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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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



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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'.
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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.


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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.
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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.
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Thursday, 30 March 2017

5 ways to become a 'morning person'



Presumably if you're reading this then like me, you're not a what is typically described as a 'morning person'. Let's be honest though, do these people who naturally leap out of bed in the morning, bright-eyed and ready to face the day even exist? I don't know about you but I've certainly never met one! However, I do believe that it is absolutely possible to train your mind and body to make mornings much more pleasant and productive. Up until revamping my approach around 6 months ago, I was the polar opposite of a 'morning person'. My 'routine' would usually go something like this:

7.30am - Alarm goes off. Hit snooze and think about how cold my room is and how much I hate leaving my bed.
7.38am - Alarm goes off again. Hit snooze again.
7.46am - Alarm goes off again. Turn alarm off completely.
8.00am - Scroll through social media.
8.30am - Shit, I fell back asleep with my phone in my hand. Scramble out of bed in a panic, quickly brush teeth and get dressed - no time for luxuries such as breakfast, applying makeup or even brushing hair.
8.40am - Run around the house aimlessly (and frustratingly, usually up and down the stairs around 5 times) looking for something/multiple things I need but can't find.
8.50am - Set off for college late, usually feeling stressed, unprepared and ugly.

Clearly, this isn't an ideal way to start the day. However, it is possible to completely turn around those stressful mornings. Here are 5 totally do-able changes that have helped me, and can hopefully be useful for you, too:

1) Prepare the night before
If, like me, you tend to be a bit grouchy in the morning, then you want to be avoiding the potential frustration of not being able to find anything you need. Decide what you're going to wear and either lay it out ready or just make sure you know where it is. If you're going to school or college, pack your bag and put out any folders you need the night before. Preparing breakfast the night before is also really helpful. I have the same oat-based breakfast every morning and it's so amazing! I'll make sure to share the recipe for this in a post sometime, as it's so cheap to make and literally takes 2 minutes every night. Having breakfast done and ready to eat straight away definitely gives me something to look forward to!

2) Set your alarm earlier
I mean, this is an obvious one, but it's useless if you don't learn to respond to your alarm correctly. You need to try different strategies and figure out a method that works best for you. A lot of people suggest putting your phone or alarm at the other side of the room; the idea being that you have to get out of bed to switch it off. Personally, I prefer a gentler approach. If I have to leave the house at 8.45am, as I often do, I set my alarm for 6.45am. In fact, whatever time I have to leave by, I just set my alarm for 2 hours beforehand. This may seem excessive, but I would much rather get up in good time and have a slow-paced, leisurely start to the day. So say my alarm goes off at 6.45am, I don't actually get up then, and I like that because it makes me dread my alarm less. After this, I give myself half an hour to wake up properly and just relax in bed. I often scroll through social media at this time which is probably a bad habit, but it definitely wakes up my brain. At 7.15am I get up, and despite having spent half an hour lounging around, I still half an hour and a half to get ready. I always have an alarm set for 7.15am, just in case I were to fall asleep again in that half an hour.

3) Start the day with water
This is absolutely life-changing. I have no idea why it makes you feel so good, but starting the day by chugging a load of water makes you feel so refreshed and energized. When I was rushing around, I didn't drink anything and was left feeling groggy, hungry and headachy by mid-morning. Nowadays, the first thing I do when I get up is drink half a litre (or a normal sized water bottle) of water. In fact, I love water so much that I dedicated a whole blog post to it back in January.

4) Get to bed at a good time
Another obvious but very effective one. For a few years I was an insomniac and would be forced to function on about 3 hours of sleep per night. This led me to believe I didn't need much sleep, because being constantly tired became the norm. I think this may be the case for a lot of people. However, it's only since regaining a healthy relationship with sleep that I've realised I actually need much more than I used to believe. Personally, I find the right amount of sleep time is 9-10 hours per day; any less I wake up tired and any more I wake up groggy and lethargic. Everybody has an ideal number of hours they should be sleeping for, although it varies from person to person. If you haven't already, it's definitely something worth figuring out; too little or too much sleep can really make your days (particularly the mornings) tougher.

5) Write a to-do list
It's easy to feel a bit overwhelmed in the morning, especially if you know you have loads to do during the day. One thing that I find really sets me up for a good day is writing a to-do list in my planner. It doesn't have to be detailed, but there's nothing like getting everything out of your head and into a list to stop it feeling like such a huge task. I don't know why this works - it just does. I think it sort of 'un-muddles' your head a bit, making everything seem clearer and more doable.

