My 5 Favourite Podcasts to Help me Switch Off

I wrote a posta couple of weeks ago all about the podcasts I love to listen to, to help me as a creative entrepreneur, but, as much as I love podcasts to get me fired up for a day at work, I also listen to podcasts a lot to relax. When I was a kid I used to listen to stories on cassette tapes every night to help me fall asleep, and I guess in a lot of ways, I’ve just moved from Fantastic Mr Fox to a slightly more adult kind of content – but it’s the same thing for me, really. Some of these are soothing and fictional, others are brilliantly educational – but they’re all shows I never miss an episode of!

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The one for true crime storytime: Casefile

I do listen to and watch quite a lot of True Crime content, and I actually could easily have made this entire list up of True Crime shows – but don’t worry, I haven’t! Casefile is the first True Crime podcast I started listening to and it’s still my most listened to. Each episode is researched so well, is usually a good length – around the hour mark – and the production quality and mixing is excellent, so it makes for a consistently enjoyable listen, and I appreciate not having to adjust the volume constantly! Some cases covered are well known, some are a lot more obscure but I feel like they’re all handled respectfully and that’s something I always need from a True Crime podcast.

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The one that’s delightfully deadly: This Podcast Will Kill You

When I was a kid I was very into history, but, well, it was never really the the kind of stuff we studied about in school that got my attention. I was obsessed with The Black Death, in particular. I kind of always hid away my love for learning about diseases and the like, assuming that this was probably not something that would be well received in polite conversation – that is, until I found This Podcast Will Kill You and the Erins – the hosts of the show, two women who are epidemiologists and are also slightly obsessed with plague. This Podcast Will Kill You is all about epidemiology – which essentially means it’s a show that discusses diseases, how they work, where they came from, how we handle them, and how much of a threat they are to us going forward. Each episode focuses on a specific illness and Erin and Erin are so amazingly passionate at describing everything they know about it. It sounds like a pretty dark topic for a podcast, but honestly it’s a very funny, educational listen.

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The one that’s fascinatingly morbid: Death in the Afternoon

This is a podcast by Caitlin Doughty, who you might know as Ask a Mortician on Youtube (and if you don’t, seriously, check her out). Caitlin is a mortician who is very passionate about changing the way the western world thinks about death and what we do with dead bodies. Death in the Afternoon is a brilliant listen that deals with topics surrounding death in an approachable, humorous way, that is also respectful and factual. I get that listening to a podcast about death might not sound like a nice way to chill out in the bath after a long week at work, but honestly, if you’ve never read any of Caitlin’s books or watched her on YouTube, definitely check her out before ruling Death in the Afternoon out.

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The one for Halloween-feels, all year round: Lore

I have to start this off by saying that I’m really someone who believes in ghosts, or the paranormal  but – I absoluely love Lore. Lore is like part ghost story, part study into the origins of urban legends and folklore – all set to beautiful, soothing piano music. Lore is what I listen to most nights to send me to sleep and it works wonders! Some of the stories covered are things I’ve heard of before, some are completely new to me, but most interesting of all, I think, are the episodes that feature a bit of both, and draw connections between legends and tales from around the world. While I definitely fall into the category of being a skeptic as far as things like ghosts, yetis and the Loch Ness Monster are concerned, I’m also really fascinated with why these stories come into existence, I mean, they had to come from somewhere.

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The one my 8-year old self wished for: Stuff You Missed in History Class

Like I said above, I’ve always been really into history – less the whole, memorising which battle was when, and much more into the gory, and the personal side of it all. And, luckily for me, this is exactly what Stuff You Missed in History Class is like – it tells the stories we don’t usually get to hear, in a more colloquial and conversational manner than a lot of the other history podcasts out there. I have to admit that sometimes the episode title doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, but I always listen, and am almost always entertained and educated throughout – definitely one to check out for any fellow history fans out there!

So there you have it, 5 of my favourite podcasts for listening to while I’m chilling – this actually could easily have been a list of 10, but I wasn’t sure if that was maybe a bit much! If you’d like me to do a second post like this, let me know in the comments below, and please also share your favourite podcasts too – I am always looking for more gems!

 

 

My first time taking valium for a flight

Have I mentioned yet that I’m just back from a Florida vacation? Oh, only a couple of hundred times, huh? Well, it was our first vacation in five years and so it was quite the shake up of my routine – both in terms of my eBay business, and also for my mental health.

*I just want to quickly say that this blog post is simply my experience with taking valium for the first time, of course, people can react differently to medication so please discuss any questions you have with your doctor prior to obtaining or using a prescription.*

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Photo by Anastasiia Ostapovych on Unsplash

Why was I considering taking Valium?

On the previous two occasions that I have attempted to board a plane – in 2016 and 2017 – I’ve had panic attacks so severe that I’ve had to do a runner – letting people down that I love and holding up a frigging jumbo jet while my bags were removed. Not my favourite memories ever to be honest.

