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Hands and Hearts: An Activist and a Counsellor in Conversation

Jo has been a friend of mine for a few years now, so when she set up her new blog Climate.Emergence: http://www.climateemergence.co.uk I was so excited to find out more. Her blog is such a wonderful resource and so inspiring. Jo approached me and asked if I’d be interested in doing a joint blog post together. Of course I jumped at the opportunity to ask her some questions! We really hope you enjoy this collaborative blog post.

Connecting with our local home environment is a great place to start. I love this patch of green at the end of my road.

Jo asks Rachael:

Rachael

1.      What inspired you to become a counsellor?

As part of my MA in 18th Century Literature, I took part in a year-long work placement. These were pretty randomly allocated and I got Sheffield Arts and Wellbeing Network (SAWN) which is an organisation that links people within the city who are promoting wellbeing within Sheffield. My role was to interview their members and to create blog post content for their website. I had a wonderful time meeting a huge variety of people from priests to hospital interior designers, artists and potters, poets and counsellors. One day I left an interview with a counsellor who was using literature to help women who had experienced abuse process their emotions and I thought: ‘…This is what I want to be doing.’ After I finished my MA I signed myself up for a further four years of training to become a counsellor and here I am.

2.      You used to work in the world of fast fashion. Do you have any reflections on the emotional side of our relationship with what we consume?

Working in the fashion industry was a huge eye-opener. Everything is orchestrated to make you as the consumer spend as much money as possible. The fashion industry isn’t just selling clothing; they are selling a lifestyle that is complete fiction.  We will never reach that image because two weeks later the goal posts will have changed and it will be Scandi Chic that is the new Paris stripe. Honestly, the waste that I saw in my time in fast fashion was pretty astonishing.

But the truth is that you’re enough, as you are. This is something I’ve had to pick apart since leaving retail.

Nowadays I have a little wish list. If I see anything that really pulls me I add it to the list. I leave it for a week and revisit it. Normally the novelty has worn off and I can forget about it. You’re so much more interesting than your clothes. 

3.      How important do you feel nature is to your client’s recovery?

Evolutionary psychology points towards a large proportion of us being ‘natural watchers’. Our descendants would look out into the natural world and look for danger, a change in the weather and at the stars. This is something almost completely lost in our modern culture; yet that instinct is still within many of us. When I ask clients where their favourite place in the world is, often it will be in a natural environment. A favourite childhood beach, a patch of woodland at the end of the road, tending their window-box.

I believe our wellbeing is hugely linked to our natural world and can have a profound impact on our relationships with ourselves.

For instance, over Lockdown my sleep has been quite interrupted. Since I’ve been making the effort to watch the sun go down each evening it has really improved. Our natural world holds so many wonderful healing properties for our minds.  

4.      How can the environmental movement make our cause more accessible to people who are struggling with their mental health?

I think for a lot of people eco-anxiety and an unconscious stress about our climate emergency adds another layer of overwhelm, which makes engagement with the environmental movement more difficult.

There is also unhelpful stereotypes surrounding so called ‘eco-warriors’ that can make the movement feel radical, inaccessible or something for hippies. Encouraging people to find their own individual relationship with their natural environment is a wonderful place to start. That way some of the changes or actions to engage with the environmental movement will have their root in a meaningful ‘why’ for each person rather than rooted in shame, pressure or anxiety.

I also think that encouraging the message of being ‘imperfect’ is a really positive way of engaging more people. Too often we are faced with images of individuals who are seemingly doing sustainable and environmentally friendly living ‘perfectly’. They aren’t, nobody is. Just like nobody has perfect mental health.

To me there is something powerful about starting where you are and making little shuffle steps. If we all shuffle, we will move mountains.  

If we let it, our natural environment can help us heal.

Rachael Asks Jo:

Jo

1.      What inspired you to start your blog Climate.Emergence?

For nearly six years I’ve worked in the world of climate lobbying. I work with MPs, campaigners, civil servants, NGOs and I’ve seen that work-related burnout is rife across our sector. For me, that has meant periods of time off work, but I also see it in many of those who I work with in the form of resentment, in-fighting and a state of despair for the world.

I’m also a carer for a family member with depression, so I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time thinking about mental health and why it’s so important. I began to see that many of the things that are good for the environment are good for our own wellbeing, and visa versa.

Climate.Emergence is a place to connect the emotional and ecological in the hope that it will make the climate emergency more accessible and engaging for more people; especially those who struggle with mental health.

2.      What is the best thing about engaging with climate change right now?

The impact that young people have had through the youth climate strikes is incredible. Within a year or so they have raised awareness of climate change in a way that many NGOs have been trying to achieve for decades. I am so inspired to know that this is what the next generation looks like!

Aside from that, there is an increasing sense of disorientation in capitalist culture. Mental illness is on the rise, as are instances of extreme political ideologies that take advantage of this disorientation.

