3 things 1

I’m sitting here in my sick bed writing this blog, I just can’t do nothing and relax. It’s impossible for me so sick days are the hardest, I just want to get up and get going. But for now, typing will have to suffice!

The last couple of weeks I’ve tried adding a new thing to my routine, because I’ve heard time and time again that it is so brilliant at improving your mental health and your general happiness and wellbeing. This is writing down your top 3 happiest moments of the day at the end of the day before you go to bed. It can be difficult to add something, even something tiny, to your bedtime routine. I’ve always wished I could write a diary or do a longer skincare routine, but my evening routine is usually a rush. It goes something a lot more like; watch TV, realise it’s much later than I thought, quickly take my make up off and moisturise, shove on some PJs, clean my teeth and jump into bed. There’s really no time for much else. If only my evening routine looked like it does in those Youtube evening routine videos.

This little challenge isn’t too hard to sneak in though, you simply leave a notebook and pen on your bedside table and write down your three favourite things that happened in the day. At first I thought perhaps I could just think those things, it would be quicker and easier. But I really think writing them down is key, getting them down on paper makes them more real and memorable. Some days it has been super easy and I could have written down 5 or 6 things, this makes it more fun reflecting on a good day and choosing your top highlights. Some days I really struggled, I think that’s quite normal. I could think of maybe 1 or 2 good things maximum. These days force you to look for the positives, especially when you have sick days and there is very little to find. I would write down things as simple as; ‘I felt better after my afternoon nap’.

The best thing about this challenge is remembering the happy things from the day and going to bed with those in your mind. Often the most reflective time for me, and the time in which I have most time to think, is right at the end when I get into bed. Life is so fast-paced and we rarely get a time to sit and reflect, so often this can all happen in a rush at the end of the day. It is so much better for your mental health that you spend this time looking at the positives rather than the negatives. Previously, when I’ve been really stressed, I’ve found that writing down the things I’m worried about before bed has allowed me to let them out of my mind and put them to rest. I still use this technique from time to time. Recording the positives is the exact opposite, it reminds you of the good times in order to force the worries out.

I recorded things as varied as: ‘Loved spending time with my brother today’, ‘got the marquee ordered for my Mum and Dad’s party’, ‘had a doughnut at work today’, ‘laughed til I cried about that email I received’. It can be tiny small things, maybe in the day with the funny email I also had 100 other emails that made me stressed but because I’m remembering the happy I’m highlighting that one and making it stand out in my mind. Why not give this challenge a go for yourself and perhaps you too will become just a little more positive.

Colouring in

For my birthday this year, I received the Mindfulness Colouring Book from my cousin. I used to love colouring in as a child, my Dad is a huge fan of colour by numbers so it would be something we’d do together every summer holiday in Devon. It was a hobby long since forgotten as life took off and family holidays were left behind. I’d never even heard of the new craze of calm colouring which is apparently very popular at the moment. So I was intrigued by my new book.

The introduction by the author (designer is a better word perhaps) Emma Farrarons calls the book ‘anti-stress art therapy for busy people’. She talks about how busy we all are, running from work to home and trying to balance friends, family and hobbies in between. She talks about mindfulness and taking a moment to ourselves. And she talks about colouring. It may seem bizarre but when I really thought about it, she had a point. Being artistic and expressing ourselves is something we all aim for, it has long since been accepted as a way to calm down and take time for ourselves. Colouring in has to be the simplest form of being artistic in a lot of ways and it’s something you can do anywhere. Emma says that pretty much any activity can be an exercise in mindfulness, as long as it makes you pay attention to the present moment, clears your head of distractions and helps you focus on simply being. But she says colouring in takes it one step further, it’s about meditation as you concentrate on the beauty of your creation.

I guess at first I was a little sceptical, but I remembered enjoying colouring in as a child and my cousin suggested it might be a productive, calming way to use my commute. I commute about three hours in total a day and usually spend most of this time doing my make up, reading, watching downloaded programmes, attempting to nap or feeling stressed. The last two are probably the most common if I’m being honest. I bought myself some colouring pencils, a sharpener and packed the colouring book in my bag.