So that’s probably a decent enough explanation as to why I needed some help to fly this time, and I don’t want to turn this intro into a novel, but I should probably also just point out that I am actually not afraid of flying, like, at all. Yeah, I know, but hear me out. My issue is actually that I suffer from cleithrophobia – which is the fear of being trapped. It’s like a sister to claustrophobia – which is the fear of enclosed spaces. So, I have no fear of take-off or landing, of turbulence, or a worry about terror threats, no, for me, a flight is a nightmare simply because I’m stuck in one space for an extended period of time – it would be just as intense if I was locked in a huge gym hall on the ground, or a bus, or aything like that!

Because the fear for me is of being trapped rather than being on a plane, the panic attacks start much earlier than actually being near a plane, for example, once you go through security in an airport you are “trapped” in the departure lounge, so that’s also a big trigger for me. In fact, just having a holiday booked and knowing I “have” to go is enough to make me feel trapped and triggered (I’ll write a lot more about cleithrophobia at another time, I promise).

Why did I decide to take Valium?

So, I prepared for this holiday in a lot of ways beyond just buying a swimsuit – I began a medititation practice, I started doing yoga again, and I even tried EFT with the help of my mum. I became confident that I could handle most of the journey on my own, like getting through check-in, security and such, but I still just had this gut-wrenching fear that when push came to shove, I would still be unable to board the plane.

I wrestled with the feeling for months, but eventually decided to go and speak to my doctor. In all honesty, I felt like a bit of a failure for having to go and get valium prescribed to go on holiday – I felt like it was “supposed” to be this happy treat and not something that should require pharmacutical intervention, as in, it’s not a “necessary” thing to go on holiday, is it?

My experience with my doctor

My doctor was amazing though, he helped me to see things in a different light by explaining that anxiety is a battle I face every single day, and I deserve to have a holiday, to relax, that it will overall do good for my mental health. He was also very much of the opinion that because of my previous failure to board experiences I was building the experience up in my head and it was weighing on my mind a lot – and that I’d feel a lot better once I’d conquered this fear, even if I needed a little help to do it. He also let me know that people needing sedation to fly is actually fairly common – either in the form of prescribed medication, or a few strong drinks before they board, which I’d never really thought of before!

He gave me some tablets, that were a pretty low dose, explaining that because I’d never been sedated before, I probably wouldn’t need much – but, he enouraged me to test them out before we traveled so that I’d know how they make me feel, and also be able to go back to him if I needed a higher dosage.

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Photo by Anastasiia Ostapovych on Unsplash

 

The actual travel experience

Testing out the valium actually didn’t work super well for me – it allowed me to realise that I didn’t experience any mad side-effects, but I couldn’t tell if they “worked” when it came to sedating me – I think this is because I didn’t try taking them when I was in a super-anxious state, so it was hard to measure the effect because I was already calm when I took them.

However, when it came time to travel, I put a lot of faith in the tablets, not least because my doctor had explained I could take two of the tablets, if one didn’t cut it, so I felt like I had some control over the situation. On the day, I made it through check-in and security with some deep-breathing and focus exercises, I was proud of myself, but, as boarding time approached I could feel the adrenaline flooding through my system and I was losing the ability to think rationally about things – time to take a pill.

I took one pill at this point and I would say it hit me very quickly – within 10-15 minutes – although this was on a completely empty stomach as I’d been unable to eat or drink anything that day because of the anxiety. How did it make me feel? It’s strange because it doesn’t really make me feel anything, it’s more like the abscence of a feeling. Basically, when I take valium I don’t feel drowsy, or drunk or happy, for me, all it does is turn off the adrenaline.

For anyone who has had a panic attack, you know the feeling, where adrenaline is rushing into your system, your heart is racing, your stomach churning, brain running 100 miles an hour – it’s a battle to keep your mind rational. You feel like you’re going to vomit or die and all your internal alarms are going off, yes, you can fight it, and I have, many, many times, but it is exhausting and upsetting and just a constant struggle. So for me, valium just turned off the adrenaline and with it, the physical symptoms.

I wasn’t suddenly happy about boarding a flight – mentally, I was still really scared, but my body didn’t respond with all the physical stuff, so it meant that I was much more able to control my thoughts to focus on something else, and to speak rationally to myself. In other words, the valium stopped me from having a panic response, and just downgraded the whole experience to “nervousness”, which is a vast improvement.

What happened when it wore off?

My doctor had told me that valium typically lasts 4-6 hours in the system, although it’s a little difficult to say precisely, as different people react to it differently. I decided that since it kicked in super fast for me, I wasn’t going to set a timer or anything to take another one, I was just going to see how it felt.

I think really, my hope was that once it wore off part-way through the flight, I would feel fine and not need to take another one – I think I still felt like I had something to prove, or that I could handle this on my own. As it turned out, I did become aware of the valium wearing off. The restlessness in my legs, the anxious wringing of hands, the increased heart rate and breathing speed, the nausea – could I have talked myself down and done the rest of the flight valium free? Maybe, but I was so exhausted from the days of worry leading up to the flight and so keen to just not have a negative experience with flying that I decided to take another pill. Again, it kicked in quickly (although by this point I did have food in my stomach!) and felt exactly the same as the first time. I think I definitely made the right decision to take another one – not least because we faced big delays when we landed and I needed my mental strength to stay calm and manage those.