After learning to incorporate these 5 things into my life, I've noticed a remarkable change in my views towards the morning. Nowadays, I barely ever have terribly long lie-ins as I simply don't feel the need to anymore. However impossible I thought it would be, mornings are no longer the enemy! All it takes is a few small changes - it doesn't have to be anything drastic - and you too could build a structured and relaxed routine which works for you. I guarantee it will have a knock-on effect and start to improve many areas in your life. As an example, here's what my morning routine looks like now;

6.45am - Alarm goes off. Scroll through social media and slowly wake up.
7.15am - Second alarm goes off. Get up, drink half a litre of water.
7.30am - Eat breakfast with a cup of tea.
8.55am - Write to-do list for the day in planner.
8.10am - Get dressed and sort out hair and makeup.
8.35am - Get everything together that I need e.g. folders, planner etc.
8.45am - Leave the house, calm and ready for the day ahead.

The importance of having a relaxed and productive plan for the morning is underrated; I think we often don't realise how much the quality of our entire day rests on the way we utilise those first few hours. I guess the phrase 'got out of the wrong side of the bed' has a bit of a deeper meaning. If a morning has been stressful or rushed, it easily has the power to frustrate us for the rest of the day! This is why I believe it's so important to take control of those mornings, so they can no longer control us.



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Thursday, 23 March 2017

How I transformed my mental health with exercise



To say I was never the sporty type would be an understatement. At school I had an immense hatred of PE - particularly team games because quite frankly, I was shit. When I think of PE lessons the first things that pop into my mind are 1) being physically pushed around the cross country course by a teacher in the pouring rain and 2) being belted in the stomach by a football whilst in the midst of soul destroying cramps. Fun times.

Unfortunately for many years, I mistook my dislike of PE as a dislike of exercise. Sure, there were times when I did decide I was going to get fit; going to the gym, starting running, or doing workout DVDs, whatever the latest 'thing' was. I often worked myself up and got really motivated; exercising every day of the week, but each time I'd give up within a month or less. I'd always get really down on myself, wondering why exercise was SO much harder for me than everyone else. Of course in reality, it wasn't - I just had a shitty attitude towards it. Whilst I was in the midst of depression, exercise became this vicious cycle - just as everything in my life seemed to become. I'd get a spark of motivation, spend ages 'working myself up to it', and then either end up not doing it at all or sticking at it for a few weeks before giving up.

Looking back now, I realise why my efforts always failed; I was exercising for all the wrong reasons. I wasn't doing it for myself; I wanted to get fit because I wanted to look 'better', I wanted people to like me more and I wanted to stand out in a world where I felt very small. Exercise was simply something I felt I had to do in order to be more attractive, and I hoped it would make me feel noticed and loved. As a young teenager, I think it's easy to fall into this trap. I was also fixated on getting visible results, and getting them quickly. Now of course, I realise that all those promises of 'transforming your body in 30 days' are complete rubbish. The real changes come when you have realistic expectations, and work to change your lifestyle, not just your body.

After a good 5 years of being stuck in this energy-draining cycle, I decided to take control. At 18 I was much more self-aware, as well as less reliant on the views of others. I'd read so much about how exercise can be hugely beneficial to mental health and, as someone who'd been on the roller coaster of depression and SAD since a very young age, I decided enough was enough - I needed to give this a good try.

It wasn't plain sailing to start with; after purchasing my gym membership I found myself really nervous. It took me a good while to start feeling comfortable exercising in front of other people and I was terrified of making a fool of myself. I was also pretty clueless on what to do, sort of drifting around doing everything that didn't make me feel self-conscious. This was quite draining and the usual feelings of 'I'm not getting anywhere', or 'I'm never going to be good at this' started creeping back. However I knew that this time I just had to push through - there was no way I was going to give up for the millionth time.

I started doing some research, and although to begin with it all felt quite overwhelming, I was surprised to notice that I was actually making some progress. Over the weeks and months, I structured my own routines and adapted them whenever it felt necessary. After those tough first few weeks, I found myself enjoying and even looking forward to those 3 or 4 gym sessions each week; they were fast becoming my little escape from the stresses of life. I find now that even the drive there and back feels like part of that me-time; 30 minutes alone with your thoughts can be incredibly therapeutic.