At first I found it stressful, the colouring pencils fell out of the box and all over the train seat, I elbowed my nextdoor neighbour by trying to catch them and then I just felt a bit self-conscious. Packed into a train carriage of middle-aged men, I feel self-conscious on a daily basis. I look young and very female and don’t feel I quite fit in with the rest, even though I’ve done the same journey for approaching two years now I still feel the odd one out. I’m sure the rest of the carriage still think I’m a student. So I felt a bit childish colouring in, alongside all of that. But slowly I lost my inhibitions. I noticed some of the weird other things that everyone else was doing, I heard the random woman arguing over the phone not caring what anyone else thought.

Colouring in my book is now one of my favourite commute home activities, it doesn’t take much space up in my bag and it really is relaxing. On the way home, it helps me to switch my brain off from work and prepare my mind for the evening. When I watch TV on the train, I still can’t completely turn off and my mind still wanders. When I’m colouring in, I really concentrate and I’m really in the moment. It really is the perfect commuting activity. My cousin, and indeed Emma, were right.

Even if, like me, you haven’t coloured in since you were a child, I would definitely pick up this book and give it another go.

Flower

There are many decorative objects I like; I’m addicted to candles and inspirational quotes for example. But I’ve never really been a flower person. I admire them and think they really improve a room but they’ve just always felt like too much effort. However, a while back someone suggested I challenge myself to arrange some flowers for this blog and I thought it was a great idea but never got round to it. Then last weekend I was in Lidl picking up some essentials and spotted these beauties, for the bargain price of £1.50. My Mum told me that these Sweet Williams used to be my Nan’s favourite flower. As I said, I like flowers but I’ve never had a favourite flower or particularly paid much attention to them. These were so different and pretty, and I felt a real affinity with my Nan, who died when I was six, knowing these were her favourite too. I picked up two packets, excited to arrange them when I got home.

Flower 3

Flower 2Flower 1

Sweet Williams, if you haven’t come across them before, are very small little flowers. They come in all different colours but mine were in various shades of pink, white, red and burgundy. They are tie dye-like in design with a lighter rim, a darker middle and then an ombre effect fade into the centre. The greenery with them is fluffy with the little buds emerging. They are officially my new favourite flower.

Flower 4

I begun by cutting off the ends of the flowers and shedding their lower leaves. I filled a vase with a litre of water and some flower food too and begun picking the flowers I wanted at the edges. I found it so relaxing, and lovely to take photos of the flowers too, individually and together. I built them up in the vase, arranging them so the white flowers broke up the pinks and the greens also made an appearance between. Making sure the blooming flowers intersected with the buds so the bunch would last looking pretty a little longer.

Flower 5

In the end, I couldn’t fit any more flowers into my vase and didn’t want to overcrowd them. I cut the stalks on the last few a little shorter and put them into a glass so I could display them separately. Although, it was my first time and I’m certainly no expert at flower arranging, I thought they looked beautiful. They injected some colour and life into the room and I’m excited to put them into my room to brighten it up a bit.

They also remind me of my Nan now I know they were her favourites too, she pops into my head whenever I look at them and it’s nice to feel that little bit closer to her.

Flower 6

Flower 7

I recommend you give flower arranging a go if you haven’t before, find some cheap flowers and get going. It’s relaxing and fun to do and then you have the flowers to lift your spirits afterwards too. I think I’m going to put these on my desk to try and raise my motivation levels!

Decisions 1

Last weekend, I was travelling into work on the train feeling pretty bored. It was a Friday but I had just about nothing planned for the weekend. I was flicking through Twitter and came across Rosie at The Londoner’s new blog about Carsten Höller: Decision at the South Bank. I’m not normally an impulse person, I’m an evaluate all the options, worry about the decision I’m about to make, change my mind three times type person. But on this occasion I didn’t think about it, saw that tickets would book up quickly and purchased two for that Sunday. It was probably the biggest snap decision I’ve ever made (I know that’s sad!) and it was appropriately to attend an exhibition about making decisions.

