Thursday, 19 October 2017

How to make going to the gym a habit


Seen as this month marks a year since I joined the gym, I thought this would be a fitting post. The fact that it's been a whole year (YEAR!!) really has got me thinking about what was different this time round. I'd tried getting into exercise countless times before, but never stuck it out. It's so easy to get caught in the trap of having all this motivation, spending months planning how you're going to join the gym. Next thing you know you've done 1 or 2 sessions, realised you don't have abs yet and are beginning to feel that motivation fade. I've been there more times than I count! In this year, however, I've picked up a few little tricks on how to keep that drive to succeed fresh. Here are a few of those sneaky little lessons - I really hope they can be of help to someone out there!


1. Get a membership

Twice I have fallen into the "I won't get a membership to start with" trap. Yes, in theory, not committing to paying a lump sum before you're sure you'll use it makes perfect sense. It does, however, make you less likely to stick at it. Firstly, if you know that every time you go to the gym, you have to physically rake 5 or 6 pounds out your pocket, the idea suddenly becomes less appealing (as if it wasn't hard enough already). Even though with a membership you're still technically paying, it's easier than literally forking out cash every time you visit the gym. Secondly, paying on the door can make you feel like you have to spend ages there in order to get your 'money's worth'. If you have a membership, you can say to yourself "OK, I'll just go for half an hour" and not feel bad for it, whereas if you're using pay as you go, you're way more likely to just bail altogether.

2. Start slowly

There's no need to go in and do Tammy Hembrow style workouts immediately! In the beginning, making the gym part of your routine is hard, and there's no shame whatsoever in easing yourself into it. When I started out, the first few weeks were all about motivating myself to actually turn up, trying out different things and finding out what I enjoyed. Don't beat yourself up for allowing time to just give things a go before going for the challenging, structured workouts.

3. Know there's no need to feel intimidated

When I first joined the gym, I was terrified; the thought of exercising in front of others filled me with what can only be described as pure dread. I was scared that people would look at me and judge me for only being able to lift the small weights, and I wouldn't try any new machines in case I made a fool of myself. It's OK to feel like this at the start; stepping out of your comfort zone isn't easy, but you'll soon begin to realise that nobody actually cares what you're doing, just as you don't care what they're doing. Everyone is there for their own reasons, and nobody is going to care or judge you if you mess something up. In my year at the gym, I've seen people helping each other out countless times - it's no big deal and there certainly isn't any judgement involved. This girl who a year ago was scared to even move in the gym is now the one you'll see smashing out sumo squats in the middle of the floor (not such a dignified sight, but who even cares? No-one!)

4. Focus on how you feel

It's easy to get caught up in the physical results, but I really do think this often does more harm than good. Physical results are slow, but the mental benefits can be felt almost immediately. Focusing on how going to the gym makes you feel, and realising the power of these benefits is so much more motivational than getting hung up on physical qualities. Treating the gym as somewhere to go to make you feel great is truly the best way forward, and any physical changes are just a pleasant side effect.

5. Don't sweat the details

Hands up who has ever missed a day or week at the gym and given up there and then, taking it as a sign of failure? I've certainly done this many a time. The truth is, though, that missing a week at the gym doesn't matter, it's how you decide to interpret it that does. Sticking to a strict routine isn't what will make you succeed in getting fit, it's the resilience to keep going even if things don't always go to plan. Yes, I occasionally miss a week in the gym - life happens. Sometimes you're just too busy, or you simply feel demotivated or under the weather. It doesn't matter! What matters is picking yourself up and going again. I have skipped plenty of workouts, yet their effect on my fitness is negligible. If, however, I'd used this as an excuse to give up completely, I'd be right back to square one. Alternatively, if some days you don't feel like going but want to try, just go for half an hour or so - what matters is that you went and you did something. We all have bad days, and teaching yourself that it's actually fine is incredibly liberating.