We know deep down that there’s something missing- whether that’s a closer sense of community, or a better work/life balance, or greater equality within society- and climate change is a vessel to work on all those things.

So climate action isn’t just about averting disaster, it’s actually about building something better than we ever had before.

3.      If you’re new to engaging with climate change where would you encourage people to start? What did your start look like?

Probably the single biggest thing you can do to tackle climate change is to regularly write to your elected representatives about it. This was my start and led to me founding the charity Hope for the Future which supports people to do this, especially if they’ve never done it before. Even with the squeakiest, cleanest lifestyles personally what we really need is for governments to support all people- especially those for whom environmentally friendly choices are less accessible- to make those choices. If our policymakers don’t know it’s important to us, they won’t have the courage to make those changes because they’re worried it won’t get any votes.

But, of course, personal lifestyle changes are important. If you’re a meat/ dairy eater or you fly, these are two of the biggest things you can reduce to cut your carbon footprint. Another is to switch to a clean energy supplier such as Good Energy, Ecotricity or Bulb (it’s easy and often not any more expensive). Or one very easy thing is do is to use the search engine Ecosia, which plants trees with the searches you make.

But ultimately the best place to start is with a change of attitude. An environmentally lifestyle isn’t about depriving ourselves, it’s about truly savouring what we have so that we can let go of excess and feel in a better position to share with others. It’s actually a really exciting adventure, and we need as many people taking that journey as possible!

4.      What is the hardest part of working alongside such a huge and serious issue? How do you keep hope?

Of course, I have moments of despair and hopelessness. We have ten years to halve our emissions in order to have a decent chance of keeping our planet habitable. That’s a lot to be working with every day.

But I am grateful to be alive at a time when I can really make a difference, when we all can. There is so much meaning in all of this. We know that each day counts, each moment counts. We are waking up and realising that we cannot leave the fate of the world just in the hands of our leaders, that if anyone is left behind we are all left behind, that many things really are worth fighting for. It’s painful, but it’s beautiful too.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost (1916)

I love poetry. I think poetry has always had a healing quality for me. There is a beauty in taking something complicated; namely our human experience, then distilling an essence of that experience into a few short stanzas. This poem by Robert Frost has long been a favourite.

The way I read it, the voice of the traveller is stepping out of their comfort zone. The traveller is making choices (like we all must in life) they experience doubt and uncertainty, they tell themselves that they will come back to this point again and walk the other path (even though they know deep down that they won’t). For me, this poem is about bravery, it’s a humble bravery…it’s putting one foot in front of the other. It’s making a choice with the information you have, with the tools and experience you have. Bravery is sometimes accepting that you are at a fork in your own life; that a path must be taken and that it will lead you away from the one you decide against today.

I find this poem to be so kind in it’s boldness. Our world is a loud one; there are expectations aplenty to contend with. Yet I find the simplicity of this poem so soothing and grounding.

We found this path that certainly wasn’t popular at Derwent Reservoir. It had an uphill climb which rewarded us with these beautiful views. Didn’t see a single other soul up here!

When we are healing it often feels as if we are walking a road less traveled. We can feel alone or isolated. We can doubt that we have made the right choice when we came across a fork in our path. However, I find such comfort in the line: ‘ Yet knowing how way leads onto way,’ there will be forks to explore, more choices to make. There will be pauses, rest and mountain views.

I suppose this blog post is a simple reminder that you’re doing the best with what you have. Taking the path that is open to you right here and now. You are brave to think about your mental health, you are courageous to learn about yourself and your own uniqueness.

If you’re local to Sheffield or the Peak District I would definitely recommend this path less traveled. It’s the green arrow route (approx 1 1/2 hours) Steep climb for the first half.

Meditation Apps: To Calm or to Headspace?

I mourn the days when I had a brick phone that could be dropped down six flights of stairs and be completely fine. I miss having my black block that rang when I was called and beeped when I had a text. I miss snake, I miss the simplicity of it.

It’s taken me quite a long time to get over the fact that the world isn’t going to go back to these friendly non-invasive blocks. It’s taken me a little while to realise that I am probably being nostalgic about my old phone and my old relationship with technology. The truth is, I’m not going back…

So the question is how do I make my smart phone something that allows me to feel free and to benefit from it; without the pitfalls of the social media hamster wheel and the illusion that I am free to be contacted any time of the day or night.

For me, finding meditation apps has been a huge tick in the smart phone’s favour. I’m a big fan of them. If we are generally never too far from our phones, then having something that might encourage a sense of calm or ease stress in a worrisome situation is a brilliant thing. I suppose, like lots of modern choices we are faced with, it’s how we choose to use our devices to serve us… rather then letting our technology have dominion over us.

There are literally hundreds of meditation and mindfulness apps out there. To be honest, I find this array of options quite fatiguing so today I’m going to talk about the two big boys on the market. Calm and Headspace. Both of these platforms give us the opportunity to have a free 7 day trial to see if it’s for us.