Eventually I started seeing some changes in my body, but the more prominent changes were in my mind. My head felt so much clearer, and it showed. I went from getting Us and Es at college to getting As across the board - I almost fully credit exercise for this. As well as the clearer head, going to the gym was giving me the energy I needed to work harder at college. Energy is certainly not something that comes easily to me; the first thing I notice when my mental health starts declining is tiredness. Furthermore, the small changes in my body started benefitting me mentally as well; I've become much more body confident. The process of seeing muscles slowly forming, and my body shaping the way I want it to is so empowering. Mental illness can cause you to feel as though you have no control over yourself, so to actually be able to look at my reflection in the mirror and say 'you know what, I can do whatever I want' feels amazing. There's truly nothing like the feeling of watching yourself lifting a heavier weight; knowing that you're physically strong certainly has a knock-on effect on your mental strength.

In no way am I trying to suggest that exercise alone is enough to 'cure' a mental illness, because of course it's not that simple. I still take medication to give me a helping hand, and I still have my down days. However, exercising has hands down been the smartest decision of my life. I now feel more balanced and healthy than I ever have done, and I can't imagine going back to a life without my workouts. In the past, I was incredibly sceptical about whether exercise could ever be as magical as people said it was, but I can firmly say I've proven to myself that it can be. It has transformed me completely in mind and is steadily transforming my body, too. Despite the fact that one size doesn't fit all as far as what works, I strongly believe that exercising, (as long as you're doing it for the right reasons), has the power to turn lives around completely.



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Thursday, 16 March 2017

The darker side of dreaming

Anyone who follows my private Twitter is probably aware of my fascination with the unconscious mind, and the people who know me in person will definitely be used to hearing about my dream adventures, which are imaginative to say the least. My interest in this area of psychology was deepened when I was prescribed a medication which seems to cause me to have very vivid dreams. I always have at least 1 memorable dream each night, but sometimes even 2 or 3. Since being very young, my mind has been quite strange in regards to sleep; my family have told me stories of how I used to have night terrors as a child, often sitting up and staring into the corner of the room in my sleep (sounds like something from Paranormal Activity, I know). I've also been known to partake in a bit of sleepwalking/talking every now and then. For as long as I can remember, I've regularly experienced false awakenings, and on a few occasions, sleep paralysis. Unfortunately these are part of the darker side of the dream world. I thought it might be interesting to share my experiences of these, and see if anyone has had anything similar happen to them.

False awakenings

False awakenings are pretty much self-explanatory. They occur when you feel as though you've woken up, but are actually still asleep and dreaming. There are 2 types of false awakening. Type 1 is the most common of the 2 and occurs when you 'wake up' and feel as though everything is normal. You may get out of bed, brush your teeth, have breakfast and get dressed, but in reality you're still in your bed asleep. Although certain things may not be completely 'normal', you won't really notice and will genuinely believe that you're awake and in your usual surroundings. A type 2 false awakening is less common and more distressing, as you will 'wake up' and sense that something is wrong, without being able to pinpoint exactly what. The dream will have an atmosphere of suspense, which is particularly frightening because you genuinely believe you're awake. Sometimes a person will 'wake up' seemingly normally, and a feeling of tension, and an awareness of something not being right will gradually creep up, eventually causing them to awaken in a stressed state[1]. This is the sort of false awakening I usually experience. When I was younger, I used to get the same false awakening very regularly. I would 'wake up' in my bed, and everything seemed normal. I would then get up and walk over to the light, but when I went to switch it on an overwhelming sense of dread would consume me. This was heightened as I pressed the switch and the light did not turn on. At this point I suddenly became aware that I was in the same distressing false awakening I'd experience before, which would cause me to panic further. At this point I would collapse and feel like I was being 'swallowed up' by the floor, before waking up in a very distressed state with my heart racing. More recently I've started having a false awakening which varies slightly each time, but has the same basis. I will 'wake up' in my bed and immediately feel a very sinister atmosphere, and will attempt to get to my parent's room. I will sort of be aware by this point that I'm dreaming, but will be unable to wake myself up. My muddled brain somehow thinks that if I get to my parents room I can ask them to wake me up. However, of course even if I could get there, they wouldn't be able to wake me up because in reality I'd still be asleep in my bed. In the dream/false-awakening, I try to get out of bed but end up falling to the floor, and then start trying to crawl out of the room, but I only seem to be flailing around on the spot. Usually at this point some sort of scary thing starts happening in my room and I can't get out. I then sometimes seem to get back in bed and go back to sleep, only for the same thing to happen again. Then when I wake up from this other dream, I'm actually only back in the first dream. This experience is especially scary because there can be loads of 'layers' of dreams (dreams within dreams within dreams), and it's difficult to tell when I have actually woken up in real life.

