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.


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.


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 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!



Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Why we need to stop arguing over why feminism is called feminism

As I write this, International Women's day is 2 days away, but instead of being excited about such a positive event, I find myself anxious; preparing myself to spend the day being forced to defend my beliefs to people who choose to protest, yet refuse to listen to any other side but their own. I am readying myself for the hysterical cries of "but when is international men's day?", "Feminists are just man-haters!" and "women are already equal to men!"

For years now, the majority of feminists have calmly shut down these misinformed statements, attempting to guide people towards the true facts. Unfortunately, year after year the same things come up and to be honest, it makes me feel a little defeated. It seems as though so many people put out their opinion with no intention of listening to the other side of the story. It can often feel like talking to a brick wall. It frustrates me how day in, day out feminists are forced to defend our beliefs to people who won't listen anyway, which of course takes the focus away from the important things.

To be honest, I think we all need to take a step back and stop arguing over petty things. Before you start bashing feminists for what we believe, think about the true implications of what you're saying. A feminist is quite simply, as summed up perfectly by BeyoncĂ©, "A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes." If you read that sentence and believe in it, then congratulations, you are officially a feminist! It really is as simple as that.

Of all the arguments I've heard in opposition to feminism, there’s one that seems to come up remarkably more often. On the surface, I’ll admit it may appear to be a somewhat valid argument, which is why I thought I’d take a few minutes to address it. Hopefully then we can all stop arguing about what feminism is called and come together to tackle the real issues!

"Why is it called feminism if it's about equality?"

Because in general, between men and women, women are the gender who need to be empowered and provided with more rights in order for equality to be achieved. Yes, 80% of the focus of feminism is on females, but again, this is simply because far more work is needed in this area; men's rights are currently far exceeding the female equivalent in the majority of areas. However, regardless of the fact that feminism focuses heavily on women, any true feminist is also an advocate of men's rights. Feminists deal with issues such as paternal rights, domestic violence towards men, and tackling damaging male stereotypes and expectations. Does a 'meninist' do this? Or do they just distastefully attack feminists?

Two women per week are killed by their partner in England and Wales[1], and one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. In most countries, women only earn 60-75% of what a man doing the same job earns. Two thirds of illiterate adults are women[2]. It is estimated that 200 million women who are alive today have undergone female genital mutilation, the act of removing external female genitals. This is often carried out without anaesthetic and in non-sterile conditions, posing risks including haemorrhage, HIV, tetanus and PTSD. In countries such as Egypt, Sudan and Somalia, it is estimated that over 80% of women will undergo this barbaric procedure[3]. The list of injustices, prejudice and violence women deal with every day is endless.

I think a simple way to figure out whether your argument against feminism is valid or not, is to put yourself in this situation. My challenge to anyone who has a problem with feminism and what it stands for would be to ask yourself, “would I feel comfortable presenting this argument to a girl who was forced to marry a man three times her age when she was 12?” or “would I feel comfortable explaining this to a woman whose own family threw acid at her for ‘dishonouring’ them?” If the answer to either of these questions is no, I would argue you need to think about the true relevance of your argument. I wonder how the women in developing countries, who are subjected to violence and injustice every day simply for being female would feel, if they knew people were attacking a group who are fighting for them for such irrelevant reasons.

Maybe some so-called feminists are man-hating extremists. Most causes have some individuals who are clearly not aware of the true morals behind the movement they claim to be supporting. Unfortunately, these are the people who attract the most attention, and it's easy for people to tar all feminists with the same brush. I think it’s time to stop arguing over why feminism is called feminism, and get to the real issues.

On a more positive note, happy International Women's day!

[1] registered, guarantee (2016) Violence against women. Available at: (Accessed: 6 March 2017).

[2] Commons, W. (2016) 7 appalling facts that prove we need gender equality now. Available at: (Accessed: 6 March 2017).

[3] WHO (2016) Female genital mutilation (FGM). Available at: (Accessed: 6 March 2017).


Thursday, 2 March 2017

What is health?

Nowadays more than ever, we see the word 'health' banded around everywhere. 20 years ago it was much simpler; eat your 5 a day, visit the dentist every 6 months, do a bit of exercise and that was about it. However recently, the concept of health is becoming more confusing by the day. Surrounded by conflicting studies regarding what is and isn't good for us, and the millions of health related hashtags, from #eatclean to #vegan to #mindbodysoul. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels a little overwhelmed by it all.

But what actually is health? I think nowadays, the definition is less of a fixed ideal and more of a personal opinion. After a great deal of pondering over this question, I have come up with my personal definition of what healthy looks like. I will always hold onto the belief that 'health' is quite simply, an even balance of wellbeing in both mind and body. It's quite easy to think of the word health and put it all down to physical components; what we eat, how much we exercise and so on, but I don't think it's quite that simple. My reasoning for coming to this conclusion comes down to my most solid belief that the body is much more reliant on the mind than we're led to believe, and vice versa. One of these components cannot be in complete peace without the wellbeing of the other.

For example, if you were to line up 10 people in order of physical fitness, it would be easy to simply assume that the fittest person is the most healthy. This may well be the case. However, what if this person is also unhappy? What if they live their life beating themselves up whenever they make an unhealthy food choice? What if the reason they work out so much is because they have low self-esteem, or body image issues? I'm certainly not suggesting that everyone who is physically fit and healthy deals with these issues, this is simply a hypothetical example. If that person, who on the surface appears to be very healthy, does not also have a healthy mind, then are they really as healthy as they appear to be? Personally, I would argue not. I would argue that someone who lives a reasonably active lifestyle and eats healthily a good proportion of the time, but doesn't feel guilty about treating themselves to a biscuit or two with their cup of tea or a takeaway every now and then, is probably more healthy overall. That balance of a having a forgiving attitude towards yourself mentally, whilst also taking reasonably good care of you body is, I believe, a very healthy approach.

The reason I describe my definition of health as a balance between mind and body, is because I think they key is to put similar amounts of effort into working on each. Each individual will differ in how much energy they need to focus on each; but regardless of personal proportions, I think focusing TOO much energy on either of these areas can be detrimental to health, rather than beneficial. Focusing solely on physical health may be damaging to mental health, as it can cause temptations, guilt or negative body image, for example. On the flipside, if you're only focusing your time on caring for your mental health, your physical health may decline. A decline in physical health will likely drag your mental health down further, causing a vicious cycle. I know for me, if I'm not looking after myself both physically and mentally, my overall wellbeing completely crumbles.

I came to my definition of health through my own learning curve. For many years I really struggled to keep myself happy and healthy, and I'm sure it's because I was not taking a holistic enough approach. At times I focused completely on my mental health, and thus my physical health suffered. On the flipside, there have been times when I've believed that taking care of my physical health was the key to my overall wellbeing, and this was another mistake. At my lightest weight, and at the point I probably physically looked the 'healthiest' I'd ever been, I actually wasn't, because my life was fuelled by guilt and constant worry over how I looked.

In a nutshell, everyone's definition of healthy is different, but I think it's important to figure out what your personal definition is. From my point of view, it's all about balance and loving yourself. Love yourself by working out a few days a week and eating your veggies, but also love yourself by having that amazing looking cake or pizza, or taking a day off when you're ill. Love your body and your mind, and don't let one overshadow the other. Eventually you will find your perfect balance.