So having used both these apps over the last couple of years here are my short summaries of each to support you in picking which might be best for you.

Headspace:

Headspace is incredibly user friendly and does a really good job of not putting off people who are new to meditation with pictures of smug looking people with zen blissful expressions.

Headspace also does a brilliant job of not making the app feel overtly feminine and is pretty gender neutral. I think this is actually quite important as overwhelmingly men are not encouraged to be mindful and I feel this is a huge downfall of many of the apps.

Secondly, the app is narrated by Andy Puddicombe who has a wonderfully restful voice and manner. It’s also important to highlight that he has an English accent. For some people the American accents of other apps can feel distracting or grating.

Having used Headspace I also feel that as an app it is extremely supportive in helping build a meditation and mindfulness practice with good foundations. It is pretty perfect for anyone who is entirely new to the practice and is curious. After most meditations you can watch a quick animation that supports your learning and helps explain why meditation may benefit you. I really enjoyed using Headspace and found it a very friendly app to use.

Calm:

So first and foremost, Calm has mostly American voices leading the meditations. I personally don’t find this distracting, but it is something to consider and try out. One of the things that first attracted me to calm was it’s use of natural ‘scenes’ within the app. You can sit and listen to the sound of rain, or waves or a river running its course. For me, this is very soothing and instantly makes me feel more relaxed.

I also appreciate the ‘daily calm’ feature which takes all the decision fatigue out of what meditation I press play to. However, they do have extensive choices for particular topics such as stress, self-esteem and depression offering seven-day meditations for these particular issues. I’ve also really enjoyed the Calm Masterclass collaborations and sleep stories which are regularly updated. As an app I feel it offers a few more options to it’s subscribers to suit their mood.

Calm is the app I’ve decided to stick with (mostly because of the scenes and the music element) however, having used both I can highly recommend each platform.

I feel that creating spaces on our phones that act as digital sanctuaries for us can be a powerful way to counteract some of the more anxiety inducing elements of our little hand-held smarties.

Do you use meditation apps?

Favourite Five Calming Reads

Books have always been a constant source of comfort and inspiration in my life. I think books are the reason I even found myself becoming a therapist. I’ve always loved narrative, I’ve always valued that glimpse into another person’s world view. Books have often been one of the most helpful companions to me in times of worry or distress. A cup of tea and a few minutes in a book can make a huge difference sometimes. The books I’ve listed below are just that; five of my favourite books to dip into if I’m needing a little grounding or a reminder to slow down. I’ve read A LOT of well being books in the last five years; these titles have stood the test of time and still bring me a lot of comfort and inspiration.

  1. ‘The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down’ by Haemin Sunim

    Haemin is a Zen Buddhist Teacher and Monk from South Korea. I picked this book up from the National Trust on a drizzly walk on holiday as a treat. What a treat it was! What I love about this book is that you can dip in and out for as little as a couple of minutes and come away with a beautifully thought out truth. When reading this I really enjoy spending time reading a couple of the short statements again and again. They act beautifully as mini affirmations. The entire layout of the book is gentle and non intimidating. I find it a very mindful experience soaking up Heamin’s poetry like wisdom. The illustrations are also really engaging and uplifting.

2. ‘Slow’ by Jo Peters

‘Slow’ is a beautifully laid out book that again is really easy to just dive straight into. It’s full of helpful ideas and inspiration to help if you’re new to ideas of self-care or don’t know where to start with slowing down. There are some really meaningful journal exercises and a star-gazing mindfulness technique that I found to be particularly moving and grounding. If you sometimes find yourself stuck in a rut with self-care this is brimming with lists and suggestions (without being prescriptive or bossy!). I often find myself reaching for this book when the world is feeling a bit hectic and I’m in need of some practical tips.

3. ‘Self-Care for the Real World’ by Nadia Narain and Katia Narain Philips

This one is relatively new to me in the last couple of months. As a therapist I love the message of this book and really rate how the author’s encourage the reader to find their own unique version of self-care. This book does a great job at developing self-awareness in a compassionate way. Scattered throughout the author’s thoughts there are brilliant journalling prompts along with some tasty recipes. This book has a holistic approach which focus on the whole person’s needs. I especially liked how the two sisters that wrote this book share how their self-care differs from each other. One absolutely loves meditation as an invaluable self-care tool whilst the other finds it incredibly boring. I feel this demonstrates really nicely that your emotional needs will be different and entirely individual. I also felt that what they had to say about social media and boundaries was really well done and has had a lasting impact on me.

4. ‘The Wild Remedy’ by Emma Mitchell

‘The Wild Remedy’ simply put is such a special book. Emma Mitchell lives with depression and she chronicles her struggles in this profoundly moving book. Each chapter is a month of the year. Emma explores her experience of depression as she moves through the seasons and how coming back to nature becomes her anchor. During lockdown I’ve noticed nature like never before, if you’re the same then you will really enjoy this book. It’s also crammed full of Emma’s illustrations of the natural world around her which are so delicately and sensitively done. This is such a human diary, full of soul and wit. I absolutely loved it (and I learnt a lot about the greenery just outside my door!)