So, what about next time I fly?

The news that I had managed to board a plane reached my family and those close to me, who were very proud of me and relieved about the whole thing, however, in conversation with them since coming home, there seems to be a lot of feeling that, “well you’ve overcome that fear now, all sorted”, but, erm, I have to say unfortunately I don’t agree.

We actually already have travel plans booked for next year, and while I do feel more optimistic about it all, including the plane-boarding part, I think I have to remember that I do suffer from cleithrophobia and in a lot of ways the whole airport, long-haul flight situation is the biggest trigger that I can face. Anyone who flies long-haul knows it’s a long day, but to experience intermittent panic attacks on that day just makes it absolutely brutal, and soul-breaking.

Honestly, I feel like next time I fly I would still like to have valium with me – maybe I’ll take it, maybe I won’t, but I want to give myself the option and to give myself back the feeling of control over the day. I really, really don’t want to spend 11 months looking forward to this trip and thinking I’ll be fine with the flight only to have it all come crashing down in the 30 minutes of boarding time – been there, done that, have the nightmares about it.

Yes, ideally in the long run, I won’t have to be sedated everytime I fly, but one flight does not a phobia cure, as they say… probably. I think this is a baby-steps scenario and I feel comfortable with that. I don’t feel ashamed for having to take a sedative, and I don’t feel like I need to prove myself to other people – I’m just going to take this at a pace that feels right for me.

 

 

 

5 things I wish I knew before I became self-employed

I’ve talked a bit before about how I came to be self-employed, but the long and the short of it is that it wasn’t so much a choice as that I was sort of herded towards it by my poor mental health and my subsequent inability to hold down a job. So, I started my self-employment journey from place of basically, sheer panic, at having bills to pay and no means to pay them. I didn’t write a business plan, I didn’t have savings, I didn’t even really have a concept of what the pros and cons of self-employment would look like for me, I just knew I had to try it, that I had to try SOMETHING.

Over the last 9 months or so that I’ve more or less been officially working for myself, there’s some things I’ve come to learn that I wish I had had some awareness or understanding of before I jumped down this rabbit hole, so I thought I’d share them here with you today.

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Photo by Lost Co on Unsplash


1. It really is all on me!

I’m very fortunate in that I know quite a lot of people who freelance or run side hustles or have been altogether self-employed at some point or another. I’m lucky that these people will often listen to me prattle on at length about eBay pricing strategies, how much to invest in business cards or some other such decision that’s currently consuming me. But one thing I hadn’t realised until I was essentially running my own business, is that no matter how many people I talk to, blog posts I read or advice I receive – at the end of the day the responsibility of it all is all on me. I think I somehow thought that I could ask my dad – who was self-employed for 20 years – a business question and he would be able to give me an answer that clearly showed me what to do, but, erm…. no. Every industry is different, heck, every individual business is different and so at the end of the day, it’s up to me that make the decisions – and of course, the mistakes – that will shape my business into how I dream of it being *gulp*.

2. Turns out sitting on my butt at a PC is very different than working on my feet all day

Yes, “duh”, I hear you all saying, but this actually hadn’t really registered for me until one day I tried to get dressed (to actually leave the house, shock horror), and literally none of my jeans fit me – or at least, they didn’t fit in a way that I could trust y’know?

I had always worked retail or hospitality before and been on my feet throughout every shift, I also used to often walk the 2 miles or so to and from work, so, to go from this to walking the 20 steps to my laptop in the morning and then staying there for 10 hours… well, it’s taken its toll. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about positivity and loving your body, but the reality is, the weight gain I’m experiencing is purely because I’ve been neglecting myself. I’ve been eating so much junk and not going for walks because I DON’T HAVE TIME, which, is kind of a ridiculous sentiment when you think about it. What it really means is I DON’T HAVE TIME… MANAGEMENT SKILLS. I need to accept that being self-employed, there is always work to be done, but, you know, not at the expense of my health.

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Photo by Dose Media on Unsplash

3. People will not always understand or respect when I say “I have to work”

This is one that caught me so off guard! I don’t have a huge circle of friends and family, but I would say that I am pretty close with the people in my life and so when I started to encounter a lack of understanding about my work life, it was kind of hard to take. When I would say “I can’t Tuesday through the day, I have to work”, I would get “why? Can’t you do it at night? What are you doing?” or something similar in response and it would really hurt me. I took it as disrespectful and I took it personally, I interpreted it as meaning that MY work didn’t have value – but increasingly, I think it’s just down to a lack of understanding about what it takes to be self-employed. Sure, if I don’t show up to work tomorrow, in the short term, I won’t face the consequences that those working a 9-5 will, but this doesn’t mean there AREN’T consequences, and it doesn’t mean that I have to justify my work pattern to, well, anyone.

