Thursday, 27 July 2017

An insomiac's guide to sleeping soundly

Sleep - love it or loathe it, it's way more important than we tend to think. For some of us, a restful night's snoozing comes naturally, but for others it can feel like a minefield. Recently, whilst reading a Women's Health article on 'clean sleep', I was inspired to start paying more attention to my own habits.

As someone who has dealt with insomnia in the past, I know all too well how important sleep really is. It's definitely one of those things that you only realise are important when they're gone. Back when my sleeping problems were at their worst, I did a great deal of research into how to deal with the issue, and eventually did manage to improve my sleep quality massively. It took time and effort, but through the methods that follow, I went from getting around 4 hours of sleep (on a good day) to peacefully sleeping for 7 or more hours most nights. I've listed my methods in reverse order of their usefulness (in my opinion), so if you want to try a few but not all of them, I'd start with the ones at the bottom.

5. Self-hypnosis

Ok, I'll admit this does seem a bit out-there, and a few years ago I would've laughed at this suggestion too. Having said that, a few years ago I didn't really understand hypnosis. Ultimately, despite its connotations, hypnosis is not much more than a very deep state of relaxation. Whilst having hypnotherapy for a phobia, I was taught how to carry out self-hypnosis, and to this day it remains my tool of choice when I'm either very stressed or struggling to sleep. I would really recommend going in with an open mind and researching this further if you're having issues with with relaxation.

4. Prepare for the morning

If there's one thing that's bound to make sleeping more difficult, it's worrying about the million things you need to do in the morning. I find it so useful to make sure I'm fully prepared in advance. I'm not a morning person at all, so as well as aiding my sleep, it makes for a much less stressful morning. Make a list of the things you tend to worry about most in the mornings; this could be what to wear, what to have for breakfast or things to remember for work. Try to prepare as much as possible before going to sleep - write reminders, prepare breakfast in advance etc.

3. Bath/shower at night

Whether it's best to shower in the morning or at night has always been up for debate. Of course, there's arguments for each side, however if you're a troublesome sleeper I would argue the night-time option is more beneficial. Personally, a relaxing bath before bed really settles me down and prepares me for sleep. I always prefer a bath, but I don't think the method is actually that important, just go for whichever suits you. It's definitely the act of washing off the day and feeling fresh before bed that helps me snooze more soundly.

2. Declutter

The space in which you sleep is way more important than you may realise. For me at least, messy room = messy mind, 100%. It's quite a hard thing to describe, but it's as though all that clutter in the room represents the jumble of thoughts in my mind. Linking in to point 4, clutter can also cause stress more practically; you're more likely to be kept awake worrying where something is if your space isn't organised.

1. Technology cleanse

If I had to choose which technique alone is best when it comes to getting more quality sleep, I would go for this one every time. As far as I'm concerned, technology (especially social media) before bed is almost always a terrible idea. There's loads of opinions out there on exactly how long before bed you should put the tech down, but I try to stick to an hour, or even half an hour; I think this is an effective yet doable time-scale.

In conjunction with these methods, try to keep your sleep schedule pretty regular. It's also really useful to figure out roughly how many hours of sleep you need per night; both too little and too much can have a detrimental effect. Hopefully some of these methods can be useful, but remember that if you're really struggling with you sleeping it's important to go to your GP. Problems with sleep aren't always, but can be a result of an underlying condition like depression or anxiety.

Sweet dreams!


Thursday, 20 July 2017

5 things blogging has taught me

Since it was recently the 6 month anniversary of my blog, I thought this would be a fitting post this week. Starting a blog was definitely an idea which I toyed with for ages before finally going for it, but each time I got serious I seemed to think of another way in which it could 'go wrong'. However, it's been a great 6 months and I can honestly say that finally getting my head down and doing it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Surprisingly, as well as providing me with the creative outlet I'd hoped for, my first 6 months of blogging have taught me some valuable life lessons. Here are the top 5 things blogging has taught me so far:

1) Authenticity is key

Before I started blogging myself, I never really understood how many people fake their stats, especially on social media. As a new blogger, it's so easy to get disheartened when you're working so hard yet not getting the views, but it's important to remember that it's not always going to be like that. We've probably all been tempted to 'cheat' in order to easily get more followers/likes on social media, but I've learnt now that it's so much more rewarding to work on genuine interaction and writing to the best of your ability. This way, you know that when somebody follows you, gives you a like or views your blog it's because they really do like what you're doing. Although the first few months can be frustrating at times, this is definitely a better way of doing things. Seeing your real progress as it happens is truly so fulfilling, even if it's a slow process.

