How to cure (emotional) hangovers

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When we feel intense emotions, it can be tempting to give them an expiry date and expect that once the rush of feeling is over that it’s, well, over. It makes things simpler to see them as isolated – we can cope with a stressful day at work, or a bad week, or a rough patch. The appeal is easy to see – we can contain those tricky emotions within a specified time period and after that they’re gone. The problem is that, as with most things, it’s never as simple as that.

It’s easy to find ourselves saying ‘I don’t know why I’m so tired/ grumpy/ sad today’ when, if we flip back a few pages, we’ll find difficult feelings and experiences that we have compartmentalised and then thoroughly ignored. Now, this is most definitely not something to blame ourselves for. House rule number one applies here: don’t beat yourself up. Putting our problems in boxes is very natural; pain often provokes coping strategies that involve distancing ourselves from it’s cause. No-one likes to be hurt, or stressed or angry. Whilst that instinct is self-preservative, it can also come back to bite us in the bum.

When we experience what I call an “emotional hangover”, everything can feel really out of whack. We wonder where the malaise came from and why it’s turned us into the walking dead. It can be frustrating, especially when we have tried to parcel up our emotions into an allotted time. But, trauma has a tendency to bleed out into our everyday lives if we don’t or can’t deal with it effectively. That’s not always within our control, so how can we process these difficulties when they don’t stay neatly holed up?

The cure is knowing that there is no cure, and being able to accept that. There’s no amount of tabasco sauce or lucozade or fry-ups that will magically bust you out of your hangover. Emotional trauma and negative feelings don’t naturally work their way out of your body the way that alcohol does short term. Mental distress, just like any type of illness or long term substance abuse will leave a trace behind. If you drink too much alcohol too often for too long, your liver won’t be thanking you. Keeping a lot of pent up rage and pain has a similar effect on your whole body and mind. Hurt needs an outlet and some time to be released in a healthy way.

So, here’s what you’ll need to deal with an emotional hangover:

  1. Patience and lots of it. There isn’t a quick fix or a magic pill, so being able to be patient with the process of healing is massively important. And quite tricky. Just remind yourself that it’s ok for it to take just as long as it needs.
  2. Time to spend with yourself. If you can predict it, schedule some time in advance to de-compress after a stressful situation. If that’s not possible, take a conscious 5 minute break to stretch, chew some gum, have a peaceful cup of tea, wash your face – it is not so important what you do, but that you do it with the intention of being with and soothing the difficult emotions.
  3. Compassion for yourself. Emotional hangovers are painful and complex things. It might take a few hours or even months to lift, so be gentle with yourself. We are often capable of great compassion for other people but find extending that same courtesy to ourselves difficult (or we don’t even realise that we can and should do it!).

In real terms, what do these things mean? It means actively noting when you have unforgiving thoughts about yourself (i.e. ‘I should be over this by now’, ‘other people have worse problems than me’) and challenging them! A counsellor or a close friend can help you with this. It means sleeping when your mind is running on empty. Get your 8 hours, or more if you need it. It means paying attention to what you’re spending time doing and seeing if it’s working for you (if you find being around a lot of people very tiring, don’t feel bad when you want a night in, or vice versa, if cabin fever is biting your ankles, get out and about). Think about and treat yourself as you would your best friend – you wouldn’t tell them to just get over it, so don’t mistreat yourself that way!

Take your time, be kind and be patient!

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Dating Manifesto

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Sweet peach!

TW: Over-generalisations left, right and centre. Boys are rubbish. Not really.

Here it is – the good, the bad and the ugly. A new and (vastly) improved dating manifesto. Disclaimer: by, to and for myself.

I solemnly swear that I will studiously avoid pursuing, fantasising about, dating or committing to the following:

  • Shitheads: non-specific, but covers the wider categories of fuckwits, dickheads, arseholes and ignoramuses.
  • Psychopaths: turn around and run. Leave no forwarding address.
  • Work colleagues: don’t shag where you eat, so to speak.
  • Spongers: Always 50/50 in relationships…
  • Narcissists: self-obsession tends to get in the way of a partnership.
  • Alcoholics: substance dependence is a sure-fire romance killer.
  • Emotional robots: Cold-fish need not apply.
  • Religious fanatics: Three’s a crowd.
  • The intellectual: Who must always be right but have nothing to say when they’re not.
  • The Meninist: Apparently some people are more equal than others…
  • Right-wingman/ Brexiteers: Or anyone, basically, who doesn’t live in the real world. May be identified by wild patriotism or Gap Yah rhetoric.

… and anyone that believes in steak and blow-job day…

So there are the no-goers. And yes, its totally fine to be decisive about what you don’t want in a potential friend/ partner/ lover/ spouse. Your emotional and physical space is sacred and shouldn’t be lightly given up. Being open to people is great but you should follow your instincts. Being closed to people who set your alarm bells ringing is no bad thing, as long as it doesn’t turn into straight up prejudice.