On Sunday, we arrived about 20 minutes before our 4pm time slot to make sure we got in the queue nice and early. The queue builds up pretty quickly so I’d recommend doing this. We saw the giant slide which was to be the exit to the museum but, apart from that, weren’t really sure what to expect. Apart from Rosie’s blog I’d steered clear of reading up about it on the internet.

Decisions 2

We were ushered through once at the front of the queue and had our first decision to make, which door to enter the exhibition through. Luckily my boyfriend is an impulse type person, otherwise I probably would have spent hours just choosing how to get in. He led me to a door and we entered a pitch black tunnel. It was so dark that we didn’t realise we had bumped straight into the man in front of us, he actually shouted at us to walk slower making us jump out of our skins and stop moving til we could hear he had definitely turned the corner. It was a bit of a shock entrance to the exhibition, but apart from him everyone was helping each other through, giggling as they bumped into the wall or another person.

Decisions 3

Decisions 4

Decisions 5

When we exited from the pitch black tunnel, feeling a little disorientated, we emerged to find a dissected mushroom floating in the sky. We had to queue for a couple of minutes waiting to take our turn to push the dissections around the room using a giant handle and see the mushroom pieces from all angles.

Next up was a room with a huge pile of pills on the floor. I was ready to run my fingers through them but was quickly told to take one and not play with them! People around us were debating whether to take one or not, standing around the little water fountain at the side of the room. We made the quick snap decision that nothing that could harm us would be on display in a museum and took the red and white capsule. All the while wondering if this was some kind of strange psychological experiment? The findings being that people will take a form of medication on display in a museum without knowing what it is, as long as encouraged to do so by others. So far, so strange!

Decisions 6

Decisions 7

Decisions 8

Ushered through to the next room, we found two empty hospital beds making there way around a big dark room. At the edge of the room was a queue of people and along the wall lots of people sitting with goggles and headphones on. We learnt that the hospital beds were robotic and made their way around the whole exhibition room, you can even book a night’s stay in them as they roam silently. I was loving my snap decisions so far, but there was no way I was going that far! When we made it to the front of the queue and took our seats along the wall, we realised it was a virtual reality experience. Putting on the goggles and headphones, we were transported into a dark wintery forrest where snow was falling silently…

Into the next room, and a red theme seemed to have emerged. I wasn’t sure if this was to signal danger or passion. We found the box which was dropping pills one by one on to the floor below, where we had found the pile. It was hypnotic to watch and there was quite a crowd around it. There was also a snake with a bulge in his stomach, no sign as to what or who he may have eaten though. And a huge die, which you could dive right into.

Decisions 9

Decisions 9+1

We were queuing to go outside onto the Hayward Gallery’s balcony and given some upside down glasses. At first, we weren’t all that impressed as it turned half the world upside down. But then a man came and snapped them down over our eyes and we realised what we had been missing out on. The world turned completely head over heels and caused us to lose our balance. Now we realised why we had been told to sit down before putting them on! We could see the sites of London, including the Southbank food market and the London Eye. A nice touch was that they had even turned the sign for the Hayward Gallery upside down on that wall so it magically turned the right way up with the goggles on.

Next up, it was time to fly!

Decisions 10

One of the highlights of the exhibition had to be the flying. We were dressed in a strange suit and strapped up ready to take off. Then dangling over the edge of the gallery, and able to control our speed via the handlebars we stepped off the edge. Although a very bizarre feeling at first, it was truly amazing. You were lying in the air which made me actually feel like a bird. People below on Waterloo bridge were gawking and pointing from below and you could see far into the distance, right into the centre of London. It’s worth going to the exhibition just for this experience alone.

Decisions 11

Decisions 12

Next up came a room full of the bizzarest things I have ever seen, a wall of screens with twins talking to each other across them. A vibrating contraption which made your nose grow. And a memory game which really confused. Finally we had made it to the exit and were ready to climb the stairs and dismount via the slide. It twisted and turned all the way down to the ground, the best way to leave a museum ever!