2) The power of planning

Despite always being a bit of an organisation freak, I never fully understood the power of planning ahead until I started blogging. For the first few months, I kind of had a 'make it up as I go along' approach. However, I soon learnt the benefits of having at least a loose plan of what to post throughout the month. By forming a plan, it's easier to make sure topics are varied throughout the month. It's also easier to plan posts to fit around specific dates and themes over the year, as well as saving the time and stress of having to think of something to write on the spot. My general go-to now is to jot down ideas as they come to me (often at the strangest times), then plan things out more rigidly when I have a list of ideas to choose from. I find this to be a much easier method than trying to think of what to write on the spot, as it's incredibly difficult to force inspiration.

3) Invest in your passions

I'm by no means saying here that you need to spend money on something in order for it to be a success, but if you're setting out to do something that you're serious about, it's so important to really invest time, energy and potentially some money to get you started out. For me, I'd tried blogging so many times, but the thing that made me stick at it this time was buying a theme for my site. Seeing it looking so professional, and knowing that I'd spent money on it stopped me from giving up right away. It doesn't have to be money, but making sure you're truly invested in what you're doing is so useful when it comes to resilience and sticking power.

4) Quality over quantity

It's so easy in life to get caught up in numbers (see point 2), but blogging has made me realise that quality is far more important than quantity. I think in writing this is especially true. There have been a few instances now where I've cut down the frequency of my posts, for example over exams, because I've realised how much I hate the idea of not writing to the best of my ability simply to 'keep up'. This can definitely be applied to many areas of life; if you need to slow down in order to deliver your best work, it's much better to be honest rather than rushing and not doing things well.

5) Failure is nothing to be afraid of

This is a huge lesson I've learnt! My biggest fear when starting this blog was how embarrassing it would be if I just totally failed, but I've since realised that was such a silly fear to have. Whatever you're pursuing and however big the dream, just go for it! No matter how things pan out, you're winning just by working on your goals fearlessly. It's not about what anyone else thinks, it's about how following your passions and dreams makes you feel.


Thursday, 6 July 2017

Why body confidence has nothing to do with the way you look

As a young teenager I, like so many, would constantly critique the way I looked. More to the point, I would obsess over other people's traits and how I wanted to look like them. Every day was, "I wish I had her curves" or "Why can't I have hair like that?" At this time, I viewed almost all aspects of life from a "why is the world so against me?" perspective, and my body image was certainly no exception. Everything was so unfair.

It took me years to realise why my opinion of my own body never improved. Everything I tried was to look better; I wore makeup to look less 'plain', I changed my haircut to try to look like someone else, and the amount of times I VOWED to 'eat healthier and exercise'. Of course, it never panned out that way. I expected to go out for a run, eat an apple and suddenly be this motivated, fit, gorgeous person. Looking back, the failure was inevitable, because no amount of exercise, make-up or veg can make you into a different person. Each time my efforts appeared to be in vain, I looked at things from the same perspective; "why me", "it is actually impossible for me to exercise", "why is it so easy for everybody else?" It was a completely toxic way of thinking.

Realising my mistake was a slow and indirect process, which came about when I joined the gym (for the third time) in October of last year. Readying myself for the worst months of SAD*, I was adamant it wasn't going to get the best of me this time. Over the years I had learnt the most powerful tool for me mentally is to take good care of my all-round health. To my surprise, for the first time ever, I found committing to the gym relatively easy. For a while I couldn't figure out why, but eventually realised it was because - in contrast to every previous attempt - I was adopting healthier habits to feel better, rather than to look different. And there was another unexpected side effect; my body confidence began to soar. At first I thought this was odd, seen as I didn't look drastically different from when I started out.

