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.

 

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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 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.

There are mindfulness meditation tapes, books about mindfulness, apps for smartphones, mindfulness courses, and much more. Mindfulness meditation is particularly useful for relaxation and breathing exercises. It helps us to see thoughts and feelings as things that come and go, like a train passing through a station, rather than viewing thoughts as things that are fixed and constant in our minds. When our heads are swarming with negative thoughts, it can be seriously overwhelming, and it’s easy to think that we will feel this way forever. In these moments, it’s helpful to remember that thoughts and feelings are temporary, and the way we are feeling right now, is not permanent.