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!

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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.

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!

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.

Top Ten: Mental literature

Here’s my Top Ten pick of plays and novels that look at mental illness:

  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: A classic that teeters painfully on the autobiographical.
  • 4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane: Brutally honest and original.
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger: Don’t be a phoney.
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey: The revolution will be lobotomised.
  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys: Watch Antoinette Cosway become Bertha Rochester – the mad wife in the attic’s story.
  • Fight Club by Chuck Palanhuik: It’s all in your head.
  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: Trippy and beautiful – we’re all mad here…
  • Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: Some wars don’t ever end.
  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides: 5 sisters, no fairytale.
  • The Comforts of Madness by Paul Sayer: Even the speechless and the catatonic have something to say.

Proof that you are not alone.

50 Things To Do on Dog Days

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Some days are bad days. Here are some good things to do on bad days:

  1. Get down and herby: Add mint leaves to green tea and add sugar or honey (and ice) for a refreshing Moroccan style drink.
  2. Dance: Do the caterpillar. Do the sit-down boogie. Do the twist. Try a plié or jive it out with a partner. Anything goes.
  3. Vitamin D: Sit outside, especially if it’s sunny. Or, run around in a torrential downpour. It’ll feel good.
  4. Dip in: Lie in bed all day with a ‘dippy box’ (a concept developed by my mother in the nineties – a box of snack sized nibbles, usually chopped fruit, raisins, little sandwiches, cubes of cheese, chocolate biscuits, ritz crackers etc.); embrace your inner child.
  5. A novel idea: Read a whole book. Or a whole chapter. Or a whole sentence. Be proud of your progress.
  6. Perspective is everything: Lie on the floor and see the world in a new way.
  7. Snail mail: Write a letter, design a greetings card or send a post card.
  8. Pillow talk: Wriggle around under the duvet and communicate via grunts and wails.
  9. Lists, lists, lists: Read 50 ’50 Things To Do When…’ lists. Then do something that tickles your pickle.
  10. Minstrel Me: Get someone to serenade you. Or vice versa.
  11. Doctor, Doctor: Make an appointment with your Doctor to review your medication if you feel it’s not working for you. Or, if you don’t take medication but feel you want some extra support, ask to be put on the waiting list for counselling.
  12. Take drugs: Actually remember to take your medication! Or vitamins. We are just chemicals, after all.
  13. Human dartboard: Print a picture of someone who annoys you  *cough David Cameron cough* and rearrange their facial features via scissors and/or felt tips.
  14. You’re forgiven, not forgotten: Forgive yourself for something you’ve been beating yourself up about. Yes, I’m talking about that insensitive thing you said without thinking three years ago. Three years of guilt is plenty, thanks.
  15. Adult Colouring Books: Does what it says on the tin. Fair warning, may induce addiction.
  16. Cry Me A River: Let yourself cry, copiously if you need to. Listen to your crying song, think about a loved one who’s passed. It hurts and that’s ok.
  17. Smelly: Wear something that smells of someone you love.
  18.  Work with me: Take a mascot to work with you. Or wear your lucky pants.
  19. Inked: Draw on yourself with a felt tip or sharpie – design a tattoo.
  20. Talk to me, TED: Watch a TED talk. They have a mental health playlist which you might find useful.
  21. Find method in your madness: Do something methodical like testing all your pens, sharpening your pencils. Don’t think, just do.