However it eventually dawned on me that I had begun to see my body as something strong, powerful and capable. My body was no longer something to be looked at and judged, but something with a purpose and a job. That job is keeping me healthy. In time, I realised that all of my past insecurities are really nothing to worry about at all. For example, I used to get so hung up on my shoulders being wide and a bit out of proportion. Now my perspective has totally changed; it dawned on me that despite having quite a big chest considering my 5'2 frame, I have never suffered with back pain as a result. Having broader, strong shoulders has almost certainly helped with this. This simple shift towards realising that your unique features are about much more than the way they look, is so empowering. Just think for a second about all our bodies do for us; if we get a cut, a sprain, or an illness, our body immediately gets to work to try to heal us. It really is all about perspective, and viewing your body as something functional rather than aesthetic, something to work with rather than against, can strangely make you so much happier with it all round. Not at a certain size or shape or weight, but however it happens to look when it is helping you to feel happy, healthy and strong.

*Seasonal Affective Disorder


Thursday, 18 May 2017

My ultimate stress-free revision timetable strategy

In hindsight, this post may have been better done a bit earlier, as by this point we're almost into the full swing of exams. However, if you haven't yet created yourself a revision timetable, it most definitely isn't too late to do so!

Having sat more exams than I can count over the years, I'm no stranger to the dreaded annual exam-related stress out. However, I've always known that - for me at least - organisation is often the most effective antidote to stress. There's nothing more calming than knowing that everything I need to do is down on paper. It means I can focus solely and today and right now, rather than what I need to do tomorrow or what I should* have done yesterday. I think for many people, the main source of exam stress isn't the exam itself, it's more the anxiety over whether we are revising enough. I'm sure at some point we've all been out doing something we usually enjoy, yet all we can think is "I should be revising right now". Of course, 24/7 revision is certainly not the answer, yet the guilt and pressure still remains.

As a self-confessed perfectionist, I've spent years trying to master the art of making a perfect revision timetable, and I dare say I think I've got pretty good at it. My main aim was always to rid myself of having to worry about any day other than the one I am living right now. Achieving this mind-set is so beneficial, and seems to free up a ton of space in your head for the stuff which is actually important! I'll warn you now, my method is a bit time-consuming, but its preciseness is exactly what makes it so effective. So without further ado, here is my step by step guide on creating a stress-relieving revision timetable:

1) For each subject, list every topic you need to revise on some scrap paper.

2) Split each of these broad topics up into very small chunks. You're aiming to end up with lots of different snippets to revise which would each take roughly 30mins. So for example, I am studying Biology, and one of the topics is synapses. I would split this into say, problems with synapses, action potentials and effects of drugs on synapses. Suddenly, instead of being faced with one big and overwhelming topic to revise, I have 3 quick, manageable ones. For any topic which you have no option but to spend more than 30mins on, such as an exam paper, just tally 3 next to it to show that it takes up three slots of 30mins rather than just one.

3) Make your timetable showing every day until the end of your exams. I like to do this on the computer, but it can be handmade if you prefer.

4) Write your exams into your timetable.

5) Block off in one colour every day you have something planned and know you will be unable to revise. It doesn't matter what it is; I block off entire weekends because I work on Saturdays and am normally hungover on Sundays. Being honest with yourself is the best way, and you don't have to revise every day.

6) Count up the number of days you have free.

7) Divide the number of small topics (30min slots) you have by the number of days you have established as free. Round up to the nearest whole number. This is how many of your small topics it would be useful to revise each day. For example if you have 97 topics and 30 days, that's 3.23, so round up to 4 per day.

8) Spread your small topics throughout your timetable. With the example I've just used (4 topics per day), you may choose to put two small 30 minute topics down for one day, as well as a one hour exam paper (which takes up the other two 30-minute slots).

9) Stick your timetable up and get started! You will by this point be so organised that there's no reason to worry about when you're going to fit anything in, because you have it all covered. Just get up every day and focus on what you have down for today, and nothing more.

