Blog

Chloe posts

Loneliness

Loneliness is a crushing feeling. It can be really difficult when you feel that you have nobody to experience the highs and lows of life with. It can be easy to blame yourself for your loneliness or worry that you are lonely because there is something wrong with you, but this is not the case. Loneliness is very common, and many people feel lonely at some point in their lives.

There is a sure difference between being alone and feeling lonely. Being alone can be brilliant because it allows us to recharge our batteries and concentrate on the things we enjoy. Loneliness however, is an empty aching feeling, where we feel that we want to connect with others but we struggle to.

It is important that we don’t blame ourselves for feeling lonely. Sometimes events happen in our lives that cause us to isolate ourselves from others, and sometimes people can walk out of our lives unexpectedly. Sometimes a lack of self-confidence might make us avoid putting ourselves out thereor health conditions like anxiety can cause us to isolate ourselves and worry about interacting with others.

When I am struggling with feelings of loneliness, I find it useful to distract myself with studying, music, and hobbies. Joining a group to meet like-minded people is a good step to take, but it is also a very daunting one if you feel you are not ready for it, or you struggle to trust others and open up to them. If you are experiencing loneliness, it is helpful to remember that the way you are feeling now is temporary, there are steps you can take to change things, and it doesn’t have to be this way forever.

The mind website has some useful information about loneliness and ways to manage it: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/loneliness/#.XdF51Ff7TIU

This article is also a brilliant read for relatable real-life stories and statistics about loneliness:                                                                                      https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-45561334

Chloe posts

Sleep

Sleep is important for our mental health. Studies have shown that without sleep, it can be difficult for us to learn, be attentive and form new memories. Poor sleep has been linked to difficulties with information processing and concentration, and it can make us feel agitated and restless. When we are sleep deprived, it may also be harder for us to regulate our emotions and rationalize our thoughts. Sleep is so crucial because it gives our brain time to recharge, and it allows us to restore our energy.

Here are some ideas for improving sleep:

  1. Get into a routine

Though it is often a lot easier said than done, it can be useful to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. This is helpful because it allows us to get into a pattern where we get tired at roughly the same time each night.

  1. Avoid using electrical devices before bed

Studies have shown that it is unhelpful to use screens with bright lights before sleeping, because light inhibits the production of melatonin (a hormone we need for sleep). I have found that it is helpful to keep my phone in a different room/away from my bed, so that I’m not tempted to look at it at night.

  1. Meditation and focusing on your breathing

It can be a good idea to do breathing, relaxation, or meditation exercises to calm yourself down before bed. Thinking of pleasant memories and calming thoughts can also be useful. I really like the Calm channel on YouTube for guided meditations, and the headspace app.

  1. Do something relaxing before sleeping

It can be helpful to read a book, have a hot bath, listen to relaxing music, or write in a journal before bed. I find that jotting down unresolved worries and anxieties before bed is useful because it gets them ‘out of my system’, and it helps me to stop worrying whilst I’m trying to sleep.

  1. Talk to someone

Sometimes poor sleep can be a sign of an underlying issue, such as stress at work, low mood, or a medical problem. It can be a good idea to talk to a friend you trust or your GP, as they might be able to offer advice, prescribe medication or figure out whether there may be an underlying condition that is affecting your sleep.

Healthy bedtime habits

Chloe posts

Swimming in the Deep End

New opportunities are exciting but frightening. We’re all familiar with that uncomfortable feeling of over-fullness when you eat that extra cookie despite feeling completely stuffed, or when you opt for a greasy take away on a Friday night, overdo it a little, and then regret it the following morning. I’m learning that sometimes opportunities in life can be like that.

You jump in head first because the opportunity is all too exciting to let go, or the cookie looks too tasty to leave on the side, and then later you worry that your eyes were bigger than your belly, and you might’ve bitten off a little more than you could chew. I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve learned over the past couple of weeks, about how to manage your thoughts when you feel like you’re overstuffed and overflowing; like you’re swimming in the deep end and you’re a river about to break its banks. Here are some tips for the times when you’re drowning in to-do lists, and you’re struggling to keep your head above water:

1. Remember that you’re only a human, and not a superhuman-superhero-wizard.
Everybody makes mistakes!

2. Stop comparing yourself to others, try to stop worrying, and stop bullying yourself for not living up to impossibly high expectations. We all learn at different paces and in different ways, and that’s perfectly okay. Remember that nobody’s life is perfect, and you only ever know what people choose to tell you. Worrying about not being good enough will only make you feel more negative. It can be useful to ask yourself ‘is thinking about this problem and analyzing it helpful, or am I going around in circles? Is the problem within my control, or out of my control? Are there any practical things I could do to solve this or ease my anxiety? Is this problem/task as big as I am making it out to be?

3. Be in the present moment – be as observant as possible and keep your eyes and ears open. Try to bring yourself back to the task at hand if you find yourself falling into a spiral of anxiety and worry.

4. Set high standards but be compassionate with yourself if you don’t meet them. Remember that you can only do your best.

5. Practice gratitude, celebrate small achievements, and try to find the silver lining to every situation. It’s rarely the case that absolutely everything went badly. What went well in your day?

