change your life (when you haven't got a clue what you want to do)

How to change your life (when you don’t have a clue what you want to do)

I realised I was starting to drift about three years ago. I’d fallen out of love with a job I’d felt so passionately about and knew I was no longer feeling fulfilled. I knew I wanted to change my life; I just hadn’t got a clue what I wanted to do.

They often say change happens to you if you don’t make change happen yourself. It forces you to take action. I had major life changes: a baby, a death of a parent, a house move and yet still, I knew I needed to do more and I didn’t know what that was.

I bought every self-development book. I spent hours googling how to unlock your life’s purpose. I followed Instagram coaches and set intentions. I created vision boards, released energy and tried to create a lightbulb moment.

The more I wanted to change, the harder it seemed to become. I felt paralysed by my indecision and overwhelmed by the enormity of the decisions I was trying to make.

However, in the few months, life change has happened. It wasn’t a bolt in the blue but a series of tiny changes that grew into something bigger. I’ve refocused my job role to allow me to pursue my love of wellbeing professionally and open up a new career path. In turn, I now have a clearer understanding of my direction and what I want to do.

So how did it happen?

  • I made small incremental changes, not always knowing why but because it made me feel good. I set up this blog to get serious about my own wellbeing, as well as to create content I wanted to write about and enjoy.
  • I became braver about pushing myself out there. I still cringe a bit when I post a blog on Twitter because I feel I’m opening myself up for judgement. However, each time I do it, I become more comfortable.
  • I moved away from right/wrong thinking. I had started to lose the ability to think clearly and became very black and white in my thinking. I have tried to retrain myself into understanding there is more than one path to happiness.
  • I asked for what I wanted. This doesn’t come naturally to me – but I recognised I needed to become more open in asking for opportunities. I let myself be vulnerable and ask other people for help.
  • I let myself just be. I can find it hard to settle and allow events to unfold. It means I often feel frustrated when things aren’t moving fast enough. For once, in my life, I’m trying to trust in the process and let things unfold.
quick and easy self-care ideas

Quick and easy self-care ideas for when life gets busy

When life gets busy, self-care tends to fall to the bottom of the to-do list. The irony being that when life gets hectic, we need to look after ourselves more than ever.

I fall into bad habits quickly. Lack of time means I reach for junk food instead of eating a more balanced diet and forget how much I need sleep.

There are only so many hours in the day, and of course, there are times when self-care can’t be prioritised. So here are some simple self-care ideas to consider for when time is short.

10 quick and easy self-care ideas

1. Prioritise small life admin tasks. I’m the queen of procrastination and push any small admin tasks as far down the list as I can. It’s easy to delay something that isn’t urgent but the reality is, it still hangs over you as something to do. Give yourself sense of achievement and stop the list from building up.

2. Declutter. There is a lot of evidence which shows a clearer space is good for the mind. It gives you room to think and breathe. Prioritise one room at a time and objectively clear things you don’t use or need anymore.

3. Take time out from social media. Sure, social media can be fun. However, it can also be a time hoover and leave you with feelings of inadequacy. Switch your phone off for a set period of time and always unfollow or mute anyone who doesn’t make you feel good about yourself.

4. Check in with your body. How are you really feeling? Do a full body scan and notice signs of aches and pains. Do you need to rest? How is your mood? Understand what your emotions are telling you.

5. Breathe. There may not always be time for mindfulness practice but there is always time to breathe… Take 3 deep breaths and use the moment to pause and reflect in a busy day.

6. Pay it forward. This may not sound like a self-care strategy, however, doing random acts of kindness helps uplift us and feel more positive. Try leaving a bottle of water for a homeless person in summer or buy a coffee for the person in front of you. Small acts can make a big difference.

7. Gratitude. My gratitude practice often falls to the bottom of the list when I get busy. During those times, take a few minutes out of the day to notice what you feel grateful for.

8. Walk outside. We should all try to have 15 minutes outside to make sure we’re getting enough Vitamin D. I try to take some time away from listening to music and really notice the world around me. It’s important to see the beauty in everyday life.

9. Give yourself permission to take time off. I will sit down to read a book and within minutes get up to start putting the washing away or some equally innocuous domestic task. I struggle to make time just for me. It’s important to remember, we all need breaks and no one’s energy is limitless.

10. Do something just for you. I know baths and candles are a bit of a joke when it comes to self-care. However, there is something in the idea of taking time out just for yourself. We all deserve a break.

The trap of right/wrong thinking

An energy healer recently said to me that I was doing a lot of right/wrong thinking. I had explained I was struggling with indecision to the point I felt stuck. I was struggling to make almost any major decisions – feeling paralysed by the idea of it turning out badly.

I had fallen into the trap of right/wrong thinking

Right/wrong thinking is a thought process where you think there are only two possible outcomes – right or wrong. It’s a black and white approach and only offers one solution for a positive outcome.