10) Highlight or tick things off when they're done to give you a sense of achievement. If something comes up which means you don't finish everything one day, either just move on or fit it in somewhere else - it's no big deal! Life happens.

Good luck with you exams everyone!

*Click here to read my post dedicated to the use of the word 'should'.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Erase this word from your vocabulary and change your life forever

Let's just think about it for a second; language is simply a string of sounds. A string of sounds that has the power to make us feel a spectrum of emotions. One string of sounds can make us feel content, loved or powerful. Another could leave us anxious, devastated or furious. I think we often underestimate the way that language influences literally everything we do. The words we use have way more power over us than we probably imagine; even the ones we use in normal, everyday situations. In particular, the words we use about ourselves, both in our heads and out loud, can completely change our view of life.

A few years ago, whilst sat in Leeds Grand Theatre with my friend and brother, I heard Derren Brown talk about 'the stories we tell ourselves' for the first time. From the moment I heard that opening speech from his show 'Infamous', I was fascinated by the concept. The concept that really, all we can control is how we piece together the information we receive. We can make this information into a good story or a bad one - the content really has little relevance. Around the same time, I found myself having a conversation which changed my life. I think we can all think of certain moments which, despite not being particularly out of the ordinary or remarkable, have a profound effect on us. In the months leading up to my GCSEs I was, as many of us were, incredibly stressed. It felt as though I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. One lunchtime I was having a conversation with my RS, and future Psychology teacher. As one of those people who always seems to know what to say, she was often the first person I'd go to when I needed some guidance. On this occasion, she said 6 words which altered my perspective forever. These words were "get rid of the word should".

Should. I'd never thought of it before, but what an awful word. If you really step back and think about the word 'should', what sort of feelings does it evoke? Guilt? Anxiety? Self-depreciation? It rarely conjures up any positive images. Although being intrigued by the suggestion, I will admit I was initially sceptical. Firstly, how could the erasing of a single word realistically change the way you think as a whole and secondly, is it actually possible to do? After all, most of the words that we say even to others, but especially to ourselves are almost automatic - we have no real awareness of doing it.

Despite my doubts, since that short conversation I have always tried to be mindful of that toxic word 'should', and after 4 years, I think I've cracked it. Of course, sometimes I slip up, but in general my use of the word is a thing of the past. This small change has had such a profound effect on my overall mental health. Since ditching the word, I rarely feel guilt when I don't manage to do something I would have liked to. Previously, that 'should' would've plagued me; spinning around my head with its negative, confidence-bashing connotations. You may be reading this thinking 'well maybe feeling no guilt ins't entirely a good thing'. After all, surely it could lead to a person being lazy and/or unreliable; by giving them permission to not do the things they really, well, *should* be doing.

On the contrary, I think it has the opposite effect. You see, by taking away the notion that you should be doing this or should be doing that, you find a great weight lifted off your shoulders. This is the weight of expectation, and it is, quite frankly, something we could all do without. The anxiety you feel when telling yourself you should be doing something is completely counter-productive. Feeling anxiety and stress in large amounts is only going to hinder you. After all, obsessing over how you should be doing something, doesn't get it any closer to actually being done. In fact, it'll likely make you dread it more, and thus also make you more likely to put it off further.

So, it's easy to talk about this hypothetically, but how do you actually put it into practice? Honestly, it takes some time and effort, and requires you to regularly analyse the things you're saying to yourself and others. My challenge to you would be to slowly start replacing the word 'should' with more positive phrases. For example, instead of saying "I really should finish that Maths paper today" you could say "I would really like it if I finished that Maths paper today". By doing this, you're replacing a sentence which focuses on the negatives you would feel if you don't get it done, with one that focuses on how good you will feel if you do. This in turn makes you more likely to want to do it, and also less likely to beat yourself up if you don't, which is a win-win situation.

Yes, this method may sound a bit cringey in practice, but it honestly is a life-changer. I say this as someone who gained very little from CBT, a form of therapy which focuses heavily on noticing, evaluating and consciously changing thought processes until they become more constructive. To be totally honest, I found it a bit patronising. I'm in no way saying that CBT is a bad thing; I know it's very effective for an lot of people. Simply put, I think I'm just too stubborn to get much out of it. However, as a result of ridding myself of the word 'should', I definitely see and understand the merit of 'rewiring' thinking patterns. Until you really start to consciously consider the 'stories you tell yourself', you don't realise the power you could gain by changing them.