5. ‘Calm’ by Fearne Cotton

I think this book is an absolute winner. Just like Fearne’s podcast ‘Happy Place’ her friendly and non-judgemental tone carries into the pages of ‘Calm’. Woven within the pages are helpful exercises for you to complete that are reflective and nourishing. I particularly like how each chapter has an interview section in which Fearne interviews specialists (and a few well known names). I feel this gives the book an inclusive feel that reminds me when I read it that we all have our mental health struggles. Once again Fearne’s tone isn’t prescriptive or higher-than-thou. She’s honest and authentic, this makes the book both entertaining and heartfelt, especially in her descriptions of her own experiences of anxiety. I got a lot from this book and found it a really useful resource to use in my work with clients as the reflective tools are top-notch! I’ve read all of Fearne’s books, but I definitely think this one is the best.

And there you have it; my top five well being reads that I find calming and actually useful. I really hope you enjoyed this post. Please feel free to pop any of your recommendations in the comments below! Happy Reading Friends.

Values Work: Creating Your Own Cornerstones

Spending time reflecting will look different for all of us. I find looking at art in books or from galleries I’ve visited calms my mind and allows space to reflect. This beauty is from the York Gallery Collection.

After a week of reflection I’ve come to the conclusion that the change that needs to happen within me has to be anchored in me. If I want to seed change outwardly and be part of a movement of change it must first start at home.

This is where working with our core values comes in. Living in accordance with our values can help us find a way to living authentically and feeling justified in our decisions by surrounding ourselves by what matters most to us. Values can act as anchors that we can draw strength from when we are in need of stabilising.

One of the ways that we can unearth our values is by finding key words that speak to you and then create your own definition for your values. So grab a note book and a pen and have a little go at this exercise to see if you can come closer to naming your own values:

Firstly, think about a time in your life when things where flowing and you felt a sense of contentment? What about these moments felt important to you, write down any words that might come to mind that can express this: e.g family, community, relaxation etc.

Then think of a time when you felt sad or frustrated? How where you being compromised then? What needs were not being met?

See if you can pin point any potential values from reflecting on these times in your life.

Sometimes looking at a list of values and using your intuition to instinctively hone in can help. For example, in a list of potential values would you be able to pick out 3 -5 words that really stand out to you. Jot down on your piece of paper any values from the list below that you’re drawn to:

Freedom, creativity,
connection, adventure,
independence, friendship,
laughter, truth,
joy, nature,
dance, community,
faith, home,
authenticity, activity,
learning, togetherness,
compassion, kindness,
integrity, self respect,
love, trust,
wealth, happiness,
wisdom, vitality,
comfort, desire,
grace, fairness,
strength, softness,
justice, presence,
health, honesty,
stability, discipline,
harmony, diversity,
order, tradition,
flexibility, courage etc.
(Google ‘Core Values List’ for more inspiration)


Once you’ve been able to identify some of your core values (3 -5 words could be a nice number to start with) you can start creating your individual definition for your values. This will help you explore why this word might hold meaning for you.

For example, one of my values is ‘Home’ my definition of this value is: ‘To be a base for good things to grow, to nurture community and a more inclusive culture. To offer hospitality to others; A Home that welcomes in.’

This is the value that I came back to last week when I was feeling on shaky ground. It helped to steady me and to affirm that engaging with BLM is in line with my values and is something I’m committed to. It might be uncomfortable, but sitting with that discomfort will hopefully enable me to ultimately live more in line with my values.

Knowing your values can help you cross life’s bridges and feel more sure-footed.

I keep my list of values close by in my journal and in the notes of my phone so that when I’m faced with a difficult decisions or am feeling challenged I can come back to my roots and try to forge a path that feels authentic and real for me. I believe this is particularly important when as a society we are being challenged to open our eyes to experiences we have been blind to. Social media can be incredibly loud sometimes, I believe that finding time to reflect and build emotional cornerstones will help ground us to make decisions that are in line with ourselves and that we can have a sense of ownership over.

Some Thoughts on Setting Boundaries

“The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the ones who were benefiting from you having none”

On Instagram several times a day!

When I think of the word ‘boundary’ I have to say the connotations that come up for me are universally wary and cautious. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way about boundaries. For many people setting boundaries can feel deeply uncomfortable.

I actually on some level disagree with the quote above. Change is difficult, it’s difficult for us as individuals to gain the self-awareness to change and then to action this outwardly. Often when change does occur it can lead to those closest to us feeling unsure, skeptical or even angry. It’s not a black and white situation of ‘us and them’, it’s nuanced and complex. I think this is why a lot of people avoid setting boundaries in the first place. This is especially true for those of us who are recovering people-pleasers or sensitive souls. It can mean exerting a lot of emotional energy and the possibility of some tricky conversations.