I had let my search for the right answers overwhelm me to the point that I had lost the ability to see clearly. I was looking so hard for one answer, I’d forgotten there may be other ways. It had become so crucial, it was making me fearful of change and keeping me in a state of indecision.

The reality is life isn’t black and white. It exists in shades of grey. There are many options and ideas open to us and more than one way to happiness.

Ann Silvers is a US-based counsellor. She describes the right/wrong pattern as dichotomous thinking and writes about the unhelpfulness of polarised thinking.

Dichotomous thinking can create excruciating fear and anxiety anytime there is a decision to be made because of a belief that there is only an absolutely right direction to go in and everything else would take you in an absolutely wrong direction.

Becoming aware of my thought patterns has made me recognise when I am overwhelming myself with making the perfect decision. Life is full of options: I need to become open to recognising them.

why every organisation needs to define their purpose

Why every organisation needs to define their purpose

Organisations are good at describing what they do. They’re not always quite so good at defining why they do it.

However, when most of our basic needs are and what we buy is a choice –  the ‘why’ is what makes us purchase one brand over another. The ‘why’ is also what makes us want to put in the extra effort at work.

Human beings are emotional creatures. We are led by reason and emotions, but we make 70% of our decisions with the emotional part of our brain. When people connect with brands, it’s based on how it makes them feel and not necessarily the features or products.

This is why organisations need to clearly define their purpose. Employees want to know what their organisation stands for and understand why they do what they do.

Start with why

Simon Sinek in his Ted Talk on Start with Why discusses a pattern he calls the Golden Circle. The Golden CIrcle starts with why in the middle and what on the outside. He uses the Golden Circle to illustrate why some leaders and organisations are able to inspire action. All great organisations start with why.

When an organisation tells us their ‘why’ and we believe it, then we want to be part of it. We have an emotional connection with their values because they represent what we believe in.

Sinek explains the brain is made up of three sections: the neocortex, the analytical part; and the limbic brain, which compromises the two middle sections and is responsible for all our feelings. The limbic brain is where all our emotional connections take place. The necortex and not the limbic brain is responsible for language which is why we often struggle to articulate our feelings.

The limbic brain is powerful enough to drive our decision making. It’s what gives us the sensation or feeling of a decision being right or wrong. When we rely too heavily on the rational side of the brain, we start to overthink, second guess ourselves and become overwhelmed. Our limbic brains often know the right thing to do – we just sometimes struggle to articulate why.

When organisations don’t tell us why they exist, we are forced to think with our rational part of the brain. We then struggle to make a decision or are left feeling uncertain.

Emotional connection drives engagement

Employees want to work for a company they believe in and have an emotional connection with where they work. A great organisation can make them feel like they belong and create loyal brand ambassadors.

The more connected an employee is, the more engaged they are likely to be. They’re more likely to feel passionate about their job, be committed to their team and put discretionary effort in. They are personally invested in the success of the organisation because they care about the work that they do.

The more motivated the employee, the more productive they are likely to be contributing to overall growth. An engaged employee spends 4.5 hours/day on work, whereas disengaged employees spend 2.7 hours/day. They are also more likely to project positive behaviours, which have an impact on people around them. Engaged employees create great work cultures and organisations people want to work for.

Working with the lunar cycle

The moon is responsible for lighting at the night’s sky, as well as the earth’s water. The moon’s gravitational force pulls on water in the oceans and creates tides.

Spiritually, the moon looks after our emotions: controlling our desires, worries and dreams.  It’s said that as our bodies are made up of 85% water, the gravitational pull of the moon and the lunar cycle affects us too.

The moon goes through several phases as it passes from new to full. Regardless of personal beliefs, working with the lunar cycle offers the chance to focus on intention setting and working towards realising them.

A simple guide to getting the most from each stage of the lunar cycle

The moon goes through four major stages during the lunar cycle. Each one offers an opportunity for reflection.

To harness the moon, use a lunar calendar to identify when each moon falls in the month. This will vary slightly by geographical location.

New moon

The new moon is the start of the lunar cycle. This is when there is no visible moon and the sky seems dark. Think of the new moon as a time of new beginnings, fresh starts and a blank page to work from. It’s a time to reset, refocus and to think about what you would like to see in your life.

Use the new moon to:

  • set intentions (situations and ideas you would like to happen)
  • visualise how you would like to see the future
  • create a vision board either using a pinboard and cut out images or Pinterest

Waxing moon

The waxing moon looks like a crescent. It’s time to take initiative with your intentions and turn those ideas into plans.

Use the waxing moon to:

  • network
  • look for synchronicity
  • work with others towards your vision

Full moon

The full moon is when the moon shines brightest. It’s a time when we have the most clarity and are full of energy.

Use the full moon to:

  • celebrate what you have achieved
  • show gratitude
  • shine a light on the greatness you already have
Waning moon

The waning moon is again a crescent moon. This is a time for contemplation and reflection.

