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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 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, whilst 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 as though we need to 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.

 

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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 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 to get the negative thoughts out of my system, and it helps me to reason through what I’m thinking.

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 we created 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 we know will 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, as they allow us to regulate our emotions and improve our mood, so 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 growing, pushing and 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. This exercise might help you to find time for everything you want to do, or it might help you to decide what your priorities are. 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. Conversely, there are some stressful and worrying events that we are powerless to change. Worrying about these is a waste of time. You cannot control the disturbing events on the news, what other people say about you or the way that they act. So why waste time agonizing over it?

I hope that these ways of thinking about stress are helpful! Do you have any fail-safe techniques for managing stress? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments.

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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 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 help 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 and being successful 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!

 

Chloe posts

The Positive Box

My friend recently introduced me to the wonderful idea of creating a ‘positive box’ to use at times when you’re feeling low. A positive box can be any type of box, that you fill with things that will automatically cheer you up. At times when you feel that you want to use an unhealthy coping mechanism, you can take something out of the box to distract yourself for a little while, until you feel better.

Examples of things you could put in your positive box include:

  • Photographs from happy times, with family, friends etc.
  • Your favourite book, magazine, film, music or TV series.
  • Tea bags/hot chocolate sachets
  • Positive notes/quotes, written by a friend or yourself
  • Nail polish, face masks, makeup, bath salts/bubbles, body creams etc.
  • A notebook and pen for you to write down your thoughts
  • A fun to-do list of activities you’ve been meaning to do
  • Paintbrushes, sketchbooks, colouring book, arts and crafts items
  • Something that reminds you of your favourite memory
  • Phone numbers for friends/family you could talk to
  • Write a letter to yourself (when you are in a positive/rational mood), which you can then read over when you are at your lowest and struggling to think logically

Your positive box can be anything that you want it to be, and it can be something private that you keep for yourself, or something that you share with others. There are no restrictions on what is allowed to go inside the positive box – but it can’t be something that will make you feel worse! Nothing negative is allowed inside of the positive box!

It can be really difficult when you feel like you don’t deserve the things in your box, but it is at these times that when you need and deserve them the most. Going to your positive box when you feel low can be an effective way to distract yourself from difficult emotions, express your feelings, and channel negative energy into something more positive. It can help you to manage the thoughts in your head in a healthier and kinder way.

It might seem like a silly idea at first, but having several go-to coping mechanisms in one place can be extremely helpful for those times when it is difficult to tame negative thinking.

And of course, you can design your box in whatever way you like! Here are a couple of  ideas to get you started…

positive box

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Chloe posts

Everyday self-care: 5 ways to build self-care into your daily routine

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When we are super busy or stressed, it can seem impossible to fit everything in. When we are constantly faced with work pressures, deadlines, commitments and social events to attend, it can seem like our to-do list is never-ending. Life can be chaotic, and it can often feel like there is barely time to breathe. During these times, it’s important to remember that self-care isn’t always something that we need to set big chunks of time aside for, but something that we can build into our everyday lives by making small changes.

Self-care is so important because it helps us to stay mentally well. Taking regular breaks allows us to calm down, re-charge, and go back to our work with a clearer head, so that we can work more efficiently in the long run.

Here are some ideas of ways to build self-care into your day-to day life:

  1. Listen to music or a podcast

I love this tip because it is so easy to build into your day-to-day life. Listening to your favourite tunes while you’re in the shower, brushing your teeth, or cleaning your house could be an easy and simple way to boost your mood, without taking lots of time out of your day.

  1. Take the scenic route

You could try taking the longer (but prettier!) route to work or getting off the bus a few stops earlier each day, so you can spend an extra 10 minutes walking through the woods near your house. Doing the same route everyday can get monotonous and boring, so it’s okay to take the scenic route sometimes!

  1. Treat yourself

We can either spend our lives waiting for the perfect occasion to wear our favourite outfit, cook our favourite food, or give ourselves a break from our studies or work. But we can’t spend our lives waiting for summer, waiting until we have less on our plates, or waiting for when the time is right. The ‘right time’ may never come and life is far too short, so treat each day as a special occasion, and make the most of what you have right now!

