This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week and the Mental Health Foundation’s focus for the week has been ‘Nature’. I’ve been thinking a lot about mental health over the last year, and especially these last couple of weeks as I’ve been on furlough for the first time.
Throughout the pandemic I’ve tried to make the most of the nature around me by spending time walking and visiting parks and natural spaces, but it hasn’t always been easy. Sure, I love walking, but when walking is one of the only things you can do when you leave your house, it can become a bit of a chore. It’s fine if I have a purpose, like I might walk the long way to the shop and back to combine exercise with an errand, but there have been plenty of times over the last year when I’ve really had to drag myself out for a walk just to make sure I haven’t sat inside at home on my own all day (and there have of course also been plenty of times when I have sat inside all day on my own).
When I went on furlough I was worried that I might not feel inclined to keep going out for walks to the same places and could end up staying home feeling bored and lonely, but actually so far I’ve been pretty busy and have managed to get out a lot because I wanted to, not because I had to.
As we both live alone, I’m in a support bubble with my mum, who lives a few hours away down in Bognor Regis. Given all the free time I had on my hands, I decided to take the opportunity to go and visit her this week so we could enjoy some walks and nature together. It’s been hard for us both, living alone and having limited options of where we can go, but we’ve both found that walks in local green areas and by the water (sea for her, harbour for me) have helped a lot through this crazy year. Although we both have some close friends to share these walks with, there’s nothing like sharing our favourite places with each other.
So today we went to visit a local nature reserve, Bersted Park, and I have to say it was like medicine for the soul. Sitting on a bench sipping local coffee and listening to the birds chirping in the trees, spotting swans through the tall grass, breathing in the fresh air, marvelling at the sculptures made of wood and positive messages painted onto stones set into the path. It may not sound like much to some – it’s hardly a wild party or a massive adventure – but this simple burst of nature was just enough to calm and realign me, ready to face the world again.
Read more about Mental Health Awareness Week here and if you have the chance, do try to find the time to connect with nature. If you can, go outside, listen to the birds, look at some flowers, breathe the fresh air. Make the most of this moment, of those around you, and of what you’ve got. It doesn’t have to be grand. Spotting the beginnings of a simple flower on your houseplant may be enough to bring some much needed nature, and hope, into your life.
furlough/ˈfəːləʊ/noun – leave of absence
Most of us had never even heard this word just over a year ago. I’ve been really lucky, working as I do in the travel industry, to have been able to keep working all this time whilst many of my colleagues have been furloughed, and of course many people (not just in my industry) have lost their jobs. It’s been a tough year though, and I don’t mind admitting that I did like the idea of having a break when things were really stressful, but it wasn’t feasible at the time.
I first brushed with furlough a few months ago when I was told I would go from 5 to 4 days a week and be ‘flexi-furloughed’ for one day. It took a little while to get used to this bonus day off, but to be honest I quite like a 4 day week. Then came the big one – a month of furlough. My company is doing the right thing, making the most of the support available, and I guess it was inevitable that I would be furloughed eventually. So, here I am, about to start my stint of furlough. A month off work.
It’s strange, now that everything is starting to open up in the UK and many people are going back to work, to suddenly find myself with time on my hands. At first I freaked out and in my panic started making a mental list of all the things I would have to do during this time to make it worthwhile. Pole, stretch, dance, do Couch to 5k again, walk 12,000 steps a day, tidy everything, read all those books that are piling up… the list went on and my brain hurt. Then I stopped. Literally, in the middle of the street as I was pacing about. I stopped and realised I don’t need to be a superhuman. I don’t have to prove anything
But I know how my brain works, and I know what’s best for my mental health. I need some kind of structure, and I need goals, even little ones. So, here’s my furlough plan:
- Relax and enjoy some downtime. Don’t feel guilty if one day I watch a lot of TV, or another day I take a book to the park and sit and read all day. It’s about time I had a bit of a break and time to recharge.
- Work on my pole, fitness and flexibility goals, but listen to my body as I go. It’s not possible or sensible to train hard every day – I need time to recover too.
- Spend time outside – whether it’s walking, running, or sitting, I want to get out of this flat and see something other than these four walls!
- Cook! It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular, but use this time to cook nice things. I’ve found when I’m busy or stressed I still turn to convenience food (and there is so much yummy vegan convenience food!) but I do actually love to cook, so now’s the time to dust off those recipe books.
- Just be. Every day doesn’t have to be full of achievements or Instagram-worthy moments. Some days it’s perfectly fine to just be. See some friends. Go for a walk by myself. Read. Dance in my kitchen. Whatever makes me happy.