Use the waning moon to:

  • throw out or disregard anything that no longer serves you
  • create space for the new
  • rest and recuperate ready for the next stage

#vanlife – road tripping with a baby

I told people about my plans to go on a road trip whilst I was pregnant. “Oh, you’ll never do it,” they said. “It’s impossible to travel once you have a baby”. However, travel has always been a big part of my life and I was determined it wouldn’t change once I had a child. We had the van already and my husband carried out a basic conversion putting in a bed and storage. So off we set to live the #vanlife with a ten-month-old baby and travel around Spain for five weeks.

There are countless images on Instagram of people living the #vanlife dream. They are looking out on to beautiful bays wrapped in Navajo blankets. The truth is a van trip is exciting but it’s not without its stresses. Conditions are cramped and there is nowhere to escape to. We also had our fair share of worrying moments and made silly mistakes. With that being said, the freedom it gives you though is so worth it. We saw places we would never have stumbled across and created beautiful memories to last a lifetime.

How to road trip with a baby (and still keep your sanity)

  1. Pack the basic essentials. We bought a travel cot based on sizing, which also doubles up as a mosquito net and beach shade. I think it’s absolutely brilliant and lightweight. Although there were some nights, our son found it difficult to settle so I co-slept with him. We took old clothes, washed them along the way and made do with what we had. I found it really liberating.
  2. Overpack the essentials such as food, water, petrol (gas). It’s easy to forget when you live in a 24-hour city in London that shops aren’t permanently open and there may not be a petrol station for several miles.
  3. Do have some sort of route in mind. We had one night where we couldn’t camp up anywhere and had to sleep in a car park. It wasn’t ideal but we survived.
  4. Be prepared for that route to change. We wanted to go further South but Spain was having a heatwave and so we felt it would just be too hot for our little man.
  5. Take time out each day for yourself. Go for a walk, have a beer, anything to have a little bit of space and stop any tensions from blowing up.
  6. Go with the flow. I had lots of ideas about cooking and my son eating delicious camp side meals. The reality was he ate a lot more bread than I’d planned but sometimes you have to be practical too. We all ate well, he had lots of fruit and vegetables and no one got sick. Perfect.
  7. Remember babies are very adaptable. There were moments when I questioned whether I was pursuing what I wanted to do over what was best for my son. But, the reality was he spent five weeks with both parents constantly around. There were fewer distractions of everyday life and more time to spend bonding and enjoying being with him.
form good habits

How to form good habits

I’m the patron saint of good intentions. I have lots of ideas and plans, which tend to fall by the wayside. The reason: I haven’t got into good habits.

It’s easy to stick to bad habits and harder to take on new behaviours. Our brain has learnt patterns and likes to stick with what it knows.

The good news is, there is a process to all this. We can form new habits.

How do we form habits?

A habit is a type of behaviour we do on autopilot without needing to think. They are  created through repeat behaviours until they become second nature.

Habit breaking is hard, purely because we’re not always aware of them.

To create a new habit instead of the old one, we need to repeat the same behaviour over and over again. We need to be consistent and create a setting to act as a behaviour cue. Once the behaviour pattern becomes ingrained in our brain, it will eventually become a habit.

However, it takes time.

The perceived wisdom was that it took 21 days to form a new habit. The reality is more than three times that amount. Researchers looked at how long it took people to reach a limit of operating on autopilot when for performing an initially new behaviour. They found it takes an average of 66 days. Although, in the grand scheme of things this isn’t much compared with changing habits of a lifetime.

How to get started

  1. Set an intention – decide what habit you would like to break and replace it with. Or what new habit you would like to form. Create a clear vision in your mind and decide how you will know when you’ve achieved it.
  2. Make a commitment – write it down, tell other people and do any preparations you need to in advance.
  3. Start off small – learn how to form habits and then move on to bigger commitments.
  4. Create a context – train your brain into behaving a certain way by designing a scenario around it. Stick to it.
  5. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
  6. Celebrate small successes – congratulate yourself on creating new habits. It’s a great achievement and your brain will start to recognise the reward.
confidence boosting ideas

Six ways to boost your confidence (that actually work)

The biggest thing I wish I’d known in my 20s is that confidence is something you develop; rather than being a permanent effect of your life situation. I spent far too much time feeling restricted and paralysed by my lack of confidence often to the point of just giving up. I constantly compared myself to others – especially those who seemed so much more confident and thought opportunities only happened to people like them and not ones like me.

 My lack of confidence was also a story I told myself and used as a form of self-protection. It was easy to hide behind so I didn’t have to push myself out of my comfort zone. When things went well, I put it down to luck and everything else, I blamed on low self-esteem.

It was only when I realised that confidence is something I could control, that I decided to do something about it. I started to recognise confidence isn’t something you’re born with, it’s something we need to develop. Confidence is essentially a muscle that we grow and build upon.

Six confidence boosting ideas

1. Affirmations

There’s a reason why affirmation cards are so popular and that’s because they work. Positive affirmations help retrain our brain away from negative self-talk to thinking better about ourselves. There are lots of cards available online or write your own and put them somewhere you’ll see them regularly like your bathroom mirror or front door.