If you’re worried that you or a friend might be in an abusive relationship, have a look at these warning signs:

  • Big changes in habits or behaviour i.e. eating less, being late when usually punctual etc.
  • Submissiveness or seeming to lack own volition to do things – seeking approval for everything.
  • Withdrawal from socialising – being quieter, drinking more, not going out at all, being uncontactable.
  • Change in taste/ preferences to mirror new partner/ lover etc. This could indicate certain elements of brainwashing or manipulation i.e. change in clothes/ make-up/ hair
  • Mood swings – being unable to regulate mood may be due to a general sense of anxiety/ uneasiness/ sense of isolation. May also be due to the abuser poisoning the victim against family or friends.
  • Social media posts can be out of character/ extreme/ use unusual language etc. Also may be more sensitive about photos etc. going on social media.

 

But it can’t all be doom and gloom. This is a manifesto – it should be a statement of intent. So, the game plan is to work on my singles game before even attempting a double act. Two is tricky. Check out my posts on self-care if you’re struggling to be good to number one. It’s harder than it seems, especially if you’re going through a bad patch. If you want/ are ready to meet a sweet peach or several juicy nectarines, make sure you know where your limits lie – not just want you want, but what you need and cannot compromise on. Go slower even than you think you should – if they are worth their salt, they’ll be patient and give you the breathing space you need.

Maybe this manifesto should be a celebration of all the beautiful qualities that make a beautiful person. So, here’s to honesty and openness. Here’s to good communication. Here’s to making each other laugh. Here’s to generosity, kindness and considerateness. Here’s to patience. Here’s to creativity and being energised. My manifesto is an elegy to growth and mutual support.Here’s to nourishment. Good people breed good love. Here’s to all kinds of health – mental, physical, emotional. That’s a manifesto worth believing in.

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!

Summer Self-Lovin’

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Summer is a great time for recharging, reminiscing and renewing yourself – the days are longer, the weather is (sometimes) better. You might even have a little holiday planned. But, it’s been a dismal old time here in the UK, and maybe your mental health is a little worse for wear.

If so, here are a few summer self-care suggestions:

  • What’s your flavour?: Try a new flavour of something – ice-cream, hummus or, if there’s still a chill in the air, maybe a rose and cardamom hot chocolate might be up your street… Variety is the spice and all that.
  • Check it out: Health checks – important business – if you’re worried about anything, whether it’s lumps and bumps or suspected gluten intolerance, don’t wait for it to wreak havoc! Get checked out and get treated.
  • Road trip!: Travel if you can, dream if you can’t. Making mood boards from holiday magazines might help a little…
  • Shrink to size: Get therapy. Identify what needs repair (if you don’t already know) and work on what you’re struggling with, NOT what someone else wants you to fix. An outsider’s take on situation offers perspective, too.
  • Funny side: Find something to make yourself laugh – it might be something you overhear, or a hideous selfie from a friend or someone else’s infectious laugh.
  • Magical Me: Channel your inner Gilderoy Lockhart and speak only good things about yourself. Although, try to make sure that they’re actually true… Write down every genuine compliment you get – treasure them.
  • Supreme clean: Establish good habits before winter comes and snatches you up into hibernation faster than you can say ‘White Walker’. A habit supposedly takes 30 days to take hold, so start now! I’m trying to kick my sugar dependency (trying being the operative word).
  • Take no prisoners: Self-love and self-care are, of course, totally personal. Stepping back from toxic relationships, or ones that are unsustainable in order to focus on yourself is better for everyone.
  • Go forth and multiply: If you have a craft, hone it. Write a novel, whip up a zine, work on a painting, whistle a tune… If you don’t think you have a craft yet, experiment with new ones to find your niche. Make/ write/ draw/ sing stuff. Do it now. You can, I promise.

 

Hope your summer lovin’ has you a blast.

You live in a cloud: How not to fall off

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When the good times are rolling, it can feel impossible to maintain, especially if you suffer from a mental illness that comes around time and again. This post was inspired by a prompt in ‘642 Tiny Things To Write About’ – ‘You live in a cloud. Give three tips for how not to fall off’.

 

  • Hey, you, off my cloud!: Don’t let people on your cloud that might unbalance it or make it grey. Maybe what your cloud needs is a dress-code…

 

  • Hot air balloon: Don’t get weighed down by ‘stuff’. Keep your flame rising and your airship will hit the stratosphere. ‘Stuff’ won’t help you rise or be what people remember you by… a multitude of multicoloured balloons, however, may well come in handy. It worked in Up, right?

 

  • Eco-warrior: Be independent in your own eco-system, but don’t forget you can (and should) cloud-collab and get mingling in other peoples’ worlds (with their permission, of course).

 

Just remember, it doesn’t rain forever.

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!