What do you do when your mental health has always been fine, but then suddenly it isn't? That's something I've been struggling with recently. A whole combination of situations came together, resulting in anxiety - something I had never experienced before. It completely threw me.
Mental health issues can happen at any time of your life, for reasons that are obvious or perhaps not. And knowing what has caused them is often only part of the battle. So what can we do to try to stay afloat?
Talk to your family, your friends, your significant other. Talk to a professional. Don't keep your struggles to yourself. Not enough people talk about their mental health, which can make you think that others aren't struggling. Even if a friend hasn't been through what you are going through, they will want to understand. They may not be able to help you, but they might have some good advice. Even just being able to share your burden will help. Plus, you may encourage others to open up more about their own issues, in turn helping them.
Don't be afraid to let somebody at work know that you are having a hard time. Speak to HR or your manager, especially if you feel like you need to reduce your hours or take some time away from the office. The likelihood is that they will be more than accommodating.
Talking to a counsellor can help. Having an objective outsider to listen, without judgement, can be invaluable. If you need to take things further, don't be scared to talk to your GP and seek further treatment, whether that be something like CBT or medication. If you don't feel comfortable speaking to a doctor, you can refer yourself for mental health treatments via IAPT (see link at the bottom of the page).
As well as talking, try writing things down. It may help you process situations or feelings, and you may feel lighter getting things out of your head and down onto paper.
Finding time to relax and unwind
Doodling, colouring, baking, knitting, reading a good book...stepping away from the screen and doing something that occupies your mind or your hands can be a really good distraction. Instead of scrolling through Instagram before bed, wind down with some meditation to help you sleep. There are lots of short guided meditations online which can be useful if you find you are easily distracted. Try to focus on your breathing so that your mind has less chance to wander to other things.
Look after your physical health to help your mental health
The brain is a funny old thing. It blows my mind that your brain can make you feel physical pain which isn't really there, and that your physical state can have such an effect on your mental health. The two are very much interlinked, so it's important to look after them equally.
Something I've found that really marries mental and physical wellbeing is yoga. I've recently started going to yoga classes and am loving it. You definitely don't have to be really bendy. I like it because it's an hour where I don't think about anything else. I'm either concentrating on the pose that I'm trying to hold, or relaxing and listening to the soothing voice of the instructor during shavasana. There are some really good online yoga videos too - I like Yoga With Adrienne, Cat Meffan and Shona Vertue on YouTube.
Also, don't forget to keep moving and get out in the fresh air. Watch the sun rise or set. Go to the beach and see the waves. Look up at the stars and feel tiny. Sometimes looking at the bigger picture of nature is just what you need to put things into perspective.
Embrace being a hippy
Essential oils, crystals, herbal teas...if you find it helps, go with it. Even if there's no science behind it, sometimes just the practice is soothing. Holding a smooth crystal or stone while you meditate, taking ten minutes to yourself with a cup of tea, putting lavender oil on your pillow before bed. If it makes you feel better, that's all that matters.
Accept that it's a journey
As frustrating as it is, you won't suddenly be fine again. Some days can be better than others. Occasionally, you might hit a low again after a while of feeling better. Try to feel grateful for the good days, and when the bad days hit, remind yourself that they won't last forever. Use the tools that you learn to bring yourself back - concentrate on taking each day as it comes, and feeling calmer a day at a time.
And perhaps most importantly:
Be kind to yourself
Don't judge yourself harshly if you are struggling, and don't be ashamed to admit you need help. Take the time for yourself that you need to get through it, even if some days that's just getting an early night. Find gratitude in the small things, and trust that in time you are going to be ok.
Cruse Bereavement Care - https://www.cruse.org.uk/
Samaritans - https://www.samaritans.org/
IAPT - https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-psychological-therapies-service/
Notes on a Nervous Planet - Matt Haig [book]
Happy Place - Fearne Cotton [podcast]
After the roaring success of a few months on Differin, I feel like my skin is in a bit of a rut. Spots have been creeping back in, mostly on my jawline and neck but also a few on my cheeks. I haven't been making as much effort in my routine. So, in order to stop myself getting down about it, and to give my skin a kick up the bum, I have come up with some basic tips that will hopefully help you if you are struggling with your skin, and I am trying to follow them myself.
Stop touching your face!