2. Stop comparing yourself to others

Perception of confidence is relative and only something we can determine for ourselves. There are some people who come across as being widely confident, who aren’t; and others who appear much less self-assured but have an inner strength. I constantly compared myself and judged myself on what other people thought of me. Whilst feedback can be hugely beneficial, it’s fundamentally important to find a sense of your own self and determine your own criteria of success.

3. Practice being confident

We all know the phrase, ‘fake it until you make it’ and essentially that’s what we need to do – we need to practice being confident. I used to be really horribly shy and felt awkward around people I didn’t know. With my friends though, I’d be the life and soul of the party so I came across as being aloof and only interested in people I knew already. I made myself be friendly to people even when I was cringing and dying inside. The more I did it, the easier it became and I feel pretty confident when meeting new people now.

4. Positive body language

Amy Cuddy, an American psychologist gave a Ted Talk all about how standing in a power pose will boost your feelings of confidence. It’s not always appropriate to break into a Wonder Woman pose but just smiling and standing upright are instant confidence boosters.

5. Be conscious of negative self-talk

I made a conscious decision to stop the running commentary in my head criticising my every move. It still appears from time to time – but I am more able to recognise it as just a voice in my head and not my reality. Try writing a list of the qualities you really like about yourself and keep them to hand (such as the notes section of your phone) so you can refer to it whenever you need a boost.

6. Take baby steps

Remember confidence is something we grow and develop over our entire lives.  Make sure you check in regularly and reflect on how far you’ve come. Each little step forward is helping your confidence to grow and grow.

habits to start day on positive note

How to start the day on a positive note: three habits to get into

Start the day as you mean to go on is a phrase lots of British children heard growing up. And actually, there is a lot of sense in it. Beginning the day on a positive note helps to set the tone for the rest of the day ahead. A lot of our actions are habits and putting the right ones in place can bring about simple and effective changes.

Our habits are essentially patterns in our brains (neural pathways). It takes time and effort to create new ones. Getting into good habits to begin each morning will help set the tone for the rest of the day.

Of course, there are always obstacles and incidents outside of our control. However, for the majority of the time, it’s the way we deal with them that affects our mood. Starting the day positively helps frame our thought-patterns and emotions so life feels a bit easier to deal with.

How to start the day as you mean to go on: THree Habits to get into

  1. Plan ahead

My day goes much more smoothly if I’ve managed to iron my clothes for the day ahead – rather than picking out what’s clean and hoping for the best. If I’ve made a green smoothie and my lunch in advance, then I am literally winning at life (small things here).

2. Be appreciative and show gratitude

Say thank you for the cup of coffee, your train arriving on time, or getting a good parking space outside work. Feel the appreciation for things around you and events going your way.

3. Start creative thinking or problem solving first thing

Use the first part of the day to tackle more challenging tasks and save the more administrative, basic jobs until later in the day. Your brain should be less tired and you’ll start the day with a sense of accomplishment.

wellbeing at work

Wellbeing at work

Why wellbeing at work matters

Have you ever felt issues in your personal life were stopping you from concentrating properly at work?

Or you are thinking about work at home and finding it hard to switch off?

Yep. Me too on both counts. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Changes in the way we work mean there is a less of a demarcation between work and home lives. Technology enables us to pick up emails on the go and so without even realising it, we’re working longer hours and not giving ourselves time to rest.

Good employers are picking up that stressed employees don’t make the best employees. They are less likely to be productive and bring their whole selves to work. Whereas those who feel valued and cared for are far more likely to put in discretionary effort and be a positive energy in the workplace.

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Wellbeing programmes

Employers are starting to implement wellbeing programmes in the workplace. However, to be truly beneficial, they need to focus on life outside of work as well as inside. We all have hard times, which may not be to do with work itself, but still impact on our performance. A good wellbeing programme understands that personal and professional lives overlap.

There are five pillars of wellbeing, which employers should consider:

  • Physical (health and fitness)
  • Emotional (mental health and resilience)
  • Social (creating a sense of belonging)
  • Financial (understanding and dealing with managing money)
  • Careers (supporting and offering development)

The idea being that supporting employees emotionally, as well as physically leads to happier, more motivated staff.

benefit of wellbeing programmes

Wellbeing programmes do have costs involved both financially and in terms of the time, it takes to implement them. However, the benefits should be easily measurable. It’s expensive to recruit new employees when one leaves and high levels of absenteeism are a drain on any business. Wellbeing initiatives should first and foremost be improving staff loyalty and sickness levels.

Anglian Water in the UK have said for every £1 they spent on wellbeing, they got £8 back. Productivity was raised and the number of sick days reduced. They also saw greater employer brand and customer engagement.

There are other elements which are harder to measure such as discretionary effort (given that it is discretionary). However, there should be visible signs of engagement and people feeling happy at work.