The most useful mechanism I've found as far as avoiding false awakenings is to do 'reality checks' regularly - both when dreaming and in real life, so it naturally becomes easier to distinguish between the two. Eventually it will become second nature and you will find yourself automatically doing them during the false awakenings, making it easier for you to realise that you aren't actually awake. Useful reality checks include:

  1. Reading - I find this one the most useful. You will find that during dreams it's really hard to read; letters tend to looked blurred or jumbled. Alternatively if you read something, look away and then go to read it again, the writing will likely have changed.

  2. Breathing - If you can hold your nose and mouth shut and still breathe, you are (obviously) dreaming.

  3. Hands and reflection - Do your hands and reflection look different or distorted when you look at them up close?

Once you've used reality checks and established that you are dreaming, you can either attempt to wake yourself up, or if you're feeling adventurous wander into the world of lucid dreaming. Personally I've only managed to do this once, as the shock of realising you're dreaming is usually enough to wake you up.

Sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis essentially happens when your mind wakes up, but your body doesn't. When our body enters deep REM sleep, the body becomes paralysed and usually when we wake up, this obviously stops. However, during sleep paralysis, we seemingly wake up as normal, but the body is still in this paralysed state. I'm no expert but from what I've gathered, this is essentially what causes it (in simple terms).  To add to the stress of being unable to move, many people suffer hallucinations whilst in sleep paralysis, sensing or seeing an evil presence in the room. Sleep paralysis is something I've experienced a few times, but the most recent time was the worst as it lasted significantly longer.

My first few experiences of sleep paralysis are quite distant in my memory. When I was a kid I used to sleep with my bedroom door open with a view onto the landing and the top of the stairs. I remember once waking up and seeing a witch running down the landing and to the top of the stairs, before turning round, looking at me and then running round the corner and down the stairs. I can't remember whether I could move or not because it was very brief, but as an 'old hag' or a 'witch' is a common hallucination associated with sleep paralysis, I think it may have been sleep paralysis. There have been various other occasions where I have woken up laid on my side, completely unable to move and heard a loud whispering from right behind me, in my ear. I can't remember exactly what the whispering said, but nonetheless it was pretty scary. The last time I had sleep paralysis was much more recently, and after a night out, so it was probably induced by alcohol. I believe it was actually a mixture between a false awakening and sleep paralysis. I'd been having a really intense nightmare which I kept waking up from and then going back into, and then on one of these occasions I thought I would check my phone when I 'woke up' to distract me from the nightmare and hopefully stop me from falling back into it. So I woke up, reached down for my phone, but when I looked at it there was just a jumble of letters on the screen. It felt very real but because I was unable to read (as mentioned above) it was probably a false awakening. I then laid back on my bed and not long after I woke up for real, but I couldn't move at all (except for my eyes). I then saw my Mam come into my room and I sensed that she knew something was wrong. She then lent over me and started shaking my shoulders, trying to get me out of whatever state I was in. Then to my horror, her face morphed into the face of a demon which continued to shake me. This carried on for a good while, the face morphing between the face of my Mam, and that of the demon, until my body eventually woke up. It was hands down one the most terrifying moments of my life, and afterwards I was so confused and scared to go to sleep for weeks. I eventually realised that my Mam had never even been into my room that morning, so the whole thing was a hallucination which accompanied the sleep paralysis, despite it feeling so real.

Luckily, since that last time, I've learnt a few little tricks to get myself out of sleep paralysis. I think the strategies on this site http://dreamstudies.org/2010/04/29/9-ways-to-wake-up-from-sleep-paralysis/ are the most useful and seem to get the best results, however I myself have only used them to get out of nightmares so far, rather than sleep paralysis. If you ever find yourself in sleep paralysis, I think the most important thing to remember is not to panic. Remember that however scary it is, it's essentially harmless, and it will always end however much it may not feel that way.

Wow, this has been quite a long post! One last quick thing I'd like to add is that if you're as interested in the world of sleep as me I would highly recommend the app 'Dream Moods'. You can basically use it to type in different things you see or do in your dreams and it interprets them for you. I really believe in dream interpretation, and consulting with my unconscious has actually helped me figure out some pretty tough situations before. It's amazing how much is actually on the app - even the most obscure things! I would say it's definitely worth a try; I use it every day without fail as soon as I wake up!



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[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_awakening#Types


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