Relax

Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down.

One of my favourite phrases. I can relate to it on many levels.

People start with good intentions when they try to soothe you with their words. However, sometimes, we just need another person to agree that our spiral of panic is valid, and then offer us a helping hand up from the wreckage when the time is right. Whilst in full-on stress mode there’s no room for reason or logical thought, the priority is solely trying to alleviate the stress-out in whichever way which works best for you. Only then can you think clearly once more.

Stress can creep up, particularly as we move into the festive period. Identifying and acknowledging your stress is key. When you recognise that you’re about to hit a full-on stress spiral – it’s time to act. So here’s my top relaxation tips. Maybe one will work for you too;

  1. Take a shower. More specifically, a 20 minute long toasty-hot shower. Stress manifests as both a mental and physical drain. A shower can counter-act this burden in 3 key ways; the heat and steam lessens the strain on your body, the water droplets hide your tears, and the repetitive sensation of the water bouncing off your body takes your focus away from the issue troubling you. Basically showers are miracle workers.
  2. Go for a walk. I would always insist that I walked to my school exams, no matter how heavy the rain got. Even now I still like to walk off my stresses. It might be as simple as walking to the coffee machine and making a cuppa before I reply to that tricky email or taking a wander to the corner shop. It makes sense – walking increases endorphins, which gives you a happy boost. Perfect.
  3. Bach’s Rescue Remedy. Now this one might be a placebo effect. But for me, it does the job. I’ve been using the drops since my teenage years, though nowadays there’s sprays, melts, chewing gums and pastilles. I associate the taste (and mild burning sensation!) with self soothing. This in turn gets me through the worst of the panic.
  4. Have a hot drink (with no distractions). It’s amazing how many problems can seem less arduous after a cup of tea and a nice biscuit. Make it a double layered biscuit, or if you’re feeling particularly flash, perhaps even a hot chocolate with marshmallows for extra comfort points.
  5. Complete a mundane task. Something that doesn’t require thinking. This might be colouring in, knitting, doing the washing up – anything that’s available to you at the time. Knit one, purl one, knit one, purl one…
  6. If all else fails, hug it out. Grab a loved one, pet or cushion and squeeeeeze tight.

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Lessons

As I watched our doggo bound about on his walk this afternoon; loving life, always happy, I realised that there’s many lessons which we can learn from our four legged friends.

Here’s my top 10 list of life lessons learnt from dogs:

  1. Make time to show the ones you love that you care. It doesn’t always need to be as slobbery as a dog’s kiss though. Everyone likes to feel wanted.
  2. Try, try and try again. Determination (particularly when there’s food involved) is a key characteristic found in almost every dog. If we could muster half this determination as humans, we’d succeed far more often.
  3. The same goes for enthusiasm… tackling every task with eagerness and passion brings joy to every day.
  4. Loyalty is rewarded. Whether that’s in friendship or just points on a supermarket store card. Sticking to your commitments avoids letting people down.
  5. Explore the world. This might be the next field over, or the Australian outback. Travelling and exploring broadens your horizons.
  6. Choose your battles carefully. Confront that bigger dog/angry boss/hungry boyfriend at your peril. Sometimes it’s good to know when to leave people be.
  7. Don’t underestimate the power of praise. Sometimes a quick “thank you, you’ve done a great job” can really help cheer someone up. It’s nice to be nice.
  8. Exercise regularly – healthy body, healthy mind.
  9. Play more. Humans tend to forget the power of play as they grow older. It develops creativity and innovative thoughts, so really more value should be placed on it.
  10. Also, make time to relax and nap. It’s a dog’s life after all.

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Self care

This week I was lucky enough to head along to The Body Shop in Aberdeen for a special bloggers night.

It was my first bloggers event and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. However, I needn’t have worried…

We were welcomed into the store just after closing at 6pm. The lovely Body Shop ladies handed us each a little shopping basket, already loaded with a selection of product samples for us to enjoy, and offered us a wee glass of bucks fizz to accompany us during our browsing. Once the majority of attendees had arrived, we learnt about the 3 new scents which formed the 2018 Christmas range; Berry Bon Bon, Peppermint Candy Cane and Vanilla Marshmallow. All were exceptionally sweet, though I’d recommend the Berry Bon Bon if you had your heart set on choosing something from the festive range. If you’re not feeling particularly festive; my go-to product is the Instant Glow Body Butter from the British Rose range… it’s so divine. The rose scent is subtle and your skin feels silky smooth and hydrated all at the same time!

