Actual real life people who care about you. Go to the cinema, eat together, read aloud to each other, play a board game that takes hours and ends in a hissy fit. Spend time in other people’s worlds and your own becomes less daunting.

For anyone struggling with self-harm, here are some links:

Scar Tissue

Alternatives to self-harm from rcpsych.ac.uk

No More Panic

Give yourself a break 🙂

I could stop here, but I’ll go on…

Last week I got my second tattoo and I love it. The whole idea behind this one is to get people talking and I want to talk about it. I am now part of a growing movement called Project Semi-colon, the aim of which is to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness and to prevent suicide. It’s a movement to inspire, encourage and start a conversation about those unspoken things that are killing people.

My tattoo is a smile during my day, it’s a reminder of the strength which I’ve shown time and time again. My tattoo is a symbol of solidarity to all those who struggle every day, whether because of depression, self-harm, addiction etc. My tattoo says I choose life. My tattoo says that I am not worthless, or inadequate. The pause represented by a semi-colon is permission to take some time for myself when I need it. It shows me I am human and that, more than anything, I have a choice to be alive and to live rather than just exist.

The semi-colon is a break and a continuation; it is a triumph. The tattoo just reminds me that I am also a triumph every single day that I wake up. Depression is a killer and it is cruel, but I chose to go on, and that’s something worth shouting about.