None of this is to say that you won’t be seeing a bit more of me on Instagram and maybe even here in this blog over the coming month. I will be learning new pole things, I am doing a running challenge, and I will hopefully cook something worthy of taking a photo of at some point. But I don’t want to obsess over the numbers and the achievements. When the first lockdown happened last year and lots of people found themselves on furlough, there was a huge amount of pressure on everyone to achieve. Is this the time to write that novel I’ve always dreamt of publishing? Maybe, but probably not if I’m honest. Is this the time to enjoy some (hopefully!) nice weather and have a bit of a break? Yes. And is this the time to simply do what feels good? Definitely.
Let’s see where the month takes me…
Around this time last year I decided I was going to give Veganuary a go. Veganuary is a charity and a movement which encourages people to go vegan in January and supports them in their vegan journey throughout the month and if they choose to keep going. As a pescatarian and former vegetarian who hasn’t really eaten meat for the best part of 25 years, I planned to just go vegan for January and then go back to eggs and fish at least. Dairy I wouldn’t miss – it didn’t always agree with me anyway – but I didn’t really think I would be able to give up eggs and fish as they seemed so essential to my diet.
My main reason for giving Veganuary a go was for the culinary adventure. I wanted to get back into cooking and try some new food, and I wanted to get out of some of my stale habits. There are lots of reasons one might choose a plant-based diet, and if the focus is to be plant-based rather than vegan, the reasoning is more likely to be health and diet. That being said, I ate a lot of amazing vegan junk food and cake in January, so I don’t want anyone reading this to think it’s all lentils and chickpeas! I also don’t want to give any wrong impression that veganism or choosing to eat plant-based is a ‘diet’ in the sense of it being a plan with which to lose weight. It’s not, although there can of course be fantastic health benefits to any change in what one chooses to eat, and cooking more from scratch and eating more vegetables and pulses can only be a good thing in terms of health.
So, it was all about food to start with. I was excited by how big Veganuary was this year – all the supermarkets had lots of exciting new things to try, and of course there was the Gregg’s vegan sausage roll too!
However, as the month went on I began reading, watching documentaries and educating myself, and I learnt more about the other reasons one might choose to be vegan. Of course, the main reasons are usually the environment and animal welfare. Although I’ve always been someone who likes animals and cares about the environment, I didn’t think eating a bit of fish and a few eggs were that big a deal. What did it matter if I put a bit of honey on my porridge or my shoes were made of leather? I never thought about the plastic my food and beauty products came in, and I certainly never checked to see if my products had been tested on animals or contained animal products such as lanolin and collagen.
But at some point early this year, perhaps even in the middle of January, just a couple of weeks into my vegan journey, I made a decision that this wasn’t going to be just a month-long experiment. It was like I took a good look inside and found a label that said ‘vegan’. It was a light bulb moment of ‘oh, this is what I should have been doing all along!’. I didn’t know I was a vegan, but suddenly it all made sense and I couldn’t imagine living any other way.
The definition of veganism according to the Vegan Society states:
“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
During my journey this year I have cut out all animal products from my diet. That was instant, and coming from being pescatarian I can honestly say it wasn’t difficult at all. I haven’t craved anything or missed anything really, and there have only been a few odd occasions where I have had trouble finding something to eat or have felt a bit left out. But, on the contrary, there have also been some lovely moments where I have felt so included; where friends or colleagues who aren’t vegan have made deliberate choices to provide a vegan option because they know I will be there, and that makes me so happy.
Making changes in other areas of my life is more of a process and not something that can happen overnight. As I use up a beauty product I try to replace it with something vegan, cruelty free and with as little plastic as possible. I’ve made the switch from bottles of shower gel to solid bars, and other products are slowly being switched over as I can. When I’ve needed to buy new clothes I have tried to look for vegan and sustainable options too – who knew a pair of trainers could be vegan! I just never thought about it before.
Above all else, this year has made me think so much. I just never considered whether it was right or wrong to use animal products, and I didn’t know about the exploitation of animals in order to provide us with everyday products like a pint of milk or an omelette. The environmental impact of eating meat and fish had never really occurred to me, and I was used to choosing the simple and fastest option, without thinking about how sustainable it was.