  22. Catch 22: Exercise. Exactly what you do not want to do, I know. Try not to think of it as exercise… Wrestle with your brother, punch a pillow, or spar with a friend. Channel the frustration.
  23. Ask and you shall receive: Ask for help. Not necessarily for head stuff but for something practical. Ask your dad how best to clean your iron, or your cousin for that falafel recipe you liked.
  24. A Different Kind Of Dog: It may be a Black Dog day in your head, but how about making it a Border Collie or Golden Doodle day? Beg, borrow or steal a dog and let their love heal you.
  25. Good Samaritan: You’re not alone. Talk to the Samaritans.
  26. Say Yes: When you’re depressed, cabin fever can really exacerbate the issue so if someone invites you out for a drink, seriously consider it, even if you feel like crap. You can always go home again if you need to.
  27. Say No: Delegate responsibilities that aren’t going to happen today.
  28. Smiling’s my favourite: Make like Buddy The Elf and smile. Maybe you’ll remember that smiling’s actually your favourite.
  29. Does somebody need a hug?: You may not be an angry raccoon, but a hug probably wouldn’t go amiss. (Seriously, Buddy The Elf has all the answers)
  30. Boombox: LOUD MUSIC. I recommend Gwen Stefani, but maybe that’s just My Shit.
  31. Bad decisions: Make bad food choices. Today, mine include cookie dough ice-cream and magic stars. 0 regrets.
  32. It’ll all come out in the wash: Put on a load of washing, it’ll help you feel like you are in control of your life.
  33. 2 is a rational number: Make a list of EVERYTHING you are stressing about (this might take all day, but that’s ok!) and have a friend or partner look over it. They will be able to offer a more objective view and help eliminate some of your worries.
  34. Play dress-up: Put on something slinky or something ridiculous.
  35. A heady mix: Learn to do a 40’s style headscarf turban and slick on some red lippy. Or go for bold prints and some of these lovely headwrap ideas.
  36. Breaking in: Season a corset or break in a new pair of shoes.
  37. Fair’s fair: Exchange back massages with a friend or lover. Or, if its not in your skill set, how about you offer to make a meal for you both after your shoulder rub. Incentives!
  38. Sit in a dark room: In a cinema. With pick’n’mix or popcorn.
  39. Have a tinkle: Make an instrument of some kind and bash out a tune. If the crafty element is beyond you today, use spoons. Or a real instrument.
  40. Lyricist: Learn all the words to a song that makes you pee, like Daphne & Celeste’s ‘Ooh Stick You’. Although, to be fair, I know most of them already…
  41. Supplement this: Research alternatives to anti-depressants that you could try, like light-boxes or St John’s Wort.
  42. Back to the Future: Stop dwelling on the past and start making plans to look forward to. My husband-to-be used to call them ‘happiness islands’ when I was homesick, doing my degree in Edinburgh.
  43. Water, baby: Drink it, swim in it, walk near it, bathe in it… We are water…
  44. Food, glorious food: Order something delicious, smile at the delivery guy and devour. (The food, not the delivery guy… Unless…)
  45. 100% Inspiration: Get inspired. Visit somewhere amazing like Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Or visit someone amazing. Don’t forget to tell them that they’re amazing.
  46. Sleeping Beauty: Your mind is probably tired. Get some shut-eye. Some days are only good for sleeping through, anyway.
  47. Press refresh: Get some air circulating your space, burn some candles or incense, spray some perfume.
  48. Brownie points: Make these brownies. Thank me later.
  49. Blog Revisited: Go back to a blog post that always gives you ideas. My two current favourites are Gala Darling’s Sad Trombone List and this list of 25 Productive Things To Do on a Rainy Day by Meg Favreau on WiseBread.com.
  50. Hope: Remember that you will not always feel like this. Accept how you feel, but take comfort in the fact that it doesn’t rain forever.