6. Find your niche

I HATE cardio. Always have done, always will do. At school, I hated PE. I was also shit at PE. This led me to believe that I hated exercise, which was far from the truth. Had I not sheepishly ventured into that weights section, there's no way I would have stuck at the gym. I just can't deal with the burning throat, the feeling sick before I'm even tired, and the dreaded jiggling that comes with cardio. It makes me feel unfit and downright crappy. Lifting weights and using resistance machines, however, makes me feel powerful - like I can conquer the world. Yes, it's hard work, but it's a different kind of hard work than cardio; a kind I really enjoy. Consequently, my routines contain minimal cardio, for no other reason than because I don't like it. It's all about finding something that makes you feel empowered and strong, rather than just sticking to what you know and hate.

7. Plan ahead

Having a super-strict routine doesn't work for everyone. What I like to do is plan when I'm getting my workouts in week by week, rather than having a set day for each thing without fail. I tend to get my diary out on a Sunday and figure out what I've got planned during the week, before deciding when to fit the gym in. This way, you can set time aside for the gym on the days which you don't have much planned for. Pre-planning is one of the best ways to ensure you don't miss a workout due to being too busy.

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Friday, 13 October 2017

SAD: The mental illness nobody talks about



It's estimated that 1 in 15 people in the UK suffer from it[1], but how often do we hear about Seasonal Affective Disorder, also know as SAD? Until I was diagnosed with it myself, I admittedly knew very little about the illness. I'd spent a lot of my life thinking I just had to live with becoming a completely different person in Winter. Sure, I'd heard about the 'winter blues' but it never seemed to be portrayed as a serious issue. Finding out I had SAD was actually a huge relief; I think it's comforting being able to put a name to something that's kind of hard to put into words. I guess it's nice to know that what your experiencing isn't completely abnormal, and is totally valid and real. After many years of navigating this disorder, I've learnt a lot; from the facts and science behind it, to the best ways of managing it. I thought it would be nice to share some of my personal coping mechanisms. I think a lot of people probably suffer from the 'Winter Blues' on some level, so perhaps some of these strategies could be of help.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression which usually occurs between the months of September and April (although this varies from person to person), and is caused by the shorter daylight hours in Winter. Simply put, SAD is caused primarily by the brain producing too much Melatonin - a chemical which is produced in the dark, making us feel tired and ready to sleep. In theory, it's very useful, but too much can be problematic and lead to symptoms such as low mood, tiredness, difficulty concentrating, lowered immune system and sleeping problems. It can also cause a sudden lift in mood and bursts of hypo-mania (over-activity) in Spring[2]. Seen as it's around the time of year when SAD tends to set in, I reckon it's a perfect time to share a few little tricks that could help alleviate these symptoms.


1. Get outdoors

As I mentioned earlier, SAD is basically caused by the lack of daylight in the Winter months. Getting outside for a walk or something similar can help in two ways. Firstly, outside light from the sun is way more powerful than indoor lights, even on a murky day. Secondly, if going outside involves some exercise as well, endorphin levels will increase, boosting the feel good factor even more.

2. SAD lamp

Although getting outdoors more often should be beneficial, it may not always be enough. If this is the case, light therapy may be an option. Medically certified light therapy lamps produce artificial sunlight, and when used for 30 minutes early in the morning and 30 minutes at night (or whatever your GP advises) they can make a real difference. They essentially fool the brain into thinking the days are longer. It's about this time of year I start using my lamp, and in previous years I've found it really effective in reducing symptoms.

3. Schedule some me time

It's so important to set time aside every day to look after yourself, or to do something you enjoy. It could be as simple as having a long bath or reading a chapter of a book - anything that nurtures your soul. Looking after yourself is not selfish, it's a necessity.

4. Get moving

I can't stress enough the power of exercise when it comes to mental health care. I'm certainly not trying to suggest that exercise alone can 'cure' a mental illness, but I know from experience it can be a really useful tool. As I mentioned earlier, exercise increases endorphin levels, subsequently improving your mood - and the good news is you don't need tons of exercise to feel the benefits. If working out isn't really your thing, something as simple as a few short walks per week could well be enough to feel some improvements.

5. Take care of the little things

This might seem like a strange one, but I honestly find that the little things really add up and end up having such an impact on my state of mind. Especially if you're not feeling so good, small things like keeping your room tidy, looking after your skin or wearing an outfit you feel good in can make such a difference.