I was also pleased to learn that The Body Shop seem to be returning to their roots in terms of activism. I’d fallen out of love with The Body Shop a number of years ago (probably around the time Lush hit the high street!). I felt that The Body Shop had lost it’s way as a brand; particularly due to the fact that the original and most celebrated selling point of the company – being against animal testing and animal cruelty – had been watered down. Surely now, in this enlightened time, people care more than ever about how their products are made and developed. It seemed bizarre to me for the company not to focus on this area.

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Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised to see evidence of both eco and social projects dotted all around the store. Included in these campaigns were the Re-Wild the World mission with the tagline “Trees are for life not just Christmas”, and a community trade partnership where handmade jute pouches from India are sold as gift bags in store. The jute pouch partnership scheme promotes the fact that every worker is paid a fair wage – something I’d hope was standard across the company. The Re-Wild the World mission, in contrast, seeks to re-wild over 10 million square meters of forest across England and Armenia (bit of an obscure choice of countries, but we’ll roll with it). I’m just pleased to see the founding principles of The Body Shop back in the spotlight.

Knowing that my products have been carefully sourced, developed and are being sold by a company that care about the world gives me that little bit of extra piece of mind when I indulge in spot of self-care; whether it’s using a fancy smelling body butter, or soaking in the bath with some bath-salts.

Self care doesn’t have to be selfish.

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Proud

Proud;

1. Feeling deep pleasure or satisfaction as a result of one’s own achievements, qualities or possessions, or those of someone with whom one is closely associated.

2. Having or showing a high or excessively high opinion of oneself or one’s importance.

The two meanings of proud seem mutually incompatible. How can it be that the descriptive word for such a positive act (achieving self satisfaction) can also be the same word used for something so negative (describing arrogance)?

The unwritten rule in British society is that you’re generally OK to celebrate your achievements – but in strict moderation. There’s a fine line between a socially acceptable level of celebration and simply showing off. I wonder whether here in the UK the acceptable level of pride is far less than in other parts of the world. Our tipping point on the bragging/celebrating success scale seems unusually reserved.

We’re taught from an early age to play down our successes. “Don’t boast, it isn’t polite”, “Jessica won’t like you if you show off”. Feeling a sense of pride in our achievements isn’t part of our culture.

So, when applying for a job, writing a CV or generally carrying out any task which involves bigging ourselves up we struggle massively. We’ve lost the ability to outline our key successes and paint ourselves in the most positive of lights. It’s all too easy to focus on the negatives.

Maybe it’s time to turn things around. It’s time to be more positive. Maybe we could all be a bit more Heather Small and ask ourselves “what have I done today to make myself feel proud?”…

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Organise

Organisation is life.

I like everything to be just-so. For context, I was THAT kid in school. You know, the one who wouldn’t let anyone borrow their stuff. The one who liked the first page of every notebook to be immaculate. The one who would stress out if their pen ran out and they had to switch to a different colour of ink part way through the page of notes. Don’t laugh. Yes, that was actually very stressful for me. I lived in constant fear of my favourite scented gel pens being lost, damaged or never returned.

Today my life is dominated by series of lists and calendar appointments, coupled with a strict household cleaning regime. I like to be prepared. And I truly believe that an organised mind starts with an orderly home. Yup, I guess I’m still a little uptight.

So when it comes to organising for Christmas, I like to be that smug idiot who has finished their Christmas shopping before December has even started. The checklist of gift recipients is conceived in October, with gift ideas developing and evolving over the next couple of weeks. Dutifully, I tick off each gift purchased with a contented click of the screen.

However, there’s still one area of Christmas prep I’ve not quite managed to get my head around…. juggling the multitude of Christmas social events. There’s the work night out, the office Christmas lunch, the kid’s Christmas carol concert, the ‘get together’ with those old school friends (who you now only make the effort to see once a year), the sports team booze-athons, and of course the mince pie and mulled wine soiree at Betty’s over the road. Invariably, these all seem to fall on the same evening… and therein lies the task of organising and prioritising the Christmas social calendar.

As I see it, there are 5 key tactics when it comes scheduling your Christmas fun;

  1. The “double book” – trying to have the best of both worlds by leaving one event early and then arriving late to the next. It means you can accept many more invites, but spend the night clock watching instead of having fun.
  2. The “manners your mother taught you” – you only ever accept the first invitation. It doesn’t matter if the invite to the party of the year has just been sent out, you’ve already accepted the invitation to Betty’s bash, and that decision is final.
  3. The “BFF code” – prioritise events based upon your relationship with the organiser. Friends trump work colleagues, family trumps friends. It saves a multitude of arguments in the long run, though you might miss out on the latest office goss.
  4. The “party starter” – prioritise events based upon the perceived level of fun. The wilder the party, the higher you push it up the list. Guaranteed to manifest in multiple hangovers, but bucketfuls of fun.
  5. If all else fails, and you just can’t take anymore partying, simply fake an illness and don’t leave the house!

I’ve just got to go work out which strategy to use now… Any suggestions?

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Passion

They say that if you are passionate about what you do, then you’ll never work another day in your life.

I’m not sure I can say I’m exactly passionate about working in an engineering office; the middle-aged men sat at row upon row of computer screens, the mild whiff of body odour, and the harsh fluorescent lighting offset by the muffled screech of the worn-out coffee machine in the corner. It’s not always the most glamorous of work places. It’s not always the most glamorous of jobs.

This summer I had a light-bulb moment. I don’t have to be defined by my job. It’s safe to say that the era the 9-5 job for life has long gone. Today, there is the flexibility to have a side business, an original project or a creative outlet which enhances your life in addition to your “day job”. It’s quite normal to hear of an accountant who also distills their own gin, or a management consultant who sells their artwork on Etsy. I became fascinated by people who explore their passions in this way. I wanted in on the action.

I read article upon article about career moves, hobbies and start ups. The person who I felt promoted this ideology of career freedom the most eloquently was Emma Gannon (author-broadcaster-podcast host-etc). It is no over exaggeration to say that her book The Multi-Hyphen Method changed my outlook on life. I couldn’t help but be sucked into her world of side-hustles and freelancing. The concept of choosing your own projects and managing your own time feels both alien and alluring to us office staff. We’re used to working set hours, our days are filled with prescribed tasks and meetings. This routine would have filled my childhood-self with horror.

As a child, if I was asked what I wanted to do when I grew up I would have replied – without hesitation – either an author or an artist (depending very much on my mood that day… and also ’cause i’m not good at big decisions). Unfortunately, at the time, I was told that these were hobbies and not jobs. I got caught up in the traditional concept of what real work looked like and followed a traditional white collar career path.

I’m starting to get my head around what work may look like for many of us in 10 years time. For me, I’m hoping that I might be able to utilise my passions of baking, making and writing as part of my future career composition. I’d love to be able to add a side hustle to my professional repertoire. Step 1… Easydoughsy. Step 2…

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Goals

Life goals, squad goals, insta goals.

That’s a whole lotta goals to contend with!

Portraying our best life to the wider world can be exhausting. It’s keeping up with the Joneses on a monumental scale. If, like me, you enjoy posting pretty pictures from time to time, but you’re not sure that you can aspire to being a perfect version of yourself all the time, then the contented middle-ground is for you!

In the middle ground, we can take comfort in knowing that the most public and flashy goals are often materialistic; precisely staged images of opulent lunches out, perfect walks in the countryside, and carefully curated outfits. We middle-grounders like and appreciate these things from time to time. But we know our limits. Whilst it’s natural to want to feel a sense of pride in our achievements and enjoy sharing them with others, there’s a fine line between celebrating our successes, and simply showing off (at least in our eyes).

Our personal or private goals tend to be the ones which really matter to us. Will I get that promotion at work? – you know, the one which I submitted the application for in secret. That way, if I don’t get it, I won’t have to suffer the shame of telling the rest of my team about my failure. Or, will you manage to get your toddler to sleep through the night for the first time in over 7 months? – saving your sanity… and potentially your relationship. Invariably, it is these basic-but-all-consuming life hurdles which provide us middle-grounders with the most joy.

When we achieve big, it takes us by surprise. We’re unsure how to react and either gloss over the success or over-praise someone or something else for their small part in our triumph. The success seems too good to be true… perhaps if we say it out loud then we’ll discover that it isn’t really as great an accomplishment as we had first thought? For this very reason I tend not to share my most satisfying achievements on public forums. These are the ones that have taken blood, sweat and probably a substantial amount of tears behind the scenes in order to attain. My little self-esteem bubble would struggle to take the hit if I discovered my efforts hadn’t really been worth it after all. Instead, I’ll take silent comfort in knowing that i’m slowly moving forward and doing the things I hope to accomplish. One step at a time.

I didn’t set any personal goals for this year. However, looking back, there have been both highs and lows – as is to be expected. One positive was that I started this blog. Something which I had had been planning to do for over 2 years, but never quite mustered the courage. Here, 5 months in, I’m still sticking with it, trying to put down my thoughts into type each week or so. Whether or not anyone but myself reads it doesn’t bother me too much. I’ll just continue to be me.

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