Managing our own wellbeing

Of course, we can’t all work for big companies or employers who want to invest in our wellbeing. So what can we do to manage our own wellbeing at work?

There are some simple steps, which should help to make day-to-day life a little bit easier.

Sleep – the jury is still out on what the optimum amount of sleep is and realistically, it probably varies from person to person. Try to make sure you are getting at least seven hours a night. Sleep helps restore and reset us physically and emotionally and things normally seem better following a good night’s sleep.

Exercise – exercising has been medically proven to reduce stress. Try to build in exercise into your weekly routine, even if it’s just going for a walk.

Nutrition – the stress hormone cortisol makes us crave fatty foods. Think about diet and eating healthily even when it’s tempting to phone for a takeaway.

Relaxation – make sure you’re building in time to relax. Read a book, watch a film, take a bath or anything which allows you to unwind.

how to harness your menstrual cycle

Getting the most from your menstrual cycle

People of a certain age may remember an advert for a brand of compact tampons where a schoolgirl has her hand up asking to be excused from the classroom. The premise being that her tampon is so small, no one can see what’s in her hand avoiding embarrassment.

Twenty-five years later and not that much has really changed. I still feel the need to carry my bag to the office toilet and periods are still talked about in hushed tones generally within the context of either fertility or irregularities.

Most of us have a basic understanding of how menstruation works on a physical level. However, changes and surges in hormones mean we have greater strengths at different times of the month.

Understanding this offers the chance to work with your cycle and use it to its best advantage.

How to harness your menstrual cycle

There are four phases in the menstrual cycle: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. Each one creating physical and hormonal changes explaining why you might feel differently throughout the month.

Phase 1 – menstruation

This is when bleeding starts and is the first day of your menstrual cycle. Your energy will be at its lowest and you may feel tired and sluggish. You’ll need to rest more than usual. Try to avoid planning events and introduce some quiet time into your schedule.

Use this phase for self-reflection: look back on the last month and set intentions for the month ahead.

Phase 2 – follicular phase

Following menstruation, your body releases the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which stimulates the follicles in your ovaries to mature. Estrogen and testosterone rise during this phase giving you an energy boost.

Use this phase for creative thinking and problem-solving. Your mind will be sharp.

Phase 3 – ovulatory phase

Your body releases an egg at this stage of the cycle. Estrogen and testosterone rise to their peak and your energy levels will be at their highest levels. You may feel more confident: physically and mentally.

Use this phase for anything that requires confidence and being able to articulate your thoughts easily.

Phase 4 – luteal phase

Estrogen and testosterone start to decline and your body produces progesterone which is a relaxing hormone. You may also feel the effects of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMT) and feel more emotional, have headaches and/or experience bloating. Try to manage this with healthy food (even when your body craves carbohydrates) and any activity that makes you feel more balanced.

Use this phase to practice self-care and prepare for the next part of the cycle ahead.

Tools to help understand your cycle

The website and App

We are Moody is an online platform designed to help you track your highs and lows so you can understand yourself better and get the most from your cycle.

moody website

The Instagram coach – Claire Baker

Claire Baker uses Instagram stories to share advice on how to use your menstrual cycle to live life in flow. She breaks down each cycle into seasons and explains how to use each one for its best purpose.

claire baker instagram

wellbeing

Five ways to boost your wellbeing (which don’t cost a thing)

Wellbeing doesn’t have to be an expensive commitment. Here are some simple ideas, which are all totally free.

Five ways to boost your wellbeing

  1. Keep a gratitude diary. You can use your phone or scribble down on a piece of old paper. Take stock to think about what you are grateful for and bring in some positivity to your thought processes. It’s a small act but one that makes a big difference.
Journal

2. Check out some yoga on Youtube.  There are countless yoga tutorials on Youtube with one of the most famous being Adriene Mishler. She has over 3.5 million subscribers and 400 videos on her Yoga with Adriene channel. Adriene creates tutorials appealing to everyone from complete beginners to the over 60s and those in a hurry. She’s very down-to-earth, encouraging and best of all her content is totally free.

yoga with adriene screen grab

3. Download a mindfulness / meditation App. There are a number of guided meditation Apps such as Headspace or Andrew Johnson which offer taster content free of charge. All you need to do is download on to your phone and listen to when you have time such as commuting to work.

relax with andrew johnson

4. Listen to an uplifting podcast. There are so many spiritual and soulful podcasts such as Oprah’s Supersoul Conversations, the Happiness Project and the Good Life. They all feature inspiring guests sharing life lessons and helping to give greater insights into our own.

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5. Connect with nature. Go for a walk, sit in the garden/park, or even just look out of a window on to a green space. Just seeing nature has a positive impact on our wellbeing.

energy alignment method

The energy alignment method

I stumbled across the Energy Alignment Method whilst scrolling through Facebook. It offered a free five-day course designed to realign your energy and create space for it to flow.