Thursday, 20 April 2017

60 things I wish I could tell my younger self

As we grow up, it's inevitable that we learn from our experiences and mistakes (especially in makeup/fashion, as I learnt the hard way)! I don't know about you, but I often find myself pondering over everything I've been through, and what it's all taught me. That's why I thought this week, it would be interesting to think about these lessons and realisations in a bit more depth. I was actually really surprised as to how many I could think of. Some are serious, some are more trivial, some you may relate to and others are more personal to me. Either way, I hope it makes an interesting read! So without further ado, her are 60 things I wish I could tell my younger self:

1. Social media will never solve your problems.
2. Your mental health won't improve until you respect your body and mind equally.
3. Stop worrying about your body; you haven't even finished growing yet.
4. Bra fittings are important.
5. The brown lip-gloss and purple eyeshadow combination will never look nice.
6. Your skin tone is not, and never will be 'sand', however much Dream Matte Mousse you apply.
7. Life is too short for uncomfortable heels.
8. Periods are nothing to be embarrassed about.
9. Your year 8 'history timeline' certainly isn't worth stressing over.
10. Be upfront about how you feel.
11. If someone upsets you, tell them - whether it's a stranger, parent, teacher, friend or anyone else. 
12. Smile at strangers even if they don't smile at you.
13. If you must fake tan your legs, fake tan your feet as well.
14. Never do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable in order to 'fit in'.
15. Don't suffer in silence, physically or mentally.
16. Going to the Doctor's is rarely as bad as you think it will be.
17. Acknowledge negative thoughts, but don't let them define you.
18. 2 litres of water per day will change your life.
19. Alcohol is only fun when you're in a good mood.
20. Physical and mental health are a team.
21. Revise well in advance.
22. Don't take it personally when people treat you badly - it's only a projection of their own feelings.
23. Teachers are human beings. Speaking and being honest with them will benefit you both.
24. Standing up for yourself won't make people hate you.
25. When it comes to success at school, self-care is equally as important as working hard.
26. Learn from your mistakes.
27. Most successful people start out by feeling like a loser.
28. Keep your friends close.
29. However much you try to, you will never enjoy cardio. Just do something else.
30. Physical strength becomes mental strength.
31. You are the only thing that has the power to make you feel bad.
32. Don't ever skip medication.
33. Life is too short to feel guilty for eating nice food.
34. A determined attitude is not everything, but it is powerful.
35. Don't stress over your indecisiveness - use it to your advantage.
36. Your journey is yours and everyone else's is theirs.
37. Comparing yourself to others is useless; everyone has unique strengths and weaknesses.
38. Get your split ends trimmed regularly.
39. School-College-Uni-Job isn't the only successful/viable life path.
40. Following your passions will make you feel more alive than anything else.
41. Work hard to be financially independent.
42. Do whatever you want at the gym and never feel self-conscious; nobody is looking.
43. Get up earlier.
44. Don't pretend you don't care about your Mam's opinion, because you do.
45. Don't let heartbreak stop you from loving wholeheartedly and without fear.
46. Learn to recognise confirmation bias in yourself.
47. You are the only person who can save yourself.
48. Don't let PE put you off exercise.
49. Let yourself feel every emotion your heart desires; they exist for a reason.
50. Stop pretending you don't enjoy Maths.
51. Taking a day to just look after yourself is more than ok.
52. The night out is not worth having to go into work hungover.
53. Don't underestimate the power of 9-10 hours sleep at night.
54. Don't underestimate the power of a good breakfast, either.
55.Your eyebrows look ridiculous.
56. Try to look after you nails.
57. Stop stressing about your exams; it won't change the result.
58. Resitting is not the end of the world.
59. Always put your phone down an hour before bed.
60. It's ok to be socially awkward - just own it.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

My top 10 hangover cures!