Schema this.

If you want to improve your life, it’s important to recognise the issues that are holding you back. Some psychologists use a list of criteria called Schemas or  Life-traps to identify the main limitations which individuals are living with.

I find this approach useful sometimes because it gives you an awareness of what you need help with and, vitally, requires you to be honest! It’s uncomfortable but important. Nothing will change or get easier if you’re not being realistic about your starting point.

Here are the eleven life-traps as outlined by Young and Klosko in ‘Reinventing Your Life’:

  • Abandonment: you feel that you will be left emotionally isolated forever. You may get very upset about separation and tend to cling.
  • Mistrust and Abuse: you feel that you will be abused or taken advantage of in some way. You are mistrustful and have difficulty establishing meaningful relationships.
  • Dependence: you feel unable to handle everyday life in a competent manner and need constant support. As a child you were made to feel incompetent when you tried to assert your independence.
  • Vulnerability: you live in fear that disaster is about to strike. You do not feel safe in the world. You were probably overprotected by your parents which has caused your fears to be excessive and unrealistic.
  • Emotional Deprivation: you have the belief that your need for love will never be met. You feel cheated and you alternate between being angry about it and feeling hurt and alone.
  • Social Exclusion: as a child you felt excluded by peers. As an adult, you avoid socialising in groups and making friends. You feel socially undesirable and inferior.
  • Defectiveness: you feel inwardly flawed and defective; you see yourself as fundamentally unlovable. You are afraid of love and expect rejection.
  • Failure: you believe you have failed relative to your peers. You may have been called stupid or lazy as a child.
  • Subjugation: you sacrifice your own needs for the sake of others You do this out of guilt or fear. You repeatedly enter relationships with dominant, controlling people.
  • Unrelenting Standards: you strive relentlessly to meet extremely high expectations of yourself. You probably apply your standards to other people and can be very judgmental.
  • Entitlement: you are unable to accept realistic limits in life; you feel special. You struggle with self-discipline.

I won’t tell you which ones I fall into – you might be able to tell, anyway… But hopefully by thinking about the different ways in which you might be limiting yourself, it will become easier to stop doing it! Let me know how it goes!

Pavlov’s puppy.

We, like Pavlov’s dogs, act on a trigger-response basis, especially when we’re anxious or depressed. When the rational part of our brain is on hiatus, there’s not much left apart from slobbering hounds. Charming.

Get to know your patterns so you can anticipate your responses. When you know, and can predict, your reactions you can put in place mechanisms to remain a vaguely functional member of society even on Black Dog days.(disclaimer: you’re totally allowed to spend all day in a bath full of baked beans if that’s what you need to do).

But let’s not be all doom and gloom – Pavlov’s dogs were expecting good things, after all. So, make it a saliva situation! Try to break your negative patterns, using a positive reinforcement technique like Pavlov. Unlike the mad scientist though, don’t forget to actually follow through with the proposed treat because a) you’re not actually a dog and b) it’s just plain mean.

Allow yourself some time (10 minutes maybe) to sit down and concoct a plan of realistic situation-response-solutions. Make sure they correspond in a meaningful and constructive way, if you can. For example, if you have to give a presentation at school/uni/work and you know it will be a major stress-trigger, plan a lunch-date on the same day with someone you know will make you laugh, or help ground you. Don’t go out and buy yourself a £200 kitchen gadget for the same reason, though. If you have your eye on some big investment piece, make it a future goal to celebrate something huge, like passing your driving test or, you know, making it to the end of your month’s notice period without telling your boss to stick their [insert object] up their [insert body part].

Here’s an example of a situation-response-solution plan:

Situation: Phone call (I’m choosing this because it’s one of my triggers and it is a common thing which people with anxiety find hard)

Response: Avoidance, Physical symptoms (Phone calls always manage to fall to the bottom of my list because I worry about the nausea, sweating, shaking etc. that comes hand in hand with making them)

Solution: The anticipation is ALWAYS the worst part, so just do it. When you have, take a moment to genuinely appreciate what you’ve achieved. It was maybe bum-clenchingly awkward, but you did it. Get yourself a hot chocolate and a biscuit and bask in your glorious radiance. Try writing a weekly list of small wins – they add up! When you make it physical, you can see and go back to what you have already overcome. If you want, make a sticker chart – why the hell not??

Other tips for the dreaded phone call:

  • Write a little script so you don’t have to worry about going blank
  • Have paper with you and make notes as you go – or doodle to help you relax
  • Tell the person on the other end of the phone that you find this difficult – if it’s a doctors’ surgery or something like that they should be supportive and helpful.
  • Don’t be rushed – some receptionists can be very busy, but your call is just as important as everyone else’s!
  • Call first thing in the morning so you don’t have to stress throughout the day.
  • Be polite – if you are pleasant to speak to, the person you’re talking to will be more willing to go the extra mile for you.
  • Be direct – they don’t need to know your whole life story, though.
  • Share your achievement with a loved one. Having someone reaffirm that you’ve done well is a great feeling and makes the next time easier.

Just a spoonful of sugar helps the bum-clenchingly awkward social experiences slightly less bum-clenchingly awkward! Go forth and unclench your bum!