6. Make time for sleep

We've all heard it a million times, but there's so many reasons why. Sleep is great for pretty much every aspect of health, and mental health is no exception. Having battled with insomnia for a few years, I know this all too well and now value sleep enormously. A good snooze every night allows the body to repair itself, and the mind to process information (dreams are more productive than you may think!). Exactly how much sleep we need varies from person to person, but once you start paying more attention to your sleep routine, your body will soon tell you the answer to that.

7. Be gentle with yourself

If you do find things harder during the winter months, one of the best things you can do is to be gentle with yourself. Remember that it's not your fault you feel this way, make yourself a plan of action and simply do you best. This is all you can ever do and all anyone else can ask of you. Remember to put yourself first and prioritise your own needs, especially when things are tough.

8. Visit the GP

Lastly, but most importantly, if you suspect something may be wrong, go to your GP for advice. The tips I'm giving here are purely things I've learnt through my own experiences, and certainly won't apply to everyone. I'm not a professional, just someone sharing her own ideas and hoping they might be of help to someone else. Reaching out to someone qualified to provide the right sort of help is the best thing you can do. If going to a GP is too daunting to begin with, maybe start by speaking to a friend or family member, or contacting one of the helplines listed on the Mental Health helplines NHS page.


[1] Mental Health Foundation. (2017). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). [online] Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad [Accessed 9 Mar. 2017].

[2] The Seasonal Affective Disorder Assosciation. 2016. Symptoms. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.sada.org.uk/symptoms_2.php. [Accessed 9 March 2017].
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Thursday, 28 September 2017

5 things my Dad taught me



I think it's safe to say the last month or so has been a difficult one. After my Dad died in August, adapting to such a huge change in life has been really weird and frankly, confusing. For me at least, it's more than anything been a period of reflection; I don't think you realise how much of an impact a person has on you until they're no longer around. It was this that made me start thinking about everything my Dad taught me; it's amazing how he shaped my life in so many incredible ways. Honestly, this list could be way longer, but here are just the top five wonderful lessons that my Dad taught me.

1) To never be afraid to stick up for myself.


Being a relatively shy person, speaking out and standing up for myself has never been easy. In fact, shy or otherwise, I think this is something a lot of us struggle with; the fear (or hassle) of confrontation easily pushes us towards settling for less than we deserve. Growing up, and seeing the way my Dad always boldly stood up for what he believed was right and fair, certainly taught me a thing or two about making sure I'm treated with respect.

2) That grades don't mean as much as attitude.


As a younger child, I was a perfectionist to say the least. From an early age, I was almost obsessed with doing well at school, and developed an unhealthy tendency to compare my achievements with those of others. My Dad always knew this insecurity of mine, and regularly reassured me that grades really meant very little in comparison to attitude and work ethic. He certainly practised what he preached in this respect. At a young age my Dad left school without sitting any exams, to work as a miner, as many boys in his local area did. However after a few years, he decided he wanted to become a police officer. Through sheer determination and hard graft, rather than amazing academic achievements at school, he did just that. The fact that my Dad managed to have such a successful career doing what he loved, despite not being 'academic', really shaped my perspectives; I'm now much gentler on myself when it comes to grades. Dad proved to me, and always reminded me, that academics are only a part of, rather than the definition of success.

3) That actions speak louder than words.


Anyone who knew my Dad will know that he wasn't the 'emotional type' as such. He would rarely directly say "I love you" or anything along those lines, but he had ways of making it clear without even having to say a word. It was little things like always being the 'soft touch' parent when my brother and I were young, or the way he would always say "watch what you're doing" whenever we left the house as we got older. In fact, even near the end of his illness, he would never fail to tell us to watch what we were doing and to text him when we got home, every time we left the hospital. It's so easy for someone to say that they love you, but the actions that accompany or even replace that are much more meaningful and telling.

4) To never speak down to anyone.


I always used to love listening to Dad's stories about his time as a police officer. What always spoke volumes to me was that in every tale he told there was always one common theme; he would never say a bad word about anyone. It was obvious that in his job, he'd never speak down to people. He didn't ever see himself as any 'better' than anyone else, and I know he was really respected for it. This was one of the biggest lessons of my life; it made me realise that nobody is any 'higher up' than anyone else, and that most importantly we're all just human beings with our own unique lives, stories and experiences.