So, this was the year I discovered I was a vegan. I’m not writing this to preach at anyone else – you do you – but I do want the world to know I’m a vegan and I’m proud. I will continue to shout about it on Instagram, because I want people to see the delicious food a vegan can eat, to see how healthy I am (not protein deficient!) and to see the choices I make which make less of an environmental impact. Perhaps my choices can help to inspire another person’s choices, and that’s all I can ask.
I know this blog has been silent for over a year, but I’m back! Watch this space for more adventures as I continue in search of my ikigai…
After a bit of a rubbish week it would have been so easy to take my grumpiness into the weekend. I’ve been feeling stressed out and overloaded, and it’s at times like this that I usually turn to comfort food and spending my time in a way that doesn’t really benefit my health. But not today. Today I chose to start my day with a Wellness Brunch at my favourite Bristol cafe, Foundations.
Although the event was taking place in a space in which I felt comfortable, and I knew I would know at least one person there, attending an event like this was still a little bit out of my comfort zone. But, as I learnt today, sometimes it does us good to step just a little way out of our comfort zones and into our ‘stretch zones’; it’s good to push the limits a little bit.
I hoped to find myself in a room of like minded individuals wanting to think about health and wellness, and I knew that if nothing else, at the end there would be waffles.
As it turned out, there was so much more than waffles!
Cat Taylor of Nudge Yourself was brilliant. She ran the event with a perfect balance of looking inward and looking forward, laughter and mindfulness, breathing and punching. Yes, there was boxing, and there was also drawing with pencil crayons. What better way to start the weekend?
We thought about happiness more than anything else, and what it takes to achieve this.
After the workshop, boxing gloves off and pencil crayons down, we enjoyed a healthy brunch and had a good old chat. I met some lovely women – really interesting people, all very much on the same wavelength. We talked about journeys, and it was inspiring to hear other people’s stories and to meet some strong women, following their passions, trying to live their best possible lives.
Because that’s all we can do really, isn’t it? Live each day in the best possible way, get up when we fall down, and just BE HAPPY.
As part of my Veraflow dance fitness instructor training studies I’ve been asked to look at the question “What is fitness?“. Curious to look at more opinions than my own, I asked my Facebook friends what fitness meant to them, and here are the highlights.
A lot of friends spoke about “having decent energy levels” and “being able to do things“, and interestingly a lot of people mentioned mental health. One friend said “fitness is being able to do what I want to do without wondering if my body can do it“, which I thought just about summed up how I feel about fitness too.
Another friend commented, “fitness helps me clear my mental state after I’ve sat behind my desk at work all day“, and I couldn’t agree more. No matter how bad, stressful or busy my day has been, a session in the gym with my personal trainer or a night of salsa dancing will always make me feel better.
Lots of people referred to having a “better quality of life” due to fitness, and said that fitness is something that makes them happy.
One friend summed it up perfectly, “Fitness is the opposite of that depressing feeling when the hill is too steep, or the bag is too heavy. It’s about being able to enjoy life and the world around us for as long as possible.” Yes. This is exactly how I’ve been feeling abut fitness recently. I’ve been noticing how things that used to be a struggle or make me tired are so much easier now. For example, I went to London for the day last weekend, and I found myself taking the stairs instead of the escalator, jogging up them without a care in the world. Even standing on the escalator used to exhaust me before, but I’m fitter now and much more able.
So what is fitness? It will be something different for each person, depending on your own individual journey. Perhaps for some it’s running a marathon, and for others it’s simply being able to get out of bed each day. For me, fitness is being able to live the life I want to live, being happy and healthy, both inside and out.
What does fitness mean to you?
Nutrition is the foundation of any healthy eating plan, or so I’m told, but it’s something I’ve struggled with a bit over the last year. A year ago I got a personal trainer at the gym and it’s made a massive difference to my health, strength and wellness, and we talk about food a lot. He’s not one of these PTs who dictates a certain diet plan or tries to get you replacing meals with shakes or anything like that – we just talk about what I eat and why I eat it.
I have issues with food, and could definitely be called an ’emotional eater’. If I have a bad, busy or stressy day, I eat. If I’m tired, I eat. If I;m sad, I eat. And when I eat, I eat all the wrong things. Chocolate being the main vice.
Over the last year I’ve tried to get into food prepping; planning my meals ahead, making a schedule for the week, and cooking healthy meals to take to work for lunches. I’ve done OK… I mean, I’ve definitely made an effort, but there have still been a number of days where I’ve given up on my healthy thoughts and gone to the local food market for a less than healthy (and very expensive) take-away lunch. In the worst cases, I’ve bought a ready-meal.