An obvious one, and something that I had been getting a lot better at. It's difficult if you are obsessing over your skin as you'll be tempted to run your hands over your face, feeling for new spots. I am trying harder to stop this, and to stop resting my chin on my hands - I tend to get spots along my jawline and at the top of my neck when I do this too often.
Back to basics
Try not to chuck loads of new products at your face in your quest for 'perfect' skin. I am focusing on keeping my routine fairly simple. This is also in a bid to waste less and buy fewer items in plastic packaging. Try one new product at a time if you want to introduce new things, then it is easier to tell what is making a difference or if something is aggravating your skin.
Hydration, hydration, hydration
I had possibly been slacking a bit on keeping my face super moisturised. If you are acne-prone, several layers of light hydration is key. I have been layering up my face mist/gentle toners for extra moisture, and never skipping out on a good night cream. Hydrating night masks a few times a week and squalene oil on other nights (at the end of my routine) are helping my skin to feel soft and supple again.
Take your time
Treat your skincare routine as self care. I think I had got into a habit of rushing through getting my makeup off and doing my skincare routine, rather than enjoying it. Taking time to really massage in my cleanser and serums as part of a relaxing pre-bed routine has helped me to fall in love with skincare again.
Looking back (then onwards and upwards)
It has been extremely frustrating for me getting new breakouts when my skin had got so clear. However, it's important to look at the bigger picture. It is still so much better than it was. Looking back at photos of my skin a year or two ago, I can appreciate how far I have come. It also brings back memories of how down I was at that time because of my skin, and how much happier I am now. I have to remind myself that a few spots does not mean that the acne is coming back.
What I've been watching:
Products I've been loving:
What I've been eating and drinking:
What I've been listening to:
What I've been watching
In April I am looking forward to the return of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Game of Thrones.
Products I've been loving
What I've been doing
What I've been watching
Products I've been loving
What I've been listening to
Strange Love - Simple Creatures
Bury a Friend - Billie Eilish
Doorman - Slowthai
Off Menu (podcast) - Ed Gamble and James Acaster
Talking Tastebuds (podcast) - Venetia Falconer
What I've been eating/drinking
As usual, it was a long old January, but here are some of the things that helped me through it:
What I've been reading:
What I've been listening to:
What I've been watching:
What I've been eating/drinking:
Liam and I recently spent a long weekend in Berlin celebrating our 9 year (!) anniversary. It was cold (down to -3 on some days) but sunny with clear blue skies on most days. There is absolutely loads to do in Berlin - museums, monuments, street art and of course eating and drinking. Most things were within walking distance, but train tickets are cheap and we found it fairly easy to navigate our way around (I say, we, Liam is the only one with any sense of direction in this relationship). Below are some photos of some of my favourite things that we did on the trip.
East Side Gallery
A few meters from the bank of the river Spree, over a kilometre of the Berlin wall has been left standing as an outdoor gallery. On one side, artists have painted murals, and the other side is covered in graffiti by locals. Both sides are eye catching, with plenty of good photo opportunities. There were lots of other people taking photos, and many were queuing to take a picture in front of some of the more famous scenes.
Street art alley
An almost hidden entrance off Hackescher Markt leads to a tiny, graffiti-covered alleyway, packed with different styles of street art. It only takes a few minutes to wander down and look at everything but again, good for some arty photos!
Museums and landmarks
Unfortunately it was easier said than done finding restaurants that offered both gluten free and vegan options. However, we did find some really tasty food - sadly none of it traditional German (some places offered vegan Currywurst, however nothing was coeliac friendly). These are the places I would definitely recommend:
Berlin is the perfect place for a city break if you fancy a mix of historical and hipster, plenty of walking and lots of good food and drink. I would recommend packing your thermals if you visit in January!
1. Some people will be baffled.
But why would you want to go vegan? But what about bacon? Mostly these questions come from genuine confusion/intrigue rather than a bad place. Although veganism is becoming more and more mainstream, a lot of people do not know (or choose not to think about) what happens in the meat, dairy and egg industries. Some people may react with aggression - don't let them get you down.
2. Most people will be supportive.
Even if they don't fully understand, your friends and family will at least respect your reasons (whatever they are) for changing your lifestyle. They will even start to get involved - my mum loves telling me about vegan alternatives that she has read about, and sees it as a challenge to come up with new things to feed me!