The course was coinciding with a planned quiet period in my life. It seemed like there was some synchronicity at play and so I decided to give it a whirl.

The Energy Alignment Method was developed by Yvette Taylor and uses a Kinesiology technique, the Sway to use your energy to unlock intuition. Each day the course teaches how to use the Sway to release any blockages which might be stopping your energy flow. This is so you can then start using it to manifest and for guidance.

Without giving too much away, I sometimes found using the Sway hard. I questioned how much it was my energy controlling it and how much was my own will. However, I also have greater clarity and the strongest sense of purpose I have felt in years.

I will definitely be using the tools from the Energy Alignment Method to work through some blockages I know I have. Looking forward to seeing where it takes me.

Learning to be brave

Learning to be brave

Being brave

At the beginning of the year, I thought about changes I wanted to make in my life and to stop letting fear stand in my way. I realised I was going to need to start becoming brave if I was going to live a more authentic life.

Part of transitioning from my 20s into my 30s and beyond has been to recognise that actions have consequences and that not everyone is interested in my opinions. Along the way though, I’ve perhaps taken that to the other extreme. I’m starting to realise I lost the risk-taker, the dreamer and the person who wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed in.

Being vulnerable

It’s easy to play it safe and keep ourselves protected. We don’t have to open ourselves up or make ourselves feel vulnerable. The downside is of course, that you don’t allow yourself to feel truly fulfilled and you never know what might have been.

When I first starting writing, just putting words out there felt intimidating. I worried about judgement – both my own and from others. Pushing myself out there is a leap of faith and doesn’t always sit so comfortably with me.

Change can be intimidating. It can be slow and we put barriers in the way to make it even slower. I’m learning though, that with each small step I take, the easier it is and the little bit braver I become.

why does sunshine make us happier

Why does sunshine make us happier?

The first days of sunshine in London and it’s like the city becomes a different place. Strangers talk to each other and people walk around with smiles on their faces.

My energy levels lift completely with a few sunny days and the start of light evenings. Suddenly I feel I have more time to get things done rather than thinking about bedtime from around 8.30pm.

My experience is pretty common. It’s not the cold weather which tends to affect our mood, but the lack of daylight, which leads to feeling tired and run down. For people who work in offices and start and end their day in darkness, these feelings are even worse.

The sunshine makes us want to be physically healthier, as well as emotionally. Salad starts to become a viable food order instead of just a garnish. It spurs us on to start exercising – if only because it’s nice just to be outdoors.

It also gives us a daily dose of Vitamin D which can be hard to get from foods alone. Vitamin D promotes healthy cell and bone growth, reduces inflammation, and helps to stimulate our immune function. 20 minutes of exposure a day to sunshine has real health benefits (people with darker skin need longer). Exposure to the sun can lower blood pressure, help create stronger bones and teeth, reduce the risk of some cancers and can help with skin conditions.

Let’s take advantage while we can.

why laughter is the best medicine

Why laughter really is the best medicine

.I went away with friends recently and laughed and laughed and laughed.

I laughed until my stomach hurt and tears rolled down my cheeks. And even though I’d been burning the candle at both ends – I came home feeling happier and lighter than I had done in a long time.

It turns out laughter really is the best medicine and studies show it benefits almost every area of our lives.

How laughter boosts our wellbeing

Laughing makes us happy

Laughing releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals inside our brains.  Researchers from the University of Turku, Finland measured the ‘endorphin rush’. They studied 12 healthy men to see the after-effects of watching 30 minutes of comedy clips together. They found social laughter caused pleasurable feelings and significantly boosted endorphins and other opioid peptides in the brain.

Laughter is Contagious

Research has shown laughter really is contagious. Scientists played a series of sounds to participants to see how they responded to positive or negative sounds. They tested the movement of facial muscles afterwards. The study found that people tended to smile when they heard laughter.

Laughter helps create long-lasting relationships

Laura Kurtz, a social psychologist from the University of North Carolina investigated how much shared laughter influences the success of a relationship. She studied 77 heterosexual pairs (154 people total) who had been in a relationship for an average of 4 years and did video recordings of them recalling how they first met. The couples who laughed more together in the videos reported having happier relationships.

Laughter boosts our immune systems

A study by Indiana State University Sycamore Nursing Cente divided 33 women into two groups: one watched funny videos and the other a video on tourism. They found the funny video group reported a significant decrease in stress and their natural killer cell levels were significantly higher than those who watched the other video.

Laughter acts as pain relief

Scientists at Oxford University looked at if laughter helped with pain relief. Participants watched funny video clips and a live comedy show during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Participants were tested in groups and alone. They were then asked to take part in pain tests until they said they couldn’t take anymore. The study revealed that laughter considerably increased participants’ ability to tolerate pain – particularly when they were in a group. 