Many of us as children are encouraged to be polite above all else. We are taught to do as we are guided; to trust other’s to layout what the road map of our boundaries will look like. Sometimes this is done in a collaborative way, sometimes these boundaries will feel enforced.

Setting boundaries isn’t a check-box exercise that we can then put away and forget about. It requires us to notice ourselves and then on some level to demonstrate that externally.

So why bother with boundaries in the first place?

Without them, you’re going to burn out. The universal truth that must be acknowledged here is that you cannot be all things to all people. Without some boundaries you will be overwhelmed and over-stretched. A helpful reminder that I sometimes tell myself when setting boundaries is this:

‘By saying “No’ to [X] I am able to say “Yes” to [Z].’

One boundary that is important to me is having quiet time alone. Having space to look at things I’ve picked up on my travels is really calming for me.

For example, perhaps for you spending time with your family and friends might feel more important to you than fulfilling a request on your time that makes you sigh. Your time is your most important asset, it’s your most valuable currency. You have a right to have some say in how it is used… you only have so much energy to give.

Here’s a little scenario to illustrate this: A friend of a friend has a son who wants to pick your brains about how you got into university over a coffee. The only time he can do also happens to be when you’d planned to meet with your Mum for a much needed catch up. In this scenario, your boundaries are being tested. Should I be polite and go out of my way to help this person who is a friend of a friend? Should I do what is nourishing for me and meet my Mum? Should I try and fit in both and feel stretched and stressed? It’s not that easy is it? Our ‘should’s’ gets all muddled up with different people’s expectations and agenda’s and can leave us spinning!

One way I’ve found helpful for setting boundaries in my life since becoming a therapist is by understanding my ‘why’. If I can understand my ‘why’ for saying no then this can really help me establish boundaries that I can feel good about.

I do this by first establishing some of my key values. This helps me feel anchored and strong when setting up a border between myself and everything else. I identify my values in some key words that I keep in my journal to remind me. Psychologist Barb Markway defines values as: ‘the principles that give our lives meaning and allow us to persevere through adversity.’ One of my key values is ‘Home’ to me this means to be a base for good things to grow and to nurture my community; to show hospitality to myself and to others.

Some people like to have visual representations of their values on vision boards (I’m going to do a blog post on creating these very soon!)

So when I’m considering when a boundary needs to be set I look at my value key words in my journal to root myself and then I ask myself: ‘If I say ‘No’ to this, what does that free me up to say ‘Yes’ to? Usually, one outcome will be more aligned with my values and the other will tend towards the fear of letting people down and my ‘should’ thinking.

These two practices help me make difficult decisions that may feel tough or uncomfortable. Yet at the very root of this growing boundary are my values and the opportunity to be open to something I would rather say ‘Yes’ to.

Setting boundaries can be incredibly hard, so go gentle with yourself. I believe that to be liked by everyone and to please everyone we have to water ourselves down. This can prevent us from forming deep connections but also over time stops us from being authentically ourselves. At some point we all need to step off the frantic spinning hamster wheel and make choices about where we want to put our energy and with who.

Getting Started with Self-Care

‘Learning self-care is like building your own lifeboat, plank by plank. Once you’ve got your boat, you’ll still be rocked by the waves of life, but you’ll have a feeling of safety, and a stability that means you can pick other people up on your way.’

Quote from ‘Self -care for the Real World’ by Nadia Narain & Katia Narain Phillips

One of the most common things that comes up in conversations I have about self-care is the idea of selfishness. That spending a portion of our most precious resource: our time, to nurture ourselves somehow means that we are neglecting other’s and our responsibilities to them. The second most common theme that seems to come up is time (and a supreme lack of it) to spend on self-care.

I used to feel this way too. I used to feel self-indulgent and guilty if I sat in the garden reading or daydreaming. In busier seasons of my life I perpetually ‘prioritised’ other’s needs before my own and rarely had time for myself by the end of the day. Then I would wonder why I felt burnt out, emotional and anxious.

The truth is that to invest in our own self-care can leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed. For me, when I stopped distracting myself with other people’s well being (and making it my responsibility) I found that in lots of ways I didn’t actually know what I needed.

I believe that self-care is something we need to relearn in adulthood. Often somewhere in the metamorphosis between child and adult our needs and wants get mixed up and confused. Our burdens become heavier, our worlds carry increased responsibility and overwhelm.

A metaphor for self-care that has really stuck with me is that of the airplane oxygen masks. Printed on those laminated sheets tucked in our seats when we fly we are told that we need to secure our own oxygen mask before we can put on anyone else’s (even our own children’s). This is because you won’t be able to help anyone at all if you don’t first help yourself. In fact you might become the person that needs recusing. Self-care is like an everyday oxygen mask. It’s one of the least selfish things you can do. Self-care means that you are taking responsibility for your health and well being so you can truly help and support those around you.