3. You will eat a lot of party rings and oreos.
Ah, the 'accidentally vegan' snacks. Once people learn that these are safe for you to eat, you will be fed many of them. I'm certainly not complaining.
4. You won't be protein deficient.
Shock horror! Veg, beans, tofu, soya, vegan protein powder...sorted. Being vegan doesn't mean no gainz.
5. You will learn to hate milk powder and the fact that it is seemingly in EVERYTHING.
Whyyyy? A large proportion of crisps and snacks are now off the menu. Boo.
6. You will get very excited when you meet other vegans.
Swapping stories of the best vegan restaurants, which documentaries you've watched, favourite plant-based milks...they're a friendly bunch and it's nice to find people to chat to about all things vegan.
7. Everyone you know will tell you when new vegan products come out.
Did you hear that Greggs are selling a vegan sausage roll? Vegan Magnums? You will be tagged in all sorts of things on Instagram, and everyone will be very excited on your behalf. They will often try things themselves and proclaim 'It doesn't even taste vegan!'
8. You will feel awkward for asking for the vegan menu or making friends and family cook differently for you...but you'll soon get over it.
It doesn't phase other people as much as you think it does. Restaurants are perfectly equipped to cope with dietary requirements. My boyfriend was diagnosed with Coeliac disease when we were still at uni, so I have many years experience being those people who ask about ingredients and allergen menus! As for your friends and family, I refuse to believe that they wouldn't take your needs into consideration. After all, you'd do the same for them.
9. You will try lots of weird alternative baking ingredients...and might learn to love them.
Chickpea water meringues? Silken tofu in a cheesecake? What is this madness? A bit odd on the face of it, but seriously tasty in practice. You will also revel in telling people the strange secret ingredient in what they've just eaten (after they've polished it off, of course).
10. You will learn to love vegan cheese, in all it's weird rubbery glory.
Well, I did anyway. It took a while, but now I'll happily eat Violife slices straight out the packet (woops). There are also some brilliant small companies such as Kinda Co. who make all sorts of delicious nut-based cheese alternatives.
11. You probably won't even miss meat and dairy that much...
I was genuinely shocked at how easy it was to go vegan. To be fair, I was never the kind of person who ate rare steaks and needed to have meat with every meal. But I was a cheese lover and couldn't resist a cheeky Nandos or a chicken korma. Do I miss it? Not really. At least, not enough to ever go back.
12. You definitely won't be hungry.
No meat, no problem. You might have to get a bit more creative in the kitchen, but despite cutting out quite a few things on a vegan diet, there is still SO much food available to you. It's not all salad and hummus!
13. You will probably start to enjoy cooking more.
Because vegan is still a little bit niche and hipster, it's exciting to try new recipes, follow vegan influencers on Instagram and post your own #Vegan dinners. If you like to stick to step-by-step instructions there are some great vegan recipe books out there, but you will also probably find that winging it and inventing your own dinners is pretty fun too.
14. You won't miss out on junk food.
As well as all of the accidentally vegan biscuits and sweets in the supermarket, there are options at most chain restaurants, and loads of vegan fast food places. Burgers, pizzas and milkshakes are not a thing of the past when you go vegan!
15. You will be proud of yourself for choosing to help animals and the environment by eating more consciously.
And maybe even a little smug :)
In the clear
What a difference a few months makes. After about eight weeks on Differin I thought (and hoped) that I was starting to see results, but nothing dramatic. I wondered whether to keep going or to head back to the doctor, but was encouraged to stick it out by others, who said that it can take a while to really come into full effect. My skin must have kept improving gradually, but at the beginning of November I suddenly became aware of just how clear it had become! Softer to the touch, no new spots and scars significantly faded.
After a good month of completely clear skin, I have started to get the odd spot again. Each time, I panic that the acne is returning. I realise this sounds a little neurotic, but I am desperate never to let my skin return to the state that it was once in. For now, it seems to be under control. I have to remind myself of just how far it has come - the photos speak for themselves. These are some snaps of my skin over the last ~12 months. No filters, just dodgy bathroom lighting and a phone camera.
