The Lessons I’ve Learnt In Lock Down

It’s been a strange old time hasn’t it? The last 3 months or so of staying at home for the majority of our time have been trying to say the least.

Having shared with you my honest thoughts about lock down already, as we start to get some normality back, I wanted to take some time to pause and reflect. Just what have we learnt during lock down?

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I’ve seen several of my favourite influencers and bloggers taking the time to consider the parts of lock down that they unexpectedly enjoyed, what they’ve learnt about themselves, the habits they want to keep, and different mindset they’ll have moving forwards.

I think one thing is for sure for all of us; we won’t be taking things for granted any more, because it can, and has, been snatched away from us so quickly.

Here’s the 4 lessons that I’ve learnt in lock down:

Life Isn’t All About Being Busy

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I think that being forced to slow down has definitely been one of the biggest silver linings to take away from this whole experience. Not working (I’m on furlough) for such a long period of time has for sure put into perspective just how busy I was before. How exhausted it was making me, and to be honest, how it was affecting my happiness.

As an introvert, I replenish my energy by spending time on my own being quiet. In hindsight, I can see that I wasn’t getting any where near enough quiet time to recharge on a daily basis.

I always felt guilty for not doing anything, when I could be doing something productive instead. I know there has been a lot of discussion about this on social media too. It’s clear a lot of us having been feeling it, even during lock down.

I now realise that taking the time to slow down isn’t selfish; it’s actually key to keeping my mental well-being in check. When I eventually go back to work (I’m still not exactly sure when that will be yet) I’ll 100% be making it a priority to block out pockets of time to recharge each day.

The Simple Life Is Better Than I Thought

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I never thought I would enjoy the simple things in life just as much as I have. This comes back to the point about being busy.

When we’re rushing through life at break-neck speed, we literally don’t have chance to smell the roses. Or, look in wonder at gorgeous blossom trees, appreciate the way the sunlight dapples through the branches of trees above, or reflects off the water like tiny specs of gold. To hear birds tweeting rather than traffic, and to just be content with what we already have. I’ve found myself really savouring these kinds of moments, and taking away the small joys that they offer.

Lock down has definitely forced me into thinking about about everything I’m grateful for having, rather than focusing on what I don’t have. Being faced with the devastating reality of the number of lives lost to this virus has jolted me into changing my perspective of just what’s important. It turns out the little things actually mean the most.

That Self-Reflection Is Underrated

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Not working has been the pause I’ve needed to step back and evaluate where I’m at right now, and the vision I have for my life moving forward. Big stuff.

It’s allowed me to actually do the activities that I didn’t have the time to do before because I was so busy. Those activities have brought me so much clarity; journaling, reading inspiring books, and getting outside for long(ish) walks.

As my partner is a key worker, who at times has worked back to back night shifts, I’ve ended up spending a lot of time alone in our flat. It’s perhaps the introvert in me, but I’ve not found the alone time lonely. Peace gives you strength. The strength to get to know yourself better, work through difficult emotions, and trust your instincts.

One of the conclusions that I’ve come to through self-reflection and embracing the simple life, is that I don’t want a career, I just want a job. By this I mean that I’m not craving the thrill of pushing my career forwards any more. (and the long hours that inevitably come with it) I would rather do a job that, although less challenging, I enjoy, and gives me the mental head space to spend time on the things I’m really passionate about outside of work. Basically I don’t want to live to work, I want to work to live.

Boundaries Are Everything

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Living off 80% of my wage throughout my time on furlough has forced me to re-evaluate what I spend my money on; what I really ‘need’. It turns out that a lot of my money was being spent on the social activities that were draining me.

It’s put into perspective just what I will be saying yes to in future. My close circle of friends will always get my time, but I will be more careful with other commitments. If I feel like it’s an event I ‘should’ be at to show face, then that’s a signal that I shouldn’t be wasting my time or energy going to it.

Through lock down I’ve come to value preserving my energy for the things that only make me feel good; my mental well-being deserves it.

Do you agree with any of these lessons? What have you learnt that you’ll be taking forwards after lock down properly ends?

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5 Powerful Affirmations To Increase Your Positivity

Like with meditation, when I first heard about affirmations, I thought they were a load of woo.

Surely talking out loud to myself would make me seem more unraveled that I already was?! So just what exactly are affirmations, and how can they help you feel more positive day to day?

What Are Affirmations?

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Put simply, affirmations are a method of changing your negative thought patterns into positive ones. They re-programme our subconscious mind to believe certain things about ourselves or the world and our place in it.

They are powerful because what we believe about ourselves on a subconscious level has a massive impact on the outcome of events. Henry Ford sums up what I’m trying to get at best in his quote; ‘If you think you can do a thing, or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.’