To me, self-care starts with a simple distinguishing between what I want, and what I need. Self-care is a need. Learning how to look after yourself is one of the bravest and most courageous things a person can do in my book. It also requires a willingness to notice ourselves and to listen.

Time in nature is a big part of my self-care

A simple and easy way to get started is by creating two lists. One is a list of things that you might want to do but actually don’t help. And then a list of things that you have noticed leave you feeling nourished, lighter or softer.

For example my lists might look like this:

Stuff that doesn’t help:

– Too much junk food
– Staying up too late
– Buying or shopping on impulse
– Sitting in one position for too long
– Lots of social media
– Comparing myself to others
– Not going outside
– Not taking time off when I need to

When I look at the examples above I now see the millions of pounds of advertising and social conditioning that portrays ‘binge watching’ as relaxing, regular fast food takeaways as easy stress solving solutions and a culture of comparison on social media platforms that can leave us feeling drained and depleted of worth.

A lot of the things above I do enjoy. I love a movie night with an Indian Takeaway as much as the next person. I find a lot of worth in learning from others insights on social media. Yet I’ve had to learn that for me personally this is in the ‘I want’ category of self-care, not the ‘I need’ category.

Stuff that makes me feel lighter, nourished and are things I need, include:

– Regular exercise
– A cup of tea
– Time away from screens
– Time by the sea
– Getting enough sleep
– Investing in friends and family
– Writing in my journal
– Time in nature
– Time in quiet
– Saying no, so I can say yes to something else.

In contrast, this list is harder to protect. It’s harder to keep as part of my routine and as a consistent feature in my life . Yet I know I need it. These are the things that will help when my lifeboat is being buffeted; when things get tough. These things also aren’t glamorous. They aren’t easily branded or advertised. They are simple joys that cannot be turned into products that can be sold to me.

Writing down self-care ideas that are tried and tested helps with decision fatigue when things do get hard.

It’s this reason that I believe self-care can become confusing. In recent years I have noticed how an entire wellness industry is built upon making self-care into a ‘trend’; into something you need to put your cash behind to demonstrate that you’re ‘investing’ in yourself. In reality, for many of us our own self-care lists will be unique to us. They cannot be dreamt up in an advertising board rooms or sold via an Instagram feed. It probably won’t cost lots of money. Self care is born from you, shaped by your experiences and your individuality.

Another truth that I have learnt about self-care is that when you need it most, is the time it is hardest to implement.

It’s hard to do self-care when you’re feeling rubbish. To combat this I created a ‘self-care menu’ for those tough days. This menu is a list of activities that I have noticed and noted down as having helped soften my anxiety or lighten my mood. When things get rocky, I return to the list and pick one of them to try. Creating a list like this is a self-care activity in itself as it’s showing compassion to your future tender self and not layering on the expectation that you should know what to do when things get bumpy.

Go gentle with yourself when developing your own self-care routines and practices. Remember that there is no right or wrong way to get started. I have found that creating lists was a good way for me to get started. For you it may look different, perhaps you could create a mood board of self-care quotes that inspire you. You may wish to make notes in your phone to videos that make you laugh, or start as small as your favourite tea in your favourite mug. There is no end goal here, just small movements to greater self-awareness.

Finding Calm Before Bed

I have never been a ‘good’ sleeper, I’m definitely a night owl. Roald Dahl put it beautifully in The BFG:

“The witching hour, somebody had once whispered to her, was a special moment in the middle of the night when every child and every grown-up was in a deep deep sleep, and all the dark things came out from hiding and had the world all to themselves.”

The BFG by Roald Dahl

I used to love that feeling; of having the world all to myself. I would regularly sit up til two in the morning reading. I would tip toe downstairs to the kitchen and watch the foxes from the backdoor ferry their young across the garden by the scruff of their necks. I adored the stillness of the night. The soft murmur of the wind on the roof, the dart of a bat in the corner of my eye. For some reason it energised me, my imagination would zip into life. Wired, wide awake. Alive, when everyone else was away.

Watching the sun go down is a simple way to encourage sleep naturally.

This is still very much a part of me. Yet it’s something I’ve had to work on and change gradually. There is a lot of evidence and research that suggests that poor sleep not only effects us cognitively, but has a huge impact on our physical health too:

‘Studies have found a relationship between the quantity and quality of one’s sleep and many health problems. For example, insufficient sleep affects growth hormone secretion that is linked to obesity; as the amount of hormone secretion decreases, the chance for weight gain increases. Blood pressure usually falls during the sleep cycle, however, interrupted sleep can adversely affect this normal decline, leading to hypertension and cardiovascular problems. Research has also shown that insufficient sleep impairs the body’s ability to use insulin, which can lead to the onset of diabetes. More and more scientific studies are showing correlations between poor and insufficient sleep and disease.’