Laughter looks after your heart

It also helps to look after your heart. The University of Maryland examined the circulation in the blood vessels after watching different types of films. One group watched stressful segments from the war film ‘Saving Private Ryan,” whilst the others watched parts of comedy ‘Something About Mary’. Scientists found that the blood vessel lining constricted and circulation decreased in those who watched ‘Saving Private Ryan’. Whereas for the vessel lining dilated and circulation increased for those watching the comedy.

Laughter can help with depression

Italian researchers found that laughter appears to stimulate brain regions involved in depression and mediating stress. Their study, published in 2010, also noted that both the immune system and social relationships can be strengthened by laughter, leaving individuals more able to cope with their mood disorder.

It increases resilience

Being able to laugh at our shortcomings and failures has a positive impact on our resilience (the ability to overcome negative situations). Scientists asked 201 pairs of North American adult twins to complete a questionnaire on two positive (affiliative, self-enhancing) and two negative (aggressive, self-defeating) humour styles. Participants also were asked about how they felt about eight mental toughness factors: commitment, control, emotional control, control over own life, confidence, confidence in own abilities, interpersonal confidence, and challenge. Positive correlations were found between the positive humour styles and all of the mental toughness factors.

Ways to increase laughter in your life

  • spend time with people who make you laugh
  • watch comedies or read books which you know will make you laugh out loud
  • put yourself in social situations which involve laughing. Go to the cinema to watch a funny film or a comedy. night. Even if you’re on your own, being around other people who are laughing will still hugely impact on your wellbeing.
spring clean your life

Spring clean your life

img_9227The term ‘spring clean’ comes from the days when our homes were heated by fires. People would spring clean and air their homes in the warmer months to clean it of all the soot and grime that had accumulated when the weather was colder. These days, we rely on much more modern methods to heat our homes – but there is still something about the first sunny day and seeing flowers starting to bloom, which lifts our spirits and offers the chance to spring clean your life of some of the patterns we may be in.

Give your life a spring clean

Revaluate relationships

Do you have relationships in your life with people who make you feel bad about yourself? Are there people that you feel you have to mentally ‘psyche’ yourself up to spend time with? We should try to surround ourselves with people who lift us up and support us rather than bringing toxic energy. There are occasions when it’s time to let friendships go or manage the amount of time you spend with someone. We all change throughout our lives and sometimes our relationships need to change to.

Contact people you care about

How many times have you mentally composed a message to someone – but never actually sent it? Are there people on your mind, who you never seem to contact? Make the effort to reach out and let people know you’re thinking about them.

Declutter old clothes and possessions

My Dad always told me if you haven’t used something for two years, you should get rid of it. I think there is an element of truth in that idea. However, I sometimes struggle with the idea that I might want to wear something again. If I’m really uncertain, I pack it away and if I haven’t missed it in a year, I know I can give it away happily. There are physical benefits to decluttering in that it frees up more living space, as well as mentally feeling a lot clearer.

Go through life admin and paperwork

Write a list of everything you need to do and work through it. It can be really easy to put off tasks that need doing (even as I’m writing this I know I have a fair few outstanding..), however, it’s good to be able to clear the decks.

Look at finances

Anyone else like to stick their head in the sand when it comes to their finances? Or is it just me? Spring is a good time to think about your spending, where you might need to make savings and if you have any financial goals. Note to self.

Switch off social media

Social media brings lots of positives into our lives especially around building communities and connecting with people. However, it can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction, lower self-esteem and the feeling of being ‘always on’. Like anything, there is a balance to be had so take the time to switch off and do something else instead.

helping someone through grief

Helping someone through grief

Losing a loved one is something nearly all of us will have to go through in life. However, it’s really hard to know how to help someone through grief, particularly when you haven’t experienced it yourself. It’s easy to feel awkward, not knowing what to say and then end up not doing anything at all even when that isn’t your intention.

In my experience, there isn’t really a right or wrong way to be around someone who’s grieving. The best thing you can do is to show up and just be there.

After my Dad died, I appreciated knowing people cared. There were people who reached out to me who I hadn’t spoken to for a long time but knew how much pain I would be in because they had suffered their own losses too.

Everyone deals with grief differently and it doesn’t run to a timeline. It can be quite a lonely experience so being there for someone can make all the difference.

How to help someone through grief

Don’t worry about the message

Send a card, phone or text to let the person know you are thinking about them. There are no real words of comfort, which really make grief easier in the initial stages but just letting someone know you care does help.

Think of how you can offer practical help 

Don’t ask or wait to be asked. Make food or buy groceries. It’s easy to forget to do basic tasks like eating or shopping when your world feels like it’s falling apart.

Please don’t worry about making someone cry

You can guarantee people are upset anyway and it’s nothing to do with your words. It really helps to be able to process emotions and tears are part of that.

Don’t be afraid to ask how they’re feeling
Talking really does help with processing what’s happened. Just be patient if someone isn’t ready.
Check in regularly 
Keep going past the first year at the very least. Loss never really goes away although the pain does get easier. It’s always appreciated when people remember.