5) To live life to the full and take nothing for granted.


As anyone who knew my Dad will know, he was very much a 'live in the moment' sort of person, and he would always say "I'm here for a good time, not a long time." It was a phrase that if I'm honest, I never truly understood the meaning of until he was gone. No matter what card life had dealt him, he was always 100% positive, even when things were really bleak. He dealt with things in an almost superhuman way, and his catchphrase was 'crack on' (often accompanied with a smile and wink), no matter how trivial, or how heavy, the issue he was dealing with was.
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Friday, 22 September 2017

Autumn/Winter health goals



Ok so if I'm honest, this post is more about keeping me motivated rather than anything else! Firstly, let me get real here - over the past few months I have gained quite a hefty amount of weight. Don't get me wrong, I'm generally not bothered about weight. In fact, providing I'm feeling fit and healthy, I rarely bother to get the scales out at all. Unfortunately over the past few months, despite keeping my efforts up in the gym, a LOT of comfort food has been consumed! All in all I would say I've gained about a stone in the past few months. 

Firstly, I'm in no way beating myself up about this weight gain/slip in my habits. All that lovely comfort food was bloody amazing and well needed, and I don't regret a single bite. However, now I have a bit more time on my hands, it feels right to get my habits back into check. I'm realising now that I don't feel as healthy and energetic as I would like to. Although I'm feeling confident and accepting of my heavier body, I would like to lose a few pounds and get myself back into a healthier shape.

My ultimate goal is to lose 20lbs by Christmas, bringing me back to a healthier weight for my size. This works out at 1.5lbs per week. This is, I think, a doable and maintainable goal. I may tweak this and end up sticking at a slightly higher weight if I get to a point where I think 'yeah, this is right for me'. I say this because I have previously fallen into the trap of losing a lot of weight and ending up in a situation where I'm battling to stay there, which is no fun. I really do believe there always needs to be a balance between sensible food choices and having a GOOD TIME (aka eating what you want without guilt).

Personally, I don't like the word 'diet', and I don't like to go on diets, as they quite frankly make me miserable and worried about the way I look. Due to this, my plan is to slightly reduce my portion sizes, think more carefully about snacking and track what I'm eating on the app 'Lifesum', which I've used before and absolutely love! Exercise shouldn't be an issue as I've been going to the gym regularly for almost a year now, so I'm already in good habits where that's concerned. The only thing I'm doing differently in that respect is adding some cardio to my routines, (which I prefer to avoid like the plague but hey, needs must).

Does anyone else have any goals in mind for the Winter/Christmas period? The next step for me is figuring out some sort of plan for next year. New Year is 100% my favourite time of the year; I think having my birthday on January 1st gives me an extra dose of the 'fresh start' vibes.
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Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Update



I'm just going to be honest - I'm struggling to know what to say here. Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know I like to write posts which are generally positive and practical. However, it's also so important, probably above anything else, that the things I write are honest, direct from the heart and really reflect myself and my situation at the time. It's because of this that I'm having a bit of hard time thinking what to write. Positive is not coming too naturally at the moment, so it leaves me in a predicament. In a way I feel as though I either need to sacrifice positivity for honesty, or vice versa.

Just under a month ago, my Dad passed away following a 4 year battle with cancer. In general, I think I'm coping pretty well, I think the whole family are; keeping busy but being careful not to shut out the grief when it wants to be felt. 

Writing is my passion; I love everything about it. I love spilling out all of my thoughts onto a page and then sorting through them. I love making sense of the muddled up sentences I originally draft - organising them into something that is both readable and hopefully, interesting. It's surprising what editing a piece of writing can do for me; it's so much more than moulding it into a quality post. Seeing my thoughts, edited and neatly formed into a concise page of writing really helps me to process them.

It has taken me days to write just this small post, but doing so has made me realise that, although positive may be harder at the moment, I am still capable of blogging. Practical, I can do; I've learnt more life lessons in the past few months than in the rest of my life put together. Honest, I can definitely do, in fact I struggle to be anything but. And you know, in those two things, surely there is some positive too. Although it may be a little harder right now, I'm so ready to get writing again.


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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!




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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.

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