Planning and prepping food takes time, time which I don’t usually have, and I find it quite stressful. It’s boring to eat the same thing every day (I LOVE food) and expensive (and sometimes wasteful) to keep lots of varied ingredients in my fridge.
That’s why, when I popped into my favourite new healthy cafe (run by a friend’s PT) just before Christmas, the sign for a ‘Meal Prep Club’ caught my eye. I almost wrote it off as ‘bound to be too expensive’, but luckily I didn’t act too quickly and stopped to find out more.
Foundations Cafe is a great, healthy cafe on Baldwin Street in Bristol, which happens to be close to my office. They serve delicious salads, baked sweet potatoes, sandwiches, protein shakes and all sorts of things, and it’s become of of my favourite places to eat out in Bristol. The Meal Prep Club they are offering is simple, and surprisingly not at all expensive. In fact, my lunches are working out at just over £3 a pop!
This week I have have my first few lunches from Foundations Cafe, and I can honestly say each one has been delicious and, most importantly, stress free! I simply order on a Sunday for the week ahead, and collect my lunch each day. One of the things I have really enjoyed so far is the surprise each day, because by Tuesday I have completely forgotten what I ordered!
My lunches have contained things I would never think about putting in my salad, such as walnuts and apricots, and things I would never include as I just wouldn’t keep them in, like feta.
Joining up to Foundations Cafe’s Meal Prep Club is one of the best decisions I’ve made this year so far! I feel like in doing this I’ve set myself up to a really good start and with a really strong foundation to have a healthy 2018. I love food, and I don’t want to go on some crazy diet or deny myself of things all year just to lose weight. I just want to eat healthily and happily.
If you’re in Bristol and want to find out more, check out the Foundations Cafe website: https://www.foundationscafe.com/meal-prep-club.
Lent starts today. For any of you who don’t know, Lent is a period in the Christian calendar which runs from Ash Wednesday (the day after Shrove Tuesday, or “pancake day”) until Easter Sunday. Lent has always been about penance and self-denial, and many people choose to give things up during this period. It is also supposed to be about prayer and charity.
Well, I’m already doing my bit for charity during this period, by volunteering for an event for Japan on March 11th and, although I won’t exactly be praying, the event is being held in a church.
I’m not a Christian, but I’ve often found that giving stuff up for Lent is a good way of imposing a rule on myself and forcing myself to do something. I can be very strong-willed, but I do need rules, and rules imposed by others are much easier to stick to. I could easily give something up for, say, a month, but when challenged by other people I find it hard to stick to my guns. However, if I can say, “well, I’ve given it up for Lent”, no one can really argue with that.
So, I have decided to give up chocolate from today until Easter Sunday (April 8th). From today, I will not be eating any chocolate in any form. No chocolate bars, no chocolate biscuits or cake, no mocha from Starbucks. No Options hot chocolate, Shape chocolate puddings, or chocolate coated raisins. Not even a Chocolate Button will pass my lips.
If you know me in the real world, please be kind and don’t try to break me!
A bunch of pink, sweaty women, writhing around in a school gym on a Tuesday night – what must we look like? Every week (well, almost every week – you know, unless there’s an offer of something better to do) we gather to shake our booty to the Latin-inspired beats of what is known as “Zumba“.
We wiggle, we shake… we even try to shimmy. The toned and tanned instructor smoothly moves from dance step to dance step, encouraging us to be sexy. Sexy? In an exercise class? Yes. We’re supposed to be sexy women, proud of our bodies, shaking our butts and sticking out our boobs. Calling out to imaginary men to come and dance with us.
We try. In our minds, we all aspire to look something like this:
In reality, we actually look more like this:
The class is entirely female, although men are welcome. Men do do Zumba, but not here. Our class is made up largely of middle-aged women – some younger, some older. There are certain stereotypes you will find in every exercise class. There’s the ever-so-keen one who always arrives first and stakes her place at the front, chatting with the instructor. Self-tan woman, who is an interesting shade of orange. Awkward girl, whose body is really stiff and robotic. The older lady, whose boobs occasionally brush the floor. And me – the hopelessly uncoordinated yet still enthusiastic one.
I generally stand somewhere around the middle, but to the side so I can dash out for water when I start choking on my own sweat. I try to watch the instructor and ignore everyone else around me. I try to “dance”, rather than “exercise”. I try to forget aerobics classes and think salsa, merengue, hip hop. I try to “zuumbaaaah” but, being British, I do find all the shouting and “yee hah”s a bit much.
Still, at least I earn my dinner on a Tuesday night.