I don’t know how many tickets are left but if you can make sure you go. I promise it will be the best snap decision you ever make, especially at only £13.50!

http://carstenholler.southbankcentre.co.uk/

Smoothie 1

I have been getting very into green smoothies recently, I put this down to two recent purchases/birthday presents – Deliciously Ella’s Cookbook and a Nutribullet. Just like everyone, I was an absolute sceptic at first. See photo above, even daisies can’t make a green smoothie look that appealing. But I am a convert, an official green smoothie lover, and it didn’t take much. My first favourite was Hannah Maggs’ recipe here: http://www.hannahmaggs.co.uk/super-skin-booster-smoothie/, a magical combination of avocado, spinach, pineapple and coconut water which is great for your skin. It brought me round to spinach and avocado in a smoothie, which previously made me go a little green at the thought. Then I got even more adventurous and started to think that maybe there was a wonder woman within me, nutritionally speaking anyway, somewhere.

I decided to blend my very own happiness smoothie. There are plenty of blogs out there with recipes which will improve your physical health; your skin, eyes, teeth, immune system. Don’t get me wrong, these are great. But what if you could make a smoothie which helps improve your brain and your mental health. Wouldn’t that be great? Well dive right in with my very own positivity potion.

Smoothie 2

All you need to do is add:

  • Half an avocado
  • One handful of spinach
  • Half a cup of pineapple
  • Half a cup of ripe mango
  • 4 strawberries
  • Half a cup of coconut water
  • Half a cup of green tea (one green teabag and half a cup of boiling water)
  • One spoonful of flaxseed

Just put them in your Nutribullet or blender and pulse away. Don’t forget to finish off by pouring into your favourite smoothie glass and adding a jazzy straw…

Smoothie 4

So why does it make you so happy?

Antioxidants are most important for improving your mental health, they combat the effects of free radicals and the brain is at particular risk of free radical damage which can cause depression. Spinach is very high in the antioxidant beta-carotene, and although it has a big effect on the colour of the smoothie it honestly can’t really be tasted. Spinach is also full of iron which helps combat fatigue in particular, we all know tiredness makes us grumpy and unhappy!

Another great antioxidant is Vitamin C. Strawberries, mango and pineapple are all packed full of Vitamin C which has become known as a stress-busting vitamin! They also make the smoothie sweet and delicious and make it a good alternative to a sugary snack, known to give you a mood crash later in the day.

Elsewhere in your smoothie, avocado gives it a gorgeous creamy texture. But it won’t just benefit those taste buds, avocados are high in both folic acid and magnesium. Both of these combat anxiety, so the smooth avocado has pretty appropriate smooth calming benefits. Spinach also contains both those things, so don’t skip these green veg even if they are scary! Vitamin B6 and Tyrosine also combat depression and irritability by raising your spirits, avocado being the superfood that it is contains both of these too.

Smoothie 3

Green tea contains an amino acid called theanine which is a brain booster, helping us to think straighter. It gives you a unique anti-stress relaxation benefit and gives you a feeling of mellowness. Not everyone likes the taste of green tea so adding it a smoothie disguises it but sneaks in all those lovely benefits. Whilst we’re on the subject of liquids, coconut water is also a brilliant stress buster. Firstly it’s super hydrating, even more so than normal water bizarrely. Hydrating the brain helps to keep it more alert and, therefore, able to deal with tough emotions.

And your secret weapon in this happiness smoothie? The Flaxseed. It doesn’t really taste of anything but this little milled seed is your one stop shop to smiles and relaxing times. Recently, scientists have revealed that a deficit of omega-3 fatty acids is associated strongly with depression. Researchers even determined that societies that don’t eat enough omega-3 fatty acids have higher rates of major depressive disorders than societies that get ample omega-3 fatty acids. Oily fish is where you tend to get this omega-3, and not a lot of people like oily fish so why not instead simply add a spoonful of this seed.

That’s everything. A smoothie which aids the mind and your mood, helping bust anxiety, stress and depression all at once. Obviously it isn’t a magic cure but it is surprising how much changing your diet can affect your mood. It tastes delicious too so why not try adding it to your breakfast routine or inserting a new afternoon snack. Let me know if you give it a go?