Anyone who knows me will be well aware that I'm partial a drink or ten at the weekend. Of course drinking is bad for us, and I admire all the non-drinkers in my life, but let’s be honest - there aren’t many. Unfortunately I seem to be one of those unlucky people who are prone to soul-destroying hangovers. Admittedly, I’m also a person who tends to feel very sorry for herself when ill; these two factors are a less than ideal combination. However, there are a few little tricks I’ve learnt to make that hangover a little more bearable. Of course, the only sure way to avoid being hungover is not to drink. Despite this, everyone has their own little tricks to help give that hangover a bit less of a punch. Here are my top 10 tried and tested hangover remedies!

10) A long bath/shower
However disgusting it is, I think we’ve all woken up in our clothes from the night before, or barely able to open our eyes from all the crusty makeup around our face. Let’s be honest, anybody who denies they've done this is probably lying. There’s nothing like feeling unclean to exaggerate that overall ‘icky’ feeling, so taking a nice relaxing shower or bath, washing off that makeup and apologising to your skin is a good place to start.

9) Leave the painkillers alone
This is probably a bit of an unusual one, seen as so many people swear by Paracetamol to get them through a hangover. However, I think the effectiveness of painkillers really depends on the sort of hangovers you get. Personally, I rarely get a ‘headachy’ hangover; I usually just feel really sick. I learnt the hard way that for me at least, taking over the counter painkillers whilst feeling nauseous is a recipe for disaster.

8) Oranges
I don’t know what it is about orange-related goods that seems to help hangovers so much, but somehow it works. It doesn’t matter what it is; actual oranges, orange juice, orange cordial, as long as it contains orange, it definitely has the potential to make you feel a bit better.

7) Prink (yes, really)
This may seem counter-intuitive but just hear me out. If like me, you’re not much of a social butterfly, then deciding to pass up on prinks and head out sober can actually cause more harm than good. When you prink, you can choose to steadily drink and go out a bit tipsy, meaning you’re less likely to feel the need to ‘catch up’. On the occasions where I’ve gone out sober and been met by a group of already very drunk people, I’ve felt the need to get to that ‘level’ immediately. This usually involves ordering a couple of drinks and some shots on the side, which can ultimately lead to getting drunker quicker. This in turn encourages you to drink more and more and before you know it, you’re laid in bed hungover AF.

6) Leave the card at home
I still haven’t mastered this one; I always end up convincing myself I should take my card ‘just for emergencies’. Unfortunately my emergency usually ends up being the overwhelming feeling that I MUST buy 10 shots for me and the girl I just met in the toilets, or something to that effect. Leaving your card at home saves money for one, and secondly means you physically can’t buy more alcohol than you actually plan to drink, thus reducing the risk of a hangover.

5) Take water to bed
You’re more likely to drink throughout the night if you don’t have to get up for it, and of course water is great for hangovers. I always make sure I have a bottle of water next to my bed before I head out, in case I forget or if drunk me forgets the importance of that H2O when I get home.

4) Stick to clear spirits
I’m not too sure about this one myself, but I think it is generally agreed that lighter coloured spirits like vodka or gin cause less severe hangovers than dark spirits like whiskey, for some scientific reason which I’m not going to pretend to know.

3) Find your best drink
Different drinks cause different reactions in everyone. For example, I’ve decided that J├Ągerbombs are a no for me, as they make me SO ill. Gin, despite being a lighter coloured spirit, also seems to give me a hangover from hell. So nowadays, despite the fact that I prefer gin, I tend to drink vodka as it gives me the least severe hangovers. My parents always think I’m mad when I say “I don’t want to be hungover so I’m just going to drink vodka”, but going out and drinking only the one drink that doesn’t make you so bad can be really effective in preventing being too hungover (providing you don’t use this as an excuse to drink way more than normal.)

2) 2 extra pints
Of water, that is. I try to drink a pint of water right before I start drinking alcohol, and another just before bed. This obviously stops you from being as dehydrated and can work wonders in preventing the dreaded dry mouth the following morning. Keeping hydrated should also ease a headache.

1) Lucozade
If all else fails, Lucozade is the answer to everything. Preferably orange flavoured.