4. It’s OK to work non-conventional work hours and not feel ashamed about it

This sort of follows on from the point above, and again, this was a big stumbling point for me. As I talked about in the first paragraph, I fell into self-employment because I struggle with my mental health – and so what that means for me, is that some days I’m a #girlboss, and other days, I just need to look after myself. I’ve had to learn to accept that I actually do HAVE to look after my mental health – it’s not like a quirky life choice for me to sometimes sleep 14 hours a day, or watch Ru Pauls Drag Race for 5 hours, sometimes I actually need to, to stay above water.

So, some mornings I’m at my desk, working away by 8am – and other days? Cannot get out of bed until 11am. Some days, I’m confident and productive and motivated – other days? Depression is taking over, and I only manage a few hours work before needing to sleep again. When I’ve told people, “oh, I didn’t start until 10 today”, or, “I do a lighter work day on the first day of my period because it’s always really rough for me mentally”, I’ve definitely had a lot of eye rolls and snide sounding, “must be nice” type of remarks, and you know what? Yes, it is bloody nice to be able to look after my mental health while earning a living for the first time in my life. But you know what else would be nice? A steady income and career progression. There are pros and cons to both lifestyles and I’m finally learning to embrace the benefits of the life I’m living, and to not feel ashamed about it.

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Photo by Lost Co on Unsplash

5. It’s difficult, and it’s stressful, but it is so incredibly addictive and rewarding

Yeah, I mean, just yeah. Self-employment has me looking an off-button in my ever-working-away-brain, it has me keeping spreadsheets and checking stats, actually having to respond to emails and yes, sometimes it has me in tears.

But honestly, I LOVE this life I’m building with each eBay sale and Redbubble sticker purchase (for the love of god, will someone by something that isn’t a sticker?!). Sometimes it’s easy to see failure around every corner when you’re self-employed – because, especially in the early days, I guess it could be. But the thing is, and I know its absurdly cliché, but all I can do is rock up and do my best and see how it goes. Sure, I could fail spectacularly, or I could learn, grow and succeed, and honestly, I’m becoming addicted to chipping away at the opportunities within my grasp and crafting a life that works for me – so I think, for me, this is the path I want to stay on – whether I succeed or fail in the long run.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post, I really appreciate it – I hope it gave you a bit of encouragement, or a laugh! I’d really love to connect with other freelancers or self-employed people – so please, share any of your experiences or thoughts on this topic down below in the comments!

The Best Non-Fiction Books I read in 2018

I’ve always been a total bookworm – a lot of my childhood memories centre around a leg going completely to sleep after I’ve been sitting in an odd position, reading for too long. Ah, the good ol’ days. I’ve always read primarily fiction, I love getting lost in new world and falling in love with people who don’t exist (Aragorn for life <3). In 2018 though I’ve read far, far more non-fiction than I ever have before and I’ve been absolutely loving the conversations its encouraged me to have with other folks and the ideas it’s caused me to churn over in my little noggin. I thought I’d share my absolute favourites with you here, in case you’re looking for some inspiration.

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I’ve linked to the books on Amazon in case you’re looking for more info/reviews/to purchase (they are affiliate links), but remember you can check with your local library before purchasing, I was pleasantly surprised by how many were available through Glasgow Libraries.

2018 was the year I found Caitlin. For those of you who don’t know, Caitlin runs a YouTube Channel called Ask a Mortician, and throughout the year she has become my favourite content creator. Her ability to talk about some of the topics considered most taboo in Western culture, and to do it with humor, sensitivity and transparency is truly incredible.

A lot of her work is centred around creating Death Positivity; encouraging people to have conversations about death and what we want to happen to our bodies. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is Caitlin’s memoir about her time working at a crematorium – it covers everything from little things you might always have wondered about (“what exactly IS embalming anyway?”) to discussions of much deeper topics that maybe we don’t often wonder about.

While the book is certainly emotional in places, it also made me laugh out loud and yeah, start having some conversations with family members about death. If you’d asked me at the start of the year if I thought I needed or wanted to read a book about working in the death industry I’d have firmly said “no”, but as it turns out, of all the books I’ve read this year, this has been the most valuable and thought-provoking.

Book flip through

I know, two books by the same author – but I honestly couldn’t pick just one! From Here to Eternity follows Caitlin on a journey around the world to find out how death is treated in all different cultures. She visits places where death is treated with the utmost clinical attitude, to places where people are a lot more comfortable with death and corpses. Again the book is wonderfully written in Caitlin’s voice, with her humor and absolute passion for the subject shining through. Such an eye-opening read!

While I do have a huge amount of interest in the concepts of mental wellness, self-improvement and living your best life, I also generally have quite a lot of skepticism about books or programs that promise “miracles” or such in those fields, especially those, like this book, that talk about them happening pre 8am! I am not a pre 8am person!

Had I just picked this book up in a store, or seen the title as I was scrolling through Amazon I’m honestly not 100% sure I would have picked it up, however, I saw the lovely Kay from Living the Life You Love talking about it, and the way she described it actually made a lot of sense to me.

What I like about this book, as opposed to some other books I’ve come across in this genre, is that yes, it promises big results, but it also gives you very tangible, logical steps to get there. This is not some airy fairy wishy washy thing, but rather an actual concrete program of simple things you can do in your own living room without buying anything. The Miracle Morning involves you completing six steps – you can do it in 5 minutes, or 2 hours or anything in between. You embrace silence, you vocalise affirmations, you visualise, you exercise (don’t panic, yoga is fine), you read and you write.