6. Remember that we all go through peaks and troughs. No flower blooms all year
round (or maybe some do but…who cares about those flowers anyway? Maybe
they’re hiding something…)

7. Remember that even if things don’t work out, you’ll be okay. Life is full of positive experiences to look back on fondly, and negative experiences that teach us things. Experiences, good and bad, are all part of life’s rich tapestry. Sometimes we take on new opportunities that make our life feel bright and cheery, and at other times, they leave us feeling bleak, despondent and dull. Sometimes it’s a mix of the two. It’s important to be proud of yourself for stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new, even if it doesn’t work out exactly how you’d first hoped. If something doesn’t go to plan, try and find the lesson from the situation and learn from it, instead of regretting it.

September can be a time of new opportunities and adventures for many of us. September sees the end of summer and the start of autumn, the start of a new academic year, and for some, it symbolizes hope and new beginnings.

At the cafe last month, we also did something a little bit different and new. We made the most of the heatwave and headed for a picnic in the sun. We had a brilliant time drawing and painting, and we enjoyed sitting in the woods and chatting. We then headed back indoors and had fun playing with FIMO (a type of modelling clay). Here are some of the wonderful pieces of art that were created by the cafe’s talented attendees last month.

 

Chloe posts

The Pressure to be Perfect

In 2019, I’m convinced that looking after our appearance could be a full-time job. We live in a world where the way we look is of increasing importance – we must have a toned hairless body, a full face of makeup, manicures, pedicures, balayage straightened-then-curled hair, tanned, blemish-free skin, white teeth, eyelash extensions, Instagram-ready eyebrows, and the perfect outfit, with shoes to match. Society’s beauty standards are excruciatingly high, for all genders, and they’re practically impossible to live up to.

Perfection (or our idea of what perfection is) may seem desirable, but the truth is that striving for perfection can be exhausting, and it is difficult to maintain in the long run. Often when we spend too long trying to make something perfect, it can stop us from enjoying the activity, or we can spend hours agonizing over it, and picking out flaw after flaw. Nothing is perfect, and the definition of ‘perfect’ is highly subjective, so pursuing perfection can be a waste of time.

This can be a hard pill to swallow, especially for the perfectionists amongst us, but constantly pursuing perfection can prevent us from enjoying life. It’s better to start living our lives now, rather than waiting until we feel that we are the perfect version of ourselves. In reality, the way we look is actually quite irrelevant, and it doesn’t matter half as much as we think it does. Our bodies are just bodies; they’re just things that kart us around the world, that allow us to jump, walk, talk and enjoy life. It’s important to appreciate our bodies for everything that they can do for us, rather than hating them because they don’t measure up to an impossibly high ideal.

The message that ugly is bad and pretty is good has been transmitted to us from a young age, so it’s a difficult myth to debunk in our heads. In Disney films, the villains are portrayed as evil and ugly, whereas the princesses are presented as kind-hearted, with an otherworldly type of beauty. Because of the messages we receive from society about the way we are expected to look, we can feel compelled to seek out treatments and enhancements to improve our appearance, so we can finally become ‘perfect’ and eradicate our insecurities. Perhaps society’s standards are so unobtainable for a reason. If society made people feel comfortable with themselves, we wouldn’t feel that we have spend money on improving ourselves, and it wouldn’t be good for business. Though we can use things like makeup and beauty treatments to express ourselves and increase our confidence, it can quickly become harmful if we begin to feel that we’re not good enough without it. Even if we don’t look like supermodels, actresses and popstars, we are good enough, and we are completely fine as we are. The way we look is only one tiny fragment of who we are, and though it can be difficult to remember this sometimes, it is not the only thing that matters.

 

Chloe posts

Found Poetry at Rainbow Heron

Last month, we had the opportunity to get creative in a poetry workshop, with local poet Genevieve Carver. ‘Found poetry’ is essentially creating new writing from pre-existing writing. It involves cutting out words from magazines, newspapers, articles and books to make a poem, in the same way that you would cut out pictures to make a collage. We all struggle with writers block sometimes, and sometimes we can know what we want to write, but it can be difficult to think of the right words. Found poetry is brilliant because the words are already there for you as inspiration, and it’s up to you to put them together to form something new. Poetry can be a brilliant way of expressing emotions and feelings, and it can also provide a sense of achievement when you are proud of what you have written, and you find that others can relate to it. Reading poetry and fiction, or writing a poem about something completely random can also be a good way of distracting yourself and escaping into another world for a little while. When I’m feeling very low, I also find it useful to write my thoughts down in a journal, because it helps me to rationalise my thoughts.

Music can be a really helpful tool too. At the café last month, we made a playlist of inspirational/positive/happy songs to listen to while creating the poems.