As I’ve written about before, I’m very aware that often the only thing holding me back from achieving what I want is what I’m thinking in my own head; my own lack of self-belief. Sound familiar to you too? Affirmations are a great way of empowering you to think differently about yourself.

5 Powerful Positive Affirmations

To remind you that you are in control of your own life:

I am the architect of my life; I build its foundation and choose its contents

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To set a positive intention for the day:

Today I’m brimming with energy and overflowing with joy

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To reinforce your total well-being:

My body is healthy; my mind is brilliant, my soul is tranquil

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To boost your confidence:

I have been given endless talents which I begin to utilise today

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To remind yourself just how strong you are:

My ability to conquer my challenges is limitless; my potential to succeed is infinite

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The thing to remember with affirmations is they have to resonate with you. If you’re not able to connect with what you’re telling yourself, then they won’t work.

So, if none of the affirmations that I’ve shared sit well with you, research your own positive affirmations online, or, you could even write your own.

To write your own affirmations the best place to start is writing out your negative beliefs. Then, write a positive statement in the present tense, (the opposite of your belief) and make it filled with as much kindness to yourself as possible. After all, it’s how you’ll be speaking to yourself every day! Hopefully the affirmations I’ve shared above will give you a good idea of the most impactful words to use.

How to Practice Affirmations

First things first, you don’t have to say them out loud if you don’t want to. They’re just as powerful saying them in your head.

To be honest, affirmations aren’t part of my daily routine currently, but they have been in the past, and they made such a difference to my mindset. I felt that little bit better equipped to face the day because I’d given myself a pep talk first thing.

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As with anything that benefits my mental well-being, I tend to have the bad habit of only practicing them when I ‘need’ it, rather than just having it as part of my daily routine as standard. It’s something I’m working on.

Affirmations helped me over come so much of my negative thinking in the past, so I’m definitely keen to give them a go again. I encourage you to as well.

My first tip with affirmations is to try not to overthink when you’ll practice them. I think that’s what’s held me back from having them as part of my morning rituals at the moment.

What used to work for me best was writing my affirmations on post-it notes and sticking them around the mirror in my en-suite bathroom. I was brushing my teeth in front of that mirror, so they were one of the first things I saw in the morning and one of the last things I saw at night. I would recite them in my head in the the few minutes I was brushing my teeth, and in the mornings, whilst I was putting my make-up on.

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It did feel strange at first because I’d got so used to having negative thoughts floating around my head, and yes, I did feel a bit weird talking to myself, but, the more I said the words, the more I began to believe them. Looking myself in the eye as I was saying them in my head always used to help me really connect to the words too.

You might choose to write your affirmations on cards and carry them around in your pocket or purse, getting them out to look at and recite when you need a boost.

Or, to get you feeling positive and powerful from the get go, you could recite them during your morning shower.

As with anything powerful, it may take some trial and error, but it will be worth it. Just find a way that feels most comfortable for you.

Have you tried affirmations before? Which are your favourites of the ones I’ve shared? Tell me in the comments.

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An Easy Guide To Mental Well-Being

There’s nothing like being thrown into a pandemic to make you evaluate your mental health. It’s something that I think that we’re probably more aware of now than ever.

In the last few years especially, it almost seems as though ‘well-being’ has become a buzz word to cover all manner of things, so I wanted to investigate further what exactly it means in relation to our mental health.

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So what are the components of mental well-being? How can we look after it? And how can looking after it help when we’re facing a particularly challenging point in our lives?

Here’s your guide to what exactly mental well-being is, and how you can go about nurturing it:

What Is It?

Mental well-being describes your mental state; how you are feeling and how you can cope with day to day life.

As we’ve all probably noticed throughout lock down so far, our mental state definitely isn’t fixed. It can change on any given moment, day or week.

The mental health charity, Mind, describes someone as having good mental well-being if: you have a relatively good level of confidence, can feel and express a range of emotions, can build and maintain good relationships, feel engaged with the world around you, live and work productively, can cope with the daily stresses of life, and can adapt in times of change and uncertainty.

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Be honest with yourself, are there things on that list that you could benefit from working on? I know that I still struggle with my self-esteem and confidence, and adapting to a lot of change all at once can be challenging. (hello Corona)

How To Look After It

Awareness

With anything related to our mental health, it all comes down to awareness. Tuning in to why we might be feeling how we are, gives us a potential path to go down in order to make ourselves feel better.

Loss, relationship issues, stress at work, and money worries could all be potential triggers to cause our mental well-being to go off-kilter.