Each of the steps is enjoyable and I do genuinely find them to be enhancing. Have I started getting up at 5am? Uh, no. But as someone who used to start work 5 minutes after I got out of bed and was a ball of stress by mid-morning, this book hs given me a lot to think about in terms of establishing a strong mental foundation for the day.

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James Wallman is a trend forecaster who has worked with massive organisations like The New York Times, The Financial Times and GQ to analyse and predict upcoming trends. In Stuffocation, he looks at our current consumerist lifestyle and why it’s bad for the planet, the economy and why it’s leaving us all feeling Stuffocated.

I really enjoyed this book (though I’ll admit I lost interest a bit towards the end), as Wallman seems to be coming at things from a very objective point of view. He’s not a card-carrying minimalist or a die-hard consumer, he’s simply applying his huge amount of expertise in trends and forecasting to our current consumer climate and talking about how and why we got to this point and what on Earth the solutions could be.

Fun fact, I am incredibly squeamish. I grew up with a mother (and many of her friends) who worked in operating theatres, ICU’s, Accident and Emergency – all the gory places. If I’ve heard one intense description on what can happen in a motorbike crash, I’ve heard a thousand. If I’ve eaten one plate of pasta while listening to a step by step walk-through of a tricky surgery… well I think you get the point.

But, despite having so much medical chat in my life, I still grew up with the inability to handle the sight of my own blood. Or any medical procedures. So it’s safe to say that I wasn’t drawn to this book for the potentially intense medical details – it honestly isn’t very gory at all – but rather to hear the account of a junior doctor, having read so much about their plight in recent years.

It definitely was interesting to hear about how Junior Doctors are treated, really it was, but I got so much more from this book. I burst into fits of the giggles, I got the sensation of my stomach plummeting, and I cried very genuine tears. To use a cliché, this book is an emotional rollercoaster; a very personal account from someone who felt very passionately about the work they did.

It is on one hand so very human and relatable, and at the same time, so alien to think of the pressure that doctors – who’re just humans like you and me – have to work with.

Candle and Stuffocation book

This is the first book from The Minimalists that I’ve read, though I’ve been a long time follower of their podcast and blog. I really enjoyed this book, after years of hearing The Minimlaists discussing various issues, it was interesting to actually hear, not just their thoughts on something else, but their own stories of how and why they came to minimalism.

I feel like this book came at a good time for me, as while I could remember the “whats” of minimalism, I was losing touch with the “whys”, and with minimalism, it’s not really about the “what” of, have less stuff, it’s about “why” you would do that and “why” it matters.

The book was an easy read, it flowed like a conversation, and every so often I would read a paragraph or a sentence that resonated with something deep inside me, and it was like hearing a little bell chiming and feeling like, “oh yeah, I remember this feeling”. For all it felt like quite a casual read, it definitely had a lasting impact on me and left me feeling a lot more centred than I had been in a long time.

So that’s it then, the best non-fiction books I read in 2018! What about you? Have you read any of the books I mentioned? What did you think? Or, since I now well and truly have the non-fiction reading bug, do you have any suggestions for me?!

What’s on your reading list for 2019?

Best Non Fiction Books 2018 flatlay

 

 

Dark Winter Nights | Mindfulness for the Seasons

Rainy Weather Winter Scotland

Depending on where you live in the world, winter may or may not be a big deal. Here in Scotland, while we don’t typically experience heavy snowfall and absurdly cold temperatures, what we do get instead are months (and months) of very little daylight, it almost always raining even when it actually is daylight, and a colour scheme that features 17 shades of grey and bleh. It can be kind of tough. And then, once you get to the point of it being tough, you realise it’s only November, and it’s only just getting started.

So, why is it so tough?

We have electric lights, we have central heating and waterproofs; we’re not exactly camped out on the hills at the mercy of the elements here. For some people, clinical depression and S.A.D come into play of course – and just to clarify, while I have a long history with clinical depression that is typically worse in the winter months, I have never been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D) – so know that this post, as ever, isn’t intended as medical advice, just well-intentioned stories of experience and some suggestions.

I think there are a few reasons why it’s tough, especially here in the UK:

  • Looking out the window, words you might use to describe the view in winter might be “bleak”, “grey”, “lifeless” or something like “grim” – none of these words really hold positive connotations. We don’t get a lot of the blue skies, and crisp frosty mornings – it really is months of dullness, or as we would say in Scotland, it’s dreichit.
  • It’s all everyone talks about (Or at least it feels like it). I go into the Post Office and the lady at the counter greets me by grumbling about the bloody rain being on again. I call my Dad, who regales me with a story of how he had to put the lights on before 4pm (that’s BEFORE 4pm, Kitty). Even if you yourself are trying not to focus on the rain and the wind, it is constantly discussed and put to you – and it is almost never in a positive light.
  • It feels like it makes your world shrink. Some of this is real – like for me, as a petite woman, I can’t go jogging in my local area in the dark… so that’s anytime before 8:30 and after 15:30 then. Wow. And some of it is more of a perception, I think. A lot of the things we might enjoy or fill our time with in the lighter months, suddenly aren’t so enjoyable or viable. It’s all too easy to fall into a rut of just sitting in front of the TV every night.