I feel like I have finally nailed my skincare as well. Obviously the Differin is the game-changer here, but I have fine-tuned my routine so that I am now sticking to basic things that work, rather than throwing everything under the sun at my in the hope that it would go away. Hydration has been the key for me, rather than lots of drying, anti-spot ingredients. I opt for multiple light layers, to keep my skin soft rather than overloading it with greasy creams. Here is what I use:
Cleanse: The Body Shop Drops of Light Brightening Cleansing Foam
Essence: B. Refreshed Essence Lotion
Vitamin C: Garden of Wisdom for Victoria Health Vitamin C Serum 23% + Ferulic Acid
Eye cream: Superdrug Vitamin E Nourishing Eye Cream
Hyalauronic acid: The Inkey List Hyalauronic Acid
Serum: Superdrug Simply Pure Hydrating Serum
Moisturiser: Garden of Wisdom for Victoria Health Daily Hydrator
SPF: The Body Shop Skin Defence Multi-Protection Essence
First cleanse: The Body Shop Camomile Silky Cleansing Oil
Second cleanse: Himalaya Herbals Purifying Neem Face Wash
Acid tone: Nip + Fab Teen Skin Fix Salicylic Acid
Toner/essence: Natures Aid Triple Strength Rose Water or B. Refreshed Essence Lotion
Serum: Garden of Wisdom for Victoria Health Niacinamide Serum
Moisturiser: The Body Shop Aloe Soothing Night Cream
I also try to do a facial twice a week, which usually involves a clay/mud mask followed by something super hydrating. The masks I use are:
I am well aware that my acne was not the worst case in the world, and for that I am grateful. I also know that having spots does not make you ugly or worthless, or in any way less respected by others. But boy, does it make you feel all of those things at times. My skin was really getting me down, to the point where I avoided looking in the mirror as much as possible. Although acne certainly doesn't define you, I don't think it's unreasonable to want to do something about it.
If you are struggling with spots, my advice is this: be gentle to your skin, and don't panic-buy lots of strong, drying products. Keep your skin hydrated and don't overload it with treatments. Most importantly, what works for some people may not work for everyone. It is frustrating, but be patient and try different things until you find what helps you. It may be a change in skincare, a prescription cream, antibiotics or Accutane. Don't be afraid to seek medical help to explore all of your options.
Perfect skin doesn't exist, but for now Differin seems to be keeping mine fairly calm and that's good enough for me.
You have probably seen awful images of plastic filling our oceans and scattered on beaches, straws stuck in the noses of turtles, and birds with stomachs full of bottle tops. It is utterly heartbreaking, and it's a problem that isn't likely to go away any time soon. Temperatures are rising, glaciers are melting, and CO2 emissions are in need of drastic reduction. This isn't something that has happened overnight, but it seems have reached a stage where people are finally starting to take notice. It can feel pretty bleak and overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be a lost cause. If we all make some small changes, that's a good start. It certainly can't hurt to try, anyway. Here are some ideas of easy changes to start you on your eco-friendly journey:
On the go
Hair, face and body
Firstly, remember that although recycling is good, re-using is better. Even better still, is buying less in the first place! Ask yourself: 'do I really need this?' Avoiding unnecessary purchases will help your budget, and let's be honest, a lot of fast fashion gets worn a few times before languishing in the back of the wardrobe, or going in the bin.
Invest in clothes that you really love, buy second hand where you can, and give unwanted pieces to charity shops or clothes banks. If you're feeling super fancy, get on Pinterest and alter things you already have in your wardrobe. Try to use things up that you already have - makeup, skincare etc, rather than just buying more and more (I have been very guilty of this in the past in a desperate bid to cure my acne, but have settled into a routine that works and am trying my best to stick to it).
Get into the habit of rinsing and recycling food packaging, empty toiletries bottles etc. It's important to get clued up on what can be recycled in your local area - head to your local council website to find out what can go in the bin and what can't. If it's being throw away, you might as well take the extra second to make sure you put it into the right bin. Make the effort to recycle when you are out and about too. If I don't see a recycling bin I usually take things home with me.
Finally, the most important thing: do what you can, and encourage others to do the same. I am a big believer in the fact that doing something is better than doing nothing. Yes, there are some people who haven't bought high street clothing/fast fashion for 10 years, or produce only enough non-recyclable waste to fill a small jar each year, and that's great. But just because you aren't perfect, doesn't mean you aren't helping the fight against climate change. Many people making these small steps can have a big impact. If everyone reading the news thinks 'oh well, whatever I do won't make a difference', then we'll never get anywhere with global warming. Educate yourself, keep making more and more small changes and pass on your knowledge. We only have one planet, so let's start showing it that we care.