Source from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/

To be honest, when I first read into the effects of poor sleep on our health I was a little scared. Sleep for me is like playing a game of cat and mouse; it can be a frustrating battle of wills. Studies and research say how important it is to prioritise, but where does that leave those of us who struggle to get ‘good’ sleep?

Calming and soft lighting to encourage relaxation

Firstly, I think it’s helpful to have a little bit of awareness about what our individual ‘sleeping sore spots’ are. For me, I am naturally a night owl. For others, they may be experiencing anxiety, depression or physical pain. Worrying and overthinking seem to also feature heavily. Perhaps you have little ones waking you up every few hours which may be preventing or disrupting sleep.

I think at this point it’s important to say that I’m not a sleep expert. I’m a therapist who has noticed that trouble with sleep and rest lists really high with the clients that I meet with. I think its a topic that is often dismissed or seen as being so ‘normal’ that it gets forgotten about.

Here are a few offerings that might be of interest:

  • The book: ‘Why We Sleep‘ by Matthew Walker
    A helpful and insightful book that helps explains why sleep is important for us as human beings written by an actual expert on sleep.

  • No screens in your bedroom. I know this is a controversial one. Whenever I mention this to my friends they always say: ‘But my phone is my alarm’. I believe that our phones shouldn’t live in the same space as where you want to sleep. The back-lighting fools our brains into thinking its daytime and more importantly, we are distracted and compelled to constantly swipe and scroll on our phones. I kind of feel that having our phone in our bedroom is kind of like having an advertising executive crouching by you while you sleep…apologies for the creepy image.

  • A walk or gentle exercise after your evening meal. This has been a big one for me, I can really notice a difference in how calm I feel if I engage in a little bit of activity to help my digestion before bed.

  • Bedtime yoga. This is a relatively new addition for me but has really helped get rid of any tension in my body before sleep, This video is one I keep coming back to:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7SN-d4qXx0&list=PLui6Eyny-UzwmsJ9vILet4TJwqcINCz4j

  • If you can, watch the sun go down. This is the exact opposite to screens glowing in a dark room. If you can watch the sun go down then your brain (that is hard-wired with thousands of years of evolutionary biological ques) is going to acknowledge that night time is coming…it’s time to sleep…. Plus, it’s beautiful.

  • A bath or shower. It’s a relaxing way to show yourself some tender care and kindness.

  • Bedtime stories. I’m a big believer in bedtime stories and how soothing they can be. One of my favourites is The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S Lewis.

  • If you’ve got a busy brain full of tasks, to-do lists, commitments or worries put pen to paper. Writing down the noise in our minds and letting these thoughts stick on paper overnight rather than swirling around our heads can give us the break we need to rest. Your notebook will keep them safe until morning: you deserve the time away from it too.

  • Switch to decaf drinks from the mid-afternoon to give your body a chance to work through your morning and lunchtime caffeine. It takes on average 6 hours for one caffeinated drink to completely leave your system.

  • Find a ritual in your bedtime routine. Lighting a candle, putting on a pair of woolly socks, washing your face with steaming water, cuddle an animal friend…it all sounds very stereotypical and generic, but I believe we all have something that could become a calming ritual if we wanted it to.
Creating pockets in your evening that can become a ritual can also encourage a calmer bedtime

I’m always keen to hear how other people find calm before bed. Please feel free to comment below any of your top tips!

Hoping wherever and whenever you read this, that you rest easy tonight.

Living in the Here and Now: When did it get so complicated?

Whenever I hear about mindfulness a small part of me draws away feeling slightly cynical, and honestly, a little fatigued with it’s perfect ‘zen’ image. When I think about mindfulness I think of google executives in flip flops, or yoga gurus with flat stomachs and unflappable self-discipline. People who are ‘mindful’ don’t demolish an entire pack of Jaffa Cakes while writing blog posts… Why is that?

I’m not sure why or when mindfulness got to be so complicated; so unattainable. Yet, for many of us the idea of creating a mindfulness practice seems a far off, distant state of being.

In my work this has been something I’ve really had to grapple with. There is compelling evidence and research about mindfulness and how it can improve our mental and physical health. For example;

A 2011 systematic review of more than 20 randomised controlled trials successfully demonstrated improvements in overall mental health, as well as its benefits for reducing risk of relapse from depression. Similarly, substantial evidence within these trails points towards mindfulness as having a positive impact on anxiety disorders.[1]


[1] Fjorback LO, Arendt M, Ornbøl E, Fink P, Walach H. Mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials.( Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2011 Aug;124(2)102-19.

So, this is something important. This is something that could actually improve our mental health and has been shown to reduce a risk of relapsing into depressive states and has a positive overall impact on our levels of anxiety.

Yet, my Inner Rebel is rolling her eyes…she’s bored of being lectured and verbally showered with the benefits of a ‘daily mindfulness practice’ by celebrities on podcasts. Most of us can’t go on a three month silent meditation retreat to Thailand.