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So, how can mindfulness help?

I think there’s actually a few ways that practicing mindfulness can help us not just  endure, but in fact, thrive in the winter months. If we apply some of the core principles of mindfulness, like slowing down and practicing awareness, and focus them on the winter season specifically, I think we can make a big change in the way we perceive and therefore experience things.

  • I think it can be easy for winter to seem to represent death, or the end. The trees are leafless, so many animals are hibernating – or keeping a low profile – and we ourselves may feel sluggish in the cold weather. I like to take the time to re-enforce the idea of winter, not as a time of dying, but as a time of resetting. It can be a time for looking into ourselves and doing some resetting of our own – of using meditation, and the wonderful stillness that winter brings, to work on closing some now un-needed chapters within ourselves, and preparing for a time of growth, of blossoming and of change.
  • Winter is easily seen as a time “without”. Without sunshine. Without warmth. Without the buzzing of bees or the fluttering of bats. It can be easy to feel that winter has a lot “wrong” with it; as if Summer is our norm and somehow winter is the antithesis of that. I find that it helps me to focus on the idea of impermanence – that everything is fluid and without a fixed state. Like the seasons, like my thoughts, my feelings and my very existence. The cycle of the seasons creates balance, and we can relax and know that this cycle will continue – whether we moan and resist and fight it, or not. Winter may feel difficult sometimes, but as with all struggles, it will pass – and I think being mindful of this fact can be a big help in keeping things in perspective.
  • Create light and joy for yourself. Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve mentioned above, I am usually all for trying to embrace winter for what it is and to love it, but sometimes, as the rain lashes against the window and the wind howls, it can be nice to draw yourself inwards instead. Close the blinds, light some candles or fairy lights (or, “winter lights” as my dad insists on calling his), make a hot beverage and take time to be still. At these times, I like to meditate on feelings of gratitude – which can be abundant in winter, if we give it a little thought. That I have a warm, safe house to retreat into, that I don’t have to worry about a bad winter leaving me without enough food, that I can have the time to simply sit and breathe when outside the weather is in such chaos – all of these things are huge blessings, and I do my best to stay mindful of them throughout the season.
  • Keep busy. As we spend more time with ourselves, perhaps reflecting more than we do in the busy Summer months, pay attention to ideas that may spring up. Winter can be an excellent time to pursue a hobby. I’m not suggesting that November 1st you go out and buy a shop’s worth of yarn or anything, but, if we slow down mindfully – rather than zoning out in front of the TV each night – we may find we have time, and the desire to learn something new, or return to neglected creative practice – whether that’s baking, playing the drums or crochet.

Rainy weather winter Scotland rain

But, we’re all still human…

Let’s be honest, while the points I’ve listed seem (I think) sensible and fairly logical, we’re all human and we will all still have days where we show up at work soaked to the skin, or when our heating breaks during the coldest week of the year. And what then?

Yup, winter does suck sometimes. It just does, and honestly, I think it’s perfectly okay to feel that way –  the one suggestion I would make though? Don’t be the person that greets strangers on the street with a “morning, horrible day, isn’t it?”. Try and remember that most people struggle with the long winters here, and honestly, contributing to the constant moaning about it isn’t helping anyone – although I’ll hold my hands up and admit I totally do this myself sometimes. I’m not suggesting you stand there in torrential rain and gale force winds with a slightly manic smile on your face as you declare, “BEAUTIFUL DAY ISN’T IT!?!?”, but rather that, when possible, we adopt a Thumper approach. You know, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all – about the weather or lack of daylight, anyway.

I hope you found this post helpful, or that it gave you some food for thought. I’d love to hear from you on what your winter experience is like – are winters hard where you live? Have you typically struggled a bit in the winter months? Do you have any suggestions for me, or other readers, as to what we might try?

 

 

4 Amazing Ways Doing Yoga Everyday has Changed Me

I’ll admit that I’m not normally someone who buys into the “New Year New Me” vibe in a big way – years of living with anxiety and depression has taught me that setting really high stakes for myself and forcing sudden, sharp changes in routine is more likely to lead to a feeling of overwhelment or failure, than to trigger real, lasting changes. However, in 2018 (I think mostly because January 1st was a Monday and that just really made me feel great), I decided to really try and take back control of my life. This manifested in many different ways, which I’ll write about in the future, but today I want to talk about one of my favourite and most beneficial changes that I’ve made: I started an (almost) daily at-home yoga practise! I’m not going to lie, I’ve missed days here and there, but for the first 110 days I showed up for myself every, single day, and I want to talk about how that’s made me feel and the difference its made for me.

close up of someone in a yoga pose

1. I feel like a part of something – I feel connected.

I joined Adriene from Yoga With Adriene on her 30 day “True” series which ran from January 2nd – January 31st (but you can start any time!), showing up on my mat every day and knowing that people all around the world were doing the same, gave me a feeling of connection and strength that I didn’t expect. Following along with other people’s journeys in the comments – knowing if I was struggling, I wasn’t struggling alone, and knowing that if I became emotional, I wasn’t crying alone. I honestly never expected to feel a sense of community as I sat doing downward-dog in my pyjamas on a rainy January morning, but thanks to Adriene’s kindness and inclusiveness, I really did. Even after True ended, the feeling continued, which was a beautiful surprise I couldn’t have seen coming.