The five pillars of self-care

Blossom on trees The five pillars of self-care (emotional, physical, social, spiritual and intellectual) make up parts of our lives we need to focus on and nourish. In an ideal world, we should try to think about them regularly to see if we’re in alignment.

But let’s be honest, it’s easy to let things fall by the wayside when we get busy or try to bury our head in the sand about issues we don’t want to face.

It is fundamentally important, however that try to we ensure our needs are being met as humans. We should be prioritising our emotional and physical health to help us become the best possible versions of ourselves.

So it can be very worthwhile to probe deeper to try and gain an understanding of what areas we might be neglecting. And if we are, what can we do to resolve it?

Every month or so, it might be worthwhile to take a bit of time out to explore how you’re feeling in each of these areas and if there are any that you want to focus on more? Or use the questions below as a quick sense check just to see if you are where you think you are.

Questioning the five pillars of self-care

Emotional wellbeing

How are you feeling emotionally? Are you overwhelmed, stressed, lethargic, down, close to tears? How are your relationships with others? Are they positive? Are you behaving with kindness or are you quick to snap/judge? Any of these factors may suggest you need to focus on your emotional wellbeing.

Physical health

How is your overall health? Do you have any existing health conditions? Are you sleeping, eating well, drinking enough water and not too much alcohol? Are you showering, brushing your teeth, washing your clothes? Are you exercising? Do you have any injuries or ailments? Do you have a regular routine and build in rest and relaxation?

Social

Do you have friends and/or family who support you when times get tough? Equally, do you make time for fun? Are you lonely? Is there more you could be doing to build a network? Are you also making enough time for other people (and not just focusing on yourself)?

Spiritual

Are you thinking about your purpose in life and the values and beliefs that drive you? Are you taking the time to reflect on what motivates you and what from your past may be stopping you from moving forward? Gaining greater understanding of your own self can help you to live a happier and more purposeful life.

Intellectual

Are you challenging yourself to learn and try new things? Are you thinking about your self-development and personal growth? Are you travelling and/or reading about different people and cultures? Are you expanding your horizons through film and literature. We all have to change and evolve throughout our lifetimes.

why I practice gratitude

Why I practice gratitude

I first started my gratitude practice about five years ago. I’d got stuck in a bit of rut, tended to focus on the negative and had a blamey attitude. I got frustrated easily and often felt like the world was conspiring against me.

I decided to keep a gratitude diary and each morning wrote down ten things that were making me happy and the reasons why.

It completely changed how I see the world.

• I let go of feeling frustrated. If my train was delayed, I could see it was such a tiny thing to feel annoyed about and in the grand scheme of things, it just didn’t matter. I could apologise if I was late and people would understand.

• I saw my life as a full picture. Yes, I may have had bad things happen but I also have so much happening which is positive too. It helped me gain a more balanced viewpoint.

• I felt more in control of my own life. I felt less as though events were conspiring against me and more optimistic. I now realise I have responsibility for my thought processes.

• Small things made me smile. A friendly chat with a stranger or an offer of help from a colleague lifted my spirits and brought me joy. I noticed what was right in front of me.

• It felt like the world was more on my side. I could be running late and my train would be magically delayed by just the right amount of time for me to step straight on. It felt like life was in harmony.

• I started to count my blessings. I noticed how much I have and how lucky I am.

And as a result, I’m much happier.

Seven quick and easy wellbeing ideas

Citrus fruits in a terracotta bowl As soon as I get busy, the first thing to fall by the wayside is taking proper care of myself. My daily diet becomes packet food and any activities I do to focus on my emotional health fall right down the priority list. I end up becoming sluggish, a bit fed up and start feeling bad about myself.

I’ve made this mistake so many times, I’m determined to try and change my ways. I’m putting a few simple ideas in place so I can keep myself in balance.

Seven quick and easy ways to boost your wellbeing.

  1. Boost your diet with citrus fruits such as grapefruit and lemons, which have a number of health benefits including improving the immune system. It may not stop you reaching for the takeaway menu (and we’re all allowed a treat) but it will help you feel like you’re putting some goodness into your body.
  2. I love the idea of yoga. I just don’t always think I have time. Sun Salutations are quick and still get the body moving and your energy flowing. This video from online yoga sensation, Adrienne shows you how.
  3. Mindfulness can be done almost anywhere such as on your commute or even when you’re walking. There are a number of Apps offering guided meditations including Headspace and Andrew Johnson. However, just being aware and tuning into your breath, can also make a real difference especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
  4. Try to see daylight and take a walk even if it’s only for a couple of minutes. It’s great for helping you get into a good sleep pattern because it sets your body clock to day and night.
  5. Keep hydrated by drinking water and herbal teas. Buy a water carrier to keep it with you and keep hydrated on the go.
  6. Practice gratitude. You may not have time to write a gratitude diary but you can still take 30 seconds throughout the day to check in with yourself and think about what you are grateful for.
  7. Scientists have found that smiling lifts our mood and boosts our immune system. So smile!