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I’m the first to admit that the end of my marriage totally knocked me for six, and lead me into finding more ways to look after my mental well-being because I knew I needed it.

Currently, I find that journaling a great way to keep track of my mood on a daily basis, and often I’ll end up writing something that I wasn’t even really aware was causing me issues.

On days when I’m not feeling quite so in tune with myself, it can simply be a great way just to dump the jumble of thoughts that are going on in my head before I start the day properly. It allows me to think more clearly about the day ahead.

Talk About It

There’s the old saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’, and I definitely think it applies here. Talking about whatever is throwing your mental well-being off with a person or people you trust can not only be sounding board and a method of support, but can also help you approach things from a different perspective.

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My group of close friends have been great when I wanted to vent about the frustrations of my divorce, and more recently we’ve all been sharing our lock down anxieties. Just chatting with others and knowing you’re not alone in your situation can be a great tonic, and it’s something that I’m passionate about championing.

If you find that after talking things through with the people you trust that you’re still struggling, you may feel that you need to speak to a professional, and that’s totally okay too. You’ll know yourself what feels best.

Make Time For Yourself

Doing things that you enjoy and taking time to take care of yourself really can help get you back to feeling more of ‘yourself’. It’s a great way of maintaining your sense of mental well-being on a daily basis.

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As I spoke about in my last post, I make sure I incorporate reading, writing and dancing into my day. It’s what I enjoy most, and is guaranteed to give me a lift.

Think about what you love doing – even as little as 5 to 10 minutes of it a day can help with your mental well-being.

Learning a new hobby or skill can also help boost your mental well-being. It can up your confidence levels and give you sense of achievement. It could be getting crafty with crochet or pom poms (is it just me or are pom poms everywhere at the moment?!) or learning a new language.

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Towards the beginning of lock down I started learning Portuguese using Duolingo. If you’ve read my previous blog post, you’ll know that Portugal is one of my favourite places, so it made sense that I learn a few words and phrases. I’ll be honest that I’ve let my daily practice on the app slip, but I definitely want to get back into it again, as I loved the little thrill I got from learning new words.

Have you tried any of theses ways of looking after your mental well-being? Or do you have any of your own ideas? Let me know in the comments.

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4 Things We Can Learn From Monks

Since lock down started the clocks have moved forward to British summer time and we’ve welcomed some much sunnier weather. Well, in between all the thunderstorms that seem to be happening at the moment anyway. It feels like Summer is finally in the (muggy) air, and this time of year is often linked to fresh starts.

I think I’ve seen just about all of my friends clearing out their wardrobes or tidying up their cupboards on their Instagram stories. I’ve joined in on this too. It’s like the combination of lock down and it suddenly being Summer means we want to clean and sort everything!

We’re obviously no stranger to giving our physical space a spring clean, but what about our mental head space?

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I find that being reflective can often help me gain a new perspective on situations in my life, or those going on around me – a perspective that benefits me more mentally.

However, I’m also mindful not to let these reflections lead me into the negative self talk that I know I’m capable of. Without conscious effort otherwise, our brains will always latch on to the negative rather than the positive.

I read an article recently about a former Monk. I was really interested in how his studies influenced his approach to life now – in particular how to create purpose, reach his potential, and find inner peace.

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It got me thinking that this approach could be really good for our well-being; by taking the time to think about our passions and strengths it can actually mean having more of them in our life. For this, Monks believe that there are 4 areas for us to consider:

What are you good at, but don’t love?

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Unfortunately this can often describe someone’s job. This doesn’t mean you should automatically leave it though.

Think if there are ways that you could learn to love what your strengths actually bring you. Or, is there an aspect of your job that you love and could work towards doing more of?

To be honest, I don’t enjoy all the elements of my job, but (when I can go back) I plan on cultivating more of what I do enjoy and seeing how it can be incorporated into my other responsibilities.

What are you not good at, but love?

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This is a tricky one to admit, but there’s nothing to say that you can’t get better at whatever this is. You could use coaching or online courses to help you improve.

For example, although I knew what I wanted to achieve with this blog, I didn’t necessarily know how to get there. Not on my own anyway, so I joined the Grow & Glow Community.

I’ve been learning from the great resources they have, and the other members are really supportive too. I wasn’t going to let my lack of initial knowledge hold me back! (side note – if you’re a creative or blogger, and want to build a personal brand, I definitely recommend that you join – it’s well worth the membership)

What are you not good at, and don’t love?

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Hopefully it’s obvious that these are the kind of tasks that you should be spending the least amount of your time and energy on as they don’t give you anything back in return. More than likely they will be the daily chores in life that grind us down.