2. It helps me leave the house

A large part of my anxiety has, for a long time, hinged on a fear of leaving the house and as a result I have gone weeks at a time without doing so (thank heavens for online grocery shopping)! Fortunately, this symptom seems to be easing and I have no doubt that it is in part due to doing yoga in the mornings. Starting each day slowly, but intentionally, focusing on my breathing and how I’m feeling allows me to really check-in with myself. It gives me time to focus on what I want to achieve in a day, and to feel motivated by that, rather than engulfed in the fear and the “what-ifs”. By the time I’ve finished my practice I feel centred and focused – and don’t get me wrong, some days the anxiety still wins – but much, much more often I have this little fire lit within me of determination and drive and it spurs me on to achieving more in a day than at times I’ve been able to do in a month.

 

3. It helps me stay in a good routine with eating and drinking

Similarly to how taking time on my mat each morning gives me focus for work and for leaving the house, it also starts the ball rolling with good eating and hydration habits. I exercise, so I’m hungry and thirsty, but because I’m also in tune with myself I’m much more likely to take the time to make something properly and eat it, rather than ignoring the feeling of hunger until I’m “starving” and eating three Pop Tarts. Ditto with hydration, I’m listening to my body and hearing that I’m thirsty and so I drink – simple, no? But I find that once I start a day eating and drinking “properly” like this then I am much more likely to keep it going as the day goes on: because let’s face it, if your day starts with 3 Pop Tarts and chocolate milk, it’s much easier to just call the whole thing a write off!

extended child's pose

 

4. I no longer feel like my back is being subjected to some sort of medieval torture device on a 24 hour basis

Perhaps least shocking of the things listed here, it has never the less been revolutionary for me! Thanks to almost lifelong anxiety, I definitely have some issues with muscle tension and sure, asking Kenny for a quick neck rub alleviates the symptoms temporarily… but within a couple of hours I can feel the pain and tension returning because I’m not taking the time to *properly* relax and stretch my muscles.
Doing yoga each day can sometimes be tough mentally. Some days I’m frustrated with myself, or tired, or worried about things off the mat and yes, in an ideal world I’d always be able to shut those things out and commit 100% to my practice, but I’m human, you know? So sometimes showing up for myself means a deep, meditative practice, sometimes it’s a time for emotional release and other times, it’s just a good stretch and all of that is OK.
At first I watched a video of Adriene’s every day, learning so much from each different routine, but, as time went on I came to learn my “favourite” poses, the ones that really work for me, and now I love being able to freestyle and create routines that really pay attention to the areas I need to work on, – hello cat-cow.

I feel like I could have written something more formal or cohesive than this, but honestly, I can’t really help gushing about my yoga experience – it has changed so much for me, and not only that, but it’s helped me things I never thought it could! I did yoga on happy days like my birthday, and on sad days like the day we thought we were going to have to put our cat to sleep. Every day was different, but every experience left me stronger at the end. I can’t imagine not doing yoga now, and honestly, if you’ve ever been curious, I really recommend giving it a go – Adriene’s channel is a fantastic way to start, I’ll see you there!

My 5 Simple-Living Steps for May

I’ve never really taken part in a specific minimalism challenge before, though I know there are a few fun ones out there, but as April turned into May I was sitting here with the feeling that I I’ve dropped the ball a little with my pursuit of a simple life. In some ways it’s not hard to see why; life has been a little emotionally charged lately with illness, Kenny finishing his degree and a near-loss of my beloved cat, all playing a part. When things are ticking along and I’m in a little routine, I find it much easier to centre myself and to remember why I wanted to pursue a simple life in the first place, but, when sleeping is a rarity, or it’s hard to eat anything it can be harder to keep the momentum going with working towards simplicity. My personal stand point, is that I feel we’re all human, and everyone will have an off day, or have their arm twisted by circumstances on occasion and just kind of need to do whatever to get through a situation, so I’m not prone to give myself too hard a time for the occasional slip up, but I feel like over the past couple of months, it’s been one slip-up after another to the point where I’m struggling to see where the path was in the first place.

So for May, I’m going to be doing 5 small, easy things to try and help myself centre back in on what’s truly important to me. Please feel free to join me in this mini-challenge, or any part of it that appeals to you, and be sure to let me know how you get on in the comments below, or over on Instagram!