  1. Phone a friend

After a bad day, there is nothing like talking to a good friend who knows just what to say to cheer you up!

  1. Get active

This doesn’t always have to mean going for a run or starting a new sport. Starting the day by doing some exercises or stretches can be a positive way to boost your mood and improve your mindset. Taking a break from your desk to do some stretches or dance to a song you love will release endorphins and help you to return to your work feeling mentally recharged.

I hope that these tips have helped, and I’d love to hear any other ideas you have in the comments.

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Chloe posts

Mindfulness

I am a notoriously unobservant person. My friends and family often laugh at me, for failing to remember the route to a new place, notice a new shop that has sprouted on our street, or realise that the layout of our living room has completely changed. To many people this might seem crazy, but I know that I’m not alone in my unobservant tendencies. Many of us drift off into our own worlds much of the time, where we choose to over-analyse the past, or worry uncontrollably about the future, rather than live in the present. For this reason, being “off in our own world!” for a large chunk of time, might not be ideal for our mental health.

Have you ever travelled a familiar route on the bus or in the car, but felt completely oblivious to your surroundings throughout the whole trip? Or have you ever ventured on a long walk to ‘clear your head’, only to end up ruminating over the same thoughts, and failing to enjoy your surroundings? Mindfulness seeks to put an end to this. It is all about remaining in the present moment and enjoying and appreciating everything in it.

There are a variety of ways we can use mindfulness in our everyday lives. Mindfulness can be concentrating on each step of your morning routine, and noticing the sights, smells, tastes, and noises around you as you do this. For example, rather than thinking about your itinerary for the day while getting ready, you stop to observe how the shower water feels on your skin, the cute design on your coffee cup, and the texture of buttered toast in your mouth. You can also use mindfulness on the commute to work – rather than worrying about the argument you had with your housemate that morning, take time to really notice your surroundings. Look at the sky, the weather, listen to music, look at the people around you, and try to avoid going into ‘automatic pilot’, and getting lost in your thoughts.

Personally, I use mindfulness to calm the thoughts in my head, when I’m feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Looking at the scenery around me, the colour of the walls, the shape of the chairs, the people passing by, and generally thinking about what I can see, feel, or smell in that moment, helps to bring me back to the present. Thinking about my senses helps me to realise that there is a world going on outside of my head, and it helps me to see the bigger picture again.

I used mindfulness recently, when I went to watch a performance with some friends. I felt incredibly anxious, and like everybody around me was staring at me, and talking about me. I wanted to leave the situation but felt like I couldn’t. I struggled to quieten the thoughts in my head and knew that I wouldn’t enjoy the performance if my thoughts persisted. Instead of leaving, I tried to focus on the present. I looked at the ceiling of the theatre, noticed how delicately the building had been built and thought about the time it must have taken to design it. I watched the people below filter into their seats, and listened as their voices sparkled with excited anticipation. Gradually, I turned the focus away from myself, and back onto the world around me, and I felt a lot better for it.

There are a few different approaches to mindfulness, and I recognise that my interpretation of it may not be the ‘correct’ one. There are mindfulness meditation tapes, books about mindfulness, apps for smartphones, mindfulness courses, and much more. Mindfulness meditation is useful to help us to relax and focus on our breathing. It helps us to see thoughts and feelings as things that come and go, like a train passing through a station, rather than viewing them as fixed and constant in our minds. When your head is swarming with negative thoughts, it can be seriously overwhelming, and it’s easy to think that you will feel this way forever. In these moments, I encourage you to try to remember that thoughts and feelings are temporary, and the way you are feeling right now, is not how you will feel forever.

Since discovering mindfulness, I like to think that I have become more observant, but my family and friends regularly remind me that this is not the case. Drifting off into my worries instead of appreciating my surroundings will always be the easier thing to do, because it is difficult to rewrite behaviours that have been commonplace for so long. One thing is certain though – living in the present and taking things one day at a time, makes life feel a lot lighter, and happy.

Have you found a way to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life? Have you found any other strategies that help you to cope with negative thoughts? Or are you a mindfulness sceptic? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments!