The magic of simple pleasures

When was the last time you took a few days to remember the magic of simple pleasures?

That’s what I’ve been doing for the last week in the beautiful Basque city of San Sebastian, and as a result, I’m feeling more relaxed and rested than I have done in a long time. To be honest, I’d been feeling a bit worried about this trip; the region can be quite expensive, and for some silly reason I felt pressured to go to lots of expensive restaurants to make sure we had a good time.

But actually, instead of expensive day trips and pricey dinners, we focused on the simple pleasure, from enjoying cheap, local food to walking for miles and miles. As a result, it was the nicest trip I’ve been on in a long time – so here are the simple pleasure I enjoyed on the trup.

The magic of simple pleasures 

Finding the best bakery in the city (hint: it’s the one locals ate queueing out the door for), buying an insane amount of pastry, and eating it overlooking the sea.

On that note: being by water, constantly. The sea or a river or a bloody big fountain. Water instantly makes me feel calm.

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Hiking, for a long time, on tricky enough terrain that you have to really think about where you’re stepping. There is such a simple, meditative bliss on focusing on nothing other than putting your feet in front of you.

Deleting work emails off your phone. Unless you have a very serious job or are an entrepreneur, it’s unlikely that you need to be contactable all the time. If your work emails are liable to stress you out despite the fact you can’t action them, why on earth would you read them?

Eating a sandwich made with cheap, local ingredients, overlooking something beautiful. San Sebastián is noted for its prevalence of Michelin star restaurants, and I seriously considered booking one with an amazing view over the city for Adam’s birthday. This would have cost circa €350, and probably would have been incredible – but honestly, eating a ham and cheese baguette at the zenith of a four hour hike, overlooking the Atlantic, was one of my favourite moments of the trip and cost approximately €10.

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Watching football in a bar, eating meat and cheese piled on bread, drinking beer, talking with strangers, explaining the group stages of the world cup to Americans.

Playing cards and drinking beer with the person I love.

Reading greedily. I’ve always been a voracious and speedy reader, but over the last year, I’ve spent so much time at work reading and writing that I sometimes get home and slump out on the sofa with my phone instead of picking up a book. This week I’ve remembered the pleasure of tearing through book after book. (Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Everything I Know About Love, Affluenzia, I Choose To Live, High Fidelity and About a Boy, if you’re wondering. All recommended!)

Spanish wine.

img_8192Spanish Cheesecake. (Sorry not sorry about the crappy photo: this stuff has been voted Spain’s 6th best cheesecake and I can vouch that it is DELICIOUS).

Giving myself the freedom to indulge in whatever I want to indulge in, without feeling guilty or uncomfortable.

Sleeping without an alarm, napping in the sun, cuddling in bed.

Thinking about writing without actually doing it, until the ideas build up in my brain and start bouncing around.

It’s been a stressful few weeks and I couldn’t be more relieved to be feeling myself again; next time I’m feeling frazzled, I’ll look back on this list for a reminder of the importance of simple pleasures on holiday.

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I’M RUNNING TOUGH MUDDER FOR MIND CHARITY – WANT TO DONATE?

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If you’ve enjoyed Nicer Thoughts at any point over the last year please consider donating, even if it’s just a £1 (or $!). It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep a blog running on top of full time work. I do it for the love of it, and I hope it helps people – but I’d love to help people with cold hard cash even more!

Missing you.

Here’s the thing about losing somebody you love. It never leaves you. There will always be sudden, breathless moments—a shadow where a life should have been.

But ultimately, inevitably, the jagged pain is smoothed down, like a pebble. Then you are left, not with grief, but simply the feeling of missing someone. And—though not always pleasant—missing is an important act. Westworld had it right, when they wrote: ‘you only live as long as the last person to remember you’.

Because missing someone makes them immortal. I suppose it’s why I write: an act of permanence, given my aversion to tattoos. In the beginning I wrote to you, and then I wrote about you, and most of it never saw the light of day—but all of it was meant to keep you with me.

You can’t miss someone all the time, of course: you have to live and get on. But sometimes it’s important, to sit and remember.

And because it’s been four years—because today is a day when the loss is sharp and heavy (a pebble still hurts if you lob it at someone, after all)— I have let myself sit and miss you.

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First I miss a man who died long ago; the entrepreneur, the athlete who could walk the length of the garden on his hands, who told us bedtime stories and enforced a love of cuddles and Star Wars.

Next I miss the Dad: maker of embarrassing jokes, fixer of problems, chauffeur and handyman and wallet-opener. I miss glowing (or squirming) under the weight of your love and expectation. (Somehow I even miss the bad in you: your unfairness and your selfishness, your sudden, dark rages. Nobody said missing is rational).

I miss the friend you became. On the back of the Harley, holding a map, sharing a sandwich by the side of a road. I miss a man who always tried to show and explain the world to me, giving me the skills to back my own corner, and stand up for the things I think are right.

Then, somehow, I miss the you that never was. I miss the career advice I never had the chance to ask for, the prospect of your solid arm steering me down the aisle. I miss the opinions you never got to form and the arguments we didn’t have. (Where would you have stood on Brexit? Trump? Me living in the old Arsenal stadium?)

I miss all the years there should have been, watching you and Mum grow old, together.

And Christ, I really bloody miss you every time they make a new Star Wars film. I think you would have liked Solo. (I even think you would have liked The Last Jedi).

I suppose what I mean is: I’ll miss you forever, in almost every way. We all will. But as long as we’re missing you, we’ll know you’re still around. And when we’re not missing you, it’s because we’re happy and alive and doing well.

And I know you’d be pleased about that.

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I’M RUNNING TOUGH MUDDER FOR MIND CHARITY – WANT TO DONATE?

Head to my Virgin Money Giving if you’d like to donate. 

If you’ve enjoyed Nicer Thoughts at any point over the last eight months, please consider donating, even if it’s just a £1 (or $!). It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep a blog running on top of full time work. I do it for the love of it, and I hope it helps people – but I’d love to help people with cold hard cash even more!

5 things my mother taught me

Whether you’ve spent the last week in a state of royal-wedding mania or hate the institution and all it stands for, one thing we can all agree on is that Meghan Markle’s mum, Doria, seems like a total boss.

Weddings are a funny thing for people who (for whatever reason) are lacking a parent. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried at Meghan’s solo entry into the church; I find it hard to think that if anyone’s ever brave/foolish enough to marry me, my Dad won’t be walking me down the aisle.

But what made me smile the most (after Michael Curry’s jazzy sermon) were the images of Doria. Markle has described Doria as her rock, and has obviously learnt plenty from her in life. It’s a feeling I know well; my own Mum didn’t just save my life when I was really ill. She’s also inspired me, supported me, and taught me valuable life lessons every single day of my 25 years on this planet.

My Mum is a trooper: a foul mouthed, gin-guzzling, chain-smoking, adventure-seeking and endlessly loving hero. I mean, her nickname is ‘Filthy Anne’, so that speaks for itself.

In honour of all the ladies looking after their kids without any support, for whatever reason, here’s the five of the most valuable things my mother taught me. All of these things are good to bear in mind if you have anxiety, but they’re also solid if you just want some serious #strongwomen inspo.

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Get the worst out the way 

If you’ve got a list of jobs or even just one unpleasant task, don’t delay: get the worst out of the way as soon as you can. This is actually solid productivity advice in general, but it’s especially true if you’re anxious.  Getting it over and done with means you won’t spend the day tying yourself up in knots thinking about whatever horrible task you’re facing.

There’s no limit to how many times you can bounce back 

My mum has been through some serious shit, but somehow she always overcomes it. Watching her bounce back from setback after setback and still crack on with the joy of living has been one of the biggest inspirations of my life, and whenever I’m feeling rough, I think of the happiness she manages to create despite all the losses she’s experienced.

Don’t worry worry until worry worries you

Admittedly I do a terrible job of putting this one into practice, but this isn’t just a tongue twister: it’s a solid mantra for the anxious brain. Worrying about things that have actually happened is one thing. We all have problems in life, and we often need to face these problems head on. But really, life’s much easier when you only stress about things that have already taken place, not vague possibilities on the distant horizon.

You can’t always be nice…

Obviously, this is a blog called ‘Nicer Thoughts’, so you might think I’d be quite a firm proponent of being nice. But sometimes, trying to be too nice can blend into being a pushover, and this can lead to a whole heap of anxiety. We worry too much about what people think, about making a fuss, about smoothing over awkward moments. I know I’ve definitely caused myself anxiety at times by not being upfront enough about my thoughts and feelings.

My mum, on the other hand, isn’t shy about coming forward: she’s ballsy, blunt, and can kick off like nobody’s business when she’s being fucked around or treated badly. It’s equal parts inspiring and terrifying to watch. And it’s a seriously important skill to have in life’s more serious times: when my Dad was dying of cancer, my Mum fought tooth and nail to ensure he got the help and care he needed, because it unfortunately wasn’t always forthcoming.

but you can always be kind.  

‘Nice’ and ‘kind’ are two different things, and whilst she isn’t always sweetness and light, my Mum has always shown me the incomparable value of being kind. Time and time again, I’ve watched her go out of her way to help people when it was in her power. Even if she got nothing out of it, or they didn’t deserve it, or it was a huge pain in the ass.

Sorry to keep jawing on about the Royal Wedding, but Meghan had it right when she said of her future husband: ‘If he wasn’t kind I didn’t really see there was any point.” If you can only try to be one thing, try to be kind. You don’t have to be an angel. My Mum isn’t, and I’m certainly not: we can both be grumpy sods with short tongues. But even within that, I always try to follow my Mum’s example and be kind, because kindness makes up for a lot.

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I’M RUNNING TOUGH MUDDER FOR MIND CHARITY – WANT TO DONATE?

Head to my Virgin Money Giving if you’d like to donate. 

If you’ve enjoyed Nicer Thoughts at any point over the last eight months, please consider donating, even if it’s just a £1 (or $!). It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep a blog running on top of full time work. I do it for the love of it, and I hope it helps people – but I’d love to help people with cold hard cash even more!

copenhagen

A change is as good as a rest: my weekend in Copenhagen

As I’ve written before, I’m a big believer in resting. Modern life is so hectic and there’s a lot of expectation to constantly be doing or bettering yourself somehow. I think this is a load of rubbish: sometimes, you just need to rest your lil’ brain and give your body a break.

But when the fatigue is mental rather than physical—as I’ve experienced after a few stressful weeks—sleep isn’t always the answer to my ‘I need rejuventation’ prayers.

At times like this, what’s needed is a complete break from the ordinary. A change is as good as a rest, and all that. Switching up your landscape, getting away from an environment that’s been stressing you out, and exploring new places can be a great way of refreshing a frazzled brain.

So last weekend, I jetted off to Copenhagen for a dreamy long bank holiday. And if you’re looking for a European weekend break, I couldn’t recommend this charming little city more. A short flight from Luton meant arriving was a breeze, and we stayed in a peaceful and appropriately Scandi-styled AirBnB, in a perfect central location, which I’d highly recommend.

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Then we set about enjoying three days of delicious Danish food, historic buildings, quirky theme parks, boat rides, stunning views—plus milesandmiles of soul-restoring walks. According to my phone, we stomped 28,000 steps on Saturday—getting that level of exercise in is a huge mental health boost, helped along nicely by the faultless blue skies.

I don’t like to romanticise travel as a mental-health fix all, because it definitely isn’t. But cities like Copenhagen—calm, beautiful, easy to navigate and with plenty to do—are a great option if you do need some time away to recharge and reset an overworked mind.

Caveat: the one downside of Copenhagen is that’s it’s expensive. So if you’re thinking about going, a shorter weekend trip is definitely the way to go. Not sure my credit card could have withstood another day… But if you do book those flights, my tips to enjoying your stay are below—and some of them are even free!

EAT

  • Danish pastries, naturally! We spent a good few hours in pursuit of Copenhagen’s best ‘kanelsnegle’ or cinnamon roll, with some excellent results. Head to Meyers Bageri in trendy Jægersborggade to enjoy one of the city’s finest, topped with chocolate. Sounds weird, but there’s a beautiful nearby cemetery (final resting place of Hans Christian Anderson) where you can enjoy your treats.

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  • Bust out your best hipster chic for a visit to the Meatpacking District in Vesterbro. Kødbyens Fiskebar is a great spot if being by the water has given you a hankering for some fish. However, my ultimate culinary highlight of the trip was Paté Paté. We ordered a heap of small plates and the waiter paired them so thoughtfully that I genuinely got completely buzzed over a cucumber salad and have spent the whole week trying to recreate it.

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  • For a midday refuel, hit up Torvehallerne Market, and pick up some treats to take home while you’re at it. Denmark is known for its ‘smørrebrød’, a type of open sandwich—the offerings at the market are oh-so instragrammable and delicious, too. If you need a caffeine hit, suck it up and endure the queue (and price) for Coffee Collective: these guys have made coffee an art form. We enjoyed ours outside in the sun, with some more delicious pastries from Laura’s Bakery.

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  • Don’t eat, but certainly enjoy a drink on Nyhavn, one of Copenhagen’s most iconic spots. Prices are high but worth it for the picture-postcard location.

DO

  • Bring your walking shoes, because this city is made for long and leisurely walks. Start at Kastellet, the distinctive star-shaped military fortress that offers sensational views and excellent dog-spotting. Head down to Langelinie, a quayside which is also home to the Little Mermaid statue (tiny, covered in tourists, couldn’t even get a photo). Keep strolling down along the water to Amaliehaven, a tiny but perfectly formed park just outside Amalienborg, the Queen’s winter residence. Walk down past the Theatre to Nyhven, cross the bridge and head into Freetown Christiana. Soak up the alternative ambience before carrying on to the Christianhaven Ramparts, which you can follow across the bridge to Tivoli Gardens.

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  • Admittedly, I’m a big kid when it comes to stuff like this—but if the words ‘amusement park’ make you wrinkle your nose (as did my boyfriend), prepare to make an exception for Tivoli Gardens. Even if rollercoasters aren’t your thing, the park is filled with live music, spots to relax, and beautiful gardens. It’s certainly one of the prettiest places I’ve seen in a long time. We went during the day, but I’d advise going at night to take full advantage of the fairy-tale jumble of lights illuminating the park.
  • To get a sense of the city, head up the ‘Rundetaarn’ or ‘Round Tower’ for a sensational cityscape. Just make sure you’ve had a pastry to give your legs have enough energy to plod up the spiral ramp, first.

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  • There are plenty of good museums about, but if you’re interested in Scandinavian design (who isn’t, in 2018?) then definitely hit up the Design Museum. It’s free if you’re under-26, an unexpected and welcome bonus in this otherwise wildly expensive city.
  • If the weather’s good, plan ahead and hire a GoBoat! We spent 2 hours cruising the waterways on a sunny Sunday afternoon. This was a serious trip highlight, mainly because I absolutely love being on a boat of any description. And also because I got to drink beer, sunbathe and snap pictures for two hours whilst Adam worried about steering us through Copenhagen’s canals.

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Thanks for reading – and let me know in the comments if you have any recommendations for mind-soothing city breaks!

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I’M RUNNING TOUGH MUDDER FOR MIND CHARITY – WANT TO DONATE?

Head to my Virgin Money Giving if you’d like to donate. 

If you’ve enjoyed Nicer Thoughts at any point over the last seven months, please consider donating, even if it’s just a £1 (or $!). It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep a blog running on top of full time work. I do it for the love of it, and I hope it helps people – but I’d love to help people with cold hard cash even more!

dealing with anxiety

Writer’s block and anxiety

Things have been quiet on Nicer Thoughts this month. It’s been a funny few weeks, and the first thing that goes out the window when I’m overly stressed is my ability to sit down and write for myself. (Writer’s block and anxiety: what a combo).

Now, this isn’t to say I haven’t been writing at all. Writing is 80% of my job, so it’s rare for a day to go by without me cracking out at least 500-1000 words. Whether it’s a few lines of copy for an invite or a 5,000-word research report, I spend a huge amount of time with ideas bouncing around in my head and fingers flying across the keyboard.

And recently, it’s been a lot more extreme. A lot of my role is stuff I have to do on a weekly/monthly basis, so when you throw a few big projects into the mix, there isn’t enough time in the day—and there certainly isn’t enough mental capacity for me to come home, fire up my laptop, and ping off something insightful or interesting for the blog.

Throw into this some general life stress (I was really ill for the best part of two weeks, followed By some anxiety-inducing medical stuff) and my fingers have been frozen every time I approached my laptop.

Time was, I would have beaten myself up a lot about this. Writer’s block and anxiety are a pain in the arse combination; they induce each other. It’s one of my most hated feelings in the world, because if you were to ask me what I’m good at, this is what I say: I write.

Like most wannabe writers, from the time I was very small, I crafted poems and stories and elaborate worlds in my head. I hope one day to finish a book. No matter how stressed I am at work, I am truly grateful every single day that I get paid to fill pages with words. I have always had a voice inside me telling me to write. My fingers have always itched for a pen. (Or a laptop. Or the notes app on my phone).

Because I am not athletic or musical or entrepreneurial. I’m not very interested in being famous or acclaimed or even hugely wealthy. I just want to string words together in a beautiful or functional or emotion-inducing way, and send them out into the world.

And recently, I haven’t been able to do that. (I’ve barely been able to stay awake past 9.30pm.) Historically, I would have beaten myself up for this, and tortured myself even further into the dreaded realm of writer’s block by desperately trying to scrape something together.

This last fortnight, I’ve tried to give myself the kindness to take a different approach. The ability to write is, for me at least, a finite resource during the day. I’ve been using all of these resources up at work (as I should do: Nicer Thoughts doesn’t pay the bills, sadly).

A huge part of mental health self-care is knowing your limits, and not beating yourself up when you’ve reached them. This morning, I lay in bed with the person I love. I woke up, dozed again, and came to slowly. I ate something healthy, I went to the gym. I pottered mindlessly. Then I sat on my balcony (it was actually bloody freezing, but still) and I looked at my plants. I felt quiet and still and content, after a week of feeling frazzled and frankly irritated with the world at large.

And then it came: my fingers itched, and a quiet fell over me. It’s time to write, the little voice said. So I did.

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I’M RUNNING TOUGH MUDDER FOR MIND CHARITY – WANT TO DONATE?

Head to my Virgin Money Giving if you’d like to donate. 

If you’ve enjoyed Nicer Thoughts at any point over the last seven months, please consider donating, even if it’s just a £1 (or $!). It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep a blog running on top of full time work. I do it for the love of it, and I hope it helps people – but I’d love to help people with cold hard cash even more!

Blogger to jogger: fundraising for Mind, the mental health charity

So this week it’s less of a blog and more of a shameless plug – it’s time to get your charity on and support a good cause. Why’s that? Because I’m going from blogger to jogger and obstacle hopper, lacing up my trainers and hitting the gym – and not just to keep myself sane, which is usually the reason.

Nope – with twelve weeks to go, it’s time to get training. I’m not that strong, I’m not very big, and I’m not a particularly good runner—but on July 7th, I’ll be tackling Tough Mudder for Mind Charity—and I need your sponsorship. (And also for Adam, my fellow runner, to pull me over the really big obstacles).

I completed a Tough Mudder ‘half’ last year, but this time I’m kicking it up a notch by taking on the full race. Adam and I will be running (or stumbling) 10 miles, interspersed with 20 gruelling obstacles from the ‘Arctic Enema’ to ‘Electroshock therapy’. Yep, they’re exactly what they sound like: an ice bath and getting electrocuted.

Why am I running Tough Mudder?

It’s going to be tough. But I know first hand that some things are far tougher. Such as having an anxiety and depression induced nervous breakdown, and having to rebuild your life from scratch, for example. And some things are tougher still—like recovering from mental illness without financial support.

When I had a breakdown, I was far luckier than many people: I had the resources and the support to take time off work, see a good counsellor and recover at my own pace. I was an adult, but I had a loving Mum who was able to take me home and look after me. I didn’t have to worry about accessing services – I just focused on getting better.

Very few people are so lucky. NHS resources simply can’t cope with the growing mental health crisis: a report last year showed that 80% of NHS bosses fear they can’t support the levels of people now requiring mental health services. Waiting lists are long, the therapies available are often short-lived (4 sessions with a counsellor certainly wouldn’t have dug me out of the hole I was in), and services are woefully overstretched.

And this is a growing problem. Since I started Nicer Thoughts, I’ve been shocked and humbled time and time again by the people in my life who have approached me—quietly, overtly or ever-so-drunkenly—to share their mental health story. It’s everywhere we look, and it’s not going away.

And that’s a worrying thought. But supporting a fantastic charity like Mind can help to ease the burden. Mind provide advice and support to anyone experiencing mental health problems, campaign to improve services, and promote understanding. So any donations are greatly appreciated, and will help spur my sorry ass onwards through the race.

What can the money do?

£10 could help Mind campaign for better support services, talking therapy and crisis care for people whose mental health is in crisis.

£21 could help Mind’s supportive online community Elefriends run for one hour, giving people the chance to get hugely valuable ‘peer support’.

£39 could allow Mind’s Infoline call handlers to answer 5 calls from people, often in desperate need of support, helping them to find support and a way forward.

Where can you donate?

Head to my Virgin Money Giving if you’d like to donate. 

If you’ve enjoyed Nicer Thoughts at any point over the last seven months, please consider donating, even if it’s just a £1 (or $!). It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep a blog running on top of full time work. I do it for the love of it, and I hope it helps people – but I’d love to help people with cold hard cash even more!

I’ll keep you up to date with my training. Lots of love, Nic x

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The summer I realised I hated my body: an apology

I can’t remember how old I was, the summer I realised I hated my body. But I think I was wearing a tankini, so I must have been pushing ten at best. Summer is bad for this. Suns out, guns out, with insecurities trailing in their wake.

It’s easy to forget, in the winter. Under thick jumpers and the comforting fuzz of red wine and mince pies, our lumps and bumps are somewhat closer to forgotten. But then spring rolls around, a summer holiday gets booked. A bikini beckons. And like the daffodils, the thought pops up, as if from nowhere: I hate my body. I want it to be smaller. I want it to be less.

This is a shame—it’s an otherwise lovely season—but it’s what summer does to me, and no doubt many others. The loss of layers makes me think of my body, and how I want it to be different. There are so many ways I want.

Some of my wants are completely irrational. At twenty-five, it seems unlikely that my legs are going to stretch out another two inches. Even when I was very thin, my knees were still rounded.

Some of the things I want, I could have, if I tried hard enough: tauter muscles, a smaller dress size. I know my body could do it, but it would be very, very hard. A constant and grinding effort, which I would inevitably undo, further down the line.

The older I get, the sillier this seems, and the harder I work to tamper these thoughts. For one thing, my body is small: the sort of body society approves of when clothed. A malign voice tells me it is fat, but I know it isn’t. I also know, objectively, that it wouldn’t matter if it were fat. It is not a crime to be fat, I remind myself, staring absentmindedly at the soft rolls of my stomach in the bath.

For another, it’s really bloody ungrateful to malign this body as much as I have done. Insofar as I know, it does what it should. My brain is another matter, but these limbs are ticking along. Also: my body does some cool shit. It’s taken me up mountains and down hills, across beaches, through fields. It has propelled me forward; ten metres under water, chasing a turtle. This body has sliced neatly into ice-cold lakes and emerged, shivering and pumping. It has jumped from a plane and a bridge (albeit not gracefully).

This body has been touched and held and kissed. I have fallen in love with this body: with the hairs on my arms and the lurch in my stomach. This body has been fallen in love with, too: I think this bum might even have got me a free drink or two in its time. This body is young and able, with just a few wrinkles appearing around the eyes, and muscles I have built, minute by minute.

One day I might find out that this body doesn’t work the way it should. One day something within me might veer off course. Cells multiplying. Organs faltering. But right now it works, touch wood. Not everybody is so lucky, and this reminds me more than ever how fundamentally pointless it is to hate a body that does so much for me.

This is a working body, and for that reason alone, I am very, very lucky. So this summer, I have another want: to stop being so hard on this vehicle of mine, and learn to quiet the voice that whispers in my ear. I’m sorry, body of mine. I’m truly sorry. Most of us don’t know exactly how old we were, the summer we learnt to hate our bodies. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is remembering the summer we learn to stop.

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Goodbye Seasonal Affective Disorder, hello Spring

Long before I had serious trouble with my mental health, I became aware how badly the seasons affected my mood. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a genuine pain in the butt: the second the clocks go back, I’m exhausted, mopey, and more prone to anxiety.

Fortunately, the opposite is also true. Much as I hate to lose an hour of sleep, the clocks going forward is one of the highlights of my year, because I know that lighter, brighter days (and a lighter, brighter Nic) are on the way.

Of course, you can’t rely on the English weather to boost your mood—so I’ve celebrated today with a trip to the Columbia Road Flower Market, not to mention spending the weekend with some of my favourite people in the entire world. All in all, I’m feeling good about life—but if you’re still waiting for the sunshine to kick in with its mood-boosting effects, I’ve got a few tips below to help kick the Seasonal Affective Disorder blues.

  • If you’re at work most of the day, it can be all too easy to get minimal genuine sunlight. Make a serious effort to get outside at lunch, even if it’s raining. I’m really naughty for this because I hate being cold, but even a twenty-minute walk in the middle of the day can help.
  • A Seasonal Affective Disorder light box can also be a valuable investment. They’re not for everybody—some people find the brightness a bit headache inducing—but I find if I use mine religiously it improves my energy, mood and concentration. I’ve got the Lumie Arabica, which blasts out 10,000 lux at 25cm. Apparently the natural wake-up bodylights are good, too.
  • Take your vitamins! Vitamin D is key (no euphemism intended, although: you do do). I feel like a different person after a month of taking them religiously, particularly in terms of my energy levels. (DLux Vitamin D+K2 Oral Spray, Vitabiotic Health, Vitality and Wellbeing, and Vitabotiocs Feroglobin, if you’re interested.)
  • Expose yourself to something lovely. Whether it’s an art gallery, a flower market or a day trip to the seaside, a beautiful vista may not have a scientifically quantifiable effect on your brain—but it’s sure to boost your mood, particularly if you do it in some good company.

And of course, if all else fails: book a cheap flight and get yourself some blue skies! Let me know if the comments if you have any other tips, and in the meantime, fingers crossed for sunny days ahead.

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best apps for mental health

Finding ‘appiness: the best apps for mental health

In many respects, our phones are awful for our mental health. Whether it’s sliding mindlessly through Instagram (comparing our not-so-perfect lives) or scrolling through a barrage of negativity on Twitter, there’s plenty of misery-making potential. But to give technology its dues, there are plenty of apps out there which can definitely be used to improve our mental health. I’ve rounded up my ‘best apps for mental health’ below—let me know if you have any suggestions in the comments!

Best apps for mental health

  1. Headspace

I can’t rave about Headspace enough. A lot of people find the idea of meditation hard to get on board with; I certainly used to struggle with how it could really help me in managing my day-to-day anxiety. It also took me a long time to find a way of learning to meditate that I really clicked with.

But Headspace, with its playful design and straightforward approach, had me hooked straightaway. Headspace narrator Andy Puddicombe also has the loveliest voice, the most calming presence, and—as an ex Buddhist monk—the zen credentials to match.

So how does it work? Headspace offers a few different options: you can build up your meditation skills with a daily ‘pack’ (e.g., a 30-day managing anxiety pack). Or you can try a ‘single’ relating to the moment of stress you’re experiencing, like ‘Burned Out’ or ‘Falling Back To Sleep’. The app does cost £9.99 a month, but for me it’s definitely worth it—and you can trial the app for free to see if it takes your fancy.

  1. Nike Training Club

img_7228As I’ve said on many occasions: I am a lazy swine and hate exercising, but it’s fundamental to my sanity, so it’s a non-optional part of my mental health maintenance. Nike Training Club is a fab little app if, like me, you’re content to do seven half hearted squats, a few stretches and call it a day.

Like a personal trainer in your pocket, you’ll be guided through the moves both visually and through your headphones. You can filter by intensity, duration, target muscle (glutes, obv) and also by equipment—so even if you don’t have a dumbbell or gym membership to your name, you can still give it a go. Plus: it’s free. Most of the good fitness apps I’ve tried require a monthly subscription, so as best apps for mental health go, this is a thrifty option.

  1. Podcasts

We’re all used to using our phones for music, but it’s only in the last year that I’ve really begun to make the most of my Podcast app. I might be alone in this, but I sometimes find music doesn’t actually help when my mental health is suffering. I am really not above being that crying chick on the tube listening to sad ballads, but I don’t think this does me any favours.

Listening to a Podcast, however, doesn’t trigger me emotionally—but it does help take my mind off things. Whether I’m pissing myself with laughter at ‘My Dad Wrote A Porno’ or expanding my mind with Russel Brand’s ‘Under the Skin’, Podcasts are the ideal way of feeling connected to the world of people and ideas.

  1. Two Dots (…or any other guilty pleasure game)

img_7226Sometimes, you just need to not think, so a mindlessly fun game on your phone can be a lifesaver. Two Dots is your standard addictive formulaic Bejewelled format, but with cooler graphics, a nicer soundtrack, and some indie design credentials that can’t really be argued with.

Some people are really anti mindlessly playing with your phone. This is true if it’s incessant, but I actually think this is a slightly snobby attitude to take: if it takes your mind off your worries, go for it.

So that’s it: my four best apps for mental health, and a good starting point if you’re looking to spend less time on the Gram and more time soothing your frazzled brains. I’m always looking for more suggestions, so comment below if you have any!

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voice of anxiety

Two fingers up to the voice of anxiety

The negative voice of anxiety is a negative little bitch, and can really stop you from enjoying the more exciting things in life. So if we want to stick two fingers up at this voice, it’s important to make a few decisions that are a bit ‘out there’.

I was reminded of this fact this week, which marked two years ago exactly since I walked into a travel agent—more or less on a whim—and splashed my life savings on a seven month, solo, round-the-world trip.

This was a bit of a rogue move from me. Like most people, I’d always wanted to travel, but I’d never hankered for the backpacker life. I like routine, stability, my own space and creatures comforts: not your natural candidate for hostel life, which requires a cheerful willingness to fall asleep to the sound of two strangers shagging.

voice of anxietyAdd to this the fact I was only three months recovered from a monumental nervous breakdown, and travelling solo around the world seemed less of a dreamy escape and more of a recipe for complete disaster.

But if there’s one thing being suicidal will do for you, it’s give you a hearty dose of perspective. If you can get over literally wanting to die, it becomes very apparent that nothing is forever. Life is sometimes good and sometimes bad, but always transient.

Which got me thinking: you should probably go travelling now, whilst you still have this cavalier attitude, because the voice of anxiety will talk you out of it before long.

When you’ve got anxiety—or are even just somebody who spends too much time worrying—you can talk yourself out of doing pretty much anything fun. I’ve missed out on countless opportunities because I was too busy fretting about whether they were a good idea. I’ve sat at home instead of making memories. I’ve said no when I should have said yes.

voice of anxiety 2I’ve not followed my dreams because it’s safer and more comfortable not to. Sometimes, it’s tempting to wear your mental health diagnosis like a suit of armour. It’s a get out clause: I can’t do that thing that makes feel nervous, because I have anxiety.

After all, you can try and live a life free from the things that trigger your anxiety. But that’s not overcoming anxiety: that’s just avoiding it.

It’s not easy. Before I left for my trip, I was bloody terrified. What if I couldn’t get by without my medication, my counsellor, my routine? What if I didn’t make any friends and hated every second and just wanted to fly home and bin it all off, after spaffing my life savings on the trip? What if I got back and couldn’t get a job and was unemployed and had no friends and no money for the rest of my life?

I had a million what-ifs. But I also knew there was only one answer to all of them: so what? Half a year previously, I had literally wanted to die. Now I was desperate to live, and live big.

nicer thoughts 10It wasn’t all roses. Sometimes I was anxious, or frustrated, or homesick. I can now boast about having had a panic attack overlooking the Sydney Opera House. People definitely romanticise travelling; it’s definitely not a magical cure-all for your mental health problems. (Seriously: don’t book flight tickets if your illness means you aren’t in a good place to make big decisions).

But it was also an amazing adventure; a chance to see things I’d dreamt of my entire life, and meet some truly incredible people from around the globe. And even when it was less than perfect, I always knew that it would pass. I proved my theory to myself, time and time again; travelling solo puts you in a near constant state of having to overcome feelings of discomfort, so I truly learnt that no matter how awkward I felt, it would never kill me.

I was always glad—and always will be—to have taken the leap. (And, being a recalcitrant sort, delighted to have stuck two fingers up to the voice of anxiety).

So whatever your leap is, think about taking it. Maybe you want to quit your job or move to France or get a fringe. Maybe you want to start a business, or tell someone you love them. Maybe someone in your life is a massive dick and you just need to tell them. The voice of anxiety says you can’t, or it won’t work out. Well, maybe it won’t. But so what? Just like me, you have survived 100% of your worst days.

Whatever the outcome of taking a big leap in your life, I promise, you will survive that too.

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