A mug of peppermint tea, and some banana on toast

 

1. No phone checking until after breakfast

For quite a while there I was in a great routine of spending the first hour of the morning reading a book, drinking some tea and hugging my cat… then all of a sudden I was the person who rolls over to turn off their alarm and simultaneously opens Instagram. Why?!? I understand for some people the struggle is real because they maybe have work emails they know they need to get to, or their job involves having a solid social media presence… but not me. Literally my emails exist to notify me that something from my Steam Wishlist is on sale and that Pinterest has realised I only spend 14 hours a day on their site and so, they’ve suggested some more content for me, because it’s time I started showing some real commitment.
So, knowing all this, why do I still feel the need to check RIGHT NOW, and once I have checked and discovered it’s just the usual spam in my Inbox… why don’t I just put the phone back down? It’s like once I’ve started, I just can’t stop checking, slowly working my way through each app until I’m sitting there trying to catch my 600th Pidgey on Pokemon Go.
The thing is, I’ve always really enjoyed that quiet time with Meeko in the morning (it’s usually before Kenny’s up), sitting with the window open and a warm cup of tea and a good book- somehow, I just forgot this a bit along the way, but almost losing Meeko this past month really drove home just how important time with loved ones, furry or otherwise, really is. Instagram can wait.

a paperback book, some banana on toast and a mug of tea,

2. Oh yeah, and actually eat breakfast

My previous point was about the importance of time before breakfast, which I guess heavily implies there is a breakfast, which admittedly, not so much recently. I’m sort of hoping that by slowing down my mornings again, pre-breakfast,  I’ll actually realise I’m hungry and so this problem sort of correct itself, but, in order for that to be possible, I do need to make sure I actually have suitable breakfast food in the house. I have eaten so many biscuits for breakfast recently that I’ve had to switch myself over to rich tea biscuits because they’re the least horrendously bad of all the biscuits.

While, of course, breakfast is nutritionally important, and than in itself should be all the motivation I need to get into, and stick to, a good routine, for me, it’s also an important part of the simple life I want to live. It’s taking the time to start the day with some self care in the form of feeding myself, it’s really a win-win… if only I can get back into the habit.

3. Plan outfits the night before

When I started using a capsule wardrobe system at the beginning of March, I also made a Spreadsheet to help me plan outfits and track how often I’m wearing certain pieces, amongst other things. While I can appreciate that this probably sounds really over the top to a lot of people, I find having everything logged on a Spreadsheet makes it a lot easier to keep track of things, and to quickly put together outfits, however, I really want to get back to doing this the night before. Why? Well, for some practical reasons, like if something is going to need ironed, I’d rather do it in the evening when I have plenty of time, rather than turning on the iron in the morning and spending the rest of the day wondering if I switched it off. But, even aside for the distinctly practical aspects I do better planning outfits the night before. If I leave it until the day of, I am much more likely to be in a rush and grab the same, basic, comfy outfits over and over again – meaning large chunks of my wardrobe go unworn, and I sometimes end up out of the house feeling not very put together at all. Given that it takes about 10 minutes of an evening to check the weather forecast and fill in my Spreadsheet, it’s something so easy to do that really helps lower my stress levels, and keep things running more smoothly for the next day.

assortment of different fabrics and jewelry

 

4. Resume Bullet Journalling

I took up Bullet Journalling at the beginning of 2018 and I loved it. I was initially drawn to it more as a creative outlet than as a life-organisation tool – mostly because after years of trying every method under the sun to try and get my shiz together, I was pretty much resigned to the idea that nothing would work for me. However, I was wrong. Bullet Journalling turned out to provide not only a great source of fun, but also the easiest, most effective method of organisation that I’ve ever come across. I think, though, I made a bit of a rookie error about the whole thing – through January and February I put together very extensive and elaborate spreads that yes, took quite a while to do, but hey, I enjoyed it. March rolled around and I had a lot less time all of a sudden, so pages got left unfinished throughout the month, which made me pretty unhappy. Then, April hit, and I hadn’t left myself enough time to put together the most basic of layouts, so I dropped the ball completely… and April was a pretty disorganised mess for me me! I think I just need to find a balance with how much time I invest in creating the spreads versus how much time and stress they allow me to save. I want to strip back the amount of time I was “having” to put into it, and to use it more as a tool, because honestly, it really, really helps me keep calm and focus on the things that are important to me.

Bullet Journal food tracker

5. Make time for meal planning

Kenny and I both love our food, and even though we’re currently in a bit of disagreement over what we want our diet to look like – one thing remains the same, and that is that we both appreciate a good, home-cooked meal. Meal planning and prepping is another task like outfit planning for me, in that taking the time to really give it my full attention and get organised, really has benefits that last all week long. I love being able to make a meal that  will include leftovers which will feed us the next night too, or being able to make sure that we’re buying ingredients in the right quantities, and with enough flexibility in the types of food, that we won’t end up generating a bunch of food waste, even if our plans change slightly throughout the week. I feel very grateful that I have the time to cook meals for us, and if I’m organised and know what I’m doing I find it very theraputic, and one of the true simple pleasures in life.

So those are the little goals I’ve set for myself in May! I’m excited about taking this time to improve my quality of life and I can’t wait to see the difference it will all make. Let me know in the comments down below if you’re joining me in taking part in any part of this challenge, or, what would you suggest I try to get back to a more simple life?