Weather watching is a brilliant mindful activity that allows us to notice our surroundings and in turn our own well being.

Simply sitting with ourselves in an authentic and calm way has somehow become a brand. It’s become something that you need to buy into, something that you must ‘master’… or you’re ‘failing’.

One of my friends here in Sheffield is a seventy year old lady I met while we were working in a shop together when I was a student. This friend picks out a slightly different route to walk to work each day. She chooses to sit in a different seat from yesterday or drink from a different mug. This friend has taught me more about mindfulness and meditation then any book or podcast on the subject. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t even label what she is doing as being ‘mindful’. My friend chooses each day to notice her surroundings. To notice herself within those surroundings and within the bubble of her own body.

For me, mindfulness is finding moments in our day to ‘notice’. To notice what is within; to notice what the impact of our environment is having upon us. Why can’t we be mindful by enjoying a cup of tea at the perfect temperature? Smelling onions cook in a pan and become soft and golden. Mindfulness can be spending time in nature and letting it occupy our busy brains. Mindfulness is noticing the robin balancing on your neighbours fence and smiling to yourself as it sways on its tightrope. Mindfulness is noticing how your shoulders tense up when you hear the BBC news drumming intro.

What mindfulness is to one person will leave another completely cold. This is the nature of it, it’s going to be unique to you. The things that you notice about yourself and the world around you will hold different meanings. It is through this noticing that I believe we can truly develop self-care that is effective and nourishing for ourselves; self -care that is tailor made for us. It is through our own noticing that we are able to find the words for our experiences that belong to us.

For me, things changed when I tore up the rule book about what mindfulness should look like. I had to press mute on some of those voices that weren’t encouraging me to find my own definition. Sometimes I really enjoy a guided meditation on an app like Calm. Other days watering my garden, or lighting a candle is enough. For me, it’s all about finding moments that allow space for noticing myself; moments that give time to acknowledge how I’m feeling in myself. So don’t feel discouraged if you’ve struggled to start or keep up with a ‘mindfulness practice’. There isn’t a right way to do it…only your way. Start with a gentle noticing, then go from there.

follow your own path when noticing what is unique to you.

Same storm, not the same boat…and Wonderland Wisdom

Lately the world feels as if its tipped us all into an alternate reality. I’ve heard a lot of people using the phrase: ‘we are all in the same boat’ and honestly, I couldn’t disagree more emphatically. We are within the same global storm, but we are not in the same boat.

Some of our boats are huge battleships that will feel only the rocking of this storm as gentle nudges. Some of us are in a dingy clinging on for dear life having already lost the life jackets long before the waves started building. Wherever you are on this spectrum I hope that a safe harbour will be in your future soon. I hope you can find ways to show yourself love and compassion. It will look different for everyone…because we are not in the same boat.

Last Summer: Watching the boats of all different sizes float by.

Recently, I’ve not been able to get a quote from Alice in Wonderland out of my head. It keeps popping up in my mind. Alice says:

“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

I feel that this quote has been bobbing up unannounced in my mind. I think this is because in my boat there is a lot of space. A lot more space then I’m used to. So much space that my mind on some days is like a border collie scratching at the wallpaper and chewing on the banisters. Memories from another life keep popping up. Old hurts feel fresh once again. The space in my boat is giving me an opportunity to process things that I haven’t looked at for a long time (perhaps things I’ve never looked at). Yet Alice’s words echo around me. Her childlike and simple wisdom keeps me hooked to the present.

What I am finding right now is that coming back to today is one of the few things that help with how my particular boat is shaping up. The days and weeks in which I notice the collie starting to chew can be hard. Choosing to return to the moment that I have right now result in days that allow me to sail this boat the smoothest way I can.

Below are some of the things that have been keeping me sane and adding value:

– Writing in my journal (and then shutting it…) A brilliant way to process stuff, and then give it boundaries and safety.

– Yoga, which has honestly been the most surprising revelation as I used to secretly feel very skeptical about the whole thing (this is another blog post entirely).

– Cooking. A friend of mine left a jar of chutney on my door step and it inspired me to cook up my own. It involved lots of chopping and stirring and created a wonderfully mindful morning.


– Time outside and watching Spring and colour return.

– Water colour. I’ve always loved sending cards, so during this time making the card itself has given me a lot of joy. It’s also helped boost my confidence that I can develop and learn new things.

– Reading. Alice aside, I’ve been enjoying some really snappy reads including ‘The Guest List’ by Lucy Foley. It was absolutely amazing and is wonderful escapism.

– No screens upstairs. This has been an absolute game changer and has helped my sleep no end.

– Inspecting my seeds I planted at the start of lock down, watering them and making plans for them for the summer.


All of these things cost little to nothing; yet they are acting as anchors in my days and weeks. Bringing me back to now, honoring that I cannot go back to yesterday. Your boat will be different to mine, it will perhaps need different things right now. What are acting as anchors for you right now?