Things like keeping track of your monthly budget, or doing the ironing. Think about if a friend or your partner could help you with them. (if it’s something they enjoy) Or, could you invest in a tool or app that will make them easier to deal with? If you have the money, you could also out-source the task to some one else completely.

What are you good at, and love?

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This is ideally how we all want to be living day to day – spending time on our talents and doing the things that we love.

For me, it’s been finding that extra little bit of time each day to write, read, and dance about to my favourite tunes!

On reflection, what do you plan on adding more of into your life? Or trying to eliminate completely? I’d be really interested to hear, so lets have a chat about this in the comments.

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A Beginners Guide to Meditation

I’ll be honest, before I really understood what meditation was, I thought it was a bit woo woo. I thought that to do it you would have to light incense, sit on a special cushion, and start chanting.

That can be part of it if you want it to, but really isn’t what it’s all about. My first impressions couldn’t have been more wrong.

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What is Meditation?

I think Headspace (more on them later) describe what meditation is perfectly:

Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgement. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.

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My Experience

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that I’m divorced. [read Everything I’ve Learnt From Getting Divorced here] I was first introduced to meditation when the relationship with my ex was falling apart and my mental health was starting to suffer as a result. I definitely needed a healthy sense of perspective.

My friend recommended an app to me (more on those in a sec) at the time, and suggested that I give guided meditations a try.

I knew that I needed to get a handle on my thoughts, so it giving it a try seemed worth a shot. I struggled with the guided meditations initially though – maybe it was the voices on the app that I was using that I just couldn’t get on board with, or that I was finding it hard to let go into it, I don’t know.

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After that first introduction I’ve then dipped in and out of meditation over the years when I’ve felt I’ve needed it. (which I know isn’t how you’re meant to approach these things)

When lock down started, I knew that meditation needed to be a solid part of my daily routine again. In the first few weeks I found just focusing on my breathing really helped.

That was working fine for a while, but at the start of last week, I felt like I needed to get back into meditation ‘properly’. As well as the mental exhaustion that comes from navigating lock down, I now have the possibility of redundancy thrown into the mix.

I’ve just finished a guided meditation series to help with the anxiety I’ve been feeling, and it’s really helping. Some days it’s easier than others to get in to, but the clarity of mind that comes afterwards is like a fog being lifted.

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What Are The Benefits?

Many people, myself included, start meditation for reducing stress and anxiety and cultivating a more peaceful state of mind.

There’s further benefits though that aren’t quite so obvious. Such as growing a greater sense of compassion, awareness, clarity, focus, and increased mental resilience. All, I think are extremely underrated, but deeply needed in our current society.

I’ve certainly been feeling the effects of the less obvious benefits, and once you get over the mental hurdle required to start any new habit, the results are definitely worth it.

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Where To Start

Find a time of day that works for you

There’s no use meditating at night if you’re just going to fall asleep 2 minutes after closing your eyes. Equally, there’s no point doing it in the morning if you’re rushing around trying to get sorted for the day.

It doesn’t matter what time it is, just so long as you will have the mental capacity to focus for 5-10 minutes

Designate a quiet spot

Ear mark a quiet corner in your house or flat that’s comfortable and you know you won’t get disturbed. Hopefully you’ll have already picked a time of day that means you’re less likely to be interrupted any way. (one thing that used to stop me from meditating was paranoia that my flat mate would walk in!)

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Let go

This is often easier said than done, but in my experience, completely letting go into either guided meditation you’re listening to, or focusing on your breathing, is likely to be the only way you’ll feel like meditation is ‘working’.

If you feel yourself getting frustrated, or like you’re fighting the thoughts that you have, rather than just observing them, try to loosen your grip. This takes patience and practice, (trust me!) but it’s worth persevering for the benefits that I mentioned earlier.

Top Apps To Use

The two apps I hear about most in relation to meditation are Headspace and Calm. Both have similar offerings, so it’s really down to personal preference.

Both also include free trial periods. However, I would recommend making the investment in yourself and paying so that you can access the full library of resources that both of them provide. Such as meditation series for relieving stress, anxiety, mindfulness in daily life, improving self esteem, and feeling more peaceful.

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Calm even has a series based on the Winnie-the-Pooh characters. As I discussed in my very first blog post, the characters relate to common mental health issues, and each character has their own dedicated meditation.

I personally use Calm because I prefer the voices they use for the guided meditations, that, and their sleep stories. Narrated by the likes of Stephen Fry, Matthew McConaughey and Leona Lewis, 9 times out of 10 they send me drifting off to sleep quickly and easily – so much so that I have know idea how any of the stories end!

Have you given meditation a try? If not, what’s holding you back?

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