What do you use to distract yourself when you’re feeling low? Do you find that writing helps?
Here are some of the wonderful poems that were created at the workshop this month…

 

Chloe posts

Coping with Stress

Few of us cope well when we are stressed. The most put-together, organised person may still be prone to crumbling under pressure. Stress occurs when the demands of the situation are greater than our perceived ability to cope with it, and none of us are immune to the effects of stress. It can weaken our immune system and cause stomach aches, colds, and headaches, yet we still persist with work and projects that trigger our stress responses. Though it is practically impossible to avoid stress completely, there are many strategies we can use to try and cope a little better with it. Here are a few tips and techniques to try:

Problem-focused coping vs avoidant coping

Distraction techniques such as having a bath, relaxing, and doing something you enjoy can be helpful, but they can often lead us to avoid the stressful situation, rather than face it. In the past I’ve found that when I cope with my stress by avoiding it, the stress reappears as soon as I’ve stopped distracting myself. For example, if I’m stressed about a difficult assignment, and I spend the day socialising to avoid thinking about it, the stress will come back once I’m on my own again. Problem-focused coping means thinking about the root cause of your stress and identifying steps you can take immediately to solve the problem. If I’m stressed about work, I’ve found it’s far better to be pro-active by writing a plan, e-mailing my tutor for help, or getting started on it, rather than distracting myself and pretending that the work doesn’t exist. However, when we are incredibly overwhelmed and stressed, thinking of solutions to the problem can seem an impossible, insurmountable task. Distraction techniques can be helpful when we feel this way, because they allow us to improve our mood so that we feel able to get started.

Avoid taking too much on

Having high standards of ourselves can be wonderful, because it means that we’re challenging ourselves. However, there is a fine line between pushing yourself, and taking on more than you can handle. If you find that you have more things to do than time to do it all in, it can be useful to remove a few activities from your to-do list so that you can quickly reduce the number of things you are worried about. If this is difficult, try thinking about your values and the things that matter to you most. It can be helpful to make a list with 3 sections: things that I must do, things that I like to do occasionally, and things that I do not like to do. You might find that your life is very cluttered, and you are wasting a lot of time doing something you do not enjoy (scrolling through social media, getting distracted by the television…). You may realise that you could swap the half hour you spend scrolling through social media in the morning, for something more enjoyable and productive. It’s important to remember that it’s completely okay to be assertive and say no to things that don’t appeal to you/activities you don’t have time for. It is your life and your time to spend how you please, and protecting your mental health will always be more important than pleasing other people!

Think about the situation from another person’s perspective

It’s easy to become our own worst enemies, and this can become even easier when we’re stressed. It’s easy to beat ourselves up about all the things we said we would do but didn’t do and ruminate about everything we are worried about. But this style of thinking isn’t productive for anybody, and it only serves to attract more negative thoughts. Thinking about what you would say to a friend if they were in your situation and practicing self-compassion can be useful to combat these thoughts, and it helps us to stop being so hard on ourselves.

Focus on what you can change

There are some stressful situations that we can change. We can cancel going to a social event that is worrying us or change jobs to one that won’t stress us out so much. We can control how we react in situations, where we work, what we say, and how we act. There are other stressful and worrying events that we are powerless to change. We cannot control the disturbing events on the news, what other people say about us or the way that they act, so it is pointless to spend lots of time worrying about these things.

 

b2a3c7f68ab63e7a86d683770b8ade8d

 

Chloe posts

So, what do you do?

‘So, what do you do?’ is a question that most of us have been asked at one point or another. It is a question that can ignite dread, pride, or a strange mixture of the two. It is hard to know what to say, and often I just want to shout, ‘honestly no idea mate’ and run away.

So, why does this question tend to fill us with so much dread? For me, this question is unnerving because it invites judgement, and it makes me worry about what the other person will think of my response. Will they think that what I do isn’t good enough, and will they judge my poor life choices and lack of intellect? Will they think that I’m lazy? What if they unconditionally hate everybody who does the job that I do?

These are normal worries to have, because it’s completely natural to want other people to like us. However, this question can be really damaging, and it can lower our self-esteem. We often complain about our society because it sets unrealistic beauty standards and places a lot of importance on our appearance, or how much we weigh. But society can also influence the way we think about our careers and achievements, and it can make us worry that we won’t measure up to our peers.

This is silly though – because you are worth so much more than what you do for a living. You might be a friend, football enthusiast, book-worm, baker, carer, or artist. You are your personality, hobbies, qualities, quirks and talents, and so many other different things. You are worth so much more than your career.

Regardless of this, people still seem to love this question, and this is often because they are simply curious, or trying to make small talk. They probably didn’t intend to make us feel uncomfortable by asking about our job. When approached with this question, it can be helpful to remember that you can choose how you answer it, and you can shape your answer in any way that you like. You don’t owe anybody details or a full explanation, and somebody who judges you based on your career alone might not be the best friend to have anyway! You don’t even have to tell them about your job role – you can always answer the question by telling them that you’re an artist or musician instead, and then talk about your hobbies for a while. You are still an artist, writer or musician if you make music or art, regardless of whether you have made money from it or not. Your job is not the only component of your identity.

Judging our self-worth and sense of self based on a few tiny aspects can be unhelpful for our mental health, because we are worth more than our grades, career, and qualifications. Often these are just numbers on a piece of paper. Having a career is wonderful, but there are other things in life that matter too. You are more than ‘what you do’, you are free to construct your own identity, and you can choose what defines you. You